David Browne is relishing being back in the Papua New Guinea football set-up after a six-year absence.
The 21-year-old is in the frame for his senior international debut as the Kapuls take on Tahiti in FIFA World Cup Qualifying TM later today at Sir John Guise Stadium.
Browne last pulled on PNG colours at the OFC U-17 Championship in New Zealand as a raw 15-year-old but shortly after that, took up a scholarship to attend college in Auckland which then set his football career on a path that has seen him win New Zealand and Oceania titles, a bronze medal at the FIFA Club World Cup and earn a move to Europe.
That path also conspired to prevent him representing his country again until now, but the Port Moresby-born forward says playing for the Kapuls was always part of the plan and is just thankful the opportunity has come.
“That’s always been on my mind,” says Browne.
“I was born here, I grew up here. I feel Papua New Guinean so I am Papua New Guinean. It’s in my heart to play for this country and I’m glad to be back to play.”
It’s been a tough road for Browne pursuing his dream of playing professionally, with a move away from family as a wide-eyed 15-year-old the first big shock to the system.
But Browne has since forged a track record of grabbing opportunities with both hands and lifting his own game to new standards with each step up the football ladder he has taken.
“It was a big transition for me moving from PNG because I had grown up here,” he says.
“It was a big change and being without my family was the hardest thing but football-wise it was really good because I managed to play for the school team and improve myself as a player and get exposure.
“I managed to play for Central United and then eventually Auckland City where I learnt a lot and played at a high level as well.”
He was still just 16 when he signed for Auckland City and later that year he became the second youngest player to play at a FIFA Club World Cup.
He would appear at that tournament again in the next two seasons – including the bronze medal winning 2014 campaign – while also claiming two OFC Champions League titles and a New Zealand national league in his three seasons with the club. He was also the club’s joint top scorer in his final season at Kiwitea Street.
He credits the club and the calibre of players he was amongst with accelerating his development.
“Definitely with the style of football they play and the level of players they have – they have players from all around the world but it’s a very tight unit – being amongst them as a young guy you learn a lot from the older guys.
“That really helped me to improve and the different opportunities I got to play in different tournaments in Oceania and on the world stage at the FIFA Club World Cup – that was a memorable experience that I’ll never forget.”
From there a move to the Netherlands beckoned as Browne sought out new lessons in his football education first with PEC Zwolle, playing in the U-21 and reserve teams, then on to FC Groningen where he is currently playing with their U-23s.
“What I’ve done is go to Europe to learn as much as I can seeing as it’s a powerhouse of football. I’m trying to learn a lot and further my game understanding. That’s one of my main goals.
“To be in a professional environment everyday you develop faster than you would in an amateur environment.”
Brown’s return to the Kapuls coincides with the arrival of some new faces, taking advantage of Papua New Guinea relaxing the rules around holding dual nationality.
It has allowed locally born but overseas-based players George Slefendorfas, Brad McDonald and Jamie Woodlock to link up with a squad already enjoying a resurgence in form under Danish coach Flemming Serritslev.
Browne says the new faces along with have been welcomed with open arms and are buzzing to try and do their bit for the Kapuls’ cause.
“With the PNG team we have a really close bond. When it comes to games we’re a tight-knit family.
“We play for each other and because God gives us the opportunity to play. I don’t think you’ll find that bond anywhere else in the world. The vibe is fantastic and it’s absolutely fantastic to be a part of it.
“We’re new to the team, just getting used to being a part of it but as I said it’s like a family so we all take care of each other and look out one another and work hard for one another. The boys are fitting in really well and just want to play the best we can for our country.”