One-on-one with Ex-Premier League Player and Melbourne Victory Goalkeeping Coach Steve Mautone

Speaking with Soccerscene, the former West Ham goalkeeper opens up on his playing career in Australia and England, his coaching stint with Melbourne Victory, why Australia consistently produces top quality goalkeepers and much more.

First of all Steve, are you currently still involved in the game in any capacity with a club, coaching or anything of that sort.

Steve Mautone: My son who is 12 years old is showing a keen interest in playing and is doing really well. I coached his team last season at Port Melbourne and it really is the most important coaching role I’ve had in my career. That’s it really, apart from running a business that is involved in football.

You obviously played many games in the NSL for a few different clubs…take me back a little bit and tell me about those playing days and how things started out for you in Australia.

Steve Mautone: I was lucky enough to have had a scholarship at the AIS, when that was the football factory in this country for a lot of juniors. I had two years on scholarship there and it was based in Canberra so we played in the NSW leagues. My first games in the NSL were with Blacktown City in the late 80’s, making my debut when I was 19. I played there and also for Paramatta Melita Eagles for a year as well, before having an injury which kept me out of the game for a while.

From there, I moved back down to Melbourne and I was picked up by the Morwell Falcons. At the time they were not in the NSL, but eventually by default the club was put into the national league and I played a couple of seasons straight there. Morwell was fantastic for me and I played fairly consistently there, which lead to South Melbourne buying me.

I had a season at South Melbourne but it didn’t go according to plan. I had stiff competition with Dean Anastasiadis and being a big club, it was very competitive. It was a good learning experience, as you always needed to win at that club.

I then moved to Canberra and played for the Cosmos in their first year in the NSL and during that time they granted me permission to trial in the UK.

My whole journey in the NSL was to try and establish myself and get some experience to go overseas, which I eventually did.

How would you describe the NSL as a competition when you were playing in it?

Steve Mautone: It wasn’t very professional. Stadiums were second rate, crowds could vary from a few hundred to a few thousand, although within the football community it was the pinnacle, the actual competition was second rate – from the media coverage, to the professionalism, the organisations, to the money.

However, in saying that, the standard I thought was pretty high for a number of reasons.

Number one they had a very good youth system, the National Youth League was a pretty good competition.

Number two having places like the AIS and other clubs that produced great players like Melbourne Croatia definitely helped and these young players were using the NSL as a catalyst to get overseas because they wanted to be professionals.

Like you said, the youth development system back then was fairly good, how would you compare the youth ranks in the NSL to the pathways these days with the A-League and so forth?

Steve Mautone: It’s hard to compare because I’m trying to compare different generations. I’m talking about the late 80’s to the mid 90’s, where the game was different and a lot tougher. You had a lot of expats from the UK coming over and they played a hard, British style of game.

In saying that, I sometimes watch old videos and you see players knocking the ball around, keeping possession and doing some good stuff technically.

There are a couple of differences overall, I think.

First of all, my generation was still probably coming off the back of immigrants. Like myself, my parents both migrated from Italy so I was a first generation Australian and a lot of kids were similar in the game. The parents had a genuine love and understanding of the game as they grew up in Europe or South America with football being the first sport. There was a big involvement, from them playing football at home, which was very important. It’s important to learn and play the game in an unstructured environment, as opposed to a structured training session all the time.

For example, I remember just kicking the ball around for hours after a Sunday morning game and because the parents loved the game they would stay around all day until the seniors played.

It’s different times now, most people coached back then not for money but because they just loved the game. Whereas now everyone goes through their licenses, badges (and rightly so, they all want to be paid to coach)- but I just think that passion was different in my era.

The other thing is, although the competition was second rate (NSL) compared to the AFL and other mainstream sports, it probably drove us all to really want to go overseas and once we got there, we had nothing to come back to.

A perfect example is Seb Pasquali – a fantastic player, a great talent. He had probably two or three years of trying to knock on the door at a really young age at a huge club in Ajax and because he didn’t make it, he had a good option to come back to the A-League, both professionally and financially. In our day, if you didn’t make it there, you wouldn’t come home because there was nothing to come home to. You’d keep trying over there and try a different level possibly and then try to get back up where you want to be.

I think overall the A-League has been fantastic for football in Australia, but it’s probably affected the standard because people can be a big fish in a little pond. Whereas in our day you couldn’t really be professional in Australia.

Moving back to your playing career, you eventually got a move to West Ham – what was your experience like in England with other clubs such as Reading that you played for?

Steve Mautone: I was 25 when I went over and it was a dream come true. I was a bit overawed going to an EPL club, but what I noticed was the work ethic I had, alongside a lot of other Australians, was like nothing else over there and the English loved that. I think it’s why a lot of Aussies did well over there.

At the time I went over, it was a transitional period for the EPL. They were going from just being the English game and English coaches and so on, to bringing in a lot of foreigners which brought a European professional influence. Big money started coming in for player’s wages in the mid 90’s, it was a really interesting time overall.

West Ham was a really good experience, I didn’t play many games but I got the opportunity to go on loan to a couple clubs. Firstly, Crewe Alexandra and then Reading, where it all seemed to click in the Championship. Reading eventually bought out my contract from West Ham and although I only played 50 odd games there, it was my home for a few years and was a great experience. I played at a couple of other clubs such as Wolves and Crystal Palace, but unfortunately injuries struck me and stopped my career from further flourishing.

Was there a mentor over there in England or in Australia who you really thrived under and enjoyed working with? What separated them from the rest that you dealt with?

Steve Mautone: I worked a fair bit with Peter Shilton, when I first went to West Ham. Just seeing his attitude towards the game, what was important to him as a goalkeeper, I really took a lot out of that.

In terms of coaches, we underestimate the Australian coaches. Ron Smith at the AIS, was probably one of my biggest influences. In terms of a technical coach, in all aspects of coaching, he was excellent. He was a real student of the game.

Harry Redknapp was a character, he was a really good man manager. He knew how to get the best out of players and create a good atmosphere at the club.

How does Australia compare to your experiences in England in regards to an emphasis on goalkeeping development – do you think we may need to focus on anything in particular or improve?

Steve Mautone: No, I actually think we can teach them a thing or two. It’s changed now, but we didn’t have a dedicated goalkeeper coach at West Ham or Reading when I played. There wasn’t a real emphasis on goalkeeper coaching in England when I was there, so I think Australia is a little bit advanced when it comes to goalkeeper coaching.

In Australia, we’ve always had great goalkeeper coaches, the likes of Jeff Olver, Ron Corry and Tony Franken just to name a few and is probably why we do so well in the goalkeeping department overall.

You moved into goalkeeper coaching with the Melbourne Victory after your playing days – what was that like and what was it like to be involved in Australian football around that period of time?

Steve Mautone: The game experienced huge growth around that time, we were getting huge crowds. I was only telling someone the other day, if we didn’t get 40,000 people to a game, we were disappointed. At the time, the love of the sport was being able to be shared by purists and families alike.

Working for Victory was a fantastic experience, they are by far the best club in the country – they did everything right. From there merchandising, membership and matchday experience…to their corporate stuff off the field.

Historically as a country we have always produced top quality goalkeepers – why do you think that is?

Steve Mautone: Generally, it doesn’t really matter where in Australia you have grown up, you are familiar with a form a football that uses your hands, whether that’s AFL, League, Union or our game. So, we’ve got those strong hand eye coordination skills and they are essentially embedded in us.

We also have strong coaches in Australia and that trend has followed through to each generation.

I also think being a goalkeeper you probably don’t need to be technically as good than your counterparts in Europe. You’ve just got to be brave, agile and physical and I think that’s why we do so well.

One final one Steve, back on a personal note, what would you regard as your biggest personal achievement in football that you really look back on fondly?

Steve Mautone: The biggest and most emotional game I’ve ever played in was my EPL debut. I remember walking off that field thinking no matter what else I achieve now no one can take away from me that I’ve played in the EPL, one of the biggest leagues in the world.

It’s something I’m really proud of, I don’t talk about it a lot, but I am extremely proud.

Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Nottingham Forest considering shipping container stadium

Nottingham Forest are exploring the idea of utilising shipping containers to house additional temporary seating spaces at the City Ground, a move inspired by Qatar’s Stadium 974.

Shipping containers might be used to fill in the edges at the Trent End of the stadium, for which at the present time has a capacity of roughly 29,500. The modifications, which would not require planning clearance, would provide a provisional seating plan for approximately 500 more supporters.

Forest has long wanted to expand the City Ground, and in July of last year, Rushcliffe Borough Council approved the project, which would initially focus on reconstructing the Peter Taylor Stand.

The design is to bring the capacity of the stand up to 10,000, with Forest also planning on increasing the Bridgford Stand as part of a long-term vision to bring the City Ground’s to a total amount up to 38,000.

Forest had planned on starting the work the past summer but The Athletic reported in March that this could be pushed back to 2024 due to the complications associated with the planning permission and other considerations.

The previous season the club made their long-awaited return to the Premier League after a 23-year absence with the club consistently playing in front of sell-out crowds. Forest is seeking short-term solutions to satisfy the high demand for ticket sales, due to the plans to increase the stadium in size were hindered. 

The shipping container design is inspired by Stadium 974, one of eight venues used to host matches at last year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

The unique idea behind the Stadium 974 was constructed largely of shipping containers because of the nature of its architecture, it was the first stadium of its kind to be easily dismantled and reassembled in the history of the World Cup, with its name mentioning the number of shipping containers used in its creation of the stadium.

The stadium, which hosted seven World Cup matches, had a capacity of 44,000, the whole structure is to be demounted and reassembled elsewhere.

Nike Pacific Brand Director Nick Atkinson: “We have so much equity and history to elevate women’s sport”

Nick Atkinson

Before becoming Brand Director of Nike Pacific – an organisation he’s been part of since 2015 – Nick Atkinson knew very early on that he’d be working in football.

Growing up in Wales of the UK, he was brought up through the school, college and university system that paved the way for his passion to come to life.

From starting off with his first training session at Wick Dynamos in West Sussex, football has been a consistent part of his life.

In this interview with Soccerscene, Nick discusses his role of Brand Director in more detail, Nike’s involvement with the Matildas, working with Sam Kerr and giving back to the grassroots level.

As Brand Director, can you outline your role in helping promote football?

Nick Atkinson: I’ve been involved with Nike since 2015 and even before becoming part of the swoosh family, football has very much been something I am deeply passionate about.

I remember during the final round of my job interview for Nike, I was asked why I wanted to join the team. I didn’t give a great answer, but I had said that I wanted to work on a brand that propelled the game of football and had close ties to the World Cup. And I feel that my love for the game really shined in that moment.

Since taking up the role I’ve been fortunate to be part of so many firsts – seeing how football can uniquely unite and inspire people and nations.

With Nike’s level of global impact, I am aware of the responsibility and part I play in shaping how our athletes are seen, and leading this work on home soil has been a dream.

The Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand for example, was a major project that I led. It was Nike Pacific’s most significant investment in a sporting moment yet – from unmissable out-of-home, a world-first tiktokumentory, football accelerator legacy programs to the first female football-led retail door – the Dream Arena.

I’m immensely proud of what we, as a team, achieved to build a better game for all. It makes all the work we do behind-the-scenes so satisfying when we know it means that the next-gen athletes will have new-found heroes to look up to.

On a local level, after personally playing eight to nine seasons in Victoria’s state and metro leagues, I knew I wanted to get Nike involved as there was so much potential for impact at that level.

Seeing so much success in the sport both at the domestic and international level is a true highlight.

Nike proudly sponsor the Matildas; how do you reflect on FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023?

Nick Atkinson: I’ve worked with both our national teams (Matildas and Socceroos) for many years and have had so many amazing moments – I even remember a free-kick competition with Brett Emerton and Mark Bresciano in 2016 on ANZ Stadium!

If you look at the Socceroos performance in 2022, you can say it’s the ‘greatest assist’ before the 2023 Women’s World Cup because they had set that benchmark for performance and awareness across the country and reignited football.

This year’s tournament has undeniably been a generational moment for sport and culture, having the global tournament on home soil and the home team of the Matildas was the moment to accelerate sport into the future – we know sport creates change, and this was the largest accelerator of women’s sport and culture for the next five years.

The Matildas post tournament are now household names and have shown the world the power of women’s sport. From record-breaking crowds, jersey sales and viewership – the Matildas continue to inspire us all with their captivating performances and genuine love for each other, their fellow athletes and the game.

It felt like it’s been a while coming, but we saw the nation finally galvanise and get behind our national teams – and without a doubt, we’ll look back on the 2020’s as the greatest decade of women’s sport.

Living and breathing football in both my professional and personal life, I can say that we’ve got such a unique Australian football identity. We’re in arguably the most dynamic period that Australian football has ever seen and we’ve opened the sport up to the most diverse audience, which is so exciting and refreshing.

What did you make of user/social media engagement throughout the World Cup – was there anything significant you or your team saw in relation to aspects like shirt sales?

Nick Atkinson: We started working on our plans almost the day after the bid win got announced, so we were 100% ready going into the Women’s World Cup.

We have so much equity and history to elevate women’s sport at Nike, so this wasn’t new for us and has been a journey we’ve been on for a very long time.

When you look at a Matildas match, it is so different compared to the Socceroos. For example, lots of school trips and big groups of young fans, so that is really amazing.

One of the things that we anticipated was going to happen, was the emergence of new voices wrapped around this game. We knew this moment would be successful because it opened opportunities to grow and nurture these new voices in the game. That was one of the rewarding elements, to see different sections of the media and social platforms emerging to give us a new and youthful perspective on the sport.

Our partnership with TikTok saw the creation of 1000 Victories – one of the most successful pieces of media that we worked on through the Women’s World Cup.

This was co-created with a young generation of fans who emerged with a point of view on football and women’s sport. That enriched the game and really took it to new heights, making it bigger and more diverse and gives people a bunch of ways to be involved.

Sam Kerr is hugely popular in Australia and overseas – what was it like building her brand campaign?

Nick Atkinson: It’s been amazing, this is something I’ve personally worked on for a really long time, I’ve enjoyed and am so proud of.

It’s not only Sam but the whole group that we’ve had a relationship with for so long now and that has allowed us to get to know who they are as individuals as well as athletes.

To build a brand plan, you do need to have that full understanding of a person or team to work out how to best approach it.

I placed Sam in her first brand campaign for Nike in 2017 for the launch of the Mercurial Superfly 360 boots. That was at a time where she had just came off winning a Golden Boot in the NWSL and we knew at that point, we had a superstar on the rise.

We featured her in the launch campaign for the boots using billboards and the like, as well as an athlete experience at Rebel. We had an incredible turnout, not only from supporters but across the entire community.

At that time, it was clear that Sam had that star power to take her even further which proved to be the case. Fast Forward and she’s shared a few Mercs with Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe.

I’ve had the privilege to get to know Sam over the many years of collaboration and it has helped us build a strong, authentic platform and brand around her journey.

There’s nothing that we believe in more at Nike than listening to the voice of the athlete and doing work that resonates with them – such as their values and beliefs, and what they stand for. An example of this is something we’ve always told Sam, “We’ll get it right on the pitch first and then build from there.”.

The journey has been amazing and to be part of that is truly special. Our goal is to support Sam and build her brand while she’s delivering ground-breaking performances on the pitch and creating an unbreakable connection with fans.

More broadly, at Nike we believe that it’s not a one-person team with the Matildas by any stretch.

We have an incredible roster of athletes across the Matildas such as Elle Carpenter, Steph Catley, Kyah Simon, Alanna Kennedy, Mackenzie Arnold, Hayley Raso and more, and we’re focused on supporting and elevating the whole roster.

Our brand investment in the Women’s World Cup was the single biggest investment we’ve ever made in this country to elevate the team. We were prepared, we started early and I believe played a critical part in connecting the fans and the team.

Matildas brand stories:

All For Tomorrow

Sam Kerr – Flip The Game

Show the World Your Victory

You are also supporting Fitzroy Lions Soccer Club – what is it like switching back to the grassroots level and giving back?

Nick Atkinson: Football would not happen without volunteers at the grassroots level – it’s an area of the game that we really believe in and want to have a positive impact.

I shared my story coming through the UK, starting out in grassroots football, and being one of those kids that had to hustle for rides from other people’s parents, or ride my bike to games with my brother, and wear my boots until they fell apart, I know what a huge enabler it can be for kids.  Getting involved in Fitzroy Lions has been a real personal love of mine.

We’ve been partnered with Fitzroy Lions Soccer Club since 2018 – they are an incredible organisation where many of the kids come from refugee families and football plays a critical role in uniting that community. It’s where you really feel the power of the world game.

Our relationship started simply, going down to training sessions to meet the team and see what they’re about – they are a rare team in Australia that offers a route into structured league football for kids whose parents can’t quite afford it normally, in a sport that can be quite expensive to play. Through the time spent with them, I really got to know the kids and their families.

It was so enriching and an awesome experience where the club simply provides the opportunity for everyone and eliminates those barriers that people face when looking to play.

So many of us at Nike live and work around those communities so it’s a great opportunity to directly support people related to what we do. We’re proud to be part of something like this and seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces when they’re playing on the field is a real highlight in my career.

Excitingly, like many other grassroots clubs, they have seen a 200% increase in girls participating this season which is so encouraging.

In addition, we’re in the fifth year of naming rights for the Nike FC Cup and recently announced the Nike FC Accelerator Program. This is a four-year commitment with Football Victoria to drive gender equity in the sport by increasing the number of female coaches and giving better access to football at The Home of Matildas.

Overall, we want to provide equal opportunities and this is the legacy that Nike wants to leave in the long run to drive the sport forward.

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