I used to play for West Ham at Anfield but quit football to play jazz and now I’m performing with superstars like Stevie Wonder

WHEN Gavin Holligan was 18, the world of football was at his feet.

He played for West Ham at Anfield in a 2-2 draw – coming on for Joe Cole and almost scoring against Liverpool.

Gavin Holligan is now an accomplished jazz musician after a career in football

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Gavin Holligan is now an accomplished jazz musician after a career in footballPhoto credit: Instagram / @gavinholligan
Holligan in action for Wycombe Wanderers

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Holligan in action for Wycombe WanderersPhoto credit: Getty

But at 24 and after a series of nagging injuries, Holligan had lost his appetite for the game.

Instead, the talented singer and keyboardist turned to music after graduating from the BRIT School, where the likes of Adele, Amy Winehouse and Jessie J honed their craft.

Today, Holligan, now 41, is a brilliant jazz singer and performer who has shared the stage with Stevie Wonder, played with Welsh singer Duffy at the Coachella music festival and toured with Gloria Gaynor.

And it seems the American soul singer’s classic hit “I Will Survive” was the mantra for Holligan as he boldly transitioned from football to music.

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“Football was my dream as a youngster before I started a music career,” he told SunSport EXCLUSIVELY.

“I joined Crystal Palace Academy, was heartbroken when I was fired, then after stints 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 BRIT School but after a conversation with my father who said I could do music afterwards I focused on football.”

After a £150,000 move to the Hammers in 1998 that made Holligan the most expensive non-league signing in history, the forward was pushed into the first-team for a Premier League game against Liverpool.

It marked a special occasion for the childhood Reds fan, coming on as a substitute with 10 minutes remaining and in a West Ham side that featured Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard.

“It was a moment I will never forget,” he said.

“And I could have scored if David James hadn’t made 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 that Holligan had performed at the wedding of former international sprinter Julian Golding.

“I asked the youth team manager if it was okay, but Harry found out and went on as a substitute,” Holligan said.

“And I think from there there was a bit of tension with the management and I because they’ve always looked at my engagement after that.”

Holligan was sacked by West Ham before signing for Lawrie Sanchez at Wycombe and put in an admirable performance.

But when Tony Adams took over, he was deemed redundant and sent on his way.

Holligan’s love of the game began to wane and after relegating to the non-league with Havant & Waterlooville, injuries also took their toll.

Injuries took their toll on Holligan, who had to retire at the age of 24

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Injuries took their toll on Holligan, who had to retire at the age of 24Credit: PA
A veteran keyboardist, Holligan contacted his old friends from the BRIT School and became a touring musician

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A veteran keyboardist, Holligan contacted his old friends from the BRIT School and became a touring musicianPhoto credit: Instagram / @gavinholligan

“I remember quitting with an injury and thinking that was the last time I ever really played at a competitive level,” he recalled.

“I knew at that point that I couldn’t take it and the demoralization of having to keep fighting injuries and feeling a bit of a nuisance because you’re being paid to play football was too much.”

At 24, Holligan was left in the junkyard of football. But if he remembered his conversation with his father, he always knew that music was something he could draw on.

Reaching out to friends from his BRIT School days, he began working as a hitman for various established artists.

By 2008, the talented Holligan managed to secure a spot on “Mercy” singer Duffy’s US tour.

He has played several major American chat shows and performed at the Coachella music festival.

“It was an incredible time,” he said.

“We played Coachella, which was an incredible experience, and I’ve also performed with Jay Leno and David Letterman.

“Then, not long after, I joined Gloria Gaynor’s support band for a series of gigs to celebrate the 30th anniversary of her hit song ‘I Will Survive.’

“I definitely think as a former Premier League footballer I got some sort of recognition from my peers, but it helped that I was badass on the keyboard too.”

Then in 2010, Holligan collaborated with a true music legend in Stevie Wonder, who was also a huge influence.

“He was one of my heroes, so it was a big deal for me to be asked to work with him,” he said.

“Obviously he’s amazing live and insanely talented. And he just has 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.

Holligan appeared on keyboards while Duffy appeared on David Letterman's Late Show on US television

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Holligan appeared on keyboards while Duffy appeared on David Letterman’s Late Show on US television
Now at the age of 41, Holligan makes his own music

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Now at the age of 41, Holligan makes his own musicPhoto credit: Instagram / @gavinholligan
Stevie Wonder poses alongside Holligan and his backing band

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Stevie Wonder poses alongside Holligan and his backing band

Current single ‘This Hotel Is Closed’ is currently playing heavily on Jazz FM while some live dates are also planned.

Holligan revealed: “Being involved in music is just so different from the football world.

“I can get a call tomorrow from a group who have lost a player before they play Glastonbury and I don’t need any pre-game preparation like if I were called up at the last minute for an important game.

“But now I’m an older person, I know a little bit more about life and see things differently than I did when I was a teenager, I’m happy where I am.

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“Maybe I was born more of a musician than a professional footballer.”

To learn more about Gavin Holligan’s music, visit his website. Alternatively, he has a live date at the 606 club in London, which you can buy tickets for.

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