Like many 20-year-old Australians, Nick Sullivan spent last year in a hostel in Lisbon. But there were no pub crawls in Bairro Alto or day trips to Sintra for him.
Instead, he was checking in guests, cleaning rooms and making beds while other backpackers his age were out exploring the vivid Portuguese capital. To most of those travellers, Sullivan was another backpacker working for his accommodation. Unbeknownst to them his full-time job at the hostel was supporting his career as a footballer for Cova de Piedade in the Portuguese second division.
For all the wealth and stature of Portuguese football, the country’s smaller clubs run off the smell of an oily rag. That was the case for Sullivan’s small suburban Lisbon club, which exists beneath the the long shadows cast by local giants Benfica and Sporting. They paid him just $160 per week – not even enough to cover his rent – and it forced him into finding full-time work just to keep his dream alive.
“It couldn’t cover my accommodation, food, other expenses. I went around looking, handing my resume to work at any hostel in Lisbon,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to work at one. It was a lot of hours but I learned a lot of life skills and I don’t regret it. It was an opportunity to work in Portugal, work 35 hours a week and focus on other things.”