From Finley to one of Australia’s most iconic sporting organisations — it is a path only a select,few will travel.
Leia Varley has accomplished that despite being just 17 years old — meaning there is still plenty of years left to carve an even deeper footballing legacy.
A regular starter for South Melbourne, Varley is a no-nonsense centre-back that has taken the National Premier League women’s division by storm.
A former Goulburn Valley Sun who has had more than a taste of representative football, it seems a matter of time before the generational defender is moving on to the professional ranks.
Varley caught up with the Youth Academy team to discuss her progression from Riverina revelation to real deal.
Var from home
Varley’s second season with South has not been without its challenges; her side might sit fourth on the table, but is 25 points behind league-leader Calder United.
It has meant the Finley product has been asked to develop as quickly as she can, taking a key role within the side as it looks to shoot up the table.
But that is nothing new for Varley, who has played with a series of organisations after playing two seasons with the GV Suns during 2014 and 2015, including heading to the NPLW grand final with South last season, which the side lost in extra time.
Youth Academy: How has the season been so far?
Leia Varley: It has been pretty difficult, we have had a lot of players come in and out, especially ones who have been at the club for a long time. It has meant I have had to step up and take a lot more responsibility in the team, but I think I have taken it on pretty well.
YA: How did you make the transition from country Victoria to one of the biggest clubs in the country?
LV: I started off at National Talent Centre and was there for three years, and I started to realise that I needed to get more of a senior atmosphere, so I could take my game to the next level. I went to Box Hill first because it was the easiest option at the time and got into the starting XI, but it didn’t seem like it was challenging me enough. Luckily enough South Melbourne approached me, apparently, they had been watching my games and said they would like me to come over. It didn’t take much to persuade me as they were dominating the season at the time. Within a week I was there.
YA: What was the feeling like getting the call?
LV: I was pretty excited to be honest. The likes of Lisa de Vanna were there, a couple of Victory girls were there, so it was a very good feeling that such a club wanted me to come along. It was a pretty good season last year coming into the grand final, unfortunately we lost, but I definitely got a lot out of it.
YA: What has the step up been like from the Goulburn Valley to the city?
LV: For me, I am always just thinking about football — that is the highest priority. You can’t prioritise anything over football, you have to try and fit schoolwork in there somewhere. Everyone is working towards the same goal, everyone is working for the team. It is hard at times, sometimes having two sessions a day and training every single night is pretty hard, but it is lifting up from that. I guess it is just a lot harder.
Journey to the top
With a string of different teams demanding her services, Varley is as busy as a weather reporter in a tornado, doing everything she can to take her game to the next level.
But she said it had not always been that way, with her development beginning by testing herself against the opposite gender.
YA: When did you start playing football initially?
LV: I think I was six, my brothers started playing and I just followed in their footsteps. I grew up playing with boys, I wasn’t in any girls teams back then. I was playing in Cobram and eventually moved to GV Suns where I played for a couple of years.
YA: Do you think playing with boys helped your development as a player?
LV: I think playing with boys was something that kept me in the game. I always thought everyone didn’t think girls could play in a boys team and I was the weak link in the team, but I wanted to prove everybody wrong. Nowadays everyone is saying to play with boys because it challenges you, and it allows girls to be more competitive and stronger on the ball. It was definitely something that has helped me become the player I am today.
YA: What does an average week look like for you?
LV: At the moment I am training every day with three different teams. I train with South Melbourne, I am in the Emerging Matildas program who train some nights, and I’m also training with NTC. We are about to go to nationals in a week, so at the moment I train most nights as well as juggling Year 12. It has been hard, but it has been good.
YA: How did you get into the Emerging Matildas program?
LV: They watched our games and they sent out emails to those who they thought have futures in the game, especially in terms of playing for the Matildas.
YA: Have you had any mentors who have influenced your game?
LV: One of my biggest mentors would have to be Laura Alleway, being at Victory with her. She has been a great support system for me especially as she plays the same position as me. She has always made sure she is there for me if the coach has said something or I have done something wrong. I am so young in a professional environment, it is hard, so she has always given me feedback and things I could do better.
YA: What has been your favourite footballing moment?
LV: Probably scoring against South Melbourne when I was playing for NTC. I scored two goals, it was two long shots from just under halfway so that was probably my best moment. I think they had been watching me for a few years, so it was probably one of the influences as to why they signed me.
YA: What has been your least favourite footballing moment?
LV: Last year, not being able to play in the grand final where we lost. Not playing was one thing, but not being able to help the team sucks. I just wanted to get on, but the decision comes down to the coach. Having to be there for everyone who was upset afterwards was hard.
YA: If you could play for any team, who would it be?
LV: I think I would want to play for Chelsea FC Women’s. I watch some of their games and highlights, and it seems like a good atmosphere. Football in Europe seems to be evolving for women.
YA: Who is your footballing idol?
LV: Anyone in the Matildas, they all have their own story and I aspire to be any of them. They have done so much to be where they are today and that is where I want to be.
YA: What is next for you in terms of football?
LV: I have been training with Melbourne Victory for three years now, and now it is just about confirming a contract with Victory or City potentially. Definitely getting into the W-League season that is coming up. Going from there, just trying to improve as much as I can and in the future hopefully play for the Matildas one day. But I am just taking it slowly and trying to finish school, we will see what happens.
Youth Academy is an ongoing investigation into the Goulburn Valley’s footballing wonderkids. Each week we will profile an upcoming talent who has been capturing the attention of the local footballing scene.