No wonder Paul Beekmans became a professional footballer. Growing up near the home of one of Europe's biggest...
No wonder Paul Beekmans became a professional footballer.
Growing up near the home of one of Europe's biggest clubs, in the midst of the Dutch football explosion of the 1990s, it was hardly likely that a young lad with his talent would become anything else.
The Gold Coast United midfield enforcer spent his childhood years only a short train ride away from Philips Stadion, the home ground of one of Holland's most successful football clubs, PSV Eindhoven.
As a kid, Beekmans and his friends would go along to PSV games and gaze in wonderment as players like Ronaldo, Romario, Jaap Stam and Phillip Cocu strutted their stuff in what was essentially his neighbourhood.
Those countless hours spent in the terraces, immersing himself in pure football and emulating his heroes in the park afterwards can probably explain why Beekmans developed a passion and understanding of football that few can rival.
Fast forward to 2004 and Beekmans, in the blue and white colours of his first club, FC Den Bosch, was playing against the very club that inspired his career.
He made nearly 200 appearances for Den Bosch but none would have been quite as special as when he took on the might of PSV Eindhoven for the first time.
Under former Socceroos manager Guus Hiddink, they were a force to be reckoned with.
"There were so many good players who were there at that time," Beekmans said. "There was Cocu, Mark van Bommel, Ji-Sung Park, Alex..."
"We lost that game 3-0 but it was an amazing experience to come up against a team that was not only full of great players, but they were a machine - kind of like what Barcelona are like now."
It was another PSV player who had the most impact on a young Paul Beekmans - though he had already moved to Manchester United by the time he had the chance to play against them.
Ruud van Nistelrooy, the most famed product of FC Den Bosch, had barely cracked into senior football when Beekmans was making his way through the club's youth ranks.
"He was my trainer when I was 13 or 14," he said.
"He was only 19 or 20 himself - he'd only just made the first team. He came and watched us and ended up doing some training with us a few times."
"I watched some games of the first team and I saw him making his first steps in professional football."
"That was nice and I still have a shirt from him, that he signed in his first year at Den Bosch. It was a pleasure to see him start his career."
Beekmans could see that van Nistelrooy had something special about him, even then - but as he would soon find out, it takes more than just hard work and talent alone to make it.
"He always worked hard, on and off the field. He a good player of course, but he was young and not that good yet," he said.
"It's always difficult, you see so many players blessed with ability but how far they get depends on luck or injuries or something else."
Indeed, if his own cards had fallen another way, Beekmans could have easily followed in van Nistelrooy's footsteps and embarked on a career of his own in the Premier League.
"Sometimes you need a bit of luck for your career to go down a certain path and I never had it," he said.
"There was some interest from England but my club asked for too much money (for the transfer fee) and it never happened."
"I had other opportunities before to play in other countries but there was always a reason why it didn't end up happening."
But eventually - after a decade in the Netherlands, six years with Den Bosch and nearly 100 caps for SC Cambuur - the door finally opened itself for a move abroad.
Armed with the knowledge gained from years of experience and an irrepressible desire to travel, Beekmans made the move to the Hyundai A-League and Gold Coast United in June this year - and he hasn't looked back.
"It's another country, another culture. It's good for me to play in another place. It's different from Holland. That doesn't mean it's better or worse, just different," he said of his new life in Australia.
"I like it here - the people, the football. There's a lot of traveling but that doesn't matter. The level of the league is good, the fields are good, the stadiums are good."
"The only thing left for me are some more points, then everything is perfect," he smiled.