It seems like only yesterday that I was on the same pitch with Tom Carson; kitted in the white tops of West of England, competing in the regional championships in Manchester. Six years later I had the absolute pleasure of catching up with my friend and former teammate following his success with England at the Hero World Hockey League Final in India.
Since our days playing together, his career has skyrocketed; from Exeter University first team, to Reading Hockey Club and most recently the Great Britain training squad. Tom and I discussed the highs and lows of his illustrious career thus far. Despite all of his success on and off the pitch, Tom is still the same humble player I knew years ago. At the age of twenty-three he is still a relatively young player in the England squad and still considers himself a newbie despite having twenty-eight caps.
I ask him how it felt to receive his first cap for the national team: “It was an extremely proud moment when I first played in a competitive tournament fixture, singing the national anthem; the feeling of excitement and honour kicks in more.”
At twenty-three, it is only thirteen years since Tom first picked up a hockey stick. Having three brothers who all play hockey and access to his father’s astroturf at school, he spent most his youth knocking a ball about.
“I just went out as much as I could to hit the ball around with my brothers. My neighbour used to play hockey for Wales and was someone who I looked up to and wanted to compete against. He helped supply me with sticks at a young age and was another person who would come out to the pitch with me.”
He is anticipating playing against one of his brothers when they get promoted into the Premier League, and who knows maybe there will be more than one Carson with an England jersey on.
Tom and the team recently came back from the World League Finals in India, coming away with a bronze medal after beating Australia in a nail-biting match. Tom tells me that winning the bronze medal has been his greatest achievement in his career so far, but it will not be his only medal, I am sure of that.
If history has taught us anything, England struggle with penalties. This is not usually the case with hockey, but this year in India, the Blacksticks of New Zealand defeated our boys in a tense penalty shootout in the semi-finals. Tom described it as the most disappointing moment in his career to date, but it was by no means a disappointment, especially for such a talented young player. The match concluded in normal time 3-3 and so it went to a penalty shootout; for those who do not know the new rules, instead of a penalty flick, the player starts on the twenty-three metre line with eight seconds to score by any means. It is a vastly more exciting, but scarier prospect for the players.
Tom stepped up twice during the shootout and successfully slotted two goals past the New Zealand keeper calmly. Speaking about the shootout, he explains that, ironically, the fact that it was his first ever competitive shootout made him feel more calm: “I can understand how the footballers feel in big games. If I am honest, I think the fact that others missed had helped calm my nerves. Fortunately my plans worked and I managed to score.” There was nothing fortunate about the fact he scored, only skill and nerves of steel made this possible. Unfortunately, it was not enough to win the match.
Hockey unfortunately does not have the publicity that football or rugby does, despite its growing popularity throughout the world. Tom jokes about the problem, “if I was more like Balotelli then the sport may have a higher profile.”
Joking aside, he enlightens me that there is a lot going on to promote hockey on both the national and global level, “as players become more well known and people aspire to be hockey players, hopefully this will help promote the sport. The TV cameras are starting to get better at the coverage and hopefully this will draw more people into the sport. The Hockey India League seems to be boosting the impression of hockey as a watchable sport”.
In total, Tom has scored thirteen goals for England in twenty-eight caps, which highlights his clinical finishing, which in turn has been rewarded by a call up into the GB training squad. Despite this, he doesn’t feel completely safe in the England team: “There is always pressure to perform to win games and keep your place in the side.”
A bronze medal at the World League finals is not enough for Tom as he has his sights set on a bigger goal, the next Olympics in Rio De Janero; but despite his talents, he withholds his confidence: “The long-term goal is to go to Rio. Whether I make it is another matter. Two and a half years is a long time to be injury-free and improving.” He reiterates what we already know that England and indeed Great Britain can compete on the international level and the squad is very strong and improving constantly.
Tom’s life, however, is not wholly spent on Astroturfs around the world, as he also has a business to manage. Recently he was on Dragons’ Den with his business partner, Chris Rea. The company YoungOnes has made itself to York via the lacrosse team, who can often be seen sporting their black and white onesies.
“Dragons’ Den was the most nervous I have been,” explains Tom, “maybe that helped the nerves before the shuttles versus New Zealand.” The nerves didn’t show and the duo impressed the Dragons enough to secure a £75,000 investment from Duncan Bannatyne.
“Once we got chatting with the Dragons it was fine as both Chris and I knew YoungOnes inside out. The toughest part of the business is maintaining the professionalism while speaking to customers on the phone when you are in a room full of team mates”.
Almost immediately after the India Hockey League, Tom was competing for Reading at the Maxi Nutrition 5’s Indoor tournament. Unfortunately, Tom and his teammates lost out in the semi final to finish fourth overall in a riveting seventeen-goal match. I doubt this will dampen his ambitions at all.
As he leaves I ask him where he see himself in ten years. His reply oozes suaveness: “Hopefully with two Olympics gold medals and multiple business’ worth millions of pounds! One can only dream!”
His advice for any aspiring athletes is poetic and beautiful: “Make sure you enjoy playing. If you enjoy it then you will want to do more of it. The more you play, the better you get.”