Returning to Perth is always special for Taylor Tombides, and while on his most recent voyage home he was reminded of the importance of the DT38 Foundation’s powerful message, writes Matt Comito.
PERTH — It’s not until you find yourself in Western Australia that the legacy of Dylan Tombides can be truly felt.
In London, Tombides is revered; a promising footballer who debuted for West Ham United as a teen, described by the scout who discovered him as one of the best young talents he’d ever seen, and touted to become a Socceroos star – all before his life was cut tragically short by testicular cancer in 2014, aged just 20.
But in his hometown of Perth – the most isolated big city in the world – the name of one of the region’s most prodigious football talents has become legend.
His brother, Taylor Tombides, can feel it every time he returns home from England, where he coaches West Ham’s U13 academy side.
And what transpired after a training clinic Taylor oversaw with kids from both his and Dylan’s three junior clubs – Stirling Lions, Wembley Downs and Perth Soccer Club – on Thursday afternoon was enough to send chills down the spines of anyone within earshot.
It was a conversation between Taylor and 16-year-old Stirling NPL player Jack, that showed how deeply Dylan’s legacy is entrenched into Perth’s footballing identity.
“Last year in English (class) I wrote a biography on his brother on Aussie heroes,” aspiring young footballer Jack explained to KEEPUP.
“It was around the awards time during the end of the season, and it was my first season at Stirling so I didn’t know exactly who Dylan was. They told us his story, and it touched me.
“When it came to a week later I thought: ‘Tim Cahill, Sam Kerr, the greats!’ But then I thought: ‘Why not Dylan?’ Because I play for Stirling it made sense for me to write about him.
“Why he was a hero because he played through testicular cancer, his treatment. I said that showed a lot of passion toward the game, it was really inspiring for young footballers.
“Considering I’m part of this football club it is really inspirational that he used to play here.”
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Taylor Tombides is back home as part of West Ham’s tour of Perth, with the Premier League side set to take on Isuzu UTE A-League club Perth Glory on July 15, as well as London rivals Tottenham Hotspur at Optus Stadium on July 18.
One of his duties on tour included the training clinic with his former junior clubs. Joining him in running the clinic for children ranging in age from seven to 18 were West Ham legend Carlton Cole, former Hammer and Glory player/head coach Richard Garcia and former West Ham scout Mike Leigh – the man who discovered Dylan while he was a teenager playing in Perth.
Young Jack’s story impacted Taylor on a deeply personal level.
“(His report) was about Australian heroes, so obviously that little detail of him thinking my brother is an Australian hero is a massively (comforting) to know that even after he’s passed away, he’s touching so many lives and having an impact in the world,” he said.
“I work for the charity and it gives me so much joy and pride… to keep my brother’s name alive, keep raising awareness and at the end of the day helping (end) the stigma of mental health in men. It’s the most important thing for me, and it gives me so much joy to work on that sort of stuff.”
The clinic itself was a joyful hour spent on the back pitch at Stirling Macedonia; Tombides began the event by asking the children what the emblem on their chest meant, and why it was important. One of the kids eagerly identified the DT38 logo that was adorned on each of the kid’s orange shirts (Taylor’s favourite colour).
“I lose the memories when I’m in London and as soon as I’m back they fly back,” Taylor Tombides said. “My time at Wembley Downs, then Stirling and Perth, all the memories come back of all the good days, enjoying it and loving life.
“Seeing the kids have smiles on their faces when they’re training, it’s priceless.”
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When the clinic was in full swing, a stroll between the various drills separated into age groups showed what each and every one of the kids involved was getting out of their attendance.
In one corner of the pitch, Tombides brought his drill to a halt to explain the importance of putting a call on every pass, and working cohesively with teammates.
In another corner, Carlton Cole put an arm around West Ham teen George Earthy to show his group of kids aged 16-18 the definition of graft. Earthy has risen from the youth ranks of the club to become a first-team member at 18, and Cole predicts he will debut in the Premier League this season; he used Earthy’s story as an inspiration for the kids in his clinic to emulate on the path to first team success.
In the far corner, Mike Leigh took charge of the youngest members of the clinic. He had West Ham defender Kurt Zouma in tow, whose energy and charisma brought plenty of laughs out of the excitable group.
Leigh is a former West Ham scout who first alerted the club to Dylan Tombides as he scored goals for fun as a junior in Perth.
In the week of his passing, Leigh described Tombides as the most impressive young talent he’d ever seen. Nine years on, his opinion hasn’t changed.
“Definitely (one of the best talents I’ve ever seen), without a doubt,” Leigh told KEEPUP.
“He had great charisma, a good attitude to the game, nice boy to talk to, he behaved and never got himself into trouble. A great player to work with, as a coach, players like him are a dream to work with. I really enjoyed it. It was so sad what happened to him.”
“(The name Dylan Tombides) brings back fantastic memories. I first met Dylan when he was a 12 or 13 years old… I could tell he was going to be a top player, all the way from a young man.
“Then, he went to Hong Kong with his family, he came back and his dad said to me, ‘Mike, I think he’s ready now to play a high level’, so I organised for him to go to West Ham as a 14-year-old.
“He was there for a two-week trial and the academy director Tony Carr, who’s a good friend to mine, said, ‘Mike, I like this boy, I’m going to give him a chance’ and they signed him on. From then, he just went on and on and on.”
Leigh remembers the harrowing period of time in 2014 that coincided with Tombides’ passing – and the conversations he shared with the young footballer prior.
They were encouraging words for a future that, sadly, never came to be.
“I just said to him: ‘Continue what you’re doing, it’s only a matter of time before you become a first team player then just take that opportunity and grab it with both hands’ – and he did.
“He set a good example to all young boys around his age in that area. How to conduct yourself, how to be a gentleman and how to listen to the coach and progress as a player. He had everything.
“He was a really nice boy to work with, it was a dream, it actually was. I’m very proud.”
Perth Glory v West Ham United
Date: Saturday, 15 July 2023
Venue: Optus Stadium
Kick-Off: 8.00pm AEST/ 6.00pm (local)
Broadcast: 10 Bold, 10 Play and Paramount+