Ex-HK soccer starlet defeats cancer
A former Hong Kong soccer prodigy is aiming to achieve his goal of playing in the star-studded English Premier League after beating cancer.
Australian Dylan Tombides, 18, was a footballer with the Brazilian Soccer School in Yau Ma Tei for more than a year.
He went on to become a member of the first team squad at the London club West Ham United.
But 10 months ago, a random drug test taken after a match for Australia under-17s in a match against Uzbekistan uncovered a tumour on one of his testicles.
'I was on such a high throughout the entire first six months of last year and then came down with a thud,' Tombides recalls.
'I returned home to London and my mum had spoken with the West Ham medical staff, who immediately put in place appointments, tests and scans. Within five days, I had my first operation to remove the tumour.'
The Tombides family moved in January 2007 from Australia to Macau, where his mother, Tracylee, had secured a job with Melco Crown Entertainment to set up properties in Altira (formerly Crown Macau) and City of Dreams.
During their 14 months in Macau, Tombides travelled to Hong Kong every week to play for the soccer school.
He would arrive to train on Friday nights and then play on Saturday mornings before returning to Macau that evening. If there were tournaments, he would stay for the whole weekend.
In October 2008, the family moved to London, where Tombides signed for West Ham United.
A gifted centre forward, he was named the team's Academy Player of the Year in the 2010-11 season and featured in the first team squad for their final 2010-11 Premier League fixture against Sunderland.
The club was relegated into the Championship - the English second tier - at the end of that season. In June last year, he played for Australia - both his parents are from Perth - in the Under-17 World Cup in Mexico, scoring against Ivory Coast.
But then came the shock diagnosis of his cancer. Because of the chemotherapy, he shed 10kg.
He had an operation in January to remove a four-inch blood clot in his abdomen and cancer cells in his lymph nodes. The surgery left him with a 12-inch scar.
'I relied very heavily on my family to function during this period. It was a difficult time,' he said.
West Ham players also did their best to lift his spirits, wearing T-shirts in his honour before the Hammers' home game with Nottingham Forest in January.
West Ham were promoted back to the English Premier League at the first attempt this season through the play-offs.
And now that Tombides is back to full health, he has set his heart on playing for the club at the top level.
Tombides, whose brother Taylor, 16, is in the academy youth team of West Ham, said: 'We still keep in touch with [the Brazilian Soccer School]. We made many friends while in Macau and Hong Kong, and Facebook and Twitter enabled me to receive a number of get well messages and support.'
But his priority is to get back into the West Ham first team squad and the Australian team.
He said: 'Being able to return to playing and continuing on from where I left off means that I am in good health.'