By Matt Badcock
Aged 18, Pat Suraci packed his car and drove himself to Belgium to sign professionally for second-tier side Lommel United.
The former Southampton youngster had an enjoyable spell in Europe before returning to England to play for Bognor Regis Town, on loan at Weymouth, before returning to Gosport Borough where he’d had a previous stint.
Last season, the 21-year-old showed his talent despite the team’s challenging position in the Southern League Premier Division South.
Suraci scored 12 goals and had 14 assists to his name and he’s determined to build on it this campaign.
And he says his Belgium experience taught him some quick life lessons.
“It made me grow up a bit quicker than I might have if I stayed at home,” Suraci says. “I had to look after myself – I lived by myself and I didn’t speak the language.
“To get there I had to drive through France and Holland. I was just 18 and drove by myself. It took me about six hours but it was a good opportunity for me, a different opportunity, and now I’ve got contacts in Belgium so you never know there might be another chance in the future.
“Lommel United are in the Second Division – the standard was good. A lot of players who like the ball and players from big teams like Genk and Anderlecht who would come on loan. You could see how sharp they are – those players like De Bruyne and Hazard, you can see why they produce those players because they’re always teaching skill, turning and ball work.
“It’s hard to defend because even the defenders are good on the ball. They’ll just pop it around you, whereas in England the defender will usually look to clip balls forward quite quickly.
“I played about six games in the first team – which for an 18-year-old was a lot – so it was a good experience to be in that professional environment and I learnt a lot.”
Suraci believes the tide is turning in Non-League when it comes to managers demanding good football.
“I think that is really changing in Non-League,” he says. “People say it’s long ball, long ball, but as young coaches come through, the style is changing and teams are trying to play a bit more.
“For example, when I played at Weymouth on loan, all they wanted to do was pass the ball and they went up last year doing that so it clearly works. If you believe in it and stick with the philosophy then it can work.”
Suraci is happy continuing his education on the south-coast as he strives for another shot in the pro game and he’s already played more than 150 games including a good personal season last time out.
“A big thing was the two managers – Craig McAllister and Matt Tubbs – gave me a lot of game time,” Suraci, who also credits former Coventry and Southampton defender Paul Williams for having a big impact on his career, said. “They believed and trusted me to play every game. I always believe myself that if I play every game I am capable of scoring and creating goals.
“They’ve both had good careers – Tubbsy would take sessions and we’d learn from him, Macca has a lot of experience as well so it really helped me. They were attacking players, same as I am, so it was really good for me.
“Things have changed at Gosport this season. We have a new manager now with Lee Molyneux and it looks really positive for this season. I think we’ll do well. There’s good vibes around the place.”