Conventional wisdom says you struggle to make elite level lacrosse unless you pick up a stick way before reaching teenage years. In the US and Canada, they demonstrate slick stick skills and acute game awareness while they are still being sent to school with packed lunches. But England’s towering face-off specialist Tom Gallon is a latecomer, not even playing his first game till he was 16.
“My first memories are being absolutely awful at it, playing on cold, frozen pitches in equipment that didn’t fit properly and it really hurting,” he says.
“Even with all that, I really enjoyed it and my best friends now, with the exception of a couple of guys, are lacrosse players. Pretty much everyone I know is because of and through lacrosse. “I got put in defence because I played rugby. I wasn’t a good lacrosse player but I was very athletic, fairly strong and fast. I was good at facing off because of my physicality but I really didn’t have any stick skills.”
The big change came when the Manchester Wacs’ middie got a chance to transfer from his animal behaviour course at Chester University to Wesley College, in Delaware, US, home of the NCAA Div 3 Wolverines. “It was only there that I started to become a good player,” says the 30-year-old.
“We practices 90 minutes a day, five days a week and lived in a community that loved lacrosse. You weren’t stared at if you walked around with a lacrosse stick; people would be playing lacrosse on their lawns, there would be wall ball at your dorm rooms. It was an incredible environment to learn and grow as a player.”
“Being there had novelty factor and although I was not that good at lacrosse I was absolutely in love with it and to be told you a get free customised helmet, gloves and gear, you’ll be surrounded by lacrosse players, you’ll eat together, socialize, practice together – it was a dream come true. In that environment, your confidence, swagger almost, grows, you start to believe you are a good player and then you become a good lax player.”
The skills were complimented by a rigorous strength and conditioning regime that underscored the imperative that players are in peak condition. It is an approach that is in his lacrosse DNA, bolted on with punishing physical routines and almost scientific attention to game play. The supercharged Gallon arrived back in the UK after graduating and at his first tournament came up against face-of legend Alistair Wallace, who is now part of the England coaching set-up.
“He was utterly dominant. He owned it,” adds Gallon. “But I absolutely wiped the floor with him, he won’t mind me saying. It put me on the scene as a face-off man and I got into the 2006 World team.”
Suddenly he was facing off against Kyle Harrison, man-marking Mikey Powell and having a frank exchange with Brodie Merrill. “It was my first big tournament and it was surreal,” he adds. “I got into a fight with Merrill which was an exceptionally stupid thing to do. We both got sent off and as we were walking off, he just looked at me and said: ‘Is that how today is going to be; is that how you want it to be?’ And I was like ‘oh crap’. It was one of the few times on a lacrosse field when I have been intimidated.”
Gallon, who is back at Wacs after a spell with Heaton Mersey, played in the 2010 World Championships and was an integral part of England’s European Championship winning teams in 2008 and 2012.
The big question at every World Championships is if England can close the gap on the US and Canada. “I’m not sure it is closing that much because of the amount of time they practice and play. They have a professional league, their coaches are professionals and they have doing that for ever,” he says.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t have talent or that we aren’t training as hard as we can. “As individuals we do have players who are closing that gap. Nick Watson’s goal against the USA in 2010 was a phenomenal goal and really impressed them. We also have Jack Wawryzniak, Sam Patterson and Tom Williamson who are great players and can match the North Americans athletically so I guess we are closing it one player at a time.”
Team England depart for a week long pre-tournament training camp on July 3rd. English Lacrosse will be bringing you exclusive content throughout the 2014 World Championships. www.englishlacrosse.co.uk/2014worldlacrosse