Ben Ashelford: First of all, I think congratulations are in order as just yesterday you were named Elgin City Young Player of the Year.
Tom McHale: Yes, thank you very much! It is an unusual time but obviously that was a nice way to end the season considering the circumstances. Hopefully things can get back to normal soon.
BA: We have had Robbie Yates on the podcast just before you and it is a bit of a goalkeeper special. When did you first discover that you wanted to play in goal?
TM: I actually started out as a striker believe it or not. I didn’t really start playing football until I was about 8 or 9. One day my brother was asked if he knew anyone that played and goal by a manager and my brother said that he chucked me in goal sometimes and from then it has just been goalkeeping, goalkeeping, goalkeeping! I have been a keeper for 15 years now and it is one of them positions, once you are in you can’t really get out. I wouldn’t have it any other way though and the last few years have been really exciting!
BA: You had two loan spells with Weymouth. One from Truro and most recently from Elgin. How did that come about?
TM: So, from Truro, the gaffer at the time (Jason Matthews) contacted Truro asking if I was available. I knew quite a few of the boys at Weymouth and I was actually working with Coppy (Jordan Copp) at the time. Truro had just been promoted from the Southern Premier to the National League South at the time. Truro brought in another keeper which was understandable at the time. I had a phone call from Jase who told me that they wanted me. I joined in the early part of that season and it was such a good experience, even first time around. It was brilliant. I was travelling up with the boys from Plymouth and it was definitely the experience I needed. Second time around I came up to Scotland after two more years at Truro. I wasn’t playing too much for Elgin. Funnily enough, the day before I was due to travel to Weymouth from Scotland was the day, we (Elgin) played Hibernian in the Scottish Cup. The following Saturday, I was playing in goal for the Terras at Salisbury! I’m sure everyone can remember that day. Bakes scoring the winner! Obviously, we went on and won promotion as champions! It was a season to remember and to achieve that for the club was brilliant.
BA: When you get linked with big clubs, does that motivate you even more or is it very much about focussing on yourself; one game at a time?
TM: To be honest, it is not secret that I want to do well in the pro game. I am just trying as hard as I possibly can to earn that opportunity because these chances don’t just get given to you and you have to work hard and earn it. Being at Weymouth was a great opportunity for me. It is the most professional non-league club out there and the standards are high. The playing standards are ridiculously high and being at Weymouth does give you that feel of being in the pro game. Coming back up to Scotland this season and getting 40+ games under my belt is only going to improve things. I know that I need to keep working hard to earn these opportunities.
BA: Do you still hold dreams of playing for Celtic? I understand you were a boyhood Celtic fan?
TM: It is one of them things that you just can’t let go of to be honest. It is one of the biggest clubs in the world in my eyes and yes, it is a dream for me but whether it happens or not, you never know, weirder things have happened. It is going to be a case of working hard and getting that break. To be honest I just need to concentrate on my game and making sure I am doing my job and not getting too distracted by that sort of thing. Strangely enough last season we were one ball away from playing Celtic in the Cup. That would have been some experience.
BA: You represented England C. Can you tell me about that experience?
TM: At the time I was at Truro. I was in the middle of doing a crazy catch nets session and then I had a phone call from the chairman at Truro and I was a bit worried really as I don’t think he ever called a player ever before. He left a message and I called him back so he could give me some more details. I had actually worked with the England C keeper coach before which was great. I was called up in March and I had to do a few tests in early May, at the end of May we were flying out to Dublin for a two-day training camp and then we played Ireland and that was an experience I will never forget. I can say that I have one Cap and I will be holding on to that feeling for a long time.
BA: As a goalkeeper, you are in quite a pressure position. Sometimes the crowds might be shouting insults at you from behind the goal. How do you approach that?
TM: I had some right pelters at Salisbury away last season funnily enough! In non-league you do hear it, there is no doubt about that! Sometimes you are playing in front of crowds of 350 and then in Weymouth’s case 1500 people are watching. Some games you go to you can hear every single thing being shouted from the crowd and it makes me laugh and you need to let it go as its all part and parcel. You cannot retaliate to it as you just look like a fool. It is never anything personal. We played Alloa in the Scottish Cup, we were 3-3 after extra time and we then beat them on penalties. I hadn’t had a haircut in ages and this little Scottish boy shouted “Did Stevie Wonder cut your hair mate”? It was one of them things that I just couldn’t stop laughing at. I was just crying with laughter.
BA: Finally, do you have a message for the fans listening?
TM: Like I said, Weymouth is the most professional non-league club I have been it. It really is levels above any other club. The fanbase is huge, the stadium is brilliant. You have a brilliant management team and a great group of players. It’s like Shaun Wilkinson just said before me, you don’t realise how big a club Weymouth is until you join it and it is one of them clubs that you just cannot help supporting. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity, just like I am with Truro. Weymouth is a club I will also hold dear to my heart.
You can listen to Tom’s full interview by listening back to Podcast #7. He goes into detail about the Scottish fans, his coaching aspirations, and much more.
Once again we would like to thank Tom for his time.