WHEN Gavin Holligan was 18, he had the football world at his feet.
He appeared for West Ham at Anfield in a 2-2 draw – coming on for Joe Cole and nearly scoring against Liverpool.
But by 24, and after a series of niggling injuries, Holligan had lost his appetite for the game.
Instead, the talented vocalist and keyboardist leaned towards music – having graduated from The BRIT School, where the likes of Adele, Amy Winehouse and Jessie J all honed their craft.
Today, as a brilliant jazz singer and performer Holligan, now 41, has starred on stage alongside Stevie Wonder, played Coachella music festival with Welsh songstress Duffy, and been on tour with Gloria Gaynor.
And it seems like the American soul singer’s classic hit ‘I Will Survive’, was the mantra for Holligan as he bravely moved from football to music.
“Football was my dream as a youngster, before I began a career in music,” he told SunSport EXCLUSIVELY.
“I joined Crystal Palace academy, was heartbroken after I was released, then after spells at non-league teams Walton and Hersham and Kingstonian, I went to West Ham when I was just 18.
“By that time I had finished at The BRIT School, but I focused on football after a chat with my dad who said I could do music after.”
Following a £150,000 move to the Hammers in 1998, which made Holligan the most expensive non-league signing in history, the striker was thrust into the first team for a Premier League match against Liverpool.
It was a special occasion for the boyhood Reds fan, who came on as a sub with 10 minutes to go and in a West Ham side that featured Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard.
“It was a moment in time I will never forget,” he said.
“And I could have scored too, but for David James pulling off a great save.”
However, Holligan failed to convince manager Harry Redknapp of his abilities and was sent to train with the youth team.
And things took a turn for the worse when Redknapp discovered Holligan had performed at former international sprinter Julian Golding’s wedding.
“I asked the youth team manager if it was OK, but Harry found out and went spare,” Holligan said.
“And I think there was a little bit of tension with the management and me from then on, because they were always looking at my commitment level after that.”
Holligan was released by West Ham, before signing for Lawrie Sanchez at Wycombe and performed admirably.
But when Tony Adams took over, he was found to be surplus to requirements and sent on his way.
Holligan’s love for the game began to wane, and after dropping back into non-league with Havant & Waterlooville injuries also took their toll.
“I remember pulling up with an injury, and thinking this was the last time I’d ever really play at a competitive level,” he recalled.
“I knew at that point I couldn’t sustain it, plus the demoralisation of having to keep battling back from injury and feeling a bit of a nuisance because you’re paid to play football was too much.”
At 24, Holligan was left on football’s scrapheap. But, remembering back to his conversation with his father, he always knew music was something that he could fall back on.
He reached out to friends from his days at The BRIT School, and started work as a hired gun for various established artists.
By 2008, talented Holligan managed to secure work on ‘Mercy’ singer Duffy’s US Tour.
He played several major American chat shows, and performed at the Coachella music festival.
“It was an amazing time,” he said.
“We played Coachella, which was an incredible experience, and I also appeared on Jay Leno and David Letterman.
“Then not long after that I joined Gloria Gaynor’s support band for a series of gigs celebrating the 30-year anniversary of her hit ‘I Will Survive’.
“I definitely think being a former Premier League footballer gave me some sort of kudos to my peers, but it helped that I was also bad-ass on the keyboard.”
Then in 2010, Holligan got to work with a true music legend in Stevie Wonder, who was also a major influence.
“He was one of my heroes, so to be asked to work with him was a massive deal for me,” he said.
“Obviously, he’s incredibly and insanely talented live. And he’s just got this cosmic energy. It’s like he can see into your soul.”
Holligan is enjoying his second life. His first was as a professional footballer. Now, for his second chapter, he’s releasing his own music.
Current single ‘This Hotel Is Closed’ is being heavily played on Jazz FM at the moment, while some live dates are also planned.
Holligan revealed: “Being involved in music is just so different to the football world.
“I can get a call tomorrow from a group who has lost a performer before they play Glastonbury, and I won’t need any pre-match prep like if I was called up for an important game at the last minute.
“But now I am older person, knowing a bit more about life and seeing things differently to when I was a teenager, I am happy where I am.
“Perhaps I was born to be a musician rather than a professional footballer.”