BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Jed Wallace’s recent contract renewal was his fifth in professional football – and he can still remember how he celebrated putting pen to paper on the first one.
The winger, 24, was the subject of bids from Middlesbrough in the summer but signed new and improved terms at the end of last week.
Reading-born Wallace initially had a trial with Leeds before landing a move to Portsmouth. Lewes manager Steve King, now in charge at Welling, helped line up trials.
“I beat everyone in the running drill, the Portsmouth manager was buzzing off me because of that,” he recalled. “I did okay in a trial game, walked off the training ground and signed a three-year contract on £300 a week.
“I bought a white Vauxhall Corsa that had black rims. I was paying £200 a month and about £350 in insurance. My missus says the more money I get – the tighter I’ve got! I used to throw it around everywhere back then, now she can’t get a tenner out of me for a bit of shopping.
“Kingy got me in on trial at Portsmouth and Leeds, which was helpful. I appreciate that, to be fair. He did it with Joe Ralls at Cardiff and Darnell Fisher, who was at Celtic but is now at Preston.
“It was the connections he had. There are a lot of kids probably trying to get trials everywhere and club’s can’t get them all in. I was no different. I was always happy to be playing with my friends until the age of 16 or 17 and then I thought ‘maybe I’ve got a chance at this’.
“I was meant to go to Everton and that got snowed off. The day before I was supposed to go it pelted down and I couldn’t get there. It just shows in football how it can change quickly.”
Wallace reckons his trial at Leeds was better than how he performed as Pompey checked him out.
He said: “I went there for a week, stayed up in a hotel. They didn’t offer me anything and it was at that stage I thought ‘I’ve put all my eggs in one basket with this footballer thing’. All my mates were doing plumbing courses and things like that. My mum and dad never put any pressure on, when they easily could have.
“I’m 17, I want to be a footballer – but so does everyone else and I’ve got nothing to show for it.
“Luckily Steve Cotterill took a liking to me at Portsmouth, and Andy Awford. The first year I wasn’t very good but they went into administration, lost their best players and I managed to force my way in.
“The difficulty was going from playing twice a week as a kid to full-time against men that had been doing it for five, six or seven years. I felt like I’d run a marathon every day – I was absolutely knackered.
“That’s why I say now that you need a run of games, let alone if you come from non-league and you’re thrown in. It takes a while. Someone like Jiri [Skalak] has not played a lot of football in 18 months, it takes time to get your fitness up and that footballer that is in you – to get it back. I’m not saying it will be six to nine months like it was with me.
“Then there was moving away from home at 17. It’s only an hour away from home, but you are out of your comfort zone. People like Timmy [Cahill] who moved from Australia at 15, that’s crazy.”
It leads to a natural question, what would Wallace have done if he hadn’t realised his dream?
“I love football and I’m a proper student of it. If there is a game on TV, I’m watching it. I know loads about it. I’m a big football fan. I don’t know…I might be helping Bloomy [Laurence Bloom, fitness coach] in the gym at Millwall. I would have been involved in some capacity.
“[Benoit] Assou-Ekotto was the famous one who said: ‘I literally hate it’. To some people it’s a job. And that’s fair enough if you do the business on a Saturday. I couldn’t care less if Moro [Steve Morison] scored a hat-trick and said: ‘I hate football’. Everyone to their own.
“I’ve come away from it a little bit. I used to be obsessed and it would go against me, because I wanted to do so well.
“Now I’m living with my girlfriend, my baby and my dog – it’s been a welcome distraction in trying to calm me down on it a little.”
Wallace’s son Luca is nine months old and their second child is expected on May 7.
An expanding family was at least part of the reason why Millwall were able to keep the energetic right-footer when Boro’s interest was an unsettling presence – particularly on George Saville who is a club record sale at over £7million.
“The club made it clear they wanted to do it [the deal] when the interest came in,” said Wallace. “I like it here. I’ve joined the club three times now. There are pros and cons at every football club.
“The massive pros for me for Millwall are it suits me, same as Portsmouth. It’s no coincidence that those old, working men’s football clubs have seen me play my best football.
“The location is huge for me. We’ve got one nine-month old baby and my missus is pregnant again, so the thought of moving 400 miles away from anyone who can help us with two babies is a big thing – to be close to my family.
“Where I had a difficult experience at Wolves, I’ve not taken it for granted – Millwall taking me from there and giving me a chance to play every week at Championship level.
“I didn’t want to just forget about things overnight.
“Everyone knows my relationship with the manager and the fanbase. It just felt right to be here for a few more years.”
Wallace clocked up his 100th appearance for Millwall in the 4-3 defeat at Norwich earlier this month.
“I said to the club when we were talking [about the contract] that hopefully I can be as successful as famous Millwall wingers in the past – Jimmy Carter and Steven Reid.
“Hopefully people will be talking about me if I play 200, 300 or 400 games for Millwall. That would be a great achievement.
“There’s more to come in terms of goals. My goal return at Millwall is very average. At Portsmouth I scored a lot but I played a very different position in behind [the striker] and getting in the box more naturally.
“I’ve been part of one of the most successful Millwall sides that they’ve had in the last two or three years. Where I’ve got older, and Moro has always spoken about it, it has become about the team more. If the team is doing well then it benefits you as an individual.
“I’ve definitely felt like that.
“In the last five or six games I feel I’ve played well in spells and I just want to keep working on my consistency. I’ve always said I’m not the best player in the world but I’m trying to learn. Whether I play good or bad I’m always involved and always making things happen. I can still effect any game of football even if I’m not playing well.”