Shropshire Star

Joe Gallen on helping to get Wolves back on track and future challenges

Even now, almost ten years on, it remains one of the most significant moments of Wolves’ recent history.

Joe Gallen alongside former Wolves boss Kenny Jackett

And yet, it only happened during a warm-up. And only lasted for a few seconds.

Dateline August 3rd, 2013. The first game of the League One season away at Preston.

It came after a couple of seriously difficult years for Wolves.

Double relegations, four different managers in two seasons having had just one for the previous five-and-a-half, and an increasingly bitter acrimony between club and supporter base that had prompted an anger-fuelled pitch invasion for the final home game of the campaign.

Wolves had, fairly quickly, become a broken club. And Head Coach Kenny Jackett was the man appointed to try and fix it.

Alongside some astute signings, during pre-season Jackett set about building bridges.

He spent two hours on a sweltering day meeting a deluge of interview requests on his day of unveiling, he met fans in the club’s Museum to discover their thoughts and feelings, and the team took an early training run through the City Centre to the surprise of morning commuters.

It felt like progress had been made, but the true temperature couldn’t be taken until the first real test, the opening day of the League One season.

Towards the end of the warm-up, assistant head coach Joe Gallen, and captain Sam Ricketts, both also summer arrivals, led the team towards the 5,000 Wolves fans packed into the Bill Shankly Stand at Deepdale. And, together, they applauded.

The response was both immediate and magnificent. A huge and almighty roar, the sort of noise which prompted journalists in the press box to immediately look up from their laptops and wonder what on earth was going on. One which the newest Premier League boss Rob Edwards, then on co-commentary duties who would later join the first team coaching set-up, open-mouthed in astonishment. A noise which felt symbolic in turning a new page, consigning the pain of the previous years to the memory bank, and starting afresh.

For Gallen, who still holds so many special memories from his three years spent as Jackett’s assistant at Molineux, that was one of them.

Gallen before a game at Shrewsbury Town (AMA)

“Kenny had spoken a lot about the club having lost its connection with the fans, and I remember telling me to make sure we thanked the supporters and acknowledged them any chance that we got,” Gallen recalls.

“That included at the end of every warm-up, and so, from Kenny’s idea, we also got Sam involved, and started it that day at Preston.

“I have to be honest, I did wonder what reaction we were going to get, because I knew how difficult things had become.

“And then that roar? Wow. To have 5,000 even there in the first place just backed up what I knew – that Wolves were a proper club.

“They had been struggling but for those fans to turn up in such numbers and make that noise in giving us their support? It felt like a new dawn, without a doubt.”

Gallen, having worked so successfully and indeed enjoyably for Jackett during six happy years with Millwall, had been desperate to make the move to join him at Wolves.

It was the next step of a coaching journey which had begun very early – he had pretty much completed his qualifications by the age of 28.

Part of a strong West London footballing family – younger brothers Steve and Kevin have also always been involved in the game, the latter most prominently as a player – eldest sibling Joe was snapped up by Watford’s youth system at the age of ten.

But his own playing career as a striker, whilst taking in many different outposts including Exeter, Shamrock Rovers, Shrewsbury – helping them to the Third Division title – Dundalk and Stevenage, was destined to be curtailed by injury.

“During my playing career I had two broken legs, two broken arms – it might even have been three but I lost count – a broken toe and chronic hamstring problems,” says Gallen.

“In the end I was more concerned about trying to stay fit than my performance and it just wasn’t going to work.”

Even as a player, Gallen had always maintained a keen interest in the work of managers and coaches, but his first breakthrough after hanging up his boots, came about pretty much by chance.

With the family’s close links with QPR, a member of staff was visiting their house and took a call from a prospective Under-9s coach, at a time when Academies were being restructured, saying they didn’t want that particular role.

It was offered instead to Gallen, there and then, and he accepted.

Albeit not without a moment of humour when told the salary of ‘two-and-a-half’ and thought it was an extremely well paid job of £2,500 a week.

It was actually £2,500…a year!

Well-paid it was not, but it was a way in, and Gallen, who would ultimately spend nine years at Loftus Road, progressed to become a coach at the higher age groups and then overall Head of Youth Development.

The challenges, however, shockingly as it turned out, were not confined only to events on the pitch.

During an 18-month period in 2006 and 2007, promising 15-year-old protegee Kiyan Prince was stabbed to death outside his school, three other Academy players were involved in an incident where a young Vietnamese student was accidentally thrown under a train and killed at a tube station, and 19-year-old Ray Jones, already showing excellent signs in the Championship, died in a car crash.

Beyond comprehension for so much tragedy to affect one football club in such a short space of time.

Even all these years on, Gallen’s naturally jovial demeanour instantly disappears when thinking back to those dreadful days.

He pauses. “It’s still hard to understand even now.

“I was still a very young coach and, to be honest, I had no idea how to act or what I should say.

“The media attention around it all was unbelievable and, in my role, I was put at the forefront of it.

“And of course, the main thing about it all was the awful sadness for the parents and all the family and friends.