‘Never give up’ has always been the mantra Craig Noone has lived by. And that attitude has served him well after facing challenges that almost ended his professional career before it began.
Growing up in Merseyside as a Liverpool fan, the winger spent several years at the famous club’s academy.
But, released as an 11-year-old, he returned to the amateur ranks for several years before joining Wrexham at 15.
However, a year later the Welsh club let him go and his footballing dreams appeared over. But Noone refused to give up, moving to Skelmersdale United and working his way up the non-league ranks for four years while working as a tradesman on the side.
This included training as a roofer, where he once ironically helped build an extension of Steven Gerrard’s house.
In 2008, the forward signed for Plymouth Argyle and five years later he was playing in the Premier League with Cardiff City against the likes of Gerrard.
In terms of fairytale rises, they don’t come much greater, and for the past two years that has included a spell down under with Melbourne City that is now poised to make A-League history.
“I started in non-league and I would have never thought I would have got the chance to play in Australia,” Noone told The World Game.
“But during my career that I’ve had - and playing in the Championship - one of my dreams was to play in the Premier League and I managed to do that. And since that, since the non-league days, I haven’t looked back.
“Yeah, it’s what dreams are made of. It’s definitely been an enjoyable career so far and long may it continue.”
Noone might be 33 and in his 13th year as a professional but he has no intentions of slowing down.
The winger has been in sparkling form this season, bagging five goals and creating eight others, helping City to sit at the top of the A-League ladder.
“The stats that I’ve done this year, in terms of running stats and fitness stats, the shape that my body’s in, I’m probably the fittest I’ve been for a long, long time,” he said.
“So it’s definitely not just the age that’s creeping up, I’m still feeling as fit as ever really. The season is going well. We had a tricky start to the season but we’ve shown character to come back from that.
“It’s been a good season up until now, but we’re so close but so far away at the same time.”
The Victorian club have been in near unstoppable form in recent weeks, unbeaten in their past nine matches and with just three losses from 22 games in 2020-21.
Noone believes if City are on song no other team in the competition can touch them, with the target of avenging last year’s grand final defeat and securing a historic trophy a clear ambition.
“I think if we play our best game and concentrate on ourselves, then really I think we’ve proved this season we can beat anybody and that’s the way we set out, really,” he said.
“That’s something we’ve set out to achieve after going so close last year, to get beat in the grand final. This year, we’ve got a great chance of securing a place in it in the next couple of weeks and then it will be all about finals.
“The club’s never won either the plate or the grand final before, so it will be a great achievement.”
Patrick Kisnorbo took over as head coach at AAMI Park in the off-season and the Englishman feels the former Socceroo has made City much tougher and more ruthless.
“We were playing this style of football last season and we’ve built on that with the same squad,” Noone admitted.
“We’ve built on the togetherness in the squad and our style of play, but PK [Patrick Kisnorbo] has been the head of it this year and he’s got us more… playing the same style of football that Erick [Mombaerts] was playing but he’s got us a bit more ruthless.
“Basically, we’ve got a bit more fight in us than we did last year and there’s a lot more… not will to win but the fight’s there and we always feel we can win from whatever situation we’re in. Even if we go a goal down, we’ve shown great character to turn games around.
“PK’s implemented that 'never give up' and he’s been really hard on players, but it’s proven well because we’re doing so well.”
City take on third-placed Central Coast Mariners on Saturday and, with a seven-point gap over second-placed Sydney FC, victory may hand them their first-ever Premiers' Plate.
“The Mariners started off well, they’ve got a good squad,” Noone said.
“You can see that they’ve got a good togetherness in the squad as well. But we’ve got too much for them if we play our style of football.
“If we look to implement our style of football and the fight’s there, then basically we’ll be looking to get the three points and hopefully do that and wrap up the Premiers' Plate.”
After almost not making it as a professional, Noone rose up the footballing pyramid with spells at Plymouth, Exeter City, Brighton and Hove Albion, Cardiff and Bolton Wanderers.
Noone turns 34 in November but the Kirby-born attacker won’t be hanging up his boots anytime soon.
Coaching will be the attacker’s focus when he finally does call time on the playing days that have taken him around the world.
“During my time at Cardiff I studied my coaching badges when I was in my mid-20s,” he explained.
“So I’m fortunate I’ve got those badges behind me. The next step in the badges would take a bit more work, which I haven’t got time for at the moment as I’m still playing.
“But once I do finish playing, I’ll put all my eggs in one basket and go into the coaching side full-on.”