Few could get near Southampton and Premier League legend Matt Le Tissier at his peak. Just ask Heidelberg United captain Luke Byles.
A former product of the renowned Saints academy line, Byles still remembers rubbing shoulders with British footballing royalty in Hampshire.
And although he never made a first team appearance after signing a professional contract at St. Mary’s back in 2001, the defender still recalls those days fondly.
“I was lucky enough to play maybe two or three games in the reserve team with him,” he told www.ffacup.com.au.
“It was a good time to be at the club. Stuart Gray was the manager when I signed and later on Gordan Strachan took over.”
That was a previous life for a player who opted to travel the world instead of play professionally in the English top flight.
Pairing up with fellow Southampton academy product Phil Warner, Byles left England and backpacked around South-East Asia, landing in Australia in 2009.
He would eventually find a home at Heidelberg United.
“I came over during Melbourne Cup week and thought, ‘oh crikey I need to earn some money!’.
“The first thing that came to mind was to go and play some football.”
Byles is at the heart of Heidelberg's National Premier Leagues success story.
It's his second stint at the club after re-signing in 2014. Since then Byles has led the side to two FFA Cup quarter finals and is targeting his third in four years when the side take on Adelaide Comets on Wednesday night.
“It’s been fantastic, it’s a family club, the culture there is absolutely fantastic and that’s reaped rewards on and off the pitch.," he said.
“We’ve just had a breakout year where we pretty much won everything we could apart from the Victorian Championship which is one we’re still hurting from and chasing this year.”
Despite losing the Victorian grand final to Bentleigh Greens on penalties, Heidelberg’s success at both state and national level has drawn praise from all quarters. Some even think they're Australia's best team outside the Hyundai A-League.
They were crowned National Premier Leagues Champions in 2017, as well as taking the Dockerty Cup and NPL Victoria Premiership, while their battle with state rivals Bentleigh Greens has been one of fiercest in the country.
“I think on the day if everything goes to plan some of the best NPL clubs can definitely give the A-League teams a run for their money," he said.
“We beat Perth last year 1-0 but it probably should’ve been more than that.
“The gap is definitely smaller than everyone thinks.
“The FFA Cup has been fantastic for that as you can see, players from the NPL getting recognised like Kenny Athiu and potentially the Japanese boy (Tasuku Sekiya) from APIA the other night. I can’t understand why A-League clubs don’t look closer to home and give these young NPL players the opportunity.”