Galton: My love for the game has grown at United
Back to full fitness after overcoming a recent injury, Leah Galton is as eager as anyone for the Women's Super League campaign to resume, with confidence and consistency being at the forefront of her mind...
How are you feeling fitness-wise, Leah?
"I feel great. I didn’t feel too great after the Everton game – which was no surprise with it being my first game back – but I’ve been back in training since then, working hard in the gym while having a bit of time off."
How much did you enjoy that Everton game, having missed the previous four matches through injury?
"It was the best possible return, for us to win and to score twice. I rarely score these days, so to get two was great for my confidence. We really needed the win also."
That’s three goals you’ve scored against Everton...
"Yeah, I got one in the cup last season. I think they’ve secretly become our rivals, as we both really want to beat each other. Everton are a good team, a good unit, and they’ve found some consistency since last season. It’s always a good battle against them."
You spoke after the game of your pride at how you took your chances. Is scoring more goals something you’ve been working hard on?
"Hundred per cent. Me and Casey had a chat not long ago, and we agreed one of my goals was to score more goals. I obviously love assists but it’s a real confidence boost for me to score, and of course that can give us more of a chance to win the game. So I’ve been working hard in training to take my chances as much as I can."
Some wingers seem to take more pride in assisting a goal than scoring one – what about you?
"I can understand that. The feeling of scoring is amazing, but when you’ve played an important part in the build-up of a really good team goal, it feels just as good."
"From my United career, it’s the best. I’ve been working on that – chopping inside, outside, then beating the keeper at the near post. Most keepers would predict the ball to go across the goal from such a position, meaning they often tend to start moving that way before you hit it. So it was great to use that knowledge to score at the near post."
Having returned for one fixture, all this time without a game must be particularly frustrating for you...
"It has been. Training’s been good though – quite a few players have been away on international duty so we’ve had small numbers, making training intense as it’s been smaller and sharper. But we’re all very excited to get back on the pitch for the games we have left."
You signed a new contract with the club in January, of course – how pleased were you to put pen to paper?
"It was a really nice feeling, to have that security, to know I’m tied in to where I want to be. I don’t want to be anywhere else, so for the club to want me as well, was really exciting. It’s the best feeling to be wanted like that."
At the time, Casey Stoney said she believed you to be “one of the best in the country in her position”. What did it meant to hear her say that?
"I’ve always struggled with my confidence so when your head coach says something like that publicly, it’s huge. She wouldn’t say it unless she thought it and if that’s what Casey Stoney believes, that gives me confidence in myself to be one of the best wingers in the world."
How much of your development is down to her?
"I’ve come on a lot at United, having taken a big break from football before I came here. My love for the game has gone through the roof since I’ve been here, not just physically but mentally. A lot of that is due to the team – the philosophy, how we train and the girls in general – but the head coach has a huge role in that as well, of course."
"We have, and that’s what this team is really good at. You’re obviously closer to some team-mates more than others, but the group is so tight – if someone is injured, everyone helps you get through it. You’re still in every day, you’re still around the girls, and you’re still valued. Being injured is never nice but it gives you time to reflect on your game, and work in the gym, which Kirky [Kirsty Hanson] and I have both been doing."
Much like yourself, Kirsty’s put in some strong displays down the wing this season...
"I love playing with her. We’re quite similar – we love to run at full-backs and get crosses into the box, and we always talk before the game. If she has the ball, I’m going to make sure I’m at the back post and vice versa, so we know where each other will be. She’ll be a big plus once she’s back – for the team in general and for me."
Who’d win a sprint race between the two of you?
"Probably Kirky. Jess [Sigsworth] would be up there too, though, and Kirsty Smith. We have quick defenders – Millie [Turner] and Martha [Harris] also. It’s a good race on fitness testing day!"
Your fitness levels certainly seemed high prior to your recent injury...
"Before I got injured this time around, I was definitely at the peak of my physical fitness in my career. I’d never been able to last 90+ minutes without tiring, or hitting a wall at 80 minutes, but I was playing a full game without any problems, so I was really happy with that."
A fourth derby of 2019/20 is still on the schedule this season. How much have you enjoyed the fixtures against Manchester City so far?
"You just want the city to be red at full-time, that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter if it’s not the prettiest game – if you win, you win. I missed the last derby and my heart was in my mouth for most of it, especially when that ball crossed the City goal line [and the goal wasn’t given]. I was right in line with it, so I saw it!"
"I have, and that comes with being attached to this club. I was in Budapest recently when a man walked up to me and went, “You’re Leah Galton, Man United, aren’t you?” I had my normal clothes on and didn’t have my hair braided. I think more people are aware of who you are than you realise, so it’s still a surprise when that happens. It’s a nice feeling. It gives you a sense of, ‘I’ve got a great job and love what I do’, so it’s nice to be recognised for that."
Were you involved in the latest ‘Team United’ bonding activity?
"Yeah, a couple of weeks ago we had [stage actress] Mazz Murray from Mamma Mia! join us, which was amazing. We went in not knowing what was going to happen, which is a big part of the day, but everyone loved it. We all had to sing our name and position in front of everyone, which was hard, but everyone’s so close now that you just do it and know that no one’s going to care! It was also really great to hear about the experiences she has had in her career, I think it’s good to have people from different industries come in and share their story with the group."
Talk us through a typical rest day for yourself...
"I have a dog now, Rhubarb. He’s a cross between a Pomeranian and a Chihuahua and is the cutest little thing, but he has so much energy! So I’ll get up, take him for a stroll, tire him out, then sit and watch some TV. Then I’ll clean the house while listening to some music – I’ve got a very old lifestyle now, I’m getting on! [Laughs] Sometimes I’ll go to the gym with [partner] Sheridan – I’m trying to PT [personal train] her, as I like that. Being a strength and conditioning coach is a path I’d like to go down after football, like Elle [Turner, MU Women performance coach] does. After that, it’s TV at night. I’ve been watching Our Girl... it’s so good!"
A fourth-place finish remains the target this season. Would that constitute a good campaign?
"I’d say so. Coming up from the Championship is not easy, whatever club you are, and we’re still in our second season. Obviously we want to win the league and get a Champions League spot, but we have to be realistic. Look at where we are now, after two years, then think about where we could be two years from now. That’s how I like to see it. We just have to learn from our mistakes this year. Consistency is huge – anyone can beat anyone in the WSL, that’s what I like about it, but if want to be in that top three, we have to be more consistent."
Red leading ladies gallery
Go behind the scenes as Casey Stoney and her players spend time with MAMMA MIA! star and United fan, Mazz Murray.
When did you first feel you’d properly made it as a footballer?
"I still don’t feel like I’ve made it, to be honest. I don’t think I will until I retire and look back. All I know is that I’m here right now, which is very exciting, but I don’t know where my career will take me – how long it will be or what will happen – and I don’t think you should ever think you’ve made it until you stop. If I did, that might stop me trying so hard."
What’s been your proudest moment in football so far?
"Getting drafted in America [in the 2016 NWSL College Draft] was great for me – it was make or break coming out of college [Hofstra University in New York]; if you don’t get drafted you don’t have anything. When you graduate from college in the US, any footballer can enter the draft, then 40 players are picked, and each team has a certain number of picks from the list. I made that list, and I was 13th on it, and I ended up at [New Jersey club] Sky Blue. It would have killed my confidence if I didn’t make the cut – like being told I wasn’t not good enough – so for more than one reason that was a proud moment. Other than coming to United, going to America was the best decision of my career, purely because I went to college. I needed something other than football – I was training and playing football, but also going to school and getting a degree. The training was very intense. They love the gym – the players are very strong, very fit. Whoever wins the race, whoever pushes who off the ball, who wins the ball – that’s the biggest difference. Here it’s more technical, more about seeing that through ball. I like to think I developed the physical side of my game out in the States, though."
Who was your hero growing up – either sporting or otherwise?
"I always say it, but my dad. He played football until three years ago, and he’s 57 now. He comes to every game I play and always has, and he’s a person I’ve looked up to throughout my whole career. He encouraged me to play, without every pressuring me, from five years old. It was never ‘you’ve got to do that’, it was always, ‘if you want to do it, do it’. That’s why I respect him so much."
If you hadn’t taken up football, what do you think you might be doing now?
"I like to think I'd be a personal trainer, seeing youngsters grow physically to be better performers in any sport. I was a good runner as a kid – until I was 15, I ran and played football six days a week, but my body couldn’t cope so I had to choose one [sport]. I was only going to choose football though, rather than having to train for long-distance running, which I hate now! I just don’t know though. I’ve been fortunate enough not to have to think of another profession so far, so it’ll be interesting when the time comes."
"I wish there was a power play, a three-minute period near the end which had stupid rules. Like if you score a goal, it counts as two goals, and anyone could take a throw-in, even if you kicked it out. It would be entertaining!"
Away from football, what do you cherish the most?
"I don’t think I could survive without [partner] Sheridan. Of course I love her but she also does so much – she’s my hair stylist, for starters! I have a new style for every game, but it has to come out so my hair can relax for a bit as it gets quite tight. I like to get my hair out of the way, I hate the thought of anything stopping me from focusing – I like to control what I can control."
And what in your life could you live without?
"My phone. I hate them; I wish I didn’t have to have one. Kirky will message me, then three hours later I’ll reply and she’ll be like ‘what have you been doing?’ and I’m like, ‘just not looking at my phone!’"
Describe yourself in three words?
"Committed, definitely, to whatever I’m doing. Positive – I’m a positive person and if someone is down, I’ll put an arm around them to check if they are all right. And I’m going to say powerful for the last one, as everyone says I’m a powerful footballer."
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