Last weekend, John Stones added another trophy to his growing honours list when Manchester City secured the EFL Cup bragging rights.
Eleven-thousand miles away in New Zealand, Stephen Hoyle was cheering on his former teammate as City edged out Chelsea on penalties at Wembley.
Hoyle proudly harps back to memories of his youth when he was playing in the same defence as Stones while in the Barnsley academy.
Stones has risen sharply through the ranks after swapping South Yorkshire for Everton in 2013, earning a big-money move to City, playing an integral part in last year’s Premier League cakewalk and duly following that up with a starring role in England’s memorable run to the World Cup semi-final last summer.
Meanwhile, Hoyle has been busy forging his own path in the game, albeit in a clutch of footballing outposts.
The latest chapter of the 26-year-old’s nomadic career will see him swap Canterbury United in New Zealand for Valour FC – a newly-created team in the upstart Canadian Premier League (CPL) which begins next month.
When reminiscing about Stones, Hoyle was quick to point out the quality of the grounding that the pair and their peers received at Oakwell.
“John was always positive and a very good player,” Hoyle told The Yorkshire Post. “Even though he was small back then, he was always quality on the ball.
“The education we got at Barnsley taught us to be ball-playing footballers.
“They focused a lot on the techniques. You can see with John how well he comes out from the back.
There’s not many first-world countries that are great places to live and that are starting a brand-new football league but that’s what I’ve been offered and I can’t wait.Stephen Hoyle
“It’s amazing to see someone come from our academy doing what he’s doing.
“He’s up there with the best in the world, isn’t he?”
While Stones’s rise through the ranks has been a fairytale of its own, Hoyle’s own career path is a fascinating one.
Born and bred in Barnsley, Hoyle started out as a defender but has since converted into a striker with a respectable goal-scoring record to boot.
His decision to try his luck abroad was borne out of what he perceived to be a limited opportunity on these shores.
Aged 20, he had become disillusioned at Doncaster Rovers, where he had moved after departing Barnsley.
He did not believe that the “old-school” way at Rovers suited him and was fast becoming frustrated at having to make do with reserve team football without any real sniff of making the breakthrough at the Keepmoat.
A conversation with a contact then threw up the chance to head to New Zealand and Hoyle admits it was the best decision he has ever made – “I just fell in love with football again really.”
After a couple of seasons adjusting to life in his new surroundings, he then got invited over to Canada for a trial.
His time at Toronto FC, spent under the guidance of former Tottenham and Blackburn Rovers defender Ryan Nelsen, was short but sweet as it left a lasting impact upon Hoyle.
“Ever since then, I really wanted to go back to Canada,” he enthused.
The issue of English players abroad is clearly one that gets the juices flowing for Hoyle.
The issue has been thrown into the limelight recently with the likes of Jadon Sancho prospering after heading for Germany.
Last month, Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi was reportedly the subject of a £40m bid from Bayern Munich despite having never started a Premier League game.
“The English system is fantastic for producing good players but it’s not the best for making good senior players,” said Hoyle.
“I don’t think any academy anywhere in the world produces better players than in England. I think our non-league is far superior to any other country’s non-league and our League One is far superior to any other third tier.
“We produce the best players and then we import good players, but then we don’t export any.
“So all we do is stockpile talent – it’s ridiculous.
“If we start exporting players then English players can achieve so much.
“Why don’t more of our best young international players go out there?
“Think of the minutes that they would get. These are quality, young players and they need to be playing.”
Hoyle points to the example of a third-tier German club enquiring about his services – a move he considered before turning it down.
He believes it would be unlikely that an English third tier club would come calling for him due to the high standards in the EFL.
He says that the road of going abroad is one that more and more English players, particularly those that are chewed up and spat out by bloated academy systems, are choosing to go down.
But he says that is not just limited to those players who cannot get game-time at top-flight clubs.
His own career is testament that hard work, a sprinkling of luck and the desire to go out of your comfort zone can be more beneficial than limiting yourself to staying in England.
“When people’s careers don’t quite work out, players make lifestyle choices and go elsewhere,” he added.
“We recently played Auckland and they have been on a tour in Asia where they played against Fernando Torres’s team (Sagan Tosu) and Marouane Fellaini’s side (Shandong Luneng Taishan).
“That’s the kind of opportunity that you don’t get by staying in England and just batting around at Conference level.
“The chance to go Canada wouldn’t have happened if I was still back home, just playing non-league.”
The lure of a new league in a country that will be staging the World Cup in seven years’ time – Canada will co-host the 2026 showpiece along with the United States and Mexico – also appealed to Hoyle and he sees real potential for growth there.
“Apparently, they are expected to get around 10,000 for each game – and that’s similar to Barnsley attendances really,” said Hoyle, a lifelong Reds’ fan. “If I can’t play at Oakwell, then why not do it there? That’s the biggest draw for me – the crowds.
“The World Cup being there in a few years’ time is the real bonus and the thing that gets everybody interested over there. There’s a potential for growth.
“It could be similar to Major League Soccer (MLS) before David Beckham went there. You look at how big the MLS is now and it’s massive.
“There’s not many first-world countries that are great places to live and that are starting a brand-new football league but that’s what I’ve been offered and I can’t wait.”
From Oakwell to Canada ...
The newly-formed Canadian Premier League (CPL) starts on April 27 and has been created to grow the game ahead of the World Cup being co-hosted by Canada in 2026.
The seven-team league –which has the tagline ‘For Canadians, by Canadians’ – aims to nurture the next generation of Canadian footballers.
CPL squads are allowed just seven foreign nationals, and six Canadians must be in each team’s starting XI.
Barnsley-born striker Stephen Hoyle, 26, has signed a contract with Valour FC, with the club stating the forward has signed a “multi-year deal”.
He is currently nearing the end of his time in New Zealand with Canterbury United, where he has a record of 31 goals in 54 games.
Hoyle believes his goal-scoring form has been aided by his grounding at Barnsley during his younger years, where he started out as a defender.
“I’ve been quite consistent in my scoring over the past few years,” he said.
“At Barnsley, they were very good for developing technical players and they’ve produced a lot of good, ball-playing players. That’s how I got brought up to play.
“When I came abroad it was all about working on your technical ability and having a good time while you’re doing it.
“It was just a different vibe to England.”