It is July 14 on the Gold Coast and Leeds United is in town, set to play a friendly against A-League Men heavyweights Brisbane Roar.
The Yorkshire outfit’s lineup is laden with Premier League household names, with new signing Brenden Aaronson, Dan James, and Rodrigo among those starting from the off for Jesse Marsch’s side.
Within Warren Moon’s charges, one name stands out like a beacon from the rest, a name NPL Men’s Victoria fans have become all too familiar with; trialist Joe Knowles.
“I was invited up to Brisbane for a couple of weeks for a trial,” recalled Knowles when speaking to Kick360.
“I was suspended that weekend against South Melbourne at the time so I was fortunate enough to play against Leeds.
“Obviously, as a kid growing up in England, you watch the Premier League every single weekend, and to play against some of those players in the Leeds squad like [Patrick] Bamford, [Jack] Harrison was an unreal experience for me.”
Back in the Australian footballing limelight after a two-and-a-half-year spell with the Perth Glory first-team, Knowles was determined not to let the opportunity pass him by.
With Brisbane two goals down against the Premier League heavyweights, the Roar ventured into the Leeds penalty area, and as Pascal Struijk charged down a Rahmat Akbari effort, the ball broke kindly for the Western Australian, who tucked the ball home past Whites custodian Kristoffer Klaesson.
It capped off a meteoric rise for the striker, who just five days prior scored for the Oakleigh Cannons in a 4-1 win over Avondale in the league, adapting in a timely manner to the step up from semi-professional opposition to a top-flight English defence.
“As a striker, you always hope that you get one or two chances in a game and if you get those chances, you want to put them away.
“I got one chance and I put it away, I was happy with my performance and just glad with how everything went.
“When I got the chance, there was no pressure on me, especially playing a team like Leeds where you are expected to lose anyway, you are expected not to do as well as any other team.
“I just thought I can do what I can do, if it is good enough then great, so then obviously I went into the game and just gave it everything.”
Knowles’ mindset has served him well throughout his career, particularly given the fact that his career in the game has been far from smooth sailing.
A member of the famed West Ham United academy during the early stages of childhood, the attacker travelled across the world at the age of seven with the rest of his family to live in Perth.
After impressing in the youth ranks at ECU Joondalup, he earned a move to the Glory, where he spent time honing his craft in the club’s NPL side.
Despite a strong start to life in purple, the London-born man struggled to cement a spot in Kenny Lowe’s plans on a consistent basis, sporadically appearing in the top tier when more experienced players found themselves on the treatment table.
Knowles conceded that this was a frustrating period in his career, but took many valuable lessons away from his time at his hometown club.
“I think obviously being so young and playing in the first-team, you never really got to play how you wanted.
“I felt like I was filling in a spot for someone else, it was not me playing there on merit, I was not there because I deserved it, it was because the whole team was out injured and I was the last resource.
“Over the past few years, I have learned to believe in my own ability, and I am good enough to be playing there, so what I can bring to the table is good enough and I just need to play my own game.”
After being told he was surplus to requirements at the club in 2018, Knowles was determined not to let the setback define him.
A move to Scottish Championship club Greenock Morton fell through, so he spent six months plying his trade at amateur side Largs Thistle while training on a full-time basis with ‘The Ton’.
Scoring eight in 14 league outings there, he then returned to Australian soil, with former Cannons defender Scott Robertson the catalyst in getting Knowles to Jack Edwards Reserve.
“He knew a couple of people for Oakleigh in the past, and he spoke to them and heard very good things.
“Once he signed, he put my name forward and they got in touch with me and I ended up agreeing to come to Oakleigh with him.
“From then on, everything has just been so positive, the people around the place, the facilities, the team, the players, I would not change it for the world.
“It has been one of the best places I have played football and I just hope we can reward them this weekend.”
Sunday will be the beginning of perhaps the biggest period in Oakleigh’s history, as the Cannons will entertain South Melbourne in the NPL Men’s Victoria Grand Final, before hosting Dwight Yorke’s Macarthur on Wednesday in the Australia Cup semi-final.
The league game has been subject to much controversy throughout the week, with both Grand Finals, including the NPL Women’s Victoria decider between Calder United and Bulleen, moved to Olympic Village from Caroline Springs.
The attacker has conceded that the build-up to this game has been slightly different from those that he has played in throughout previous weeks, but the determination and will to succeed is still as prevalent as ever before.
“It is quite different for us this week as we do not have a midweek fixture, so we have actually been able to get a couple of training sessions, usually it is a recovery session and a game, and a recovery session and another game.
“It’s been quite nice to have all the boys on the pitch and get some good training sessions under the belt.
“It’s good, the boys are in good spirits, there is no pressure on us, we have played the high-pressure games in the last few weeks, now it is just time to enjoy the occasion and that is when we play our best football.”
After defeating Sydney FC in the cup quarter-final, the win over the Bulls would see Oakleigh progress to the final of the Australia Cup, and could become the first club outside the A-Leagues to do so, pending Sydney United 58’s result against the Roar on Sunday.
This could also present a chance for Knowles to be reunited with the club that put him back in the spotlight again less than two months ago, with a conflict of interest potentially arising as a result.
The current Cannon still is not sure how that scenario would play out should it come to pass, but he is not getting ahead of himself, instead deciding to squarely concentrate on the task at hand at the weekend.
“The focus is on the Grand Final at the moment, so we are going into the Macarthur game hoping that we could win the Grand Final, if we win the confidence is going to be sky high and you just never know what can happen in those cup games.
“They could have a bad day, we could have a great day, who knows, that is the joy of the cup.
“Every team we have had the cup draw, I have just hoped that we did not pull each other, which has been fortunate enough, until now obviously, there is only one game to go after this.
“There is no more avoiding it if we both win, that will just be what happens but we would just have to wait and see, I am not sure.”
After a stellar regular season in Victoria, where he scored 11 and assisted another seven, Knowles was jointly awarded the NPL Men’s Victoria Gold Medal alongside Heidelberg United attacker Kaine Sheppard on Monday night.
The Oakleigh man became the second Cannons player ever to take home the prestigious award, following Joe Guest’s triumph in 2019.
The award was a huge privilege according to Knowles, whose hopes of returning to Australia’s top tier have subsequently been boosted.
“I have never won any individual accolades, so to win that one in Victoria, which is probably the best NPL league in Australia, it is massive for me.
“I have always had my eyes set on it from the start of the year, I wanted to do it personally but also collectively as a team.
“For me, I want to get back to playing full-time, professional football, it has been a goal of mine since I got released from Perth Glory.
“I have had my trial and I am waiting on the decision to see if I go back to professional football.
“If that is the case, then I can obviously hopefully kick on and do really well.
With his irrepressible league form, and his success on trial, Joe Knowles has put himself firmly in the shop window for an A-Leagues career revival.
One thing looks certain when so much else does not; whichever club opts to take him on next term will become better for it, wherever that may be.