'He was on another level': Elder follows in the footsteps of Socceroos legend
In the shadows of Cromer Park's Lucas Neill Grandstand, Callum Elder started dreaming of one day representing Australia.
And after a decade of ups and downs, the Manly United junior would become the first product of Sydney's Northern Beaches to pull on the Green and Gold since the former Socceroos captain himself.
Elder's debut in Doha earlier this month, which saw the Hull City defender become Socceroo cap #614, was the culmination of a long journey filled with its fair share of obstacles.
But according to Elder's former teammates and coaches, the signs were there from an early age.
Like Lucas Neill, Elder would depart Sydney's north as a teenager, making the major move to the United Kingdom to pursue his dream of becoming a professional footballer.
While Neill famously settled with Milwall, Elder found his first scholarship deal further north with Leicester City, before building up his skillset by playing for a plethora of clubs on loan.
Cruelly-timed injury blows prevented a couple of call-ups to the youth national teams and Socceroos in June 2021.
But a few months later, his first minutes with the national team would finally arrive at the age of 26.
In the process, Elder, who once represented grassroots club Mosman FC, became the fourth male player produced by the Manly Warringah Football Association to represent their nation - after Lucas Neill (cap #421), Ian Gray (cap #330) and Gary Van Egmond (cap #354).
Reflecting on his call-up, Elder shared the outpouring of support he received from those he had played under and alongside over ten years ago.
"Yeah, it's crazy, just through life naturally you become distant from people that you spend so much time with so long ago," he reflected in Socceroos camp.
"But when the national team was announced, I had a lot of players I played with at Manly and staff sent me messages of congratulations and pride.
I'm so honored and looking forward to repaying that faith that they put in me."
One of those who instilled their belief in Elder was Louis Dimitropoulos, coach of Manly United's U16's Boys Youth League side.
“Callum was captain of the team, he always had the mental strength side of the game, he never shirked the hard work and he was professional in his attitude to all things with his football," he told Manly United's website. "A natural leader, who never complained about the hard work and always listened. I’m so happy that he has gone on to achieve the career he has and now a Socceroo cap – every boys dream."
Back then, Elder played in the centre of midfield, developing the technical skills that he now displays on the left flank as a fullback.
Dom Ferguson, who now plays in the centre of the park for Manly United's first grade side, was one of Callum's teammates during his time with club.
Looking back, it is clear that he not only had the skills, but also the mentality, to flourish as a professional footballer.
“He did have a raw talent about him, everyone knew he was on another level, and he always knew he wanted to be a footballer,” recalls Ferguson.
“I remember one time we trained at Balmoral with Louis, Callum ended up vomiting in the water because of how hard he pushed himself, that kind of discipline that he has shown throughout his career started early on in Manly."
And just like Neill, who is forever immortalised within Manly's home ground, everyone in and around the club are hoping that Elder can go on to create some priceless memories in the Australian backline.
“Everyone is so happy with his success, he thoroughly deserved it and the journey he has been on is a testament to that," reflects Ferguson.
“We will all be watching Callum’s journey from here on and we wish him all the luck with his journey towards the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.”