Conor Gallagher didn't expect to captain Chelsea against Bournemouth. It's why being handed the armband last weekend came as a shock. Yet it is another milestone ticked off by the Academy graduate – and one that resonates with his family.
Chelsea runs through Conor Gallagher’s blood. Growing up the son of a ardent Blues supporter, he started training with the club at the age of six and rose through the youth ranks to become an important member of the senior squad
Gallagher passed many career landmarks along the way. The latest was captaining the club he dreamed of representing as a child.
Firstly in the Carabao Cup victory over Wimbledon and again in the Premier League at Bournemouth last Sunday, although he admits the second instance came as a surprise.
'Against Bournemouth I had no idea I was captain,’ explained Gallagher. ‘I didn’t think I would be, if I’m being honest.
'But I lifted up my kit to arrange it before I put it on and the armband was there. I said to the kitman “is this mine” and he said “yeah”, so that’s how I found out.
‘To captain the side on a couple of occasions is really special. My parents are really proud too. There was no phone service in the changing room, so they didn’t get my message. They just saw me on the pitch with the armband, but I think that was a nicer surprise anyway.’
The ambitious midfielder won’t be relaxing after his latest achievement, however. Like every step Gallagher has taken, he isn't satisfied and wants more. His focus is firmly on the future.
'My dream was just to play for Chelsea, which I achieved. But then, like everyone in life, I set myself new targets. After I made my debut for Chelsea, then it was to play as many games as I can, then to start scoring more goals and getting more assists and just helping the team in that way. Hopefully there’s a lot more to come, but I’m proud of what’s happened so far.
‘I was captain for the Under-18s a few years back so I kind of half-know the responsibility of captaining a team. I’m really grateful for what the Academy’s done for me over the last so many years and I’m very thankful. I wouldn’t be here without it, for sure.
‘If you said to me last season there’s going to be a couple of games where you’re going to lead the team out I still would have laughed at you.
‘That shows the gaffer’s belief in me right now. Ever since I first met him, and I think a lot of the lads will say the same, he’s very honest and open with the players and I’ve had good chats with him. I think he appreciates what I can do on the pitch and he believes in me. So I’m really grateful for that and hopefully I can continue to help him and the team to get better results and improve as a team.’
While the trip to Bournemouth was the first time Gallagher captained Chelsea in the Premier League, being named skipper for the League Cup tie with Wimbledon at Stamford Bridge at the end of August also held personal significance for the 23-year-old, as a familiar face from earlier in his career brought home the journey he has taken to reach this point.
‘For the Wimbledon game their manager Johnnie Jackson was there and I'd actually forgotten he was the Wimbledon gaffer. He’s my old Charlton assistant manager from four years ago now, during my first loan move.
‘So to see him was a really nice surprise and for both of us it just kind of showed how far I’ve come, from that moment being a 19-year-old boy at Charlton, and then being back at Chelsea and being able to captain the team. It was just a really nice moment and it was obviously great to see him.’
There are sure to be many more career landmarks for Gallagher at Chelsea in the future, but he’ll no doubt continue to take each in his stride just as he has done so far, always looking ahead to take the next step up.