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Matilda’s Star Adds Another Weapon To Her Arsenal

A day spent with Steph Catley and Dean Bouzanis.

Upon my drive to Chelsea beach, forty-five minutes away from Melbourne’s CBD is where I would spend the day with Steph Catley and Dean Bouzanis. Steph’s manager, Jason Sourasis, kindly opened his home to us, where we would sit and chat, have lunch and watch the footy.

Steph Catley featured wearing her Arsenal jersey

I grew up watching the English Premier League and always found the cult-like following astounding. Here I was, driving to meet someone who is about to play for one of those teams, whose followers treat their stadium as a church, and their membership like holy communion. Instantly when I think of Steph’s journey, the film Goal comes to mind, followed by Bend it Like Beckham. Sure, it may be naïve, but it’s the only way I know how to make sense of such an opportunity, to play for an international club as big as Arsenal.

When I arrive at Jason’s place, the feeling and overall vibe is chill and warming. It’s a three-level house right on the beach looking out at the ocean. It’s the type of place you where you would walk into your kitchen for breakfast, only to be greeted by a pod of dolphins or an unsuspecting paddleboarder.

Another question I had for myself was, how is she in person? Watching Steph play for the Matildas, you see her fierce game face, was she humble? For someone who featured on a FIFA Playstation cover with Lionel Messi and Tim Cahil, humble isn’t the word I would use in anticipation.

Steph Catley representing the Matildas

While I wait for Steph and her partner Dean to arrive, Jason’s mother asks if I’d like a coffee. She serves a Greek coffee with some cake, and I chat with Jason’s brother. We talk about the hopes of hosting the 2023 FIFA Women’s World cup here in Australia, and we chat about how bad Carlton is.

Kristian Nikoloski, Steph’s agent also arrives, and the situation becomes a whole lot more real. Real in a sense, I have the opportunity to sit down and spend the day with one of Australia’s most successful and admired soccer players.

Steph arrives with Dean, and both of them light up with warm smiles. There’s the slight sense of ‘what do we do now?’ when greeting, given the parasite that is Covid-19, we all settle for the now infamous elbow knock.

Jason then takes us all on a tour of the house. As it’s a beach-front property, we are all in awe of where we will be spending the day.

The feeling is that of a close family. Steph’s manager Jason, her agent Kristian, Dean and I all relaxing and taking in the view. While we embark on the tour of the house, Jason’s father is preparing a traditional Greek dish. Lamb on the spit, with some chicken. As he makes lunch, and we wind up the tour, it’s time to chill and sit with Steph. She’s poured a glass of white wine, and we watch the Adelaide football club beg for a quick death against an unassuming Gold Coast Sun’s fit-out.

Jason’s daughter kicks a small ball in front of Steph, her grin says more than words could. In that moment I felt part of Steph’s purpose, her higher power through the eyes of a small child. You see as I sit with Steph she explains the lack of a female idol in her line of work. She explains how she never had the luxury of looking up to an elite female soccer player. As I see Jason’s daughter smiling and playing with Steph, I can see Steph becoming the idol she never had, becoming who she always wanted, or who she needed.

Steph Catley signs with Arsenal

Instantly you admire Steph’s calm and positive demeanour. She begins to open up about how Aussie rules footy was her life as a kid—a loyal servant of the Saints. We have a laugh as I provide some banter about the draw between Collingwood and St Kilda in a Grand Final. Myself being a Collingwood supporter, and a passionate one at that, we have a slight giggle, even though you could feel how much that loss hurt her. She talks about her idol being Lenny Hayes, odd for a soccer player but I respected it. I mean how many players these days idolise another player from a different sport? Scott Pendlebury admires various basketball players, and he plays AFL, Nick Kygrios much the same, who idolises Kobe Bryant.

Given the relaxed environment Jason asks Steph and Dean if they want to check out the basement and play some FIFA. We all head down, and when the game is all ready to go, Steph and I talk about how odd it must feel to be featured on the cover of a game we are now playing. Even in that moment Steph is humble. There’s also a sense of ‘she still can’t quite believe it’. She tells me how surprised she was when she found out, even when she was signing autographs of a FIFA cover, she still didn’t understand the reality of such a milestone.

After Jason and Dean played a few games, Dean being victorious every time, we made our way upstairs to the living room. We sit on the couches, a comfortable setup, and informal in every way—the ocean at one side, and the footy playing on a mounted flat-screen on the other. Jason asks the pair how Steph and Dean met. What followed can only be described as one of the highlights of the day. Dean tells of how he essentially ‘approached’ Steph via Instagram. In other words, how he ‘slid into her dms’. We all hysterically laugh along, as he attempted to avoid the all-to-familiar term.

Steph then goes on to tell us how she ignored him for a whole year. In Dean’s words, she gave him the old custard pie to the face. Only to reveal that a year later, after Steph had played for Melbourne City, the same team Dean represents in goals, the pair had come together by some stroke of fate. That fate being ‘spotting each other at Chadstone shopping centre’.

Dean reprised how he ‘approached’ her again via Instagram, only this time to have Steph reply. Perhaps the most unsuspected learning of the day was how well the pair work as a couple. They are hilarious! They are like two high-school sweethearts, who made a vowel always to have fun and always have each other’s backs. You can hear it in both of their voices, especially when Dean talks of Steph’s journey and her career. He’s like a big brother and partner rolled into one. No, not like a Game of Thrones scenario, more like a mature man who isn’t insecure about his partner’s success.

We then move onto how the Arsenal deal came about. It was described as a ‘long’ and ‘lengthy’ process, but why wouldn’t it be? After all, it is Arsenal. Steph tells me how she used to play in the backyard on her own, and pretend like she was playing for Arsenal. I felt goosebumps, it was as if it were straight out of a movie, or even better, straight out of a fantasy.

Who hasn’t imagined playing for Arsenal or Manchester, or Chelsea? I did. Yet when she talks of the process and how she got there, you see and hear how it was possible. You see, she is humble. Humble in her success, but also proud of where she has come from, and more importantly, where she is going. Dean chimes in here and there, with tokens of wisdom, which Steph confirms as learning experiences. She has succeeded because of her attitude.

By this time, we can all smell the lamb and chicken. Lunch is served! While we eat, Steph, Dean, Kristian and Jason all joke around about Uber ratings. Steph checks hers and is well above the expected rating for four. We talk about leaving home, finding a new place. And the nuances of living in London.

You can tell Steph’s a family orientated individual. The pair talk about how they spent the night chilling with Steph’s brother the night before. Dean is close with Steph but also her family. They really do seem like a match made in heaven.

After lunch, we sit and begin our podcast. When I think of Steph’s move, my mind takes me to this quite by Tony Adams. “Play for the name on the front of the shirt, and they’ll remember the name on the back.” Sitting with Steph, it’s unsure if she is truly aware of the journey she is about to embark on—a trip most footballers dream about their whole lives. That dream is to play for one of the ‘big four’ clubs in the English Premier League. In Catley’s case, it takes the form of the red and white, Arsenal FC. Catley is fast becoming an icon of women’s football, her feature on FIFA 16 alongside Lionel Messi and Tim Cahill solidified the defensive star as the first woman to feature on an EA Sports cover.

It was announced late last night. The star defender signed a multi-year deal with Arsenal football club.

The 26-year-old who began her football career when she was fifteen with Melbourne Victory described the feeling as, “I had grown up watching the EPL, and when I was younger, this is a little embarrassing, but when I played in the front yard by myself I would always say I was playing for Arsenal or Chelsea, even in my head, if it was men, it was the dream.”  

Steph’s commitment to the game has paid off as she joins a prestigious list of Australian athletes joining a mega-club overseas—fellow Matilda royalty Sam Kerr and Ellie Carpenter, who also signed deals abroad with major clubs Chelsea and Lyon.

As we chat, you understand how long she has been building up to this moment. Steph began her career at the age of fifteen and worked her way up from the South East Cougars within the Victoria Champions League program. Her routes are inherently grounded in Melbourne. Steph was part of the historic W-League team Melbourne City, where the team won three championships in a row—she was captain for the last two of those three years.  

Yet, her tone and approach is one that is humble and gentle.

Having featured in two FIFA Women’s World Cup campaigns with the Matilda’s and represented overseas clubs in the United States, it’s evident Steph’s home run with Arsenal couldn’t arrive at a better time.

Fast forward to a pandemic riddled 2020, Catley’s deal with Arsenal reminds everyone Australian women’s football is not only recognised on a global scale but placing Australian talent amongst the greatest athletes in the world. Arsenal has experienced the most success in the FA Women’s Superleague, winning three championships, however, fell this year to Sam Kerr’s Chelsea, finishing third.

Steph will make a move to the U.K hoping she will return in 2023 to play for the Matilda’s in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, co-hosted by New Zealand.

When asked about what the FIFA World Cup would mean to her, Catley described the feeling as, “Goosebumps, I have played in two World Cups, and those being some of the proudest moments of my life, playing at home in front of family and friends, especially at this stage of my career where I have done a lot I can be proud of, it would be the cherry on top. I mean how many people can say, I have played at a home World Cup?”
It was a pleasure understanding how an elite athlete like Steph carries herself, even if it was in an informal setting. We wish Steph and Dean the best of luck and will be supporting the pair from afar.

Here’s the full podcast.

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