‘Machine guns everywhere, military everywhere’

Sydney FC defender Luke Wilkshire has had a weird and wonderful career. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Sydney FC defender Luke Wilkshire has had a weird and wonderful career. Picture: Phil Hillyard

LUKE Wilkshire has never pulled out of a tackle and never shied away from a new challenge in his career.

At 36, Sydney FC's right back has taken a series of surprising turns, from the moment Guus Hiddink picked him from nowhere for a World Cup squad in 2006.

Equally surprising was his sudden move to Russia in 2008, a country and culture that could scarcely have been less familiar.

After two years in Holland, where the comfort blanket of spoken English is everywhere, finding his feet at Dinamo Moscow was a rather more challenging move.

"There's a bit more spoken now, but definitely when I first went there, there was not much English-speaking going on," he said.

"That's part of the challenge. I understand and speak a bit of Russian now, but it's all part of what's required when you move somewhere.

"Football aside, it's about challenging yourself in life. It's about experiencing those places yourself, that can make you the person you are.

"I embrace those challenges - it's what I've loved about my career so far."

It's why in November 2015 he also didn't hesitate over accepting a contract offer from the club then known as Terek Grozny, also in the Russian Premier League.

The fact that Grozny is a city so disfigured by the Chechen Wars of the mid-to-late-90s it was labelled the most destroyed city on earth by the UN wasn't a dampener, nor the habit of its citizens of carrying guns everywhere, even to football matches.

Luke Wilkshire during his time with Dutch club Feyenoord Rotterdam.
Luke Wilkshire during his time with Dutch club Feyenoord Rotterdam.

"It's a completely different place," Wilkshire said. "I'd experienced it to go into and play when I first went to Dinamo a decade ago and we'd travel to Grozny to play them.

"It has changed a lot in that time. But when I first went, it was a shock to the system to see such a situation to play football in.

"The hotels we stayed in, the food we were given - machine guns everywhere, military everywhere, it's kind of mind-blowing.

"It's grown enormously since then and now it's not a bad city at all."

It's literally and figuratively a world apart from playing in Sydney, with Wilkshire lining up against Perth at Allianz Stadium.

But with the Socceroos hoping to visit Russia next year for the World Cup, Wilkshire's attachment to the place is clear.

"The structure there now is much better than it was," he said. "A lot of the clubs have new stadiums and the facilities for training are very good.

"It's come a long way - football in Russia is very big, it's a good quality league and very tough. Russia in general is such an amazing place."

Topics:  a-league luke wilkshire sydney fc

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