Joel targets title and ticket
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Sydney drenches its inhabitants in a singular, seductive charm. Home to iconic landmarks such as Bondi Beach, Harbour Bridge, Hyde Park and Sydney Opera House, it is, culturally and climatically, a modern paradise.

Joel Porter will attest to that. The deep-lying forward made the city his home by joining Sydney Olympic in 2002. At the age of 23, the Adelaide native felt he had swam ashore Utopia.

But despite his idyllic surroundings, Porter inhaled a nag of unfulfillment. "My ambition was always to play overseas, especially in England," he told FIFA.com. "I loved Sydney, loved the weather and the lifestyle. It's an outdoorsy place with great beaches and parks, but I had to follow my dream."

Doing so was, admittedly, a gamble, but as Porter relaxed on the dilatory flight to London, he romanced with the idea of performing in the Premier League; an addictive hunting ground for international coaches that magnetises the attention of fans the world over. However, the script over which he had fantasised failed to come to fruition.

By contrast, Porter ended up at Hartlepool United, a club stationed in the English third tier and in the country's piercingly cold north-east. "I had trials with a couple of Premiership and Championship sides, but it didn't work out," he said. "Then I got a chance at Hartlepool. I just wanted to play football, so I took it."

I was shell-shocked! I hadn't really given much thought to the weather. When I got there I was like, 'get me the thickest jumper you can find!
Joel Porter on his reaction to the north-east England weather

Porter's immediate reaction to the region's benumbing temperatures was one of unwelcome surprise: "I was shell-shocked! It was freezing. I hadn't really given much thought to the weather, I just wanted to get over there and play. When I got there I was like, 'get me the thickest jumper you can find!'"

Porter swiftly had that jumper. Hartlepool United supporters swiftly had an icon; one whose insuppressible genius was, apparently, too good for the nation's lower leagues. Why, then, despite repeated offers to leave Pools, did he remain there for six years?

"I fell in love with Hartlepool United," Porter explained. "When I went there I didn't really know anything about the club, but I wanted to play football and they offered me the chance. At first I think the fans were a bit dubious, but I won them over the Aussie way: by working hard and getting stuck in.

"After that they accepted me and were absolutely wonderful. I think English football fans in general are very passionate, but the Hartlepool fans are extra special. The send-off they gave me on my last appearance is something that will stay with me forever - it was simply awesome. I had quite a lot of offers to leave during my time there, especially once the A-League kicked off [in August 2005]. But I was settled in the city and loved playing for Hartlepool United, so I didn't give it serious thought for a long while."

Porter had, nonetheless, played casino with his career before, and he felt it time for another spin: just as the pursuit of a dream had coaxed him through the Victoria Park gates in 2003, it impelled him from the club's departure lounge. That dream was to play at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.

"It's always been my dream to play in the World Cup, but it's difficult to get noticed in League One because obviously the matches are not shown on Australian television," said Porter. "So with the A-League getting bigger and bigger, I thought I'd give it a shot, go and play there and hopefully put myself in the mind of the (Australia) coaches."

Hartlepool employed an option to retain the forward for the 2008/09 season, but once it concluded, he signed for Gold Coast United, a newly-incepted club with a billionaire owner and copious thirst. Thereafter, Porter's message to Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek has been cogently persuasive. It took him just 17 minutes to conjure the chance from which Shane Smeltz registered Gold Coast United's inaugural goal, and that has been a theme of the club's improbably prosperous season to date: Porter employing his rare, direct dribbling and devilish through-balls to put chances on a plate; Smeltz gobbling them up with habitual aplomb [the No9 is the competition's ten-goal leading marksmen; his selfless sidekick is its top assister].

"We have a great understanding," said Porter. "I think we compliment each other well. Smeltzy's an out-and-out goalscorer. He's been around a bit and is a great player and an outstanding finisher. My job is to work hard in behind him and create, because if you create chances for him, nine times out of ten he puts them in the back of the net."

Some would say we've overachieved, but our aim is to win the title. We have a good team with excellent players. I believe we can do it, absolutely.
Gold Coast United's Joel Porter

Largely thanks to the irresistible tandem they have formed, Gold Coast United sit third, just two points off the pace. "It's been a fantastic start," enthused Porter. "We knew we had a lot of talent in the squad, but we didn't expect to have done so well, so quickly."

Next up for Miron Bleiberg's side, whose 6-0 defeat away to Wellington Phoenix at the weekend allowed Sydney FC to replace them atop of the table, is the visit of North Queensland Fury, for whom former Liverpool and England striker Robbie Fowler performs.

"It's wonderful to have the opportunity to play against Robbie," said Porter. "Growing up in my era, I watched him play a lot on television and always had great admiration for him. Having him over here is great for the A-League. He's a fantastic player and he's still got it, but I hope he doesn't score on Saturday.

"Phoenix battered us at the weekend and it's very important we respond with a victory against Northern Fury. It won't be easy though. It's kind of a derby and it will be intense. Hopefully it'll go the same way as the last time we played them [United beat Fury 5-0, with Smeltz scoring four times and Porter pocketing the man-of-the-match award]."

"We're a new club and some would say we've overachieved, but our aim is to win the title. We have a good team with excellent players like Jason (Culina) and Shane, and we also have a strong squad. I believe we can do it, absolutely."

Lifting the A-League trophy would, surely, enhance Porter's chances of boarding a plane to South Africa next summer. Had Australia not cruised through Asian Zone qualification, winning six and drawing two of their eight preliminaries en route to top spot in Group 1, the 30-year-old would, perhaps, have already added to his five caps and six goals at international level, all of which came during the OFC Nations Cup 2002 [Australia fielded a squad featuring only one overseas-based player].

If there was a criticism of Pim Verbeek's side, however, it was for its dearth of flair: something Porter's followers cite when campaigning for his inclusion. The man himself nevertheless refuses to steer the crusade.

"I don't really understand the criticism," said Porter. "The target was to qualify for the World Cup and they did it comfortably. What's the point in complaining? I think Pim's done a great job. There was a lot of pressure on the team, so now that they've qualified, maybe we'll see a more attacking style. But the most important thing is to win matches.

"I like to think Australia can go all the way in South Africa. The lads did a great job in Germany and were unlucky to lose out [an 11th-hour Francesco Totti penalty snatched Italy a 1-0 win over Australia in the Round of 16], and I believe we've improved since then. We don't concede a lot of goals, are difficult to beat and have a few players that can change a game. I think we've got a really good chance of doing better than we did in Germany."

I feel I'm in the best form of my career. Playing in the World Cup is a dream I've had since I was a kid. It'd be amazing to make it to South Africa.
Australian forward Joel Porter

Porter craves the opportunity to be part of the success in which he foresees Australia reveling. "I feel I'm in the best form of my career," he said. "I've gained a lot of experience from playing in England. I'm realistic. I know the Socceroos have a lot of good players, so it will be difficult.

"But I'm still hopeful. I know Pim has been to watch a few of our games and that's encouraging. I've spoken to the (Gold Coast United) coaches about it and they've told me to just keep working hard, playing the way I've been playing.

"I think Pim probably knows the majority of the players he wants to take to the World Cup, but I think there are those vital last few spots to fight for. Playing in the World Cup is a dream I've had since I was a kid. Especially because Australia weren't there when I was growing up watching it on tv. It'd be amazing to make it to South Africa, not just for me but for my family, friends, the Gold Coast supporters and the people back in Hartlepool."

Regardless of whether he makes it to South Africa, Porter wants to see his Gold Coast United strike partner performing among the sport's elite next summer - despite the fact that he represents a country with whom Australia share a fierce rivalry. New Zealand drew 0-0 in Bahrain in the first leg of their intercontinental play-off, establishing themselves as the favourites to progress in Wellington on 14 November.

"Shane's got a great opportunity," he said. "They're a whisker away from reaching the World Cup, which would be a great achievement. I really hope they do it for Smeltzy and for the region too. I'm a proud Australian but, at least on this occasion, I wish them all the best!"