Feature interview: Millwall's Australian striker following in the footsteps of Tim Cahill

MILLWALL’S LATEST Australian recruit Kristian Brymora was at Gatwick airport last Tuesday afternoon, waiting for a flight to Poland to finally pick up a passport in the country of his ancestors, with a copy of Tim Cahill’s autobiography, 'Legacy', tucked under his arm.

It’s an appropriate title as far as Brymora is concerned as it was Cahill’s story that inspired him to leave his family behind and get on a flight to England in June to try to forge a career as a professional footballer.

Like Cahill, Brymora is literally going the extra mile for the benefit of his career. It was his fourth trip to Poland – where his grandparents left after World Wat Two to make new lives for themselves in Australia – to sign on the dotted line and collect an EU passport.

Brymora spent his early life in Sydney, the city where Cahill lived with his English father and Samoan mother before his parents took out a loan so they could send him to England for trials. He earned a deal with Millwall, and went on to play 251 times for the club, scoring 57 goals.

Cahill belonged to a rugby league-obsessed family but would stay up late into the night to watch English football. Brymora, too, had plenty of options to play other sports but was so obsessed with football when he was younger he ended up playing seven days a week for numerous teams – in Northern New South Wales representative, regional, schools and club sides – before injuries convinced his parents to curtail their son’s intense schedule. “I was upset,” he says now, but it turned out to be the sensible decision as it allowed him to flourish for Newcastle’s Emerging Jets team where he was spotted by one of the club’s senior coaches.

The family had moved to Newcastle – 100 miles north of Sydney – from the Blue Mountains in the southwest as his dad’s work took them there.

After one season with the youth team he was invited along with a number of youngsters to train with the senior side before that was whittled down to a first-team squad that would travel to China for a pre-season tour – and Brymora was in the group.

“I was playing with these guys in Jets youth teams for years and suddenly we’re going to China,” he recalls. “It was surreal.”

When he got back he was offered a one-year professional youth deal while he was still at school, squeezing in studies between morning and evening training sessions.

Brymora, who has just turned 19, made one senior appearance for the Jets in the A League. It seemed a perfect situation, starting out his professional career in a city famed for its surfing beaches on the Pacific Ocean.

But there was something telling him to look further than those horizons.

“It was unbelievable to play in the A League,” he explains. “But it was always in my mind to go overseas. I looked up to Tim Cahill and what he had done and dreamt about doing the same.

“At the end of the season they were sorting all the contracts but I told the agency I was working with that I wanted to go and before I knew it I was jumping on a plane in June.

“Poland was also an option but this was an English-speaking environment and I wanted to try my luck here.”

Kristian Brymora has scored three goals for Millwall's under-23s this season, two of them winners.

The agency, ie:sports, set up a trial for him with Watford, but because it was the first week of their pre-season Brymora had to wait a week before linking up with the club and spent that time training with Bromley.

He was originally invited for a one-week trial but impressed enough to be asked to return for a second week. “That was massive, a Premier League club and being there will all their pros. Troy Deeney and everyone would come and sit next to you, they were all really friendly.

“I thought I did well there but at the end of the day they said they had another couple of strikers there. That was hard to take, it was the first real rejection of my career.

“But I wanted to make a name for myself and a few days later I was at Millwall.”

The first person he met at the club was Adam Barrett, then temporarily in charge of the under-23 side. Barrett introduced him to the rest of the club’s young professionals before Brymora made his first appearance in a Millwall shirt, coming on as a substitute against former Lions striker Gary Alexander’s Greenwich Borough and scoring. “For me, mentally, that was a good start,” Brymora says.

But he still needed to impress the club’s academy staff and next played in a game between the under-23s and under18s.

New Development Squad boss Kevin Nugent was pleased with what he had seen. “He has been brave and taken a risk to come over to London and earn a contract,” Nugent said at the time. “He has proved that he's willing to work hard and make it work at Millwall.”

It was Millwall’s head of recruitment, Alex Aldridge, who notified his representatives that he had done enough to earn a short-term deal. “My agent sat me down and I thought, ‘oh my gosh’. It’s a feeling you can’t really explain. It was mind-blowing.”

Brymora settled into digs in Orpington with Lions goalkeeper Harry Girling having spent his first few weeks in London living with his agent.

It didn’t take him long to make an impact on the pitch, scoring the winner against Sheffield United and then one in the last minute against south London rivals Crystal Palace to seal three Development League points.

The centre-forward is determined to earn a longer deal with Millwall.

There have been moments when he has felt homesick, but he reminds himself what he’s trying to achieve and the people he has met so far have helped him to settle. “My agent and I are now really good friends. It’s a big thing to meet people outside football. The club organised digs for me as well, I get along really well with Harry and he drives me to training. London is well-connected, it’s easy get around.

“It’s not an easy thing to come all this way, leaving my girlfriend, my mates, family, the beach, everything. But I tell myself I’ll get the chance to visit home, and if I didn’t do this I’d regret it for the rest of my life.

“This is my job now and I want to do my best at it. It’s only 24 hours from home anyway and anytime I’m missing home I can just pick up the phone to my parents.”

There is also a person at Millwall who he now refers to as like an “older brother”. James Meredith left Australia as a 16-year-old to go on trial at Derby County before, after spells at a number of other clubs, he eventually made his name at Bradford from whom he joined the Lions in the summer.

“I’ve gotten to know James really well and I look at him almost as an older brother,” Brymora says. “We get lunch together and it’s nice to have a mentor. He’s 29 years old and has been in the English game a good ten years.

“He understands the politics of it all and what coaches want to see and what I should work on.

“I’m taking it day to day and focusing on trying to improve myself, learning off the older boys. I’d love to extend my stay here, I love the football. The coaches and facilities are a dream for me.

“We do joint sessions with the first team sometimes, doing shooting drills with Lee Gregory and Steve Morison. They’re great players to just be able to watch, the way they move and the way they play. I want to work towards that.”

On Tuesday, he was taking another step to smoothing the road ahead, with a reminder of the possibilities at his fingertips.

“I’m halfway through the book, I have it right next to me now. He took every step similar to what I’m doing. He went through what I’m going through now and it panned out for him.

“I’m reading about how it unfolded for him. I idolise him, he came a long way to make it through this club and that’s where I want to be.”

Images: Millwall FC 

*Brymora scored his third goal for Millwall in the under-23s' 2-2 draw at home to Ipswich at The Den on Friday. Midfielder Harry Donovan put the Lions ahead, before Ted Bishop made it 1-1 before the break. Brymora gave Millwall the lead again with 11 minutes left, but Ben Morris rescued a point for the Tractor Boys in injury-time.

John Kelly