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Ex-Rover Gally helps run friends' Sunday league team
TO most people, Paul Gallagher is the talented former Blackburn Rovers star currently plying his trade at Championship leaders Leicester City.
A player, capped once by Scotland, who didn’t get a fair crack at his hometown club but was once described as good as David Beckham when it came to delivering a mean set piece.
But for those at Blackburn Sunday League side Clifton FC, Gallagher is just one of the boys – among friends, family and former school-mates.
The team play on Fishmoor Drive on the Higher Croft estate where he was brought up and where his mother still lives.
They play on the same pitch his dad Danny and uncles John and Sam used to play on for Centurions.
And every Sunday, without fail, Gally is there, kitted out in the team colours which just happen to be an old Leicester City away kit of course!
Although he has led something of a nomadic career – he has also had loans spells at Stoke City, Preston North End, Plymouth Argyle and, most recently, Sheffield United – he has never forgotten his roots.
While other established sports stars may regard ‘putting something back in to the community’ as cutting ribbons or handing out the occasional award, Gallagher mucks in with his mates.
While others who fall in to the ‘local boy made good’ category head for the golf course or the designer clothes shops, Gallagher is on the touchline in all weathers.
It is not a fleeting appearance, a token gesture.
Gallagher knows as much about the strengths and weaknesses of Mill Hill on a Sunday morning as he does of Millwall in the Championship on a Saturday afternoon.
He enjoys his trips to Pleasington and Pleckgate as much as he does Pride Park or Portman Road.
And defeat at either level hurts just as much.
“I was gutted when we got knocked out of the LFA Sunday Trophy the other week,” said Gallagher, who played for Roman Road U12s and Cobwall Juniors.
“Mill Hill won it last year and I really wanted to try and help the boys win it this year.”
Gallagher has always been interested in how the team has got on – afterall, his cousin Chris plays while his brother-in-law Gary Smith is captain.
He was in the same class at Our Lady and St John’s High School as Scott Kelly and Darryl Hartley – his close friend who has taken over as manager this season.
This year however he has got more involved, also running a weekly training sessions, and there has been a marked improvement in the team who are currently top of Division One.
The players respect him but they are not in awe of him.
“I’m just one of the boys,” said Gally as, on cue, a ball flies past his ear as he poses for a photograph. “It’s nice to put something back but I have grown up with these boys so I don’t think I am doing anything that is particularly special.
“I was in the same class as a few of the lads, I know others from around the estate, my cousin plays, the manager is one of my mates and Gaz (Smith) is my brother-in-law.
“I have always come back here. My mum still lives here so I always visit her and go and watch the boys play.
“My dad used to play for Centurions and so did my uncles and I used to watch them.”
And Gallagher admits he is enjoying helping out.
“Daz took over the team this year and asked would I come back and help out.
“I love it to be honest. I haven’t missed a game yet. All I am doing is passing on what I have learnt in the game and they listen and respect what I am doing.”
But it is a two-way process. While his mates get some expert tuition, Gally is getting a glimpse of the future.
“I would love to take my coaching badges at some stage and doing this has given me the opportunity to get the confidence to speak in front of a group of players.”
Gallagher also admires the players ability to party hard the night before and turn up to play...usually!
“I don’t know how they do it,” he said. “Some of the lads are out in to the early hours and get up and come and play football. I couldn’t do that!”
Gallagher revealed his Leicester City team-mates have also shown an interest in how the team is getting on – but especially the kit man.
“My team-mates ask but it was the kit man who was kind enough to sort me out with a strip for the lads,” he said. “So he is always asking how they are getting on.”
Clifton are chuffed with Gallagher’s input which has inspired the players.
“Paul, he has been a breath of fresh air,” said secretary Geoff Wales. “He has come in and worked with the players and they have really enjoyed it. And so has he.”
And manager Hartley says he has made a big difference.
“A few of us have grown up with Paul from the age of 11 or 12 but for the other lads, it is a real boost.
“He’s played at the top level and all the boys want to work with him.
“And Paul loves it. He’ll do team talks and take training sessions and he has kitted us out and bought training equipment.
“You wouldn’t get many other professionals doing what he does.”
Gallagher, whose crossing ability was once compared to that of Beckham by former Leicester boss Sven Goran Eriksson, is back at the Foxes having just returned from a loan spell at Sheffield United.
And he’ll be hoping to break back in to a team he scored 11 times for last season.
Gallagher hinted that one day he may end up playing alongside his mates again.
“I often think about playing alongside the boys again,” admitted Gallagher.
“But it won’t be until I am about 36 or 37 and my knees will probably have packed in!”
Until then though, Gallagher – still regarded as one of Rovers best home-grown talents – is more than happy to be just one of the boys at Clifton FC.