By Toby Porter
Charlton centre-back Tom Lockyer is one of the first names on manager Lee Bowyer’s team sheet and has played more game time for him than almost anyone.
He is like a senior player for the Addicks, despite being just 25.
And the Valley side rely on him to be a mature head, with the number of youngsters coming into the depleted team this season. The Wales international and former Bristol Rovers star said: “For the young lads it’s all about trying to go out and express themselves and enjoy the game.
“They need to continue to play the way they’ve been playing – which is what won them their places in the team in the first place. Then they will do well in our league matches.
“A lot of times young players coming through into the first team will play the occasion and not game. Youngsters can get stage fright.
“But ours have been brilliant. You would prefer they come in with a full squad and a better run of results. But this gives them a platform to show what they can do, whatever the results are.
“I learnt pretty early in my career that you must not get too high with the wins and too low with a defeat. I would get pretty excited when we won at Rovers and super low when we lost.
“After defeat I would come home and be all over the place – moaning to my mum and dad. Sometimes I would not come out of my room for two days.
“A senior player at Rovers said ‘there will be plenty of highs and lows in your career so try to get used to that roller coaster’. So I’m a big believer in staying as level as you can.”
The biggest low so far for Lockyer has been relegation out of the football league with Bristol Rovers in 2015. The Memorial Stadium side just needed to draw on the last day of the campaign to stay in League Two. But that day everything went wrong. Visitors Mansfield Town had forgotten their tops and had to wear the Rovers away kit. So when Rovers lost 1-0, it was against a team wearing their own shirts.
Lockyer said: “Looking back on it now, the club was all wrong and going down was the best thing that happened. You wouldn’t say that if we had not bounced back at the first time of asking – because big teams can get stuck in that league. But we had a restructure then came back into the Football League. That has paid dividends.
“My old man says ‘Tough times don’t last – tough people do’ – and that is so true.
“Whichever club you play for, there will always be difficult periods. At Manchester City, even if you win the title four times out of five, there will be times it’s not going your way. You have to fight and stick together as a team.
“When we got relegated it was a team of individuals and there was no togetherness or team spirit. “There were cliques in the changing room so it was inevitable. It was embarrassing to be relegated with such good players.”
Lockyer learned his lessons young. He was brought up in a very competitive environment – and like a lot of successful footballers he had an older brother, James. He was always trying to be better than him at everything. Lockyer’s mum Ann also swam for Wales Lockyer said: “It didn’t matter what it was – even computer games. I had a mad competitive streak. Even playing six-a-side with a local team when I was young, if the ref gave a free-kick that was wrong and we ended up losing my dad would have to drag me to the car. He’d say ‘it’s just one game’. But I would go ‘no – it’s important!’ I had to be better than everyone.
“My dad is very level-headed – he doesn’t make decisions on emotion. As I got older, I realised it and I looked to him for a lot of big decisions – in football and in life. It is unfortunate that my parents can’t get to as many games as they used to when I was at Rovers but more matches are on television these days, so they can watch me.”
They can also see him in a Wales shirt in friendlies during the international break, after they qualified under Ryan Giggs for Euro 2020 after a 2-0 win over Hungary in November.
Lockyer said: “Now we have qualified the gaffer can start looking at people properly.
“It will be interesting – I will look forward to being able to play a part. I’ve been involved in the last two games and I was over the moon when we qualified.
“I take my career seriously so if I have any niggles in my muscles then I would always come out. I’m always doing work on my core to make sure it doesn’t happen.
“It is all about managing your body and the Wales set-up look after you and don’t take risks – you’re not forced to train if there is a doubt. I’m sure if they did, then clubs would soon be on to them about it.”
Lockyer is looking forward to tomorrow’s game against joint top West Brom. He said: “They made nine changes in the FA Cup against us so I was looking at the team sheet hoping there will be some youngsters. But they were all senior players – the strength in depth in their squad is crazy.
“The fans can play their part. We just want them to come and do what they normally do – singing and cheering throughout the game. Keep banging that drum because we can certainly hear it and it gets everyone going. There should be a big crowd.
“We really appreciate the support we’ve been getting on this run which has not been so good. We know it’s not easy for them. We’re trying to do everything we can to get results for them to cheer about. They’ve been fantastic.”