Tomas Soucek used to go running in the forest and then kept himself fit on Hackney Marshes.
It has been a long journey to the Premier League but West Ham ’s Czech midfielder has wasted no time in making an impression on English football.
Soucek, 25, has gained a reputation for his energy – he covered a remarkable 13.1km in a single game (more than any West Ham player for six years) at Manchester City last season – and it comes from his sporting family, dad Frantisek and, in particular, mum Iva.
“My mother gave me her ability probably because she used to play handball when she was younger but for the last 15 years she has been running half marathons and marathons and sometimes when I was younger I went with her to run in the forest,” said Soucek.
“I think she won the Prague marathon in her age group. My big inspiration was my family because my dad took me to my first football training because he was the coach, he used to play as a goalkeeper and my whole family was a sporting family.
“My journey was very hard as I loved football and I played football in small city, around 10,000 people. My childhood was very hard.
“My mum and dad would be working and they would take me to Prague on different days so I could become a footballer. They are my best support that I could have.”
Soucek, born in the small town of Havlíčkův Brod and started his career at Slavia Prague, was a revelation after joining West Ham on loan in January, played a major part in keeping them up and then signed permanently in the summer.
But during lockdown, Soucek found it hard to sit still and took himself down to East London's spiritual home of football and, together with his wife Natalie and a ball and some cones, trained himself at Hackney Marshes with their young daughter Tereza looking on.
Soucek said: “I heard all about the tradition for playing Sunday League football there, though there was nothing like that during these times. I checked it was okay to train there and at that time there were only a few five-a-side teams using it.
“I took a ball and some cones and I did normal training. But individually. My wife was sometimes giving me the ball and helped me enjoy it. I did training and sometimes I enjoyed it with my daughter and her. There’s about 50 pitches there. It was incredible for me.”
It has been a topsy turvy start to the season for West Ham, a bad start despite some good performances and yet wins over Wolves and Leicester showed they are on the right track and the comeback from 3-0 down at Tottenham proved their new spirit under David Moyes.
How impressive have Soucek's performances for West Ham been? Have your say here.
From a team struggling last season, they have now got loftier ambitions for this season and Soucek has no doubt that it will not be another scramble for survival.
Soucek said: “I think maybe the big change was after lockdown. We were very down in the table and when we beat Chelsea last season we went very well and improved and improved in the squad.
“When we had pre-season we talked together, saying we are a very strong team and that we want to fight with everyone. We showed our spirit, our belief, for example against Leicester and Tottenham.
“It was so difficult at Tottenham with ten minutes to go, losing by three goals, and we showed our spirit. We want to improve and go up in the table. So our ambition is to be much stronger than last season. We have real belief in our team and I think we will be better in the future.”
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Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho compared Soucek to Marouane Fellaini after the 3-3 draw last Sunday. Soucek laughed and called it a “very positive” comparison and still enjoys collecting shirts for his wall back home in the Czech Republic.
He grew up idolising Pavel Nedved and Tomas Rosicky, got Harry Kane’s shirt when Czech Republic beat England last year and claimed Heung-Min Son’s shirt last Sunday.
Soucek added: “I am now playing against top players and want to change shirts but also I want to be better than they are. I am a Premier League player but I’m still a big fan of the Premier League as well. I like to change shirts and in time have a small museum at my parents’ house.”
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