by Bhas Kunju
Twice capped by Ireland, Joe Gamble turned out for the U17 and U21 teams before being called up to the senior side in 2007, making him the first player from League of Ireland to feature for the national team in over five years.
The now 31-year-old had a successful start to his career with his hometown club Cork City in 2000, winning the League title as well as the FAI and Setanta Sports cup, before moving to England with Reading, where he was briefly under current boss Steve Kean, and Hartlepool. A return to Ireland with Limerick in 2011 ended two years later, with Gamble in the sights of Brunei DPMM in the S.League.
The midfielder, who like most Irish players, had never ventured beyond the British Isles in search of professional football. But when Gamble's former team-mate and current agent, George O'Callaghan, put forward the idea of playing in the S.League in mid-2013, he was quickly intrigued.
"Yes it's unusual for Irish players to travel outside Ireland and England but i wanted to expand my knowledge of football, culture and wanted a new challenge, nothing gets me more motivated or excited than a new challenge," Gamble explained in an exclusive interview with Goal Singapore.
"He (O'Callaghan) said they (DPMM) had fantastic facilities, a great stadium, professional set-up, and were a very ambitious club and overall I'd have a lovely quality of life in Brunei. I have really and truly enjoyed my stay in Brunei much better than I had envisaged. It's a lovely, peaceful and interesting place. Fantastic beaches to relax on and plenty to do outside of football to explore."
Admittedly, only having been familiar with the J-League and the AFC Champions League when it came to Asian football, Gamble has quickly kept himself informed of the S.League and rattled off Warriors FC's Alex Weaver and new Woodlands Wellington coach Darrent Stewart as two top coaches who have impressed him. He also mentioned Geylang International's new South American imports as players he would like to test himself against.
"Since i knew there was a possibility that I'd be playing in the S.League, I've looked closer on the website on clubs and players, I've tried to familiarise myself with as much as I could," said Gamble.
"I have heard of a very good coach at Warriors FC, Alex Weaver from Stoke on Trent. He has a good reputation of being a top coach/manager in Asia. Darren Stewart is another well-respected coach that has moved clubs recently so it will be interesting too see how his team perform, also Geylang have brought in a number of South American imports so I will be looking forward to playing against them and see what their abilities are like."
For those who have never plied their trade in this region, adjusting to playing in the tropics in high humidity, where day time temperatures soar as high as 37°C, would be a challenge to most players. Gamble admitted that the change in climate would be a big difference, but pointed out his strict fitness regime and preparation as key to helping him cope, along with the 'strong self-belief' in his own ability. He also stated that he had been able to get good advice from top class athletes he knew, to help with the adjustment.
But when it came to his new club's chances of achieving their goal of clinching the S.League title this coming season, Gamble remained cautious, adding that there is a difference in setting a target and actually accomplshing it.
"Every club in the S.League, or in the world for that matter, at the start of the year will have an ambition of being successful, so DPMM FC wouldn't be different in that respect but it's one thing saying what you're going to do and another to actually do it," he warned.
"It would be unprofessional of me to say what i think we can achieve, all I would say is that we will be very professional and competitive in every game and as a team we will see where that will take us."
While the imminent transfer of his former Cork City team-mate Roy O'Donovan to Brunei DPMM has made the news, Gamble stated that he is already impressed with the club's current set of players and pointed out that it will go a long way in helping the club achieve their targets.
"I've been very impressed with the DPMM FC players, their ability and technique is very high but most importantly their attitude stood out to me," he said of his new team-mates.
"They're willing to work hard in training every day and very keen to learn. These traits are very important for any team to be successful, no matter what league you compete in."
DPMM FC have so far confirmed the signing of Boris Raspudic and Roberto Alviz, who along with Gamble will join Rodrigo Tosi who has been retained. A deal to sign former Sunderland forward O'Donovan is believed to be close to wrapping up. The club have also announced that their first S.League fixture will be on February 19, with a pre-season competition in Krabi, Thailand mooted for late January.