Steve Bruce thought he was heading for a life in the shipyards when Sunderland rejected him as a player more than 30 years ago.
The 48-year-old, who was named as the Black Cats' new manager on Wednesday, had a trial on Wearside as a teenager, but was turned down, as he had been by the region's other clubs.
Gillingham handed him a chance to launch his career at the other end of the country and, after making the return to his native north east, he said: "I left because nobody ever wanted me as a footballer. It's taken a long time to come back and it's been a fair trek along the way, but the time is right for me to come back to the north-east, and I'm delighted to be back."
He added: "I was turned away here as well - I was turned away by everybody 30 years ago. I was only 16 and a boy in 1976.
"There was only Gillingham would have me, so I ended up going 330 miles away because they were the only club that would have me.
"I was devastated because I thought I was only going to work in the shipyards, I was going to be a plumber in the shipyards, so when Gillingham came calling, I was delighted."
Bruce, who spoke to the Black Cats' new owner Ellis Short before being appointed, is relishing the opportunity to help drive a club with ambition and the finances to make it happen into the upper reaches of the Barclays Premier League.
He said: "I am not going to try to say, 'Within three years, we are going to be winning the Premier League'.
"If we can get into the top 10 and pushing for that seventh or eighth spot like Fulham have done, like Wigan did for six, seven months, then that for me is progress.
"It is very difficult for anybody to take on the top four - they have been there for the past 10 years. But that has always got to be our aim if we possibly can."