Edward Gallagher, who’s 23, is the goalkeeping coach for the Aland United, the Finnish women’s champions. He has previously worked for Rangers and Glasgow City. Here, he talks about Champions League adventures in Sarajevo, away games in Lapland, and what he’ll drink if Aland win the league again…

To this day, I’ve never played a game outfield. Not even a kickabout. A lot of people start outfield, and then go in goal after a few years. But all I’ve ever done was play in goal. I started playing football when I was five, I went in goal, and I stayed there.

Unfortunately, I was too small to make it as a professional. I was picked up at eight years old to play for Clyde, and I was technically good. But the height never came. My dad is 6ft, 6ft1, but my growth spurt never happened. I played for Airdrie, Clyde, and Hamilton, and everywhere I went it was the same story: “Technically you’re good enough, but we don’t think you’ve got the stature.”

When I was 18, I was invited to Albion Rovers for a one-month trial. I started doing bits of coaching when I was 16, and while I was on trial I had to stop working. I had no income, so I thought: “I need to choose – am I going to fight to play, or am I going to coach?” And – in terms of long-term career – I think I made the right decision. Unless you’re at the top, there isn’t much money in Scottish football.

My first proper coaching job was in men’s football. I was at university (at Strathclyde in Glasgow) and I became the male academy coach at Clyde. I’d played there, so I had connections. Then Glasgow City (in the Scottish Women’s Premier League) needed a goalkeeping coach for their academy. I went there, set up a structure for their keepers, and did pretty well. During that time, three of our keepers represented their youth national teams, and soon I got a phone call from Rangers. 

When I got the call, I didn’t think: “Oh, it’s the women’s team.” I thought: “There are two big clubs in Scotland – and one of them has just asked me to coach for them.” Once I had Rangers and Glasgow City on my CV – and I also coached girls for the Scottish FA – I knew I had a strong background in the women’s game. That was when I thought: “Maybe I can coach women.”

You can really tell when a goalkeeper’s not had coaching. At academy level, a scout might bring in a young keeper, and after ten minutes you can see whether they’ve been coached, or whether it’s just raw talent. You say “some kids like to throw themselves about”. But there’s a way to throw yourself about: your shape when you dive, your hand shape when you catch the ball.

In young keepers, a common mistake is to not dive for every shot. I don’t like to see a keeper watch a goal go past them. Yeah, you might not save it, but it makes you an easy target for the head coach. If the keeper just stands there, the first question from the head coach is: “Should they save it?” So if you attempt everything, it looks a lot better. That’s an early thing to learn.

Last summer, I worked in men’s football in Hungary for two months. I’d done a presentation at a goalkeeping conference in London. Someone was there from Hungary, and he had friends at the club (Ujpest in the Hungarian top division). In Hungary, they don’t teach English very well in the schools, so every summer, they bring out foreign coaches who can also help the kids understand key football phrases. I didn’t get paid, but they provided accommodation, and it’s cheap to live over there.

Working in Hungary gave me the bug for living abroad. When I came back, I finished the season at Rangers, and because I had a good CV in the women’s game, I thought: “Why not try the USA?” I went over there, worked for a training company, and interviewed for some colleges. I was offered a job, but then a guy I speak to on Twitter – John Brown, who was the recruitment manager at York City – said Aland were looking for a goalkeeper coach. He passed on my CV, and within a week the head coach (an Englishman called Gary Williams) got back to me and said I met the requirements. 

I moved over on the 4th January this year. Culture shock is the best way to describe it. In the UK, as soon as it snows, training is cancelled. Here, you can spend 30 minutes before a session sweeping snow off the field. Some days, we train at 7.30 in the morning and it’s minus 25. Off the field it’s very different too – I arrived on a Sunday, and nothing was open. It’s not like the UK, where it’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In Aland, if you haven’t got your shopping in by Saturday, you haven’t got any food.

Aland operate like a full-time club. The club do all they can to make sure staff and players need to concentrate only on football…obviously we don’t make the money a men’s team would, but I’m more than comfortable. The chairman is very good – he makes a lot of decisions based on football, rather than business. It’s a well-run club, and we probably average 400 fans a match, which isn’t bad. Last season it was around 500.

I few of our local players have jobs, but our foreign players just play. We have an American, a Canadian, and a Nigerian, Cynthia Uwak (African Women’s Footballer of the Year in 2006 and 2007). She is probably our most exciting player to watch. The rest are a mixture of Finnish, Swedish, and Estonian. The average age is probably 21 or 22.

Aland is an island, and we’re closer to Sweden than we are to Finland. It’s an 11-hour boat trip to the mainland – luckily one of our sponsors is the ferry company. We have that ride for every away game, unless we fly. We played in Lapland a few weeks ago (against Merilappi United) and we flew there. It’s great to see places you wouldn’t normally visit.

We went to Sarajevo for the qualifying stage of the Champions League in August. In the women’s tournament, you play a round-robin against three other teams in a host city. We were favourites to go through, and the board expected us to qualify, but we went out. We had four players at the under-20 World Cup, which didn’t help. And the facilities weren’t great.

To be honest, Sarajevo was another culture shock. We are used to training on immaculate pitches. Over there, they were rock hard. There were no movable goals, and they only gave us ten balls to train with. For a UEFA competition, you expect quality facilities, and we didn’t get them. But then again, every team had the same surroundings.

I finished university last year, and my parents were a little bit sceptical about my career choice. Even now, my dad thinks I should get a teaching degree, so at least I have a fall-back. But I’m only 23. I don’t want to sell myself short. I want to chase it as much as possible.

Some people in the women’s game say: “I’m only using this a stepping stone into the men’s game.” I wouldn’t say that was the case for me. I just see it as coaching. If an opportunity came up in the men’s game that was better, of course, I would take it. I signed a one-year deal with Aland, and I haven’t decided what I’m doing next season. I got engaged this year, and I need to think about her as well.

My mum and dad came over last week, and they brought a few presents from home. Some British chocolate, some Space Raiders – you can’t get them here – and two bottles of Irn Bru. I drank one and kept one. We finished top of the regular season, we’re now going into the play-offs, so if we win the league, the Irn Bru can be my celebration.

Interview by @owenamos for Follow Edward @edwardgkcoach. There are 25 other interviews with British and Irish coaches working abroad here.

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