Two of Australia's most promising rising stars are bound by far more than their similar natural football ability, as they embark on the tough road to England's top division.
West Ham United siblings Dylan and Taylor Tombides, two years apart, are each other’s biggest supporters as they chase professional careers in England’s top flight.
Older brother Dylan, 18, is back training at the club’s Chadwell Heath base in east London as he continues with his gruelling 14-month battle with testicular cancer while Taylor, 16, looks set to be selected in Australia’s squad for the AFC under-16 Championship, which kicks off in Iran on 21 September.
Dylan hasn’t played a competitive match since impressing for Australia at the 2011 under-17 World Cup in Mexico, shortly before a shock cancer diagnosis ruled him out of the game indefinitely.
After two rounds of surgery and long hours of chemotherapy Dylan continues on his path to towards rediscovering the potency and promise which earned him a place on the bench for the Hammers on the final day of the 2010-2011 season.
The boys' father Jimmy, who shifted the family to London after wife Tracylee secured a job in the English capital, says of the siblings: “They are very similar players. Taylor is quick and he gets in behind defenders whereas as Dylan is really clinical with both feet. They are both strikers blessed with pace and an eye for goal.
“That’s always been Dylan’s gift and it makes him hard to defend against. Taylor is developing well and continues to pleasantly surprise me and he keeps stepping up to the plate.
"Training and playing at West Ham has taken him to another level. He’s maturing very quickly.”
“There are lots of kids back home who could make the grade here in England but they need to get to Europe at around the age of 14 or so to take advantage of the full time training regime and the consistent high intensity levels,” Jimmy Tombides said.
On Dylan’s continuing recovery, Jimmy said: “The doctors are still managing his illness. He has weekly blood tests which monitor all his levels including his tumour markers.”
“He’s just happy to be out there training again and playing the game he loves. We are taking things one step at a time. The coaches at West Ham say he has still got his touch and has lost nothing from his game.
“Every week he gets better and stronger. He says he sometimes gets a little more tired than the other lads but that’s due to the chemotherapy treatment.
Taylor, who likens his game to that of his brother, said: “I am looking forward to the chance of going to Iran and hopefully helping Australia qualify for the under-17 World Cup.
“I’m following a bit in Dylan’s footsteps. I joined West Ham a year after him. I was scouted by Tottenham, Reading and Fulham before West Ham offered me a trial.
“I was playing for a local London side at the time and joining the Hammers was huge for me because I am a West Ham fan. We live near the training ground at Chadwell Heath, and my dream is to play with Dylan in the West Ham first team at some stage.
“Dylan is rated really highly there and he would have played in the first team last season (as it drove towards an instant return to the Premier League) but for the illness. “I have some catching up to do with him in terms of where we are at. I think I’m doing well at West Ham. I am training hard and improving my game.
“It’s not out of the question that one day we could play together for the Socceroos.”
Taylor is not keen to dwell on Dylan’s fight back to health, adding: “Of course he’s an inspiration to me in many ways, but I try to just keep things normal and not think too much about that side of things.”
While Dylan edges towards his first game for West Ham’s under-21 side with the season three games old, Taylor has eyes on Tehran, with the Joeys drawn against Iraq, Oman and Thailand in Group B at the AFC U-16 Championship.
The top two teams from each group of the AFC U-16 Championship 2012 will progress to the knockout stage (quarter-finals) and the four winners of the quarter-finals will then play in the semi-finals with the winners advancing to the final.
The semi-finalists will also automatically qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, which will be held in the United Arab Emirates in late 2013.
Group B Fixtures
22 September 2012 Australia-Thailand Rah Ahan Stadium
22 September 2012 Iraq-Oman Rah Ahan Stadium
24 September 2012 Thailand-Iraq Rah Ahan Stadium
24 September 2012 Oman-Australia Rah Ahan Stadium
26 September 2012 Australia-Iraq PAS Stadium
26 September 2012 Oman-Thailand Rah Ahan Stadium