Exactly one year ago today a rangy, unheard of 16-year-old emerged from the bench for a cameo against Newcastle United Under-21s in the EFL Trophy in his senior debut under Sam Ricketts. His physical profile caught the eye of onlookers.
Fast forward 12 months and Leicester lad Bloxham has arguably been Steve Cotterill’s top Shrewsbury performer eight games into a League One season.
Bloxham – scorer of Town’s first league goal of the season with a wonder-strike after the side went four games without netting – was last week hailed as a ‘jewel in the crown’ by his experienced manager, who has unearthed many young gems including future England internationals in his 25-year management career. Cotterill added that, in Bloxham, Town had won the lottery rollover.
Big claims and big pressure, then? Not for this teen, Cotterill is sure. And so are those close to him, including proud dad Paul – who last season would sit in his car with his other sons on the Montgomery Waters Meadow car park, watching Tom make his senior and league debut on a lagging iFollow stream.
“I’ll be honest, I still have to pinch myself. I can’t believe we’re talking about it,” Paul tells the Shropshire Star.
Tom, who attended the same Leysland High School as Foxes star Harvey Barnes and rock icons Kasabian, joined Town in 2018 after being spotted by academy recruitment boss Gary Wharton – who was watching somebody else – while playing for Aylestone Park up the road from his family home in Blaby.
Shrewsbury beat competition from Everton for his signature due to the care shown by Wharton and the club, who put the youngster in boarding school in Oswestry. The powerful forward, extremely tall for his age after a late growth spurt, also had interest from Derby and a trial at Coventry.
Paul, who himself played as an amateur, knew his youngest of three sons Tom had a gift from an early age. Tom was just eight when the moniker ‘10-goal Tommy’ was born. A dream place in Leicester’s academy followed.
Now a part-time deliver driver for a baker in Cornwall, Paul says: “I used to play a lot of football with him and his brother Callum, we had a field at the side of the house we lived at.
“I knew straight away he had a gift as when he would kick the ball he’d hurt my hand. If he could do that at six or seven and hurt my hand, he’d have something going for him. I think he broke the hand of a poor lad he kicked the ball at when he was little. He could really strike a ball.
“He went to a tournament in Billesdon, he was playing for Blaby and Whetstone and was only eight. The team won with 11 goals and Tom scored 10 of them. The Leicester scout called him ‘10-goal Tommy’, that was his nickname.
“He was always quite a tall-ish lad but it was only when he’s got older he’s really shot up.
“He was very aggressive, he could tackle, but he was always fast. That’s one of the reason he plays on the wing, he’s fast.”
But what happened at boyhood club Leicester for a youngster from a family of Foxes? Tom would regular finish as top scorer in his age group playing anywhere across the frontline, right, left, or central. But aged 14, around the time of the Foxes’ improbable Premier League-winning campaign, it changed.
The Bloxhams were told the club wanted to move Tom down to a shadow squad. The youngster found it too easy, he was moved to right-back and still scored a hat-trick. He became disillusioned, and by the time the Premier League trophy was being paraded at the King Power and Bocelli sang Nessun Dorma next to Ranieri, the youngster knew he was off.
So Tom left to play park football at Adam Hart’s academy side at reputable local club Aylestone, where he won the MJPL two years running and the Midlands Cup, tearing past defenders with lightning speed and skill.
He played alongside Derby lad Jenson Cooper there, who switched to Salop with Tom and is now plundering goals for the under-18s.
Paul adds: “I don’t know what went wrong, I really don’t. I thought having a player who can score goals was the most difficult thing.
“After how it went at Leicester I didn’t want him to be messed about and Shrewsbury were very good.
“Shrewsbury’s under-16s went and won the league in 2018/19, that was his first season.”
Wind the clock forward and Tom is being called ‘Crouchy’ by first-team colleagues in training and ‘Zlatan’ for his ridiculous overhead goal against Gillingham.
Junior coach Hart tells the Shropshire Star: “He threw his football boots over the garden fence, his mum Annette will tell you that, I went round and told him to pull your finger out and chase the dream.
“I think we helped him become a better man and person with life skills, he drastically changed. And now Shrewsbury have been absolutely fantastic for him.
“I went to watch him against Crewe and it was my most proud day in football, it was emotional. He has to work hard to get where I think he can get, but he’s flourishing.
“You can win leagues as a coach but seeing players like this are the trophies.”
Paul credits an insatiable work-rate during lockdown for Tom’s remarkable rise. “He knew he needed to be fit,” he says.
Cotterill's assistant Aaron Wilbraham also took a liking to the striker. The Town No.2 said last season he sees a lot of his former self in the youngster. Wilbraham watched an under-18s match after taking the Town job last December and took instant notice of the forward.
Tom would spend day after day running and cycling the canals of Leicestershire, doing weights in the family conservatory. After Town returned for pre-season training on July 1 this year, he won the renowned physical challenge ‘the bleep test’ ahead of his senior team-mates.
“That probably has edged him,” Paul believes. “Cotterill will have thought ‘this guy has been working’, and he likes that.
“He really gets upset when they lose, he won’t talk to me because he won’t be in a good mood. He really wants to win. When he comes off he gets down because he feels he’s let the team down.
“He’s very humble, they are looking after him. He was a bit upset when Dave Edwards left last year, they had a good friendship.
“He’ll keep his feet on the ground, he’s not big-headed, he’s quiet.
“He knows what he’s got to do now. He’s just catapulted himself, it’s gone a bit ridiculous, but he’s worked hard for it, through the Covid break.
“He’ll do whatever he’s told. Not many footballers can say they can play in three positions
“He’s happy he’s there and being picked. He just thought (this season) he’d be a squad player, on the bench with 10 minutes here or there, but he’s started nearly every game.”
And what about a first of many senior goals? The family dog certainly knew about it.
Paul smiled: “I was listening on the radio, I heard ‘overhead kick’ and then ‘Bloxham’ and I think the dog’s ears started to bleed because I was screaming so loud in the house.”