TOM LAPS UP CAP­TAIN’S ROLE

Mid­fielder’s mis­sion

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Dan Barnes

TOM Lap­slie has had no choice but to grow up fast at Colch­ester.

But meet­ing each new chal­lenge head on has been all the more com­fort­able thanks to the in­flu­ence of his long-term men­tor, John McGreal, left. The com­bat­ive mid­fielder came into the game later than most, first join­ing the U’s acad­emy at the age of 16. His pro­fes­sional de­but ar­rived as a 19-year-old in a 3-1 FA Cup de­feat to Cardiff in Jan­uary 2015. Last sea­son, Lap­slie made 40 ap­pear­ances for Colch­ester and was named the club’s young player of the sea­son. With reg­u­lar cap­tain Luke Prosser still re­cov­er­ing from a knee in­jury sus­tained more than a year ago, this term the 22year-old was named as stand-in skip­per. Lap­slie has been en­trusted with the arm­band by U’s man­ager McGreal, the same man who coached him through mul­ti­ple age groups.

“When I joined Colch­ester, he was ac­tu­ally my Un­der-16s man­ager,” said Lap­slie. “When I went up to the Un­der-21s, he even­tu­ally took over there and now he’s man­ager of the first team, so he’s been my man­ager for six or so years now.

“There were a lot of boys the could have given the arm­band to in Pross’ ab­sence, but he made me the Un­der-21s cap­tain be­fore. He trusted me enough then and be­lieved in me, so it’s no dif­fer­ent now, is it?

“As cliched as it sounds, you play as if you’re the cap­tain even if you’re not.

“You do the right things – you live right, you train well, you work your hardest – whether you are or aren’t the cap­tain. That’s my phi­los­o­phy for it.

“I or­gan­ise and com­mu­ni­cate, try to get as much out of the play­ers, so maybe that’s why he trusted me in the first place.”

Lap­slie was play­ing for Sun­day League side On­gar Ju­niors and Mal­don Town in Es­sex be­fore he fi­nally de­cided to dip his toe into the pro­fes­sional game.

He said: “When you’re 16, your mates are go­ing off to do A-lev­els or ap­pren­tice­ships, and I left home and moved in with a fam­ily in Colch­ester.

Striv­ing

“Then, you ef­fec­tively go into a job. You’re an ap­pren­tice, but it’s long days clean­ing boots, filling up drinks and sort­ing the kit out for the first team, so you do have to grow up fast, I sup­pose.”

The U’s were a League One team when Lap­slie came into the pic­ture and he is now striv­ing to lead them back to the third tier.

Last sea­son, their hopes of mak­ing an im­me­di­ate re­turn were scup­pered when they missed out on the play-offs by a sin­gle point, but McGreal’s troops have won three of their last five in League Two to lie mid-ta­ble, giv­ing Lap­slie some cause for op­ti­mism.

“I was a bit gut­ted last sea­son. You look back at it think­ing, ‘could we have turned a loss into a draw or a draw into a win?’,” he said. “Just one of those and we would have been in, and we prob­a­bly would have been the form team go­ing into the play-offs – we’d have fan­cied our­selves to beat the teams in there.

“Half­way through Oc­to­ber, we were near the bot­tom, so we went on a run and turned it around from then.

“If we can put to­gether an­other run like that – thank­fully, we’re not start­ing from 24th in the ta­ble – we can jump right up into the play-offs places and hope­fully into the top three.”

PIC­TURE: TGSPHOTO

OUT OF MY WAY: Colch­ester skip­per Tom Lap­slie, right, shows his de­ter­mi­na­tion against Steve­nage

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