As Alex Greive ran onto Tannadice Park last week, no one could blame him for doing a double take.
On a famous ground, that had hosted a European Cup semifinal and teams like Barcelona, Monaco and Werder Bremen, the Aucklander was about to make his Scottish Premier League debut.
Turning out for St Mirren, once managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, Greive was a late substitute against Dundee United, one of the powerhouses of Scottish football in the 1980s.
That's heady stuff for any Kiwi footballer, but even more so considering Greive's steep ascent.
Six months ago the 22-year-old was playing for Birkenhead United, in front of a couple of hundred people, now he was about to feature in one of the top 10 leagues in Europe.
"Not many people get an opportunity like this," Greive tells the Herald on Sunday. "Being at St Mirren is obviously a big step up from playing in the Northern League, but I got used to it pretty quickly. I'm loving it, challenging yourself against top players every day."
In June last year Greive received a phone message from his Birkenhead coach Paul Hobson, indicating interest from the Scottish club.
"Firstly I was buzzing, but I knew not to get my hopes up and he said that as well," says Greive. "It was early stages so I just carried on about my business. But then as it started getting a bit more real and there was a bit more talk about it I was just so excited."
A few months later, Greive, in the midst of a standout domestic season, was inking a professional deal in the living room of his parents' Orakei house.
"I actually had to go home to print the contract so I could sign it," recalls Greive. "I went and saw my parents and that was a pretty special moment…all of us sitting around, looking at it."
Greive's opportunity had arisen from a strategic partnership formed between St Mirren, Nelson Suburbs and Birkenhead United in May 2021.
Nelson, who already had a similar agreement with Oldham Athletic, brokered the initial alliance with the Scottish club, then reached out to Birkenhead, aware of their strong track record in youth development.
Among other things, the arrangement allows for an exchange of players and coaches and means that the local clubs can send an academy or senior player to Scotland each season.
Greive's form, with 19 goals in 19 games for Birkenhead in 2021, off the back of a strong 2020-21 national premiership season for Waitakere, saw him chosen, but the hard work was only beginning.
"It's only a foot in the door," observes Birkenhead coach Paul Hobson. "You can get over there and the manager might not like you."
Greive's footballing journey began in his South Auckland backyard, duelling with his older brother Ben.
"I've always wanted to be a footballer, from when I was five or six years old," says Greive. "I've never wanted to be anything else."
He played for local club Papakura until he was 13, before coach Chris Turner took a contingent of players to Waitakere ahead of the 2014 Nike Cup, with the West Auckland club qualifying as the Australasian representative.
They finished 14th, ahead of hosts Manchester United, with credible draws against AS Roma ("that was a pretty big result") and Malmo and a 0-2 loss to Chelsea.
"We played against guys like Mason Mount," recalls Greive. "I've got a photo of me shaking his hand; that's definitely one I'll keep for a while."
After that tournament Greive joined Birkenhead, inspired by the example of Bill Tuiloma, who had starred for the North Shore club at a young age before going to Europe.
Greive played first-team football as a 15-year-old, though the slightly built striker struggled with the physicality.
"I owe a lot to 'Hobbo' for giving me that opportunity to play with older and stronger guys," says Greive. "Because that's the only way you can get better."
Grieve also impressed at Sacred Heart College and then 1st XI coach Danny Hay helped arrange a scholarship to Northern Kentucky University, under former Football Kingz player Stu Riddle.
He had three seasons in Kentucky, along with a short stint with Cincinnati Dutch Lions, a semi-professional outfit in the fourth tier of the USA football pyramid.
"I loved it over there," says Greive, who studied communications and scored 20 goals in 48 matches for NKU. "I learnt a lot."
Compared to contemporaries, his star has shone late.
Logan Rogerson was in the All Whites at 17, while Ben Waine made his A-League debut at the same age. Max Mata was in Europe as a 19-year-old while Elijah Just (21) has already been in Denmark for two and a half years.
"Usually that age is too old," says Hobson. "But Alex had all the ability but was a late developer physically."
Greive doesn't dispute that verdict.
"Everyone who knows me knows how small I was at 17 or 18," says Greive. "It wasn't until I went to America that I started to develop physically."
He attributes his rise over the last 18 months to "getting faster, stronger, hours in the gym" and complete dedication ("I have always trained hard, never missed a training.")
Greive arrived in Scotland on November 10, after not having played for Birkenhead since August. After a week with a fitness coach, Greive was thrown into first-team training.
"There's pressure but that's normal," says Greive. "You want to make a good impression on your teammates so they trust you and they want to play with you."
It was a massive step up, with the Scottish top flight ranked the ninth best by UEFA, ahead of Russia, Switzerland, Belgium and Denmark.
"The speed of play at training is ridiculously quick," says Greive. "They just do things so sharp, so fast…there's no time on the ball."
St Mirren are overshadowed by the nearby Glasgow giants but have a proud history, including three Scottish Cup victories and a Scottish League Cup triumph in 2013.
"The fans are amazing," says Greive. "You can just sense how passionate they are. They live for football on the weekends."
Only a handful of Kiwis have played in Scotland in recent times.
Chris Killen enjoyed a prolific spell at Hibernian, followed by a stint at Celtic. Rory Fallon (Aberdeen and St Johnstone), Michael McGlinchey (Celtic) and Cameron Howieson (St Mirren) are others.
"It still feels a bit weird but I just love being a professional," says Greive. "Now I've got to make the most of it."
"I'm definitely a late bloomer. But I always believed in myself. It was just about plugging away, biding my time and waiting for an opportunity"