It would be hard to meet someone who has more of a unique blend of cultures ingrained into their heritage than Sandy Walsh does. His family background is so diverse that he can play for six different countries internationally. So far, he has played for just one, having represented the Netherlands from under-15 to under-20 level but there is one nation which sticks out amongst all.
“I follow a lot of English football so I would love to play in England as I have the feeling it is the way I play football,” says the defender. “The passion of the supporters and the love for the game is a dream for every football player. Fingers crossed that one day I can come and play in England.”
And Walsh has a reason to feel connected to the English game more than others who play abroad. The Zulte Waregem defender’s father is from Rochester in Kent and his love of English football has clearly passed down to his gifted son. Walsh junior was born in Belgium and has played his entire career so far in the Belgian top flight, starting at Genk before moving to Zulte Waregem. However it is clear that he would love to play in his father’s homeland.
“My dad is a big Liverpool fan so we watched Match of the Day every weekend together. I started playing tennis at first but after I decided 100 percent to pursue football, my dad showed me his passion for the game.
“Because I have watched a lot of Premier League football and MOTD I guess I have some small elements of English football – the hard tackles and the passion for the game.”
How his father came to Belgium was also through the pursuit of a sporting dream. A professional squash player for England, Gary Walsh met Sandy’s mother, a Dutch woman of Indonesian descent, in the Netherlands before the pair owned a squash club in Lorient, France. They then moved to Brussels where they worked for the British Embassy in the city and where Sandy would be born.
He spent time in the Anderlecht academy growing up before finishing his youth football with Genk where he would then progress into the first team. However, before even making his senior debut, he had already been successful on the international stage. Representing his mother’s homeland, the Netherlands, Walsh was part of the under-17 side who won the UEFA Euro U17 Championships in 2012 which were held in Slovenia. He played alongside future full internationals Jorrit Hendrix, Tonny Vilhena and Nathan Aké. There were two reasons why the Netherlands were the country he chose to represent first.
“I only had the Dutch passport and I promised my grandfather from my mother’s side as long as I can play for the Netherlands, I will play for them. I won the European Championships with them and played with good players so I was always proud to play for them.
“But I’ve still thought about the other countries who I can still play for because as long that I haven’t played for the senior team, I can still play for several countries.”
Those other countries are England and the Republic of Ireland through his father, Switzerland and Indonesia through his mother and Belgium through birth.
A few months after success in Slovenia, Walsh made his professional debut in the Belgian top flight for Genk as a 17-year-old, coming as a substitute for the final few moments of a 2-2 draw with his former side Anderlecht. He would go on to make one more appearance that season in the Belgian Cup which his side went on to win.
He would remain at Genk for the following four seasons, making 73 appearances including nine in the Europa League in the 2016/17 season when his side reached the quarter-finals of the tournament. The 23-year-old says the league has improved since he first made his debut.
“I think the Belgian league is a mix between the two styles of technical and direct but ever since the national team has had a great team, the league has had more appreciation and more people watch the league. As the league has got some more better players the level has gone up. You can see that as the Belgium teams have had some good performances in the Europa League, like when I reached the quarter-finals with Genk.”
In 2017 he joined top flight rivals Zulte Waregem where he has been a regular ever since, making 34 appearances last year and another 20 so far this year. However, it has not been the first half of the season that Walsh and his teammates would have liked as Zulte currently sit in 12th place in the 16 team league after 24 matches.
“Of course reaching European football for next season has to be a goal but this season but the competition hasn’t gone our way so first of all, we need to find the spirit back from end of last season [when Zulte won 10 of their last 12 games] and then we shall see what we can reach together as a team.
“I also have a personal ambition but we shall see what happens.”
With Walsh now playing regularly in one of Europe’s top flights the question of international football has now returned. The defender, who can play anywhere across the backline and in defensive midfield, has received extra support in recent seasons from Indonesian football fans who are keen to see him represent their side internationally, so much so that the Belgium-born defender has even taken to posting in Indonesian to his ninety-thousand followers on Instagram.
The former Dutch youth international is certainly excited at the prospect of now becoming a full international.
”My opinion about international football is that it’s an extra element to your career,” he says. “I love playing football for the experience and for the love of the game and the supporters. As the people in Indonesia started following me two years ago and showing the love and support towards me, I started to feel the love for Indonesia so I want to give it back to them on the pitch.
“Of course like any player, I hope to become full international soon and who knows, maybe reach a big tournament with that team.”
Whoever he chooses to play for internationally, there is no doubt that his English heritage has had a big part to play in his life for the sport.