The Everton Sierra Leone squad is back in training after a six-week lay-off to allow players to study for exams.
And club founder Amjata Bayoh says the hard work must start now – on and off the pitch.
Players are put through their paces at 6am training sessions, scheduled early to allow the student contingent to head off to class afterwards.
“We’ve had some really good sessions, backed up by practice matches at the beach, and the players have been really keen,” says Amjata.
Meanwhile, he is constantly working to get the administration of the community club – founded in the summer – up to scratch. He needs to arrange friendly matches and affiliation with regional governing bodies before the club can even be considered for official competitions.
First among his priorities is finding a regular training pitch. With facilities both hard to come by and expensive in the capital, Freetown, coaches have resorted to hosting sessions on the concourse surrounding the national stadium.
The Siaka Stevens Stadium has its uses though, particularly for Rocky-style runs up the arena’s steps.
While Everton Sierra Leone takes its name from the Goodison Park club that inspired it, it’s a completely independent outfit.
Creating a club from scratch is no simple task, particularly in a land where money is short for many young people, with underemployment soaring to 70% among 15 to 35-year-olds.
Many young people – including the Everton Sierra Leone players – have to catch up on years of schooling disrupted first by civil war, then by the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
Community donations have allowed the purchase of balls and training kit but Amjata has to find a way to make his project self-sustaining.
Building awareness is key to that, and the club has introduced a monthly “half marathon” from the heart of the Brookfields community, where the club is based, to Lumley Beach – the playground of the city.
Alongside parading the “Everton Salone” name around the city, the club is marketing itself – and raising some much-needed finance – by selling its striking orange training kit.
Imported from Guinea, they’re stitched with Sierra Leone’s national flag which Amjata says is helping popularity.
“We’re telling people that even if they don’t support Everton, they’re supporting their country by buying the jerseys,” he says.
The kits generate a small profit for the club, which Amjata says will help its running costs.