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Published 11 August 2022 7 min read
England Men's Senior Team

Conor Gallagher on growing pains, grassroots football and his band of brothers

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Conor Gallagher

The England and Chelsea midfielder takes us through his story, from the garden with his family and grassroots football, right through to making the grade on the international stage


Looking back to my days growing up at home, I think it’s my mum who I felt really sorry for.

I’m the youngest of four brothers and when I think back to my younger days, to be honest, it was brilliant.

But it could also be pretty chaotic and I think mum spent a lot of her time chasing, tidying and cleaning after us.

Obviously, we all loved football and sport in general so we were always doing it together because we were similar ages – with a seven-year gap between the eldest brothers Jake and Josh who are twins and then a three-year gap between me and my middle brother, Dan.

I remember we asked mum to buy us a goal to go in the garden, like a seven-a-side one and then a few years later we asked for a bigger eleven-a-side goal which took up most of the space out there but it was great fun, especially when we’d have our cousins and friends over to play.

And there was a tree in the middle of the garden, which we had to play around and I remember we always used to beg mum to get it chopped down and out of the way but she was having none of it.
Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate speaks to Gallagher ahead of a substitute appearance against Cote D'Ivoire at Wembley in 2021
Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate speaks to Gallagher ahead of a substitute appearance against Cote D'Ivoire at Wembley in 2021
As the youngest, of course they used to chuck me in goal but I enjoyed it and my brothers were brilliant growing up, they helped me with football and anything else generally, so I loved having them around.

They were all playing football themselves at the time and would advise me on what I should be doing within my own friends and age group, I think it helped me as they gave me advice which boys who didn't have older brothers might not have had.

Years later, I actually ended up being able to play against Jake in a pre-season friendly for Chelsea when he was at Aldershot and I can still remember it so clearly.

I just wanted to get on the same pitch as him and when I found out I was starting and so was he, I was very excited. I was only 17 at the time and he would've been 24.

It was tough too, I didn't realise how good he was until I played against him, and he always says to this day that he won that battle so I'll let him have that.

In terms of grassroots football though, I first started with my local village team Bookham Colts and also Leatherhead Predators before I got picked up by Epsom Eagles, who were the best team around at the time.

I think pretty much all of the players in that team got picked up by academies with half of us starting off at Chelsea, while a few went to Charlton Athletic too.
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It meant I couldn’t play for Epsom Eagles anymore, but could still play school football for both Dawney School in Bookham and Howard of Effingham School in Leatherhead and I loved it, just playing with my friends really.

I remember after having a school game in the week as soon as the final whistle went, I'd have to run straight to the car for mum or dad to take me straight off to Chelsea training.

I’d first joined Chelsea's academy when I was eight, so I've been lucky enough to have been there the whole time since then.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing though, in fact it was a real rollercoaster for me.

I started to have problems with my knees as I was growing up and at times, I was really struggling to run which is quite a blow when you want to be a midfielder as I always have.

I’ve since learned that it's actually a common issue that a lot of young people have growing up, called Osgood-Schlatter disease. I had it quite severely for a few years and it really affected my football at the time.
Gallagher in action for England MU20s in a game against the Netherlands at Shrewsbury Town in 2019
Gallagher in action for England MU20s in a game against the Netherlands at Shrewsbury Town in 2019
I couldn’t run or sprint properly, which means you won't be as effective in games, but Chelsea were brilliant, they really believed in me and I was able to come back stronger.

I had to change my position a little bit in games, I moved out from the middle to the right where I didn’t need to be as athletic, but eventually I grew through it and I was able to kick-on.

I was concerned at the time though, because a lot of the boys were being offered scholarships and pro deals so I was nervous for obvious reasons.

I was eventually offered a scholarship, while all the other boys got a pro deal, so I was at the back of the pecking order at that stage and had a lot of work to do and that was what I did.

As I was a fan of Chelsea and with my dad supporting them too, I loved coming through the academy and when I first got involved with England, that was just as big a buzz for me.

Right at the start, when the England age groups were at like MU15s and MU16s, I wasn't involved at those stages.

But once I'd grown into my shell and had started running properly again once the problems with my knees had gone, I was 17 when I was first called up.

It was for the U17 World Cup in India and that was my first time away with England. It was amazing to be honest, I remember being proper nervous at first but it turned out to be a great experience. 

All of the boys were brilliant and we obviously went on to win the tournament which was unreal and that was the start of my England career really.
There was another twist to my tale while on international duty the following year though, which came when I was away with England MU19s in 2018.

I was 18 at the time and we were in Finland for the EURO Finals, and one day during training I just felt my heart beating really fast for no apparent reason. I noticed it, but didn't think anything of it, so I carried on and I remember playing a game the day after, when we faced France and it was a game we needed to win.

I still remember the game, they were a strong team, really quick, great with the ball and we struggled and got beat 5-0. I got through the game though and luckily enough nothing bad happened.

But it was when I came back to Chelsea for pre-season and in the first session back I joined the group of players who were going to be going out on loan that season when I felt dizzy and that's when I knew there was something wrong.

I went to the doctor and once they did all the heart checks, they realised the problem and I had minor heart surgery which basically saw them trigger my heart back to beating normally. Since then I've had no problems and hopefully I won't again, but I was very grateful.

So it has been quite the journey from the garden at home to where I am now, but what I tell people is I always believed in myself which I think you have to do as a footballer if you want to improve and be confident in yourself.