Josh Walker: How a Tyneside teen became an Indian icon
When former England Under-20 captain Josh Walker found himself without a club last summer, a move to a place where "a load of cows just roam the streets" intrigued him more than any other.
Rather than join the 10th British club of a nomadic career after leaving Gateshead, the 25-year-old midfielder headed for India to join champions Bengaluru FC in the I-League.
"India was somewhere I'd never even thought of going on holiday, let alone to play football," Walker told BBC Inside Out.
"The things I was being offered to stay in the United Kingdom, I thought, it's time to try something new."
Culturally, the move to India has given him a new perspective.
As his Bangalore-based team's 'marquee' signing for 2014-15, Walker is a player to be respected and an ambassador for the growing league - featuring on billboards to promote football to a cricket-mad population.
"It's different, sights you see on the road and the street," the Tynesider continued.
"You might find a few cats on the streets in England but here you see a load of cows just roaming the streets.
"The fans are that fanatical, you're known. It makes you more professional because you're an idol to them."
If Walker was unsure of the lifestyle he would encounter, his on-the-field experiences were even more of a surprise.
However, he had heard good things from former Boro academy team-mate John Johnson who was already with Bengaluru, and was also reunited with another man he used to play with in manager Ashley Westwood.
"The football is a lot better than what I imagined," Walker said.
"I didn't know anything about Indian football until John came out here.
"Since I've been here there's some real talent, we've got some good young Indian players and the Indian captain."
The I-League - not to be confused with the high-profile Indian Super League tournament which started last year - was set up in 2007 and features 11 teams.
Walker's team are fifth in the league and had an average attendance last season of 7,038 - a far cry from Gateshead's 886.
For the lad from Killingworth in Newcastle to find himself in India at all is something of a surprise, given his early promise.
After making the grade with Middlesbrough, to the extent that he made his Premier League debut at the age of 17, Walker says he found not being involved tough to take as a hungry young player.
"I wanted to play week in, week out in the Premier League at 17," he said.
"I'd find myself knocking on managers' doors at 17 or 18 asking why I wasn't playing. I look back and to be honest I cringe at myself."
Current England Under-21 manager Gareth Southgate was team-mate and then manager of Walker during his Boro career.
"He was a really good professional from a really young age, with a great attitude to the game and he captained England at youth level for a couple of years," Southgate said.
"You always wonder whether to give youngsters their debut and we did - he did really well.
"It's a new opportunity and a great life experience for him."
|Josh Walker's career in Britain|
|Scunthorpe (loan - 2012)||18|
|Stevenage (loan - 2011)||5|
|Northampton (loan 2011)||19|
|Stevenage (loan - 2010)||1|
|Rotherham (loan - 2010)||15|
|Aberdeen (loan - 2008)||8|
|Bournemouth (loan - 2007)||6|
Walker is not the only player out of contract to consider the switch to new climes.
"It's become more of a thing because it is tough at home," team-mate Johnson said.
"When you take a step abroad you can see it's exciting and different, it's a definitely a thing that will become more and more popular with English players."
In addition to Walker and Johnson, ex-Bristol Rovers striker Daryl Duffy, former Rochdale winger Leo Bertos and Romuald Boco - who made more than 100 league appearances for Accrington Stanley - are other known names in this growing entity.
For some it is the experience, for others the attraction is purely financial.
"I'm out here for a year and only here to save enough money to be able to buy our house - we bought a house in the summer," said Curtis Osano, whose professional career in England took in Luton, Reading and Rushden & Diamonds.
"There's no way I'd have stayed in England for 10 years grafting and trying to get as much money as I can, borrowing money from wherever to put money down on a house with the way the climate is in the UK."
The only downside for Walker is the distance between him and his partner, not to mention a two-year-old daughter.
Yet the rewards are great and he would consider bringing his family over to India if he is successful during his spell at Bengaluru.
"I don't have any regrets about coming, not at all," he said.
"It's incredibly hard missing my daughter and I miss her everyday but at the end of the day I've got to work and this is my job.
"My career was going nowhere back home. I got an opportunity here and I'm going to grab it with both hands."