TOM LAPS UP CAPTAIN’S ROLE
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.
“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.”
OUT OF MY WAY: Colchester skipper Tom Lapslie, right, shows his determination against Stevenage