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The remarkable story of Connor Pain

Connor Pain, now in full Victory stripes. Source: Zee Ko

Connor Pain, now in full Victory stripes. Source: Zee Ko

I first encountered the young lad early in 2012, on the grassy football pitch at Kingston Heath Reserve. The Melbourne Victory Youths had just completed their campaign, wooden spooners after their last game against Central Coast had been cancelled.

Head coach Darren Davies had his young charges arrayed on the field that day, ready to take on the Greens of Bentleigh and keen to show their worth after a tumultuous season.  It was by no means a poor squad, they’d just taken too long to pick up enough steam and only picked up their first win of the NYL season after Christmas.

Talented up and coming youngsters all, but only three of them would have made their professional debuts twelve months on. And one of those was in green, playing for the other side on the day: Connor Pain, kitted out awkwardly in a uniform that seemed at least a size too large on him. Motoring up and down the flank for his new VPL team that day, the youngster had no inkling he’d be switching strips and playing for one of the A-League’s traditional powerhouse teams within a year.

Standing on the training pitch at Gosch’s Paddock more than a year on, the diminutive forward still seems a little shocked at how far he’s come in such a short time.

“It’s still a bit surreal but I’m starting to get used to training with the boys and playing in front of crowds. You know, it’s a nice surprise really.”

Was there ever a goal to reach this loftiest of lofty targets, to play for the club he’d supported ever since returning to Australia? Born in Hong Kong to expatriate parents and only moving back to Melbourne as an eight-year old in 2002, the soft-spoken Pain is quick to point out that he’d only ever harboured hopes of breaking into the youth setup at Victory.

“You always hope that you will be but I was trying to play well for Bentleigh under Johnny A (John Anastasiadis) and trying to get myself into the youth league so it was very much just a dream.”

However, the fleet-footed winger had already drew attention with some eye-catching displays and it wasn’t long before someone familiar came knocking.

“Daz [Davies] had been coming to a lot of games at VPL and he’d been talking to me a fair bit about the potential of joining the club. From there we played a practice game against Victory and did okay and so he agreed it was okay to sign me on a youth deal.”

Pain’s adventure had just begun, though his meteoric rise through the ranks wouldn’t come without a few hiccups on his part. The transition from VPL to NYL was definitely not an easy one, as he revealed.

“The training intensity and frequency like how much you train and stuff, it was so different. I can’t really put into words how much I’ve improved, I’ve sorta surprised myself.”

More surprises were in store for the promising youngster, as senior coach Ange Postecoglou decided the time was ripe for Victory’s latest debutant – a baptism of fire against derby rivals Melbourne Heart at Etihad Stadium.

“We were training all week and I had the feeling that I was going to get the call up but it wasn’t till the day before when training finished at Etihad and so it was like ‘See you tomorrow, Connor” and I was sorta like ‘Oh! Alright, see you there.’ Yeah pretty much see you there tomorrow and I just went home and tried to get my head in the game. Definitely didn’t sleep very well that night.”

Pain laughs as he recalls how nervous he was that weekend.

“I turned up the next day, went into the rooms and just sat there for a couple of hours, trying to soak it up a bit. It was great, a debut to remember really seeing we won the game in front of 40,000 people. I was so nervous, I was looking around and saying you know what, there’s a lot of people here.”

So what wise words did Postecoglou have for his young charge on the biggest day of his life so far as he prepared to come on to the pitch?

“I was grateful when Ange told me that I was going to come on. We were all just warming up and he said just do what you’ve been doing in the Youth League. Just go out there and enjoy yourself, he said to me.”

More first team appearance soon followed, and in early March professional terms were finally tabled.

“Trimmers (Paul Trimboli) texted me saying we’ve got a meeting in the office. I remember thinking oh what’s this about, am I in trouble? But yeah I went in there and they offered me a contract there and then.”

Football is definitely a priority now that he’s become a professional player; Pain admits that he’s scaled back his University requirements as he chases a double degree on the side at Deakin University.

“I’m not one to make extensive goals, I think I’ll just take each day as it comes and just try and play as well as I can for the boss and the team. When I start to consolidate myself by playing more and more games, then I’ll be happy.”

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