Eleven years have passed since Sergio Torres left Argentina with only a one-way ticket and dreams for company, and if the streets in England have not quite been paved with gold, he can at least say that football has given him everything.
He is 34 and would freely admit that a career in the lower leagues has not brought riches, but the football gods have instead given him a family, happiness and a place in Emirates FA Cup folklore.
Whitehawk v Dulwich Hamlet
Emirates FA Cup
Second round qualifying
3pm, Saturday 26 September 2015
The Enclosed Ground, Whitehawk
Nowadays, his team-mates at National League South high-flyers Whitehawk pretend to yawn when he tells them about playing in a fifth round tie Old Trafford in 2011, but he remembers it like it was yesterday.
He was playing for then non-League Crawley Town, who brushed aside Derby County and Torquay United before securing a trip to Manchester United.
He immediately thought back to the harder times, from the heat and dust of working at his dad’s brick company in Mar del Plata to the cold and loneliness of the English winter, riding his bike to a job in Boots to supplement his wages at Basingstoke Town.
“The day the fifth round draw was made replaced everything – all the bad moments I went through since coming to England,” he told The FA.
“It was really hard because I came over on my own and I’m very close to my family and friends. But my dream was to be a professional footballer and I couldn’t do that back at home. So I tried my luck in England.
“When I heard the draw and I called my dad straight away and said ‘you have to come for a week - you’ll never see your son playing at Old Trafford ever again’. I paid for his ticket and he was the proudest dad in the stadium that day.
“I didn’t see him before the game, but he saw me when we came out of the dressing room and he gave me a proper hug and told me ‘I’m so proud of you’. That meant everything to me.
He added: “My mum couldn’t come but she watched the game live back in Argentina with all my friends. We lost 1-0 but we played really well.
“In Argentina everyone loves The FA Cup because it gives the small teams the chance to play against the people you watch on the telly every week, and I’m so happy to have been a part of that.”
Just as Crawley seems a strange route to the Theatre of Dreams, Paul Lambert might appear an unlikely cupid, but Torres has always travelled the road less-well travelled.
“I was at my first professional club, Wycombe Wanderers, and the gaffer took us to Germany on a pre-season tour, where he had played for Borussia Dortmund.
“I met a girl working in the hotel where we were staying. Nothing happened but I liked her, and we talked a bit.
“A few months later she came to England to study for a masters. I wrote her an email, saying if she wanted to see London then I would show her around.
“Now Lena and I are married and have two daughters, Luna and Nala, so it’s all good.”
The four live together in Brighton and that feels like home. He said: “I always knew this was the place for me. I grew up in Argentina near the beach and while it’s not the same, I still like to walk by the sea. It’s a lovely city with a lovely feel to it.”
He plays his football there too, with Whitehawk making him an offer after his release by Crawley in 2014.
“It is a small family club which has come up through the leagues over the past few years,” he said.
“I had an offer in League Two, and it was hard to drop to the non-League, but I’m at a stage in my life where I have to think about my family and they also offered me a day job.”
Torres works in the offices of KSD Group, the building company run by two of Whitehawk’s owners.
“My dad is always telling me that I’m dealing with bricks again, but before it was manual work, and now it is at a desk.
Sergio Torres factfile
Born: 11/07/81, Mar del Plata, Argentina
Clubs: CA Banfield, Molesey, Basingstoke Town, Wycombe Wanderers, Peterborough United, Lincoln City (loan), Crawley Town, Whitehawk
“I never thought I would be working in an office but they’re really nice people and it’s a great company. And it’s putting a roof over my head.”
Brick-by-brick, Whitehawk are building something meaningful, and last season was the best in their history, narrowly missing promotion to the fifth tier.
“Losing the play-offs was a big blow but we are really strong this year. We have won our last three games and are playing some good football. It’s really coming together.”
Whitehawk are two wins from matching their best run in the FA Cup, the fourth round qualifying in 1989-90, but Torres believes a place in the first round proper is within reach.
He said ahead of Saturday’s home tie with Dulwich Hamlet: “They are a good side – It is going to be a great game because they try to play football and so do we – but hopefully a first win will get everyone motivated.
“We’re a really good team, scoring lots of goals, so hopefully we can go on to the first round and get one of the big boys.”
Then Torres casts his mind back his journey from Argentina, via Basingstoke, Old Trafford and Dortmund, and allows himself to dream.
“I would love to think that there could be another twist to my career,” he said. “I’m hoping that The FA Cup can give me that last chapter.”