Conor Gallagher Is Just Getting Started
Photographer: Jack Johnstone / Stylist: Carlotta Constant / Grooming: Wilma Stigson / Words: Carl Escoffier
When you enter Cobham’s Painshill park, you feel a strange sense of nostalgia. It could be all the classical architecture taken from different ages, like the Turkish Tent or the Temple of Bachus. Maybe it’s the lone bridge on the river that feels as though it was drawn by Monet himself. It’s idyllic, as though everything has been perfectly frozen in time just for your arrival. And it’s here, on a sunny summer’s day, that we link up with Conor Gallagher.
The 21-year old midfielder grew up in this area, roughly 10 minutes away from Chelsea FC’s Cobham Training Centre. Conor has been an Academy player with the club since he was 8 years old. “I had a great childhood, the support I had from my parents and three older brothers has been amazing, growing up in the area and growing up through Chelsea’s academy. I’ve loved it, it feels like home to me and it always will be.”
The location is perfect for Conor. Immediately, one can tell he carries forth this incredibly self-assured, positive demeanour. Throughout the day, he’s happy to be placed and pose in front of a number of backgrounds, sporting classic Percival knitwear despite the heat. This moment too has been frozen in time.
Conor credits a lot of his success with his time at the Chelsea Academy. “I’ve loved every minute of being in Chelsea’s academy. They developed me so much as a player and as a person. The players who go to Chelsea academy mature very quickly, as footballers and as people. They are big on hard work and being humble, that’s how they want you to be. It’s helped me since I’ve been on loan.” Conor spent the 2019/2020 season on loan in the Championship, with spells at both Charlton Athletic and Swansea. He flourished in a wide range of roles, goalscoring threat at Charlton, and a playmaker as Swansea pushed for promotion.
However, he’s found his calling while on loan with West Brom. Over the course of the season, he’s been deployed as a traditional box to box midfielder to great effect. He’s been given the seal of approval by a whole host of footballing legends, most notably the likes of Ashley Cole and Claude Makelele who have praised his hard work, attitude and dedication to his team. Relegation withstanding, Conor’s attitude has allowed him to take some positives from the season. It was his first season in the Premier League, although you wouldn’t be able to tell. Conor started 28 games for the Baggies throughout the season and his ability to keep up with generational talents has not gone unnoticed as he received the West Brom’s Young Player of the Year Award.
“I was just excited, so I worked my hardest every single game and it was a great learning experience to play against top teams and players. I’ve developed a lot as a player.” Was he surprised by anything in the first season in the Premier League? “Not really,” he says. “I was prepared. It’s the best league in the world and now knowing what the top standard is, I know that’s the level where I want to end up at.”
Despite his success while on loan, it all could have ended much sooner. In 2018, Conor had to have heart surgery to save his career. In a sport where broken bones and torn muscles are the par for the course, this was a much more serious threat. During a tournament with the England U-19 squad, Conor felt an issue with his heart. “It was a scary experience. It came out of nowhere.” However, it was only until he was back at Cobham that he realised how serious it was. “I couldn’t even train, I was getting out of breath. They had to do surgery on it. It was scary but at the time, I was just thinking I need to get it fixed and come back as soon as possible.”
His surgery could explain why he doesn’t like looking too far ahead in his own life. “It’s easier for my own mental thinking,” he explains. He prefers to take each moment as it comes. It allows him to stay focused on the next game.
Albeit his age, there’s a certain wisdom in Conor’s words. His philosophies don’t differ either; “Leave it all out on the pitch, sometimes in games it won’t go for you in terms of what you’re doing on the ball. No matter what, you can give your hardest when you’re not on the ball.”
But it’s not just this single-minded drive that is so appealing about Conor, it’s his pure enjoyment of the sport. “With football, everyone is so serious. My mindset is that you’re doing what you love, you’re getting paid to do what you’re love. Every footballer is lucky in that sense.”
That enjoyment of the sport is also there when he’s watching it. Talking about the current England squad at EURO 2020, he couldn’t be happier to see his 2017 U-17 World Cup-winning teammates like Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho playing. “I’m buzzing for them. I know a lot of the boys in the squad and they all deserve it. It gives a lot of English players hope, how many young players are in the squad. It gives me hope and hopefully I can prove myself and get in there one day.” When asked why this current generation of players is so special. He puts it down to their belief. “The boys in the squad have been given the opportunity to play for their squad at a young age and it has given them confidence.”
If anything’s obvious by now it should be that Conor is football-mad. When talking about what he likes to do to switch his mind off of the sport, he replies, without a shred of irony “Fifa.” That’s just the kind of person he is. However, when he does need to escape from it all, he leans on his family and partner. The youngest of four brothers, Conor has always valued the importance of these close relationships. “I don’t really have any passions outside of football, but I love spending time with my three brothers and helping them and supporting them.”
Apart from the traditional leisurely activities for a 21-year old like dining out and shopping, Conor is partial to a game of golf. “I don’t play as often as other boys but I do enjoy it. It’s the only other sport we can really play. I love going round when the sun’s out, I get a tan and play it with my friends. I’m not a relaxed golfer like I should be, I lose my temper when I scuff it in the trees. It is relaxing and clears my head. I don’t think what I do for golf helps me with football though.”
While on set, Conor is sporting a healthy holiday tan. Having just returned from a seaside getaway, he shares some of his summer essentials; “A nice watch, nice shoes and a shirt, with a bit of red chest showing.” Eagle-eyed fans may have noticed on socials that Conor is quite keen on his style. He puts it down to the influence of his older siblings, but mainly credits his partner. “I’ve got my girlfriend who’s very into fashion so she helps me with my style which I appreciate. If she weren’t here, god knows what I’d be in.” Conor would best describe his style as ‘American’, often opting for oversized tees, luxury bomber jackets and a snapback, to tame his trademark long locks. However, there’s one piece of clothing that has stood the test of time for Conor. “It’s a t-shirt from when I was like 5 years old, on holiday in Spain. I used to love watching Ronaldinho and I got a top of his cartoon head. I used to love it. I’ve still got it in my cupboard now.”
So, what’s next for Conor Gallagher? As he says, he doesn’t like looking too far forward into the future but playing for his boyhood club is obviously on his mind. “I feel that I can play at Chelsea. I’ve still got a way to go but I feel confident in my ability to play there one day. I want to have another good season in the Premier League, wherever I am.” But he won’t just be satisfied with that. If there’s anything we’ve learnt about Conor Gallagher, it’s that he’s just getting started.
Conor Gallagher is pictured wearing the latest collection by Percival. Percival is a London-based menswear brand that is the official outfitter of Gareth Southgate for EURO2020. You can find all the clothes worn by Conor here.