NIKOLAI Topor-Stanley sat in a Newcastle pub, schooner in hand, and vented.
The vitriol was directed mostly at one target.
It was June 2012. The just-turned 27-year-old had been told that he was surplus to requirements, despite having a year to run on his contract at the Jets. Squeezed out as part of Gary van Egmond's revolution. He didn't fit the coach's mould of young, athletic, amenable tearaways.
Twelve months earlier he was the club's player of the year.
"I was quick to point fingers of blame at coaches and other people and say my problems are because of them," Topor- Stanley said.
"I thought I knew far more than I actually did about the game."
In hindsight, the knock down was the making of him.
On Sunday, Topor Stanley, will become the third player in the history of the A-League to notch 300 games when the Jets host Melbourne City. Only Andrew Durante (322 games) and Melbourne Victory's one-club man Leigh Broxham (301) have more caps.
"It didn't take me long to realise I am the maker of my own destiny," said Topor-Stanley, who is in his third season back in Newcastle. "Of course, you have people on the way who give you opportunities, but it starts with yourself. I think I learnt a very valuable lesson when I left here and if I didn't leave, I probably wouldn't be still playing."
Western Sydney, and specifically first-year boss Tony Popovic, provided the lifeline - life lessons.
An AIS graduate, the Canberra product made his A-League debut for Sydney FC as a 21-year-old in round one of the 2006-07 season.
A year later, the left-sided centreback was voted Perth Glory's best player. He went to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 - the last Games the Olyroos qualified to compete at - before lured to Newcastle the following year.
Gifted with size, speed and vision, he cruised along without red-lining.
That all changed under Popovic.
"When I left here I was forced to mature as a person under a no-nonsense coach," Topor-Stanley said. "He showed me the value of introspection and being self accountable. From the first day, I saw something different that I hadn't experienced before - that maybe I was searching for - and realised it was up to me.
"His attitude towards how he wanted to coach struck a chord with me. It is a team game but it wasn't just about game day. It wasn't about turning up on the day and performing. It was a 24-7 thing, and once I lived and breathed that, it became part of my DNA so to speak."
The rest is history.
Wanderers won the A-League Premiers Plate in their first year, played in three grand finals in four seasons and were crowned champions of Asia in 2014. Topor-Stanley, as skipper, held the trophy aloft for the world to see.
"It started with the coach setting the bar high and not compromising," Topor-Stanley said. "That resonated with everyone at the club. Winning was the by-product. I hold winning the Asian Champions League in very high regard, but my career is not over. I still want to win an A-league championship. That hole is missing."
Which brings us back to Newcastle and the Jets.
Topor-Stanley was playing for United Arab Emirates club Hatta and living in the desert when he received a call from Jets operations manager Joel Griffths.
The defender's wife, Kylie, a Newcastle girl, was pregnant with their first child.
"That was a factor," Topor-Stanley said. "And I knew Martin Lee was investing money into players plus I had a connection to Newcastle already. There was an opportunity for me to come back and hopefully give something to the club.
"I think I chose well. We made the grand final in 2018, last year wasn't up to our expectations but we still have a solid foundation to build on."
That "connection" has grown stronger as Topor-Stanley has entered the latest phase in life - a father to daughter Luna, 2, and six-month-old son Remy.
"Both my kids were born here and we live on the same street that my wife grew up in," he said. "I certainly feel connected.
"I have a young family which demands time and I wouldn't have it any other way. It is part of the reason I came back - to bring up a family around family."
Since touching down back at the Jets, Topor-Stanley has played every minute of every game - 63 and counting.
"Nikolai is incredible," Jets coach Ernie Merrick lauded. "He rolled his ankle against Wanderers the week before and got up for the game. He plays every minute of every game an doesn't want to miss anything.
"He has always had the talent, speed and technical ability, but he was a bit of a Jack the lad when he was first here. That changed, he tells me, when he was at Wanderers and he has certainly gone to a different level as a leader."
The larrikin resurfaces occasionally. Topor-Stanley remains a magnet in the dressing room. He chips in with one-liners, enjoys a prank and a nickname.
Asked who who gave Angus Thurgate the tag Pumbaa from the Lion King: the veteran said: "I'll take 75 per cent of the credit.
"It was after a pre-season pre-season trip to China last year and Hoff (Jason Hoffman) was telling me how Gus was running around putting his nose in everything. I said like Pumbaa. It stuck. I continued it and really pushed the envelope to make it stick.
"It is important to be able to laugh at yourself and not take everything too seriously. Come training time it's game on."
Topor-Stanley has another year to run on his contract and will be 36 by the end of it.
He has three units remaining to complete sports/exercise science degree and "certainly" has thought about life after football.
"Tomorrow is a whole new day and football can change in an instant," he said. "I definitely feel good but I have learned not live in the past or in the future. I'm trying as best I can to stay present."
Of course, there is that A-League championship box to tick.
"I don't go into a season to make up the numbers," he said. "When I left here the first time, that was something that was made very apparent to me - if you do that and set the bar low, you end up low.
"If you set the bar high and continually chase that, there is no guarantee you will win, but at least you have that internal fire to reach those goals."