When Mile Sterjovski was lining up in the tunnel against Brazil at the 2006 World Cup, he had goose bumps. And while this is unsurprising for any player making their debut in the world’s biggest sporting event, for Mile, one childhood memory made the moment particularly significant.
“When I was playing in the old NSL for Sydney United, Jason Culina and I used to do extra sessions on our own because we were semi-professional”, says Mile.
“We used to dream about playing in the World Cup so we would shoot goals and pretend we scored against Brazil, role playing our celebrations. You imagine things; you set goals; you dream. I’ve done that for as long as I remember.”
And while standing next to the likes of Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos, a tap on the shoulder from his old training buddy was soon followed by a whisper he’ll never forget.
“‘Remember when we were boys and we used to imagine being at the World Cup playing against Brazil?’ Jason said, in my ear. And that’s when it became surreal. Here we were, doing it, in reality.”
Even just recalling this makes him choke up, he admits. He also is the first to admit he’s a lucky man.
Not only has he been able to spend the last 20 years playing professional football for a living, but he’s done so with the endless support of his wife, Sharon – dating all the way back to his first overseas contract with French Ligue 1 side, Lille.
“We were so young,” Sharon recalls of their joint decision to move to Lille together. “It started off as maybe being a six week stay, but I just wanted to be there with him.”
Mile was so excited by the French adventure of living with his girlfriend of a year that he wanted everything to be perfect. He selected a beautiful apartment for them – but then effectively camped in it until she arrived, sleeping only on a stolen yoga mat for weeks, so they could make it their dream home together.
“She came around three months after I first got there and I thought we should choose the furniture together. So I stole a yoga mat from training and my only other furniture was a pillow, bowl and spoon” he says, laughing.
Sharon, still touched by the gesture, adds: “And when I got there, we furnished the apartment together.”
Sterjovski’s big move to Lille from humble beginnings in the old NSL was a dream come true for the Wollongong-born winger. He can’t remember a time he didn’t want to ‘go overseas and make it’ in football - and his first big breakthrough came when he was selected for a spot at the AIS, giving him the self-belief he could make it as a pro.
“I knew how many good players had come out of the AIS and I knew I had to have something about me to be selected,” he says. “I had a dream and I was determined.”
Ultimately, it led to a move to top-tier European football, but the young Mile soon found himself having to quickly learn the ropes to be accepted overseas.