Before Matthew Jurman became a national team player and A-League star, the powerful defender from Western Sydney Wanderers trialled across Europe.
It toughened him mentally and gave the then-teen a taste of Sunderland’s brilliant football culture.
For an 18-year-old Jurman, life in Sunderland with its manic football passion was an eye-opener.
The Young Socceroo and AIS graduate with the UK-born mother had trialled as a 16-year-old at Bolton Wanderers (with a certain Aaron Mooy) but Sunderland was a whole other level.
From manager Roy Keane’s aura to living first-hand the extraordinary passion of Sunderland's incredible fans, it was an experience that has stayed with the powerful central defender.
But as the A-League gears up to finish Season 2019/20 in empty stadia this month due to virus restrictions, Jurman says his Sunderland experience reminds him of why playing overseas can at times be so intoxicating.
Furthermore, his trial experience across Europe shaped his strong mentality today.
“I’d been in Scotland trialling but after they said they wanted me back in pre-season. So I got a trial at Middlesbrough,” Wanderers defender Jurman tells FTBL.
“Then I got a chance to trial with Sunderland. I was at Sunderland for a week. The facilities at the training centre in Sunderland were absolutely unbelievable.”
Sunderland has a UEFA 5-star facility at its Academy of Light in Cleadon and the Stadium of Light is by far the most prestigious venue in League One.
“While I was there I watched one of Sunderland's Cup games at the Stadium of Light," he continued. "Honestly, it was incredible.
“I stayed near the water in Roker I think, and they really looked after me. It was a nice place.
“I have good memories. Seeing all the training facilities. Everything was really professional. I met Roy Keane [then Sunderland manager] but I was a bit intimidated by someone like him.
“I was excited to meet him but I mainly worked with Sunderland’s youth coaches.
“And while I was training at Sunderland, they had another young player called Jordan Henderson.
“I’m a Liverpool fan and now he’s their captain, so that was pretty amazing and I recall the striker Martyn Waghorn was there, too.”
Waghorn, from nearby South Shields, is now on Derby County’s books after spells at Leicester City.
If you haven’t seen "Sunderland Till I Die" on Netflix, watch it, urges Jurman.
It took him back to his week on Wearside.
“The fans not even at the games but just in general when you walk around Sunderland.
“It’s all they talk about around town,” the A-League defender adds. “If the team’s not doing well the entire town - the entire town - is suffering.