Lee Gale has been at the heart of Manx football for over a decade, a period during which he has represented the island at various levels of the game. An FA Inter-League Cup winner (and the only man to score in two such finals), represented England at the UEFA Regions as well as the Isle of Man at numerous Island Games and Umbro Cups since making his senior international debut aged just 19.
Despite all his successes, the last couple of years have not been an easy time for Gale. Injuries have plagued him in recent seasons. A bad shoulder injury following a fast ‘get off’ on his mountain bike (another sport at which he has represented the Island) meant he missed the showcase friendlies against Guernsey FC last season, there then followed several niggly muscular ailments, most notably an Achilles injury which seriously reduced his playing time in the lead up to the start of the 2021-22 season. At the time, and approaching 30 years of age, there was a doubt in his own mind whether he would be signed by the Ravens. Manager, Chris Bass had no doubts though.
When the Ravens started pre-season training in early June, Lee hit the ground running and despite starting the first game of the season on the bench, he has largely been a prominent component of the side, although an injury picked up at West Didsbury in August put him on the side lines for a few weeks, and then he ruled himself out of three games In November after an uncharacteristic sending off against Rocester.
Since getting his place back in the side following that suspension, against Sandbach immediately prior to Christmas, Gale has been arguably the Ravens most consistent and influential player. A change in team formation at the start of the year has given Gale a further opportunity to shine further, in what is probably his best and favourite position – the right wing. As well as bagging six goals himself, he clearly leads the team in assists with 19 to date. Six of which have been in the last two games. It’s fair to say that Lee overcome the challenges he faced prior to pre-season, and he is relishing the opportunity he has been given with FC Isle of Man.
Joe Reid and The Editor collared Gale after training last week and reflected on the season to date.
FC Isle of Man: Prior to the start of this season, you had a few hurdles to overcome in recovering from some serious injuries. You’ve worked very hard, firstly to get into the squad, but you’re now also an integral part of the team. How have you found the season to date and the experience of playing in the North West Counties Football League?
Lee Gale: I’m just loving being involved. It was difficult at the start of the season as I was recovering with my injury and all I want to do is just focus on and enjoy playing football. The Achilles I injured was a real nightmare as I couldn’t do any sprinting, and that’s a big part of my game. It was a long rehab phase, and I missed a lot of games. Now that I’ve managed to work my way back to starting matches and it’s all been worth it. I’m also really enjoying playing on the wing again. I think the manager has waited until he knew I was fit enough to put me there but its where I feel at my best.
FCIOM: A lot of people perhaps will not know that you’re actually a two-sport athlete. Five years ago you decided to take up cycling. Why did you make that decision and what made you return to football?
LG: I had a great first spell in Manx football, but I fancied a change so thought I’d give cycling a go and try and win a gold medal at the Island Games. I was lucky enough to achieve that, then just after that it looked like FC Isle of Man was going to become real so that temptation (to return to football) was always there. When I was cycling, I missed the social side that football provides and being part of a team, so I wanted to take all I had learnt from cycling and apply that to my football. FC Isle of Man has given me the opportunity of a new challenge, which was something I was really to take on.
FCIOM: You’ve been a prominent figure in the local game for well over ten years now, and you’ve mentioned that you’re happy to be currently playing in your favourite position, but are there aspects of your game that you are still looking to improve?
LG: The big one for me, and a lot of the lads in the team is decision making. This is a new, and higher, level of football for all of us and the pace of the game is so much faster. You get less time on the ball and you have to be ready to make the right decision at the right time.
FC IOM: You lead the team in assists this season, but you’ve scored a few too. Do you see yourself more as a goal scorer or a provider?
LG: I’m a team player for sure. I am probably more a provider and I’d like to think that most people I’ve played alongside would say the same thing. I get the same buzz after setting a goal up as I do when I score one!
FCIOM: It has been a huge commitment from everyone at the club this year, but specially for the players with the volume of fixtures to play, the need to maintain training standards and earlier in the season the constant travel. As a family man how have you managed to combine the commitment to football with everyday life?
LG: It can be really tough at times. I’m one of the older lads in the squad so for me it’s about managing everything. I have a job, a teenage son, a mortgage, and a partner so it’s tough balancing it all. I am very fortunate that my partner and family are so supportive, and I wouldn’t be doing this without their encouragement and it’s all worth it for that feeling on a Saturday when we step out on that pitch!
FC IOM: On the same theme of commitment what have you found the most challenging aspect about this season?
LG: Easy, the constant fixture load, there’s no weekends off. We’ve played more games at this stage of the season than we would have in a normal Manx football season, and we still have loads left! It’ll be tough on our legs so I’m sure the manager will be rotating players at some point to keep everyone fresh.