It’s circa 2005 and there’s a group of 11 and 12-year-olds running around the football fields of Victoria in Australia. There are two boys, however, who seem to stand out from the rest.
Two future Socceroos, perhaps? Playing side-by-side, unaware of what lies ahead in their footballing careers.
Fast forward to 2018, Jackson Irvine and Jamie Maclaren find themselves team-mates once again, this time with an Australian badge stitched onto the front of their shirts.
The scene is Russia and they’re just one day out from their debut FIFA World Cup™ game where a big-name France side awaits.
“We probably dreamed about it at the time but I don’t know how realistic you think those things are as a kid,” Irvine told FIFA of their U-12 days.
Maclaren’s path to World Cup squad selection has been more dramatic than most. While holidaying in Dubai after being left out of coach Bert van Marwijk’s initial squad of 26, Maclaren received a phone call that changed everything and cut his vacation short.
“I actually took a pair of boots to Dubai on holiday, with that feeling of maybe something might happen,” Maclaren explains.
With a slight injury niggle plaguing Tomi Juric, Maclaren was put on the next flight to Turkey to bolster Australia’s strikers stock in camp.
Having made the final squad and with a few days training in Kazan completed, the focus in camp has taken a slightly more serious turn, but Maclaren admits it is nice to have an old friend along for the ride.
“We’ve had that bond since we were 11 years of age and it’s just grown – and obviously our families are so close. I’m sure my dad and his dad will have a few beers when they link up here in Russia.”
The two seem to share many similarities. Irvine and Maclaren were born to Scottish fathers who played football, both have Maltese mothers and they’ve spent time in the United Kingdom plying their trade.
With their families set to join them in Russia, these two will no doubt have double the amount of support from the stands. Maybe there will even be a recreation of this goal celebration photo from all those years ago.
(Irvine and Maclaren are featured at the centre of both photos).