Liam Boland is often up before 4 am. Like NPL players around Australia, he’s working days, training nights. The Melbourne-based NPL goal machine lets FTBL into his life as a semi-pro.
This week, like most in winter, NPL players are arriving home late and exhausted after another long day.
These come off the back of long, draining off-seasons in summer where you’re smashed physically and don’t even get paid for the pleasure (more on that later).
It’s a grind. Especially in the middle of a bone-chilling winter in Melbourne.
Wet nights at training after a long day’s work, FFA Cup preliminary games midweek and league on the weekend, in front of hundreds rather than thousands: no fame or fortune, just the endless driving, training, playing and the anonymity nine to ten months a year.
It’s especially tough for guys doing trade work, getting up at 5 am for work.
“Some jobs the boys have makes it very hard to perform at a high level. But they seem to do it, which speaks volumes for their character,” the Avondale City striker, FFA Cup hero and current NPL Victoria joint top goalscorer Liam Boland tells FTBL.
Boland, 27, can be seen early doors, Canon kit in hand, tripod, and lenses at the ready, shivering as he searches for a sunrise shot for his photography business (Instagram at @liamfboland and www.liamboland.com.au
Or you may see him at your mate’s wedding.
He’ll be the guy capturing the moment on weekends when couples tie the knot.
“If I’m up getting a sunrise shot, it’s a long day if I’m training that night," he says.
“In the summer, I’m up at 4 am or earlier for sunrise and driving a couple of hours, say if I’m shooting in Mornington.
"Maybe there for around four hours. Drive home, stare at a computer all day then drive to training.
“It was a lot worse and much later getting home when I played at Gully and Hume. A very long day. It’s tiring.”
Boland trains in Brunswick so with rush hour, it’s a 45-minute drive from the city.
But by the time his long day ends, he usually walks in his home’s door around 8.30pm.
He’s one of the luckier ones. Many NPL players wouldn’t be home till 10 pm.
Avondale coach Zoran “Zocky” Markovski’s astute management of his players’ time means they aren’t hanging around the club longer than 8 pm most nights - on the pitch by 5.45pm for a 6 pm start is his mantra.
“If you have a happy dressing room at this level, it’s half the battle,” Boland says. “We don’t train silly hours. Most of us do recovery on our own.”
It’s working with Avondale five points clear top of the ladder and Boland joint top scorer in the league on 18 goals (along with Gully's Alex Salmon).
Why do it?
It’s a question many would ask themselves as they’re driving home through the streets of their city late at night, hoping to steal a few minutes with their partners or kids before falling, exhausted, into bed and doing it all again before the sun rises in another few hours.
To answer the question, why, for many, it would be the chance to play professionally in Australia.
Or even just that glimpse of the spotlight in the FFA Cup Round of 32 onwards.
But with so few clubs and one professional league, demand outstrips the need for supply in Australia right now.
However, perhaps the most frustrating aspect for players are NPL contracts.
In essence, no-one gets paid for pre-season.