Playing for England at youth level doesn’t always herald a glittering future. QPR’s Kevin Gallen tells Barney Ronay about life after Patrick Kluivert

I dropped down a league to come back to QPR because I love the club – it’s where I’m from. I would definitely still love to have another crack at the Premiership. But I started going to QPR around the time of the team that reached the FA Cup final in 1982 and got promoted under Terry Venables the season after. Then when I got older there were players like Ray Wil­kins, Roy Wegerle and Les Ferdinand, whom I ended up playing with.

I played for England when we won the European Under-18 Championship. A memory that stays with me is when we played France and Robbie Fowler and I were subs. It was 0-0 and we both got sent on with 20 minutes to go. I scored and then he scored. And that was just a great feeling, coming on and kick-starting the whole tournament.

I played again the following year and France beat us that time. Maybe they had a better youth set-up at that age level. I know we’re trying to catch up with them now, with the academy system based on theirs. The next game we beat Holland. They had some great play­ers – Kluivert and Seedorf were playing – and we beat them 4-1 and I scored again. It was all on TV – it’s what you dream about when you’re a kid.

At that time Robbie Fowler really stood out, though we had a good team all round. Sol Campbell was play­ing, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes. David Beckham didn’t make the final squad, although he’d been in squads before. Darren Caskey was a very good ball player. I played against him when QPR played Notts County a few months ago and he’s still a very skilful player with a great touch.

But just because a team wins a youth cup doesn’t mean all those players are going to play in the first team further down the line. It’s going to be just one or two players who stand out and are good enough. If you get that, the youth system is doing its job.

When I first started making headlines, it was difficult. There was a lot of attention on me – people always talking to me and so on – but when you’re a kid all you want to do is train and play. But of course there’s an up­side, because you’re playing against Manchester Uni­ted and Liverpool.

Every young lad does silly things, and I’ve done loads, don’t worry about that. They’re saying Michael Owen has gambled £40,000. But when you’re earning two and a half million a year, it’s all relative. Someone said that was one percent of his earnings. I don’t think Michael Owen’s got a problem. I think he’s got a hobby.

Making my debut at Man United was very special, although I wish now that I could remember it better. At the time I took it for granted. We were a good Prem­iership club at the time, and you think it’s never going to end. Scoring on my home debut was a great feeling and a great relief too, I suppose. There was a lot of expectation among the QPR supporters as I’d broken the youth scoring record. It felt like a big step up at the time, from youth-team level to the first team. I’d never played a long stint in the reserves, just the odd game here and there.

I had a great first season, in partnership with Les Ferdinand, but the following year, we didn’t start off too well and I hadn’t scored, and the papers were giving us some stick, and maybe I was taking it too personally. It’s when things stop going well for you, that you get a chance to stop and think, that you might feel the pressure more. It is difficult for young lads in the game today. Wayne Rooney’s got a lot of pressure on him. The papers are building him up, and as soon as he does something wrong they’ll just knock him down again. There’s a lot of pressure on him at Everton particularly with him being an Everton supporter. When you’re a supporter too, sometimes you can want to do too much.

With me living locally, every time you walk down the street and bump into someone all the talk is about the club. It’s not about me, it’s about what I’m doing as a football player. It can add a lot of pressure. It can get you into trouble, too. If I lived further away and I went out no one’s going to say anything. If people are fans and they see you out just having a drink, they ask why you’re out enjoying yourself, and you want to say: “Just get lost and leave me alone.”

From WSC 196 June 2003. What was happening this month

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