Sydney FC's Joel King was five when the A-League kicked off in 2005.
Watching the A-League with his mum and dad, the energetic kid from the beachside hamlet of Shell Cove, near Wollongong, became a Sydney FC fan instantly.
Supporting the great names of yesteryear: Dwight Yorke, Mark Rudan, Steve Corica, and others, the Sky Blues won a historic first-ever A-League Championship in Season 1 in early 2006.
These Sky Blue greats inspired the kid from the ‘Gong to do the same.
After matches and after school, he’d be smashing footballs into the back of his family’s back fence - irritating the hell out of his neighbors - alongside brother Scott and older sister Taren (who has gone on to become a W-League star at Canberra United).
The King Clan enjoyed a sunny, outdoors lifestyle and always had a sibling on hand to help refine their skills.
But it was mum and dad who did the hard yards, driving the King kids across the state and up to Sydney for training week in week out.
In a familiar tale: Mum wanted Joel to play football rather than their Dad’s sport of Rugby League. It was safer, she felt.
Mum’s strategic move paid off.
Thirteen years later, after signing a pro contract, now 18-year-old Sydney FC full-back Joel King has debuted in the A-League. And he debuted in the Asian Champions League against some of the region’s biggest clubs.
“I started soccer when I was five,” King tells FTBL after his last training session of the season at Macquarie.
“Ever since then I was supporting the A-League. And of course, I’m a Sydney FC supporter as well.
“I’d go to school, play soccer in the playground all lunch and recess, and I’d go home and keep hitting the ball at the back fence when I got home.
“I’d kick the ball against the fence and the neighbors weren’t very happy because it was so loud.
“The ball would go over the fence and they wouldn’t give it back so I’d have to get a new ball.
“I’d go ask for it and they wouldn’t answer the door!”
What those neighbors didn’t realise or appreciate at the time is each kick, each pass, each control of the ball got King closer to his dream.
“Shell Cove was good,” King continues. “It was quiet and quite new.
"I had plenty of time to play out the front, kick the ball with friends and my neighbors' kids.
“And when I wasn’t at soccer I was at the beach.
“I should go back and tell those neighbors who weren’t happy with me, who I play for now… maybe they’re still not happy with me though!”
The AIS was happy, though.
By the age of 15, he was part of the national set-up at the FFA Centre of Excellence, playing in their NYL side while “running amok at school” in Canberra.
When King left the AIS he trialed with Melbourne City and Wanderers but the lure of Sydney FC was too much.
The teenager was spotted by coach Rob Stanton who saw his potential and the full-back was asked to join Sky Blues’ youth side. No brainer really.
And after just one year, Steve Corica took a punt on the teenager and signed him to a pro deal with the first-team squad.
A seamless pipeline has moved King from Shell Cove to Canberra and onto Moore Park, where in his first season he was part of a Championship winning side - just like 2005.
“The last couple of weeks have been great, winning the A-League and I got to debut a couple of weeks before that.
“Playing with Brosquey [retiring skipper Alex Brosque] and all that, it’s pretty special.
"Wilko [former Socceroo defender Alex Wilkinson] and Zullo [ex Eredivisie player and starting XI left back Michael Zullo] have been pretty helpful as has Brosquey.
“Pretty surreal at the start but it’s alright now.”
Surreal it was when two days after the Perth A-League Grand Final triumph opened the door for Sky Blues of the future to gain valuable learning experience in the ACL.
To test yourself at 18 against a powerhouse club from the region’s strongest league in Kawasaki Frontale was priceless, after earlier debuting in the ACL in Korea against Ulsan.
And J-League opposition is the highest level you can get in the region, as King found out.
“It was bloody difficult but good [against Kawasaki, a 4-0 loss for Steve Corica’s men].
“They still had to win to have a chance of qualifying.
“They were always a couple of steps ahead. All seemed on the same page, great rotations creating the extra man everywhere on the field.
“It was good to verse them and experience it and learn a lot.
“Walking out, they looked a lot bigger. But to be honest, I don’t think I got close enough to them to put in a good challenge!
“In our group, Kawasaki was the best team by far.”
King also came on in Ulsan after the hour mark with Sydney FC a goal down in their group game.
“They sat back a bit so I got to attack more. So I was fortunate to come on at that time.”
Living with an older sister in Sydney - Canberra United's Taren King, 22, - the King clan’s football bond is stronger than ever as they make a name for themselves on the national scene.
“Joel is a very composed and confident player- used as a left back can also play center-back too. Quality on the ball and good technique,” former Sydney FC teammate Patrick Flottmann told FTBL.
“And as a person a great bloke, humble and hardworking. I think he has the potential to play at a high level as long as he keeps working hard.”
This week, King is chilling out in Bali with the still celebrating Sydney FC boys, reflecting on a season to remember.
What's more, he's one of the retained players for next season as Steve Corica looks to replicate his Championship winning side, and maybe even get out of the group stages in Asia.
While there's much criticism of the A-League, the fact is it's still going 14 years after inception.
And it is inspiring kids who like King grew up watching it, being inspired by it and were dreaming of a professional contract, or just jumping and singing on the terraces for their team.
Joel King's story is a fairytale rise for a player who truly was born into the A-League.