Two stints as a professional footballer in England, a failed retail business venture and playing/coaching in far-flung Singapore, as his surname suggests, Joe Gamble is certainly not one for avoiding risks. Joe tells ExtraTime.ie all about his intriguing career to date.
Following prominent displays for Cork City FC’s youth team, the Togher native joined Reading on a free transfer in 2000. During his fourth and final year in Berkshire, he went on a season-long loan to Barnet.
“It was the makings of my career and I got the biggest lessons in pro football at Reading. On and off the pitch I literally grew up quickly … Living and cooking on my own, then the professional side of things. At Barnet I was coming back from being eight-nine months out with a dislocated patella, an injury to this day, which still gives me problems if I don’t maintain strength levels in my quads.”
A return to Leeside was littered with trophies, as Gamble’s hometown club collected 2005’s League of Ireland Premier Division, the FAI Cup in 2007 and the Setanta Sports Cup (2008).
“Landing the league is the standout moment. The manner in how we done it … Must-win game against the team (Derry City), who were top and the last time at Turner’s Cross with the famous ‘Shed’. The dressing room that City had with the characters, banter and camaraderie ... I’ve never been in one like it. I knew back then it was something special.”
In addition to domestic honours, the midfielder travelled to the USA as part of the Republic of Ireland senior squad’s 2007 summer trip: “It’s the pinnacle of a pro footballer’s career, made even more special when I was a Cork City player. Not many plying their trade in the League of Ireland get the chance to do that. To play in Giants Stadium with Alan Bennett, two Cork lads, where Ray Houghton scored that famous goal against Italy was brilliant.”
After first-hand experience, does Joe think that more home-grown footballers should be capped by the present-day senior international manager?
“Martin O’Neill can’t bring in players just because they’re in the League of Ireland. It isn’t a charity he’s running and guys want to be selected on merit.”
Cork City’s financial difficulties saw Gamble leave for Hartlepool United in 2010 and a second stab at establishing himself in England: “It was a good move and at that time some big teams were in League Two, so it was very competitive.”
18 months later, Joe left Victoria Park, reappearing in Irish football … Not at Turner’s Cross, as expected, but for Munster rivals Limerick FC: “Cork City weren’t in a position to offer me a full-time contract. I spoke to Tommy Dunne about returning, but decided to play for Limerick. The chairman Pat O’Sullivan is a special character and the league needs more men like him.”
In 2011, Monaghan United defeated Limerick in the promotion play-off – however, they made amends in 2012, with Gamble captaining his side to the First Division title.
“We went on an incredible run, winning maybe eight from ten, but Monaghan somehow got points awarded to them for another team’s fault … A load of b*ll*cks, we got absolutely stitched up, but we had a great season the next year.”
Released by Limerick in late 2013 at 31, Joe subsequently penned a deal with Brunei DPMM FC, a team competing in Singapore’s S.League: “It came at the right time for me, ticked all the right boxes and I thought ‘why not?’. It’s the only time I’ll ever get the chance to play abroad.”
Before travelling to Brunei, Gamble consulted his friend and fellow Corkonian, Olympic walker Rob Heffernan: “I know Rob from Togher A.C and asked him how to prepare for intense heat. He gave me good practical advice and the most important factor was to try to keep your core temperature from rising dramatically.”
Capturing the Singapore League Cup in 2014 and the title the following season, the former Irish international is justly proud of his latest on-field achievements, whilst also prospering inside the sovereign state: “I was part of history with DPMM FC, as the club have never manged to win the league and it will always be with me. The whole experience has been beyond expectations and I enjoy a lifestyle that I’m not used to.”
Joe juggles playing duties with a role as Brunei DPMM FC’s strength-and-conditioning coach. He’s also currently undertaking the process of obtaining a UEFA B Licence, so can we safely rule out a return to the retail business in favour of a coaching career?
“The clothes shop was a very expensive loss, but at least I gained a wife from it. She worked across the street from the premises and couldn’t keep her eyes off me (laughs). I’d love to stay involved in football and think I’ve a lot to offer. There are a lot of good up-and-coming coaches in Ireland and it’s about time clubs started giving them opportunities. Believe me, there’s a fair few bluffers in our country at the top level.”
In conclusion, Gamble firmly believes that Asian club football will be a serious force in the near future: “At the moment there is very strong links and talks with an ASEAN Super League. ASEAN is made up of 14 independent countries (Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei, Laos etc.) and each league are going to put two or three teams forward in a sort of Champions League that’s going to be massive. It’s a real statement of intent from Asia and will ultimately increase competition, which can only help their national teams compete worldwide.”
Who would dare to bet against the plucky Leesider being involved in one capacity or another?