Asian Football Interviews

Better Late Than Never: How Jared Gallagher Turned Pro for His Love Of The Game Part 2

Personally, I find it rather interesting that Jared wrote an article on unorthodox pathways to Singapore professional football. Perhaps, it’s a way to express his own story – one where he himself undertook an alternative route. In part 1, we looked at Jared’s footballing journey in Shanghai and Hong Kong, where he turned out for the Kitchee U-19 team. In part 2, we look at his time in Singapore, returning home in June 2020 to serve his National Duty obligations.

When the call to serve sounds, you must answer it. Like Most Singaporean Sons, so did Jared.

Returning to Singapore in June 2020 to serve his National Service, football was on an indefinite pause. From the time he landed until the completion of his Basic Military Training (BMT), Jared didn’t play any football, and the absence of the beautiful game was something he struggled to deal with.

Thankfully, after surviving BMT, his wait to play was finally over and Jared joined Singapore Football Club.

Yet, his adventure into the Singapore football scene began close to a decade ago…

Image Credits: Singapore Football Club

Dipping His Feet Into The Singapore Football Scene In Intervals

While he spent most of his youth abroad, Jared did routinely return to our little red dot. Every year, Jared would spend two weeks back home in Singapore and while back at home, he would train with different teams and he bumped into many individuals whom SPL fans would consider familiar names.

“At first it was Chelsea Soccer School and this was way back when I was like 10 years old,” explains Jared. “I remembered seeing a couple of guys who were faces of the academy during my short stints back home. It’s funny that they ended up being my teammates now. One of them was Ryaan Sanizal, who I’m teammates with now in the National U23 setup. Back then, I remembered how [Ryaan] was the face of the Chelsea Soccer School office, in NFA and sponsored by Adidas. The other day, I was telling him how I was in awe of him when I was training with Chelsea Soccer School. Danish Siregar was one other poster boy of Chelsea Soccer School as well.”

For the next four years, Jared would train with Chelsea Soccer School, but then the academy would shut down and the budding footballer needed a new place to train whenever he made his yearly trips home. He tried his luck with JSSL and emailed Harvey Davis if he could train there when he returned the following year. As he aptly puts it, he was “at the wrong place at the right time.”

“I went to train for one evening and I was directed to join the Tampines-JSSL U19 group. To my surprise, Gavin Lee was taking the session. He probably won’t remember me but I was training with players like Elijah Lim and I kept on thinking how good these players were. From my recollections of those training sessions, I really liked the way he coached the team and the progressive football he wanted the team to play. I was surprised how good the level of football was.”

The next time Jared returned to Singapore was the summer of 2019. Gavin had been appointed as the Tampines Rovers Head Coach and Jared wanted a taste of youth football at a professional Singaporean club. He got in touch with Coach Afiq, who was the Tampines U21 Coach at the time, and trained with the Stags U19 squad a couple of times.

“Looking back, and I have no idea why now, but at the time, I just felt like I was the worst player there. Maybe it was a mental thing but I genuinely believed that the players they had were so good. This was right around the time I signed with Kitchee as well. Don’t get me wrong, I am my own biggest critique and it wasn’t demoralizing but I was just pleasantly surprised by the level of football. I certainly put this episode in the back of my mind when I went back to Hong Kong. I tried to focus on being even better.”

Image Credits: Singapore Football Club

After completing his BMT, Jared linked up with Singapore Football Club. He had previously turned out for the team in a friendly match against Tiong Bahru in 2019 and made such an impression that the coaching staff SFC asked Jared to play with the outfit whenever he could [whenever he was in town]. After being given a stay-in vocation, he knew how precious his weekends were. Yet, playing football mattered more for Jared, and between September 2020 and January 2021, he dedicated his Saturdays and night off on Wednesdays to training with SFC.

I think if anything, I was bewildered that Jared did not have any serious aspirations to go pro. He simply loved the game to death and football was a huge part of him. Obviously, anyone who doesn’t know Jared’s story would assume that his love for for the game ultimately won over and making football a viable career was the natural next step. Yet, that jump from serious football enthusiast to professional player required the assistance of one particular individual.

Taking A Leap Of Faith With Edge Of The Box

As luck would have it, during his time with SFC, he met Ryan Kim, who was and is currently playing NCAA D1 football for the University of Massachusetts Men’s Soccer Team. The two became close during this period. Ryan had been training with Edge of the Box at the time and had constantly asked me to attend sessions.

“Obviously, I heard about Edge of the Box and I saw that they were doing some good stuff. But, I didn’t feel like it was the right step for me to take cause I saw that as a place where professional or budding professionals wanted to raise their game. I did not have serious intentions to become a pro footballer. On top of that, I barely had the time given NS to attend the sessions and so, I just forgot about it.”

However, it seemed destined that Jared was supposed to link up with Rory Winters, the brain behind Edge Of The Box. Over the course of the next month or so, he connected with Harhys Stewart through a mutual friend, and after witnessing the progress they made with Edge Of The Box, attended his first session around the Christmas period of 2020. It was also the first time that Jared played football with the Stewart brothers, but it was certainly not going to be the last.

Training with Edge Of The Box became a regular fixture for Jared in 2021, and he met many SPL players who were attending sessions to prepare for the upcoming campaign. Besides the Stewart Brothers, Jared was rubbing shoulders with the likes Ikhsan and Ilhan Fandi and Zamani Zamri under the careful guidance of Rory.

Image Credits: Edge Of The Box

“If there is one man who elevates your mentality, it’s Rory Winters. Like I said, earlier, I am my own biggest critique and this is something I talk to Rory regularly about. I mean through him, I have changed my perspective as well. I used to be quite harsh on myself. Like I always rewatch my videos and nitpick the smallest of details to see how I can become better. But now I focus on being more positive. I mean I still put in the effort to rewatch my videos but I acknowledge the good as well as the bad.”

As Jared trained hard alongside other players, with Rory pushing him beyond his limits, he believed it was time to take the next step. He had his eyes set on a Young Lions contract but Jared knew it was never going to be easy.

The pandemic made recruitment via trials difficult and despite the good words that Rory, Harhys and Ryhan put in for Jared, the door remained bolted shut.

“I was getting so frustrated because I’m doing all this training and all I wanted, was a shot to prove myself. I knew that COVID-19 restrictions meant it was going to be difficult to train with the squad but knowing that didn’t help.”

Image Credits: Edge Of The Box

After a while, Jared was ready to give up. Long phone calls with Rory ensued as Jared did doubt whether it was worth all the effort. Nevertheless, he soldiered on. Thankfully, after knocking on Young Lion’s door for so long, he eventually got the opportunity to trial for the team.

The Time Is Now & Not Looking Back

“I remember getting this text from Sam, our General Manager, who informed me that I will be training under Coach Fandi’s Sunday Programme. So they had this Sunday Programme where women national team players and some players serving NS would train every Sunday.

“I remember being so nervous because in my head it was a trial but it was just training. Coach Fandi [Ahmad] told me that they wanted to assess my levels and see if I was fit enough. I did that like one time and the next thing I know, I receive another text from Sam. He messaged me saying that I had the green light to train with Young Lions and informed me of the necessary COVID protocols.”

Image Ctedits: Singapore Premier League

Once again, Jared was jittery as he stepped onto the pitch for his first Young Lions training session in April 2021. While he had known a couple of the other lads through his time with Edge of the Box, he didn’t know the bulk of the squad. He was also starstruck during sessions because this was the period when national team stalwarts Izwan Mahbud and Zulfahmi Arifin were training with the Young Lions squad to maintain their match fitness for the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers in June. It was pretty daunting for Jared but, determined to earn a contract, he overcame many obstacles to prove his worth.

“It had been a while since I played eleven-a-side football, and at first I felt like I was out of my depth. To make matters worse, whenever I felt I was getting in the groove of things, I would have an outfield or something related to NS that would cause a disruption. Managing that was never easy, but I was thankful to have a very supportive OC (Officer Commanding) who recognized my passion and wanted me to succeed as a footballer. It was really tough but I feel privileged to have played football while serving NS.”

Three and a half months later, and after countless training sessions, Jared had done enough to impress the Young Lions coaching staff. Then Young Lions head coach Philippe Aw approached Jared and told him that the club was prepared to offer him a contract if he passed the beep test. Being the fitness junkie that he is, Jared aced the test and duly secured his first contract. It was a dream come true for a player that never considered playing professional football a reality. Had you told Jared he’d be playing professional football a year earlier, he wouldn’t have believed you.

Unfortunately, it would be sometime before Jared turned out for the Young Lions in the SPL. Why? Well that’s a great question.

“Our first game back from the mid-season break was against Balestier Khalsa and I was really excited. I was getting ready for that game cause I was eligible, or so I thought. A week before the game, we had a training match and I was fielded in team that consisted the usual starting XI, the guys that were expected to start the next game. So, I was really feeling pumped for the fixture. Then, it was the Friday before the fixture. Usually, we do our set piece drills and I was sent to train with the reserves, which was really odd because I had been involved with the first team training that entire week. After training, Philippe and Sam come up to me and pulled me aside to explain that I’m ineligible to play any games till the end of the season.

“So, I signed an U18 contract with Kitchee to play for them and technically I needed an international transfer certificate to be transferred from Kitchee to Young Lions. What that means on paper is that Kitchee did not release me. So, when Young Lions asked them to release me, the transfer window had already closed. Usually, Young Lions don’t have to follow transfer window rules due to the special arrangement with SPL clubs. I mean most, if not all, Young Lions players are last registered with an SPL club whereas I was last registered with a Hong Kong team.”

Image Credits: FAS

Knowing that he couldn’t feature until 2022 devastated Jared. While Jared was delighted to see his teammates do well, he was bitter about the circumstances that he found himself in. Still, Jared was not going to let all the time and effort he had invested go to waste. He used the episode as added motivation to work even harder in training.

His endeavours on the pitch did not go unnoticed, and towards the end of the season, Phillipe told Jared that he was in contention for a place in the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers provisional squad. No one, least Jared, expected him to get a call up. Nonetheless, unlike others who May have crumbled under the pressure to perform. Jared seized the opportunity and never looked back. When the final squad was unveiled, Jared Gallagher stood amongst the list of names.

Since featuring for the Cubs in the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualification fixture against South Korea, Jared’s career has been on an upward trajectory. He was part of the Singapore U-23 side that competed in Vietnam for the 2022 AFF U-23 Championship. While Singapore lost both their group stage fixtures, Jared managed to provide a spectacular assist to Ilhan Fandi to open the Cubs’ account in the competition. Yet, while he relished the opportunity to represent Singapore once again, making his professional debut in the SPL had always been in the back of his mind. Fortunately, Jared’s International Transfer Certificate issue was finally resolved prior to the start of the new campaign and on March 19, 2022, Jared finally made his long-awaited debut.

Image Credits: FAS

Jared may not have started every game and make no mistake, he is still an unpolished gem. Yet, I think Jared’s future is immensely bright especially since he has completed his full-time National Service (ORD LOH). As a natural number 6, he is a rarity in the current football landscape. He sits back and does the dirty work needed to help his defenders out. Obviously, I am biased, given that Jared and I share a rather close relationship, but I sincerely believe that in due time, Jared could be a mainstay in the national team set up. Only time will tell.

Featured Image Credits: FAS & Young Lions

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