Connor Metcalfe’s footballing journey from Newcastle to Melbourne, like all good stories, is best told from the beginning, and not just for the sake of it either; his story starts in a way that just about everyone can relate to. It begins as a six-year-old kid with energy to burn and a rugged old ball to kick.
“It was just nonstop,” the now 20-year-old says, “Always in the front yard, backyard, just kicking the ball, ruining mum’s garden, kicking the fence, making heaps of noise.”
Later becoming an avid fan of his hometown A-League side, the Newcastle Jets, Metcalfe recalls the games he went to at the Jets’ home, McDonald Jones Stadium, and the way he fell in love with the game seeing his heroes in those iconic gold kits.
“They had unreal players,” he recalls, “Nicky Carle and all them, so I was like, ‘I wanna be like these players.’”
At 14, his family uprooted from Newcastle to Melbourne following a new job opportunity for his father. Having played representative football in New South Wales, he was quickly invited by Melbourne City following his relocation for a tour of the club’s now renowned training facilities. Safe to say, the youngster was impressed:
“This is unreal,” he remembers telling himself.
Fast forward several years and Metcalfe is probably one of the most qualified players in the squad to speak about what it’s really like to progress through City’s youth setup and to be exposed to the rigours of NPL football before finally emerging as a senior Melbourne City footballer.
He’s become a supporter of the club’s model of fielding younger players in its senior NPL outfit, with the midfielder citing the country’s second tier as an excellent developmental platform where youngsters can test themselves in a challenging environment whilst getting plenty of game time.
“When you’re young all you need to do is play games,” he explains, “Yeah, you can train as much as you want but it’s not really going to do much for you because at the end of the day, you’re not going to be match fit from training.”
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows going up against the older players, he admits:
“There’s obviously games where the other team’s going to kick you, but it’s good because you get use to that side of the game.
“When you’re growing up, all you learn about is good touch, good this, everything needs to look pretty but then they show you the other side: big tackles, sliding tackles, elbows, all the dirty side of the game, so it gives you a little bit more aggression and the hunger to say, ‘I’m not losing to these guys.’
“It gives you a bit more fight.”
The conversation then turns to Metcalfe’s more recent time under Warren Joyce, and the youngster makes a surprising admission about his experience under the previous management.
“Last season wasn’t the greatest season for me. I wasn’t enjoying football at all and Warren just didn’t really like me, so, to be honest, I was thinking, ‘Alright, I’m heading off to a different club’.”
The statement provides a stark contrast to the sentiment portrayed by Lachlan Wales when he spoke about his time under Joyce, believing that his former coach had made a positive impact on the youth at the club.
For Metcalfe though, it took Joyce’s departure and the arrival of Erick Mombaerts for his game to be taken to the next level:
“All of a sudden Erick came in and everything changed.”
The box-to-box midfielder suddenly found himself thrust into first XI contention, making the most of his starting opportunities with the senior side throughout the preseason.
“Starting, it was like ‘I’ve gotta play well’,” he explains, “There’s no playing average, there’s no hot and cold. I have to do well.”
So impressive were his early season performances that his form earned him selection for Australia’s U23 side, the Olyroos, with Metcalfe going on to become a key part of the team’s successful Olympic qualification campaign earlier this year. It’s an achievement which he describes as one of the greatest of his life.
“We’d always watch videos of the previous (Australian) players and teams that qualified for it and actually went to the Olympics. You looked at Cahill and all them superstars,” he says, “Younger players are going to watch us qualify for it and celebrate our victory.”
“It’s such a big thing to be a part of and to say, ‘Yeah, I was a part of that team.’”
Now one of the longest-serving players at the club, when incorporating time spent in the youth setup, there’s truly something different about the way fans have celebrated his goals this year. his header against Wellington in Round 3, right in front of the active support, sent the Terrace into raptures, and the photo of him celebrating the goal with Craig Noone hanging off him and Lachie Wales looking at him in some sort of unbridled adoration is an absolute beauty. There's even a disappointed Phoenix supporter gazing quite broodingly into the distance.
It truly is City history in a photograph.
It was a moment where there was an unspoken understanding amongst fans that THAT goal just meant more. With Metcalfe running off to celebrate, all the while tugging his shirt and thumping the club badge, one couldn’t help but think… ‘He’s one of our own’.