Gold Coast United star Shane Smeltz says his time with AFC Wimbledon was the making of him. Smeltz is now courting interest from Bundesliga clubs after returning to Australia after spells with non-league Wimbledon and Halifax Town.
He told the Sydney Morning Herald: ''To be honest I look back to my time in England with fond memories,'' he says. ''I didn't realise it at the time, but I realise now how much it helped my game, how much it helped me as a footballer. It was tough - to try and earn money, to try and survive.
''I went over there without any leads, and at first I stayed with my good mate [former Adelaide City keeper] David Scarsella. He knew an agent, and the next thing I know I'm down in London, trialling with West Ham, training with blokes like [Teddy] Sheringham and [Sergei] Rebrov. But I wasn't ready to play at that level, no way. So pretty quickly, I was dropping down the levels.
''You've played in the NSL, you've scored a few goals, and you think you're a footballer. But pretty soon, you realise just how many footballers there are out there.
''It was cold, it was a grind, but it toughened me up. I was scoring a goal every two games for AFC Wimbledon, thinking I was doing well, but nobody was picking me up. I was training three nights a week, making just enough to make ends meet. But even though I wasn't really getting anywhere, it was giving me confidence inside. Coming back to the A-League, it was the first time I found myself in a professional environment, so I guess things have happened pretty late for me. But it's given me perspective.
''Going through what I've been through, feeling a bit of pain, you want to make sure you don't let it slip.''