Wednesday 18 September 2019

Boyce's journey from Belfast to Burton, via Werder Bremen

Different paths: Liam Boyce grew up in the predominatly Catholic area of Belfast’s Lower Falls. Photo: Getty Images
Different paths: Liam Boyce grew up in the predominatly Catholic area of Belfast’s Lower Falls. Photo: Getty Images

John Percy

From the Bundesliga to Burton Albion, it has been a remarkable journey for Liam Boyce since a chaotic morning at his Belfast home on August 31, 2010.

He can still remember the frenzied phone calls as if they were yesterday, as his career took its first defining moment at the age of 19 with a surprise move to Werder Bremen.

Boyce is now Burton's £500,000 record signing, and will face Middlesbrough in the Carabao Cup tonight with the League One club just 90 minutes away from a lucrative semi-final.

Burton have never been so far in the competition and Boyce, the forward with nine goals this season, represents one of their best hopes of adding Boro to a list of scalps that includes Burnley and Nottingham Forest. Victory at the Riverside Stadium would be one of the standout moments in Boyce's career, which took off on that August morning eight years ago.

"I had been playing in Ireland with Cliftonville and went on trial in Germany. I went there for a week and scored a hat-trick in a friendly. I came back and didn't think anything was going to happen," he says.

"Then I woke up on transfer deadline day and had about three missed calls on my phone. They said I'd better get to the airport straightaway to get a flight and sign for Werder Bremen. It was a mad 24 hours."

Boyce made only three appearances with the German club's reserve team in 14 months but still reflects fondly on his time there, blazing a trail long before the likes of Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson.

"I wasn't playing and it's frustrating when the manager doesn't like you or the way you play. When you're younger, it's hard to take," he adds.

"I loved it there, though, and I'd do it again. It would probably be even better now that I'm older and more experienced."

Boyce's journey has been unpredictable yet rewarding, after his upbringing in the predominantly Catholic area of the Lower Falls. He admits life could easily have been different.

"It was a rough area, growing up. There were a lot of stolen cars and something happening every day. People were stealing cars and then handbraking outside our house, people getting chased up streets. When you think back, it was dangerous, but then it was almost normal. You kind of get used to it. I didn't get involved, I think my mum would have killed me.

"So many people I know didn't go the right way, but I was brought up differently and didn't go down that route. I had some friends from the past that got in trouble, they made the wrong choices. I met my girlfriend (Leontia) at the right time.

"I was 15 when I met her and we're still together now. When I was in Germany, she'd come over for a week every month."

After Bremen, Boyce returned to Cliftonville and was then rewarded with a move to Ross County, in the Scottish Premiership, three years ago. A Northern Ireland international, he was the leading scorer in that division with 23 goals in the 2016-17 campaign, until the call from Nigel Clough at Burton.

Burton are now adapting to the third tier, with Saturday's defeat at Fleetwood Town leaving them 15th in the table, but there is something about cup competitions which sparks Clough's men. "The cup run has been amazing," says Boyce, 27.

"We've got to have that belief after beating teams from a higher level. In League One, it's 100 miles an hour, but against Boro we will have the ball a bit more.

"It would be absolutely huge for a club the size of Burton to reach a semi-final. Who knows what might happen?" (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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