Minute man just in time

Andrew Baker hears how the skills of Calum Giles could take Britain to Atlanta
Click to follow
The Independent Online
IMAGINE the scene: the match is tied as the special team take the field. The destiny of the side rests on one man's ability with the ball. Hang on, you might think, aren't we a bit early for the Super Bowl? Yes, we are: the sport is hockey, the special team is the penalty corner squad and the man who is required to score the vital goal is Calum Giles. The prize at stake this week, though, is every bit as valuable as the Super Bowl: goals from Giles are the key to Great Britain's chances of success in the Olympic qualifying tournament in Barcelona.

The prominence of Giles is attributable to two factors: a recent change in the rules allowing ice hockey-style rolling substitutions; and his proficiency at scoring from penalty corners with a single swept shot at a stationary ball.

The rule change was implemented at the start of the 1994-95 season, but Giles, 22, who plays for Havant in Hampshire, had anticipated the move. "Luckily, I learned the technique a year before they changed the rules," he admitted.

He learned well: in Great Britain's first game in the Olympic tournament on Friday, Giles, on the pitch for no more than two minutes, scored two of the three goals in the 3-3 draw with India. That was a highly satisfactory result for Giles and for Great Britain: India are one of the strongest teams in the tournament, having recently defeated the world champions, Pakistan. Giles can expect to add to his tally in today's game against Canada.

If two minutes' play per match sounds like an easy life for an international sportsman, consider the nervous energy he burns waiting for his moment. "I watch the game," he said. "I get involved, in fact I get a bit carried away sometimes - the managers have to calm me down." And then, as soon as his side are awarded a penalty corner, he's up. He has to work to contain his excitement. "I try to jog out slowly," he explained, "nice and calm. I've been told that rushing is a bad idea; it tenses you up."

A penalty corner involves three players who have self- explanatory roles: pusher-out, stick-stopper and striker. When he arrives on the edge of the penalty circle, Giles explains to the other two the strategy that the coach has ordered. "The ball is stopped outside the circle. I have my back foot in front of the ball, transfer my weight, drag the ball two-and-a-half yards into the circle and then flick my wrists to send it where I want."

So important is Giles's contribution that he was flown out to Barcelona two days before the rest of the squad to practise on Spanish pitches. David Whittle, the Great Britain manager, considered the expense worthwhile. "Giles may not spend much time on the pitch," Whittle said, "but he is a key member of the squad. Those 48 hours in Barcelona will have been worth a month's training at home."

They must have felt like a month: in two days Giles took more than 400 shots at goal. "It does get boring," he said. "But that's when you know you've got to get your head down."

Giles finds it difficult to draw comparisons with his role in other sports. "There are similarities with baseball, where the guy hits a home run, slaps hands and sits down." What about an American Football kicker? "No, not really," Giles reckoned. "He's got all those people to protect him, he's got a much bigger target and he's not up against a goalkeeper."

The closest comparison, in fact, is with Machiavelli's Prince. "This job," Giles declared, "is about power and deception."