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Gallagher's road not so well travelled after detour

THE path from Dundee United to Rangers is well-trodden.

Callum Gallagher has very quickly made first-team mark. Picture:SNS
Callum Gallagher has very quickly made first-team mark. Picture:SNS

Ian Redford, Duncan Ferguson and Gordan Petric are among those who travelled the 85 miles directly after notable transfers. Richard Gough made it via a diversion to Tottenham.

However, it is a little-known fact that Rangers have a former Dundee United guy on their books right now, and his journey between the clubs was via the most unlikely stop-off of all. Between representing Dundee United, and joining Rangers, Callum Gallagher played Saturday morning games on local pitches in Giffnock.

The striker eased his way into the consciousness of the Rangers support when he made a scoring debut as a late substitute in the Ibrox victory over Dunfermline last weekend. Two days later he had his first start in the 2-0 Scottish Cup replay win against Albion Rovers. He made one of the goals and has a chance of starting again when Ally McCoist's side play away to Brechin City in SPFL League 1 tomorrow.

That is all relatively routine for a 19-year-old but Gallagher has a more interesting history than most. When he was 13 he joined Dundee United's youth development system. "I was there for a year-and-a-half and then decided to leave them as I wasn't really playing," he said. "I just went back to playing with my mates. It was my choice to leave United.

"Maybe I'd have been asked to leave at some point anyway, but I was looking to play more football and I wasn't getting that with United. I was better off playing with my friends on a Saturday morning than being at a pro club and not going anywhere. At the time it didn't occur to me that it was a risk. My dad was really supportive and he was with me when I decided I wanted to play more."

So where was Gallagher's football between Dundee United and Rangers? "I just played at my local pitches in Giffnock. I was back in boys' club football but it was the right thing for me. I was at Giffnock Saints Boys' Club and playing with my school team. I was scouted playing for St Ninian's in a Scottish Cup tie and I've been at Rangers for close to four years."

One of his closest friends in football has been one of the stories of the Scottish season. Gallagher went to the same school as Andy Robertson, who has emerged as a fine player at United. In the space of a month, Robertson made his debut for Scotland and then Gallagher made his for Rangers.

"I have a long way to go to get to that level," Gallagher said. "Andy's done amazingly this year and he's set a good example for all kids in Scottish football. It's important that young Scots get a chance to make it to the international set-up like Andy has done. That sort of rise hasn't happened for a while. It can only be a good thing.

"Andy was released by Celtic as a 16-year-old and he's done amazingly well these past few years. He deserves it. He has one of the best attitudes in football and I don't have a bad word to say about him. He's an example to everyone. We're really good friends. We enjoy a bit of banter."

Friendship between someone at Rangers and someone at Dundee United: that doesn't fit the narrative of supposed endless conflict and tension between the two camps. Gallagher laughed when that was suggested to him but his only concern ahead of the upcoming, and already controversial, William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final between the clubs at Ibrox on April 12 is whether he will be involved in it.

Naturally it would be by far the biggest match in which Gallagher has played so far, not to mention potentially lining him up directly against his pal Robertson, the United left-back.

"I need to be in the manager's thoughts to get on the pitch," Gallagher said. "I could be directly up against Andy but so much has happened so quickly, I can't really let my mind drift too far ahead. I'm sure a few of the younger players will get a chance but the semi-final is a big game and it's down to the manager. I hope I'm in his thoughts, but that's for him to decide.

"Obviously I'm nowhere near the end yet but the changes last week [breaking into the team] were very exciting. I know I still have a lot to learn. I've not had much time in Murray Park since last week because of games and days off but the boys I play with in the under-20s have been good and the kitchen staff have been giving me cuddles and kisses.

"I'm still in with the under-20s for now. I'm just happy to be involved and I don't need to be in the first-team dressing room [at training]. I do get a bit of stick: everyone who does well gets the "big-time" comments. But we're a good group. Everyone stays in line. No-one gets a big-head mentality."

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