Lee Gale is one of those annoying fellows. You know the type, one of those that’s good at everything they turn their hand to. As well as being at the heart of Manx football for the last ten years, during which he has represented the island at various levels of the game, Gale’s also a renowned cyclist, and yes, he’s represented the Island at that sport too. He’s probably good at golf as well. To boot, Lee Gale is just an all-round good egg. So, yes Lee Gale is really annoying.
With his successes and contribution to the local game in recent years, it was no surprise to see Gale chosen to be a part of Chris Bass’ first FC Isle of Man squad. Although, there was a time, not too long ago, that this may not have been the case.
The last couple of years have not been an easy time for the Foxdale resident, as injuries have plagued him in recent seasons. A bad shoulder injury following a fast ‘get off’ on his bike, meant he missed the showcase friendlies against Guernsey FC last season, there then followed a number of niggly muscular ailments which further reduced his playing time over the last 12 months.
However, since the Ravens started pre-season training in early June, Lee has hit the ground running and he has been a prominent component in all three matches at the start of this season.
Although he started opening day on the bench, Gale was plunged into the deep end early on at Maine Road following Frank Jones’ injury, and he nearly lit his name up in lights as he volleyed against the bar with his first touch.
Lee was promoted to the starting eleven against Wythenshawe Amateurs the following week, and last week at Alsager Town, he was arguably the star of the show with two assists and a maiden goal for the club in an emphatic win.
A star performance aside, Gale admits that it’s just great to be playing again after a troublesome couple of seasons.
“It’s good to be back playing and scoring, there’s no better feeling and the atmosphere around the squad is superb,” he explains.
“Obviously, I was injured most of last season and even going into this pre-season I was still doing a lot of rehab work with Ian (Kelly, the club’s physiotherapist), and while I am probably still not fully match sharp, I have got myself to a level where I am fit enough to influence periods of the game.”
“It’s a great group of players to be involved with. It’s a very young group. Obviously, we’ve got certain senior players, such as myself (Frank) Jones (Sam) Caine (Jack) McVey, that have been around the Island senior squad for a long time, but it’s good to be amongst the younger players who were in the same position I was in ten or so years ago.”
And those ten years have been busy; very busy. Numerous successes at local league level have been supplemented by a stellar career for the Isle of Man National team. Gale made his international debut at the Umbro Cup in Northern Ireland as a 19-year-old and has been, injuries aside, a regular presence ever since. He has the unique record of playing and scoring in two FA Inter League System Cup Finals and was part of the Isle of Man team that represented England at the UEFA regions in Slovakia in 2014. Lee has also represented Ellan Vannin at various ConiFA competitions, as well as the Isle of Man (again) at three Inter-Island Games. It’s not a bad CV.
Gale, however, believes the FC Isle of Man experience has been his best to date.
“To take nothing away from what I’ve been lucky enough to do with the Island teams or England even, everything we’ve experienced with this (FC Isle of Man) has been top drawer,” he says. “Everything from training, our kit, and overall logistical organisation has been of the highest standard. I suppose the big difference for me is that we’ve got the island’s best players playing competitive matches every week, and not just as one-off matches or tournaments.”
“It probably feels weird for me to say that, because I’m one of the older ones now. I’m 30 and I’m looking at the younger players such as Sam Baines and Jack Camarda and I’m thinking ‘that was me’ ten years ago when I was playing with the likes of (Sean) Quaye, Jonny (Myers) and Dan Lace (Island legends all) and I’m wishing that this had happened ten years ago! However, it’s here now and I am taking the opportunity with both hands.”
It would be fair to say that pre-season and perhaps that first match had much the same environmental atmosphere as a national team, but now after a series of matches Gale believes there’s now the beginnings of a club feel.
“There’s so much crammed into the one day,” he explains. “From the early morning squad check-in at the Sea Terminal, the travelling, and the match itself, we’re spending a lot of time in each other’s company on a regular basis. This is helping to create more of a club atmosphere, and this is only going to get stronger with each passing week.”
“On top of that we’ve had a number of supporters travel with us each week from the island, and then there’s a number of Manx ‘expats’ who live in the North West region who are coming to our matches. Having our supporters at our games is making it even more special.”
With everything he’s achieved in the game, Gale is setting high expectations of himself and the team as the Ravens prepare for this week’s journey to Cheadle Heath Nomads, and the season beyond.
“We’ve got to be challenging (for the title). That’s the expectation,” he says. “We’ve got a squad full of quality players and support staff and officials of the same quality in their respective roles. So, we should set our standards to utilise that quality.”
“The big unknown is, we don’t know what we’re up against (quality of teams, players, tactics) from week to week at the moment, so we’re playing on instinct, which is understandable. I think we came away from the first game thinking that it was a good draw. Then after the second game we probably realised we could have done better.”
“We’ve missed a lot of good chances in all three games, but as we get sharper individually and as a team, we’ll become more consistent. Every week’s a different test, and I think if we go out there and apply ourselves and improve every week we’ll be challenging.”
With Gale seemingly getting back to his best, and the team setting high expectations for the season ahead, it just might be that he will be adding another bullet point in the ‘Achievements’ section of his CV.
By Steve Burns