Joel Porter doesn't want it to end like this. Barely 12 months ago he was on top of his game, and in his best form since he was returned to Australia to join Gold Coast United for their inaugural Hyundai A-League season in 2009.
Joel Porter doesn't want it to end like this.
Barely 12 months ago he was on top of his game, and in his best form since he was returned to Australia to join Gold Coast United for their inaugural Hyundai A-League season in 2009.
His decision to leave Hartlepool, in England's third tier, was a hard one. His old coach famously warned him he was selling himself short by going back home. But after 46 goals in five seasons, he was ready for a change.
Gold Coast were born with plenty of promise, and in last year's finals series, the club was on course to finally realising it. Porter was a driving force in that.
Having been fashioned into a supersub by Miron Bleiberg, the wily veteran had formed a habit of turning games on their heads whenever he was brought on from the bench. His performances against Melbourne Victory, Adelaide United and Central Coast were reason enough to believe he was in for a late-career swansong.
But now, after a nightmare run with injury and the crossfire that engulfed his club following the removal of chairman Clive Palmer, he could be forgiven for thinking the universe was jamming him into retirement.
Porter has been confined to the sidelines for almost the entire season, having made just three appearances for United - and all of them as a second-half substitute in their first three matches.
The 33-year-old could have been anything for Gold Coast this term, but instead he's been left to feel helpless as his side struggled in front of goal and off the field.
Has this been the most frustrating season he's ever had? "It's right up there," he said. "The whole season from day dot has been really hard for me."
"I had a few injuries in England but the seasons are longer there so you tend to get back in time to at least play some games. It's been pretty annoying."
"To start off there was a hamstring and then the calf early in the season after the third game. Just the way we were set up with medical facilities didn't help me get back. We've just struggled as a club to deal with injuries and the way it's all been handled."
That's not to say, however, that Porter hasn't been a major figure for the club this season. Though he's been on the treatment table for months on end, he's still managed to make his influence felt.
Before their match away to Wellington earlier in March, the United playing group were spending more time in meetings with Professional Footballers Australia and FFA than they were out on the training paddock.
Following their owner's upheaval, the whole squad was effectively clubless. Their contracts were with Palmer, and Palmer's club was kicked out of the league. With FFA in charge, they had to sign new deals with the federation to complete the season without affecting the integrity of the league.
Porter, as a players' union representative, was the channel his teammates went through during that politically volatile time. His support became even more important given that a large portion of the team was made up of National Youth League graduates. This crisis was their first taste of life as a professional footballer, and it was up to "Ports" to get them through it.
"The young boys have taken it on the chin, and they've been brilliant. It's been a really hard time for everyone and I couldn't imagine being at such a young age and having to deal with this - and then having to play professional football week in, week out," he said.
"They've done brilliantly and hopefully us experienced boys have helped them along a little and made it a bit easier for them."
Not only did Porter help guide the club back to a sense of normality, he also filled in as an assistant coach to Mike Mulvey when FFA took control of the club.
The Adelaide-born striker always intended to pursue the coaching path when he eventually hangs up his boots. In fact, he's already prepared for it. Porter did his badges in England, gaining a UEFA B License, and worked for a number of years at Hartlepool's Centre of Excellence as a mentor for youth players.
Faced with a long and arduous rehabilitation program following his persistent hamstring and calf injuries, at the moment he also kills time by helping out at Pacific Pines, a local club on the Gold Coast.
He enjoys it, and management is what he wants to do when his playing days are over. In his mind though, they're far from over.
"I still think I've got some time in the game as a player, but if it means I have to do a bit of coaching now and help the boys out, then it's important I do that to try and help them get through."
Just because he's assisting Mike Mulvey this season, doesn't mean he won't pull on the boots next season. Despite his veteran status, his ongoing injury problems and the possible demise of his club, he has a dogged determination to finish his career on a better note.
It's that part of his character that won him a special place in the hearts of Hartlepool and Gold Coast fans. If there's writing on the wall, he can't see it. Porter might not have played in a while, but a forward with his class never loses his instincts. He just needs another opportunity.
"If people are thinking about it and remembering me from those games in the finals last year, I'd like to think that might help someone to take a chance on me and maybe have me involved in their set-up," Porter said.
"If Gold Coast are in next year, I've got another couple of good years left in me. I've refreshed this year, the body and everything else is feeling really good. I'm looking forward to next year - if not here, then with a team that would like me."