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Programme feature: Gallagher reveals footballing education on the terraces

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After another spirited performance against Brighton & Hove Albion, Conor Gallagher has sealed his second consecutive W88 Player of the Month award - and the Palace fan-favourite has revealed the footballing education that made him the player he is today.

Gallagher was voted Player of the Month for September after scooping the August award, capping a sensational start to his career in south London after joining on loan from Chelsea.

The midfielder spoke with the Palace programme prior to the Brighton clash - you can read the interview in full below.

Joining a top Academy so young provided Gallagher with an elite technical upbringing. But, as he tells Will Robinson, learning the terraces’ community values was just as important.

Any other midfielder working under the tutelage of Patrick Vieira and, formerly, Frank Lampard, might be burdened by the expectations of those they wished to emulate. But for Conor Gallagher, the spirit of football has always been something more grassroots.

His perspective on the game seems to stem from experiences on the terraces on Saturday afternoons, or at the local park on Sunday mornings. His admiration goes not only to the great midfielders of his generation – although it’s safe to say that’s not lacking – but also to the teammates and friends with whom he’s learned so much.

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At the club’s annual media day, Gallagher surveys the room. This is in August, so the midfielder has only been at Palace for a short while. The hubbub coming from every direction rises from his new teammates; a chance to become a part of a new community.

“I know Marc [Guéhi] and [Eberechi] Eze,” he says, peering across at the melee. “Nathan Ferguson, Michael Olise, they’re the other main boys I know. Nya Kirby as well, from England. So I have got a few mates already!

“It’s really nice. It’s always nice when you have some familiar faces in the club. There are quite a few here, so that helped me settle in.”

As Vieira continues to form an unbreakable spirit in the Palace dressing room, he may have found the perfect addition in Gallagher. Growing up with Guéhi and Rhian Brewster at Chelsea, before the latter left for Liverpool as a teenager, the trio were known as the Three Musketeers. Inseparable friends and teammates.

In the meantime, Gallagher’s adoration of the game grew in the stands at Stamford Bridge. It must have been some combination: playing for the team he loved on a Saturday morning before watching his heroes that afternoon.

“We’re all Chelsea fans, growing up around the area and always supporting Chelsea,” he remembers of his childhood. “To still be involved in the club is amazing.

“I used to go with my dad, and he would take me to games when I was younger because he was a huge fan. I’ve always been going to games and supporting them.”

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We’d go and get a burger and chips at the stadium if the queues weren’t too long.

Conor Gallagher

Like most football fans, Gallagher Jnr and Snr established a weekend routine. “My dad used to love going to the pub before – although I’d never want to because everyone was getting drunk and I was still a young boy! Then we’d go and get a burger and chips at the stadium, if the queues weren’t too long.”

It’s a familiar story. But what marked Gallagher out from the thousands of others queuing for a pre-match bite was his prodigious talent.

“It’s funny, because I still remember games and goals I scored back in primary school like it was the other week,” he has admitted in the past. “They’re memories I’ll never forget.”

Playing for Epsom Eagles as a seven-year-old, alongside future senior teammate Reece James, Gallagher was quickly scouted and inducted into the Chelsea youth system. Since then, his career has been a matter of progression.

First came youth success with club and country – he is already a World Cup winner with England Under-17s – before senior football beckoned. He was among the substitutes for Chelsea’s Europa League final victory over Arsenal in Baku, before being awarded Chelsea’s Academy Player of the Year in 2019.

The previous three names? European Cup winners and England European Championship finalists James and Mason Mount, and AC Milan regular Fikayo Tomori. Some lineage.

But Gallagher takes it in his stride: “I’m getting more experience. I feel like I’m a better player from last year, and I feel like I have developed. So hopefully I can get a few more goals and assists.”

He opened his Palace account in style not long after, scoring a brace against West Ham United: the first goals of the Patrick Vieira era. And here’s where the desire to learn comes in once again.

“I like to get up and down the pitch and do everything I can for the team, attacking and defending,” he explains. “Obviously Patrick Vieira, Frank Lampard [his manager at Chelsea], I used to watch them all the time. They are definitely players I used to look up to.

“The experience that these managers have in the midfield position is massive, and to learn from them has been great. It helps me develop as a player, so I am very excited.”

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I'm getting more experience...hopefully I can get a few more goals and assists.

Conor Gallagher

Palace is the fourth loan of Gallagher’s young career. His journey so far has been another story of progression. Fighting relegation to the third-tier as a teenager at Charlton Athletic to fighting alongside Guéhi for promotion at Swansea City.

A first foray into the Premier League came with West Bromwich Albion last season, although that ended in relegation. Now, at Palace, Gallagher has a chance to progress again.

“With Sam [Allardyce] at West Brom, it was more about the dirty side and doing that well, whereas at Swansea it was about the runs in behind and creating chances,” he explained on his return to Chelsea over summer. “Each manager has helped improve different areas of my game, which has been so valuable for my development.

“I’ve definitely improved as a player in the past two years, and a lot of that is down to the four managers I’ve played under and their different styles of play. I’ve just loved every minute of it and I want to push on even more now.”

Now, under Vieira, he has an opportunity to add more to his game. “I like to press high, press aggressive and win the ball back to start counter-attacks,” he explained, when we asked what fans could expect this season.

“I also like to create chances myself and score some goals – that is the aim this season.” Those goals and assists he was so keen to add are coming – in 12 minutes at the London Stadium he matched his tally for the whole of last season.

“[His] two goals were well deserved after his efforts in training,” Vieira said of the performance. “He is a player that wants to improve himself, so he’s always open to discussion and his work ethic is brilliant. When you are working hard in the week, you get rewarded by your performance at the weekend.”

After playing behind closed doors last season, scoring in front of the fans has regained all of its novelty, and Gallagher wants to experience that feeling as often as possible. Growing up in the stands, he knows the importance of the crowd and players’ bond.

“It’s mainly excitement,” he says. “I get so excited walking out to a game, especially when the fans are there. Obviously there is a little bit of nerves, but mainly it’s excitement.

“There weren’t fans when I played at Selhurst Park last season, so I’ve been buzzing for it. I had heard from friends that the fans are unreal, so I’m really excited. Last season wasn’t ideal playing without them, so just having the excitement and the atmosphere back with the fans there is great.

“When I scored last season when there were no fans I almost forgot how to celebrate! But in the end, you don’t think. I scored a couple, and you don’t have time to think: ‘Oh, there are no fans in, I won’t celebrate’. I still went mental!”

Now with crowds back and emotions running high, how does Gallagher calm himself down before high-pressure moments? “I listen to anything really,” he says. “House music I like, but maybe not such upbeat music. I like quite traditional, quite old school music.

“That’s what gets me in the mood and gets me motivated. A bit of both: I’ve got some songs that calm me down and get me relaxed, and others that get me excited.”

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The excitement and the atmosphere back with the fans there is great.

Conor Gallagher

There is, of course, one more essential detail. “There is a specific shin-pad I wear on my right leg,” he says, laughing bashfully. “They have different pictures on them, so I wear them on separate legs. One time I was wearing them one way, then one game I switched it up and I scored two goals, so I’ve just kept it.”

In Gallagher’s defence, there are stranger superstitions in top-level football, and it’s fitting that his pre-match routine could be found in any changing room of any club across the country.

It’s a reminder that, for all his talent, hard work and desire to learn from his mentors, Gallagher is a player rooted in pure footballing culture: educated at the pubs and the burger vans, indoctrinated amongst the stands and the terraces, and moulded by a community of teammates he still calls close friends.

As a player, Patrick Vieira was all about leadership, teamwork and giving it his all. As a manager, he may well have found someone who reflects just those ideals, learned from all the right places.