A composite image shows the young Pavlou brothers in action with Drew, left, and Billy with the ball at his feet. The picture on the right shows an adult Billy in training as a defender for St Francis College in New York.
The little nature strip at the end of the road was world all of its own for the soccer-mad brothers, Vasillou “Billy” and older brother Drew Pavlou. For Billy, the Brisbane nature strip where the neighbourhood kids gathered to play interminable games of soccer, became the template of his future.
While his brother, Drew, turned to books, political activism and has now launched a political party to challenge for next year’s senate elections, Billy, now 20, took to a life in soccer. Billy, who is of Greek-Cypriot descent, joined Olympic FC at under-5 level and played to senior level before moving to the United States on a sports scholarship last year.
“I knew nothing of the US system but the first team coach (at Olympic FC) knew an agent in Brisbane who helped to send young Australians to US colleges and universities,” Billy Pavlou told Neos Kosmos.
“The agents look for Australian National Premier League players between 18 and 20 years old who are in first team squads and who are at a similar skill level to US College teams. They help to organise scholarships for them.”
Billy said that the system met his personal criteria: a focus on academic achievement, travel and playing soccer at a high level. His scholarship has taken him to St Francis College, in Brooklyn, New York where he is studying Exercise Science.
“It is a four-year course that is very broad and can lead to studying further to be physiotherapist, sports trainer or in other sports-related disciplines,” said Billy.
He is also a defender on the team that sits third in the top Division One table of the North East Conference for college soccer in the US.
The college with nearly 3,000 students were conference champions last year. In the subsequent national competition, the St Francis punched above its weight to beat the more fancied University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee but fell to eventual finalists, the Indiana Hoosiers, in a penalty shootout.
Mr Pavlou is a member of a team that has drawn students from around the world and some have grown up in the academies Bayern Munich, Mönchengladbach, Middlesborugh.
“One of my mates here is friends with Chelsea and Germany player Kai Harvetz. There are Australians, Germans, Costa Ricans here.
“It is a great level and it’s a challenge every day. The training is great and I am learning a lot.”
The American brand of soccer favours athletic, hard-working and disciplined players but players from Europe and South America bring their technical skills to the game.
“In Australia, we are brought up to be aggressive, physical and energetic players which is a good fit with the United States game,” Mr Pavlou said. “What you also learn here is off the pitch – injury prevention, weight training to build up strength and stamina
“A lot of the schools here invest a lot in good facilities for players and the staff. I think it has rubbed off from American Football and basketball practices. The team that puts in the most effort ends up winning.”
Another aspect of his life in the US is the experience of being away from home and learning the simple things like cooking, laundry and cleaning up the boarding lodge facilities that he shares with 12 fellow students.
“I miss everyone at home and that has been hard, but everyone here is in the same boat as you and that helps. The older players also help you out. I definitely miss mum’s cooking,” Billy said. “Give it a few months and you will not look back. Make the most of it, there are so many cool things to see, there is so much energy (here in New York).”
Thanks to COVID he has not seen home in over a year and looks forward to seeing his family, father Nick, Vanessa, his younger sister and Drew who was his first footballing opponent and trainer.
“We were so competitive and suffered so many injuries and there was dirt everywhere and we wouldn’t stop even when it rained,” Billy recalled of the games the brothers played with the neighbourhood kids. “Drew was a good goalkeeper but he became interested in other things.”
Drew said: “I always wanted Billy to be a professional player. At under-10 he was scoring so many goals. He trained five-six hours a day. Things got really serious after the 2010 World Cup when Australia did so well.
“I realised I had no athleticism, it was always Billy on his own. I used to research coaching techniques to help Billy master the sport.
“We both are obsessive – how many times mum would get mad at us for being out at all hours,” Drew recalled laughing.
Billy admitted that there were times when he wanted to stop the training and go home but he would nut it out.
Both brothers said they shared an obsessive streak to do well in their chosen paths in life and they credited their parents for the hard-work ethic that was also part of their make up.
“We have good role models but out parents wanted us to live more normal, stable lives. They worried at how much pressure we put on ourselves. We both are fiery and passionate people,” said Billy.