Asian Football Interviews

Better Late Than Never: How Jared Gallagher Turned Pro for His Love Of The Game Part 1

Many Singaporeans would remember the wonder-strike by Nur Adam during the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualification fixture between the Singapore U-22s and the Korea U-22 teams. While Nur Adam’s goal was certainly memorable, it was another moment during the last few minutes that I would forever cherish. As the game was drawing to a close and Singapore’s defeat all but confirmed, one particular player was subbed in for the Cubs.

Jared Gallagher was formally introduced to the wider Singapore football fraternity that night. Even though he had signed a contract with the Young Lions some months earlier, he had never featured for the Young Lions during the 2021 campaign, unlike his other teammates. Hence, there were probably a fair few Singaporean fans scratching their heads, wondering who this young man was.

On the other hand, I (and of course, Rory Winters from Edge Of The Box) was proud that Jared was finally living his football dream.

Obviously, I had no hand in Jared’s professional development, but, as we mentioned in yesterday’s article, Jared is the latest addition to the SoccerKakis squad. And, he is someone that Jack and I welcome aboard. Having previously played in Hong Kong, with the Kitchee U-19 team, and now, turning out for the Young Lions, Jared offers a unique perspective to the beautiful game. We are delighted that he has joined us and are equally eager to share his articles on our platform.

Nevertheless, many of you might be wondering who Jared is, how he got his start and why he couldn’t play for the Young Lions in 2021. These are questions that we will try to answer in this article. Make no mistake, though. No singular article, social media post or podcast can truly capture the essence of his story. His tale will unravel as time wages on.

In part 1, we focus on his football career before he returns home to serve his National Service.

Late To The Game…

Born in Singapore to an Irish father and Singaporean mother, Jared was just like your typical Singaporean kid. Growing up in Bukit Gombak, he was enrolled in St. Anthony’s Primary School and, like most of us growing up, sports were an important part of his life. However, instead of football, it was badminton and wushu that took up most of his time.

Well, that changed in Primary Two. Halfway through the school year, Jared’s family had to migrate to China and young Jared swapped Singapore for Shanghai. For the next 8 years, Shanghai would be home.

It was in China, where football supposedly originated from, that Jared would develop an immense love for the beautiful game. His formal introduction to the sport was not due to any romanticism with these historical origins. Rather, it was borne out of necessity.

“I was thrust into a Singapore international school in Shanghai and it’s really different from your average school in Singapore. That’s when I picked up football because it was the only real way to make friends. Everybody in my year was playing football during lunchtime and so I decided to join in. Before that, I never really kicked a football and I didn’t really watch it on the television as well. I guess I never really cared for football during my formative years.”

That certainly changed once he started playing the sport more with his newfound friends and it wasn’t long before he dove deeper into the football realm. Realizing his love for the beautiful game, Jared’s parents signed him up with a local academy. Soon after, he joined a Sunday League team. While he enjoyed his time playing, he did struggle as opposed to his peers. Nevertheless, that did not stop Jared from becoming a better footballer, and he trained harder to refine his skills. Soon, he moved to arguably the best team in his Sunday League, and it was not long after that he became one of the key players in that squad.

Photo Credits: Jared Gallagher

As the years waged on, Jared was playing so much that he began to feel that he made up for all the years he missed playing before his move to Shanghai. Yet, this didn’t dawn onto him until he was forced to sit on the sidelines. When Jared was 14 years old, he fractured his foot while playing basketball with a few friends after school. For three months, Jared was robbed of the opportunity to play any football.

“It was really hard to watch my friends play during recess, let alone the Sunday League games. I remember I really wanted to just be on the field with my crutches and kick the ball around. Sometimes they’d pass me the ball and I’d use my non-fractured foot to pass while balancing with my crutches. This one time though, the ball came straight at me and hit me on my chest. I fell backwards with my crutches and I couldn’t get up on my own. I really hated not being able to play.”

Photo Credits: Jared Gallagher

Once Jared recovered, he finished the year playing for his local Sunday League side, but he had to quit the following year to focus on his GCSEs. Instead, he decided to play for his school team while he focused on his academics. However, given that the school football season only lasted three months, the itch to play proved too irresistible. Jared contacted an old coach of his who recommended the young midfielder to join another amateur side, Reunited FC. The club had a U-19 team where U-19 players also turned out for the senior men’s side. It was through this that Jared got his exposure to men’s football at the age of 15.

Keep in mind that this was the first time that Jared played eleven-a-side football, as it was most common for teams in Shanghai to play seven-a-side fixtures.

“Even at Aksil, we still played seven-a-side fixtures on Monday and we played eleven-a-side matches on the weekends instead. I feel playing against really strong opposition on the cold nights in Shanghai really toughened me up.”

…But Better Late Than Never

Jared’s family left Shanghai for Hong Kong in 2018 and Jared bade farewell to his Shanghai footballing stint. Yet that did not signal the end of his adventure. It merely marked the beginning. Jared joined Kowloon Cricket Club’s (KCC) U-16 side and worked with then-U-16 head coach Chancy Cooke, who is now the Assistant Coach and Head of Player Performance at Hong Kong Premier League side Southern District RSA. While Jared was enjoying his football, he was hungry for more and so Cooke introduced young Jared to another men’s team, Azzuri, to train with half way through the 2018 season.

It was at Azzuri, that Jared met head coach Lee Tsang who took a liking to Jared, and the pair shared a close bond. A few months later, Lee would move to German All Stars (GAS), an amateur team that played in the Yau Yee League in Hong Kong, and Jared would follow him.

Besides playing for the KCC U-18s (he had to be promoted due to his age) and the GAS men’s team, he was also playing for his new school’s football team. Juggling school and football with three different teams is no easy feat, especially with the level of football he was playing with GAS.

“German All Stars might have been an amateur club but the level was really high. We had one player who was ex-Serie C. The thing was though, all of them were really old – like upwards of 26 years – whereas I was this 17-year-old kid. I remember my first pre-season friendly as well. The game got called off because there was this massive brawl. My dad came down to the game and it was his first time seeing me play in a proper match. He was fine with all the fighting but made sure I did not tell my mum about it.”

Photo Credits: German All Stars FC

At the end of the 2018/2019 season, the annual Hong Kong Soccer Sevens was to be held. The Yau Yee League was to send 10 players to represent the league in this tournament and thus players had to attend a series of trials. Lee Tsang was appointed as coach of the squad and oversaw the trials. Jared didn’t consider his chances since there were so many other senior players that plied their trade in the competition. However, against all odds, he made the final round and while he did not make the final cut, Lee selected him for the squad as a reserve player.

He may have not made a single appearance but it was a surreal experience for Jared. He witnessed the Premier League youth sides that the Yau Yee League representatives faced. Jared got to see his side take on outfits like Brighton and Hove Albion, Aston Villa and Newcastle United, who fielded Matty and Sean Longstaff.

Had Jared stayed with German All Stars, he would have most probably played for the Yau Yee League in the 2020 Hong Kong Soccer Sevens. Unfortunately, fate had other ideas the global pandemic would have prevented that reality from materialising.

Kitchee Comes Calling & A Professional Route Opens?

While playing with Kowloon Cricket Club’s U-18 team, Jared squared up against Kitchee SC’s U-19 team. After playing sometime in various amateur leagues, he came across many familiar faces on the Kitchee side – former teammates and opponents he had previously rubbed shoulders with. It was while catching up with these players that Jared managed to ask about a potential trial with Kitchee SC.

With many of his associates vouching for him, the midfielder managed to get a two-week trial with arguably the Hong Kong Premier League’s most successful outfit to date. While training with Kitchee during this probation period, Jared was thrown into the thick of things. Kitchee had a U-18 Cup Final with Southern District RSA around the corner. Jared was fielded in the opposition side during an internal training match to simulate the Southern players because the coaches recognized his physical playstyle. Thankfully, he impressed the coaching staff during his trial and was offered a youth contract with the club. It was the first time that Jared signed with a professional team, and he was blown away by the high standards of Kitchee.

“When I arrived at Kitchee SC in 2019, it was the most professional thing I had ever come near. Till that point, I was paying to play football. With amateur sides like Kowloon Cricket Club and German All Stars, I had to pay subscription fees. At Kitchee, they had full ownership of their pitch, a gym, and provided you with matchday and training kits. Each team had three coaches assigned to it and they had physios as well as all sorts of resources.”

Returning to Kitchee after the summer break, Jared was the fittest he had ever been at that point. To his surprise, he was starting in pre-season games for the U-19s despite his lack of professional football experience.

Interestingly, Jared never thought about becoming a professional footballer even at this point. For him, it was all about enjoying football. He never consciously realized that all those hours of training were necessary steps to fulfill some professional footballing dream. Rather, he simply loved football so much that it was only natural for him to dedicate time to something he was immensely passionate about.

Image Credits: Kitchee FC

However, some months later, COVID-19 gripped the world and football was not spared, as many leagues suspended or cancelled their competitions that year. The Pandemic denied Jared the opportunity to further hone his skills with Kitchee, but it was not all gloom and doom for him. When you’re as passionate about football as Jared, you find a way around things.

“I really love the game so much and I have dedicated so much to it. I would skip school socials and stuff to attend training because I honestly enjoyed going for training more. So, when COVID-19 hit and lessons were conducted online, I was no longer physically attending classes in school. That allowed me to travel and train.”

Who was Jared training with?

When he joined German All Stars, Lee Tsang was replaced by another head coach. Alex Snow – one other person that played an important role in Jared’s growth as a footballer. During the summer of 2020, he would train with Snow and other students and professionals that were equally passionate about the beautiful game. This continued till mid-June when, like every Singaporean son, the call to serve required him to return home.

Days after the circuit breaker was lifted in Singapore, Jared flew back to Singapore to serve his National Service obligations. COVID-19 regulations ruled out the possibility of any football and he couldn’t play a single minute for the entirety of his Basic Military Training (BMT). Nevertheless, the thought of lacing up his football boots always lingered on the back of his mind.

How did he make it to Young Lions? Who helped him along the way? Why join SoccerKakis?

These are important questions that would be answered in part 2 of this article. Stay tuned!

Featured Image Credits: Young Lions

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