One of the great pleasures of doing this column is that I’ve been lucky to speak to some great people involved with football and our great club. This week I spoke to a guy whose star shone far too briefly for us due to injury, but was nonetheless a crowd favourite that helped us avoid relegation in 1997.
Steve Mautone was our first Aussie goalkeeper, joining the club from West Ham on loan. He’s a guy who I first bumped into in the toilets at the old Royals Rendevous at Elm Park.
So how did the move to Reading happen?
“I was No. 2 behind Ludo Mikloško at West Ham and the management team told my agent they wanted to see me play senior football. I was reluctant to drop down two levels to play at Crewe, and I wasn’t going to go. However Slaven Bilic [a teammate at the time] told me it would be best thing to. So from bench for West Ham on the Saturday, I then played three games in a week for Crewe. I came back when Ludo was injured and played three games for first team before he returned. I just wanted to get back out there and show what I could do.”
The opportunity came up at Reading, when Boris “Wiggy” Mihyalov got injured. So what advice did he get from a teammate before his debut?
“The first home game was just ‘make it a good one, don’t have a s**t one!’ The fans will remember that!”
Luckily for Steve and us, he did have a good one (a 3-2 win over Southend). He helped Reading secure safety in the league, whilst getting a permanent deal with the club.
”I was buzzing to be a professional playing in UK and I relocated to Reading to become part of the club. We were a pretty close bunch. We would often lunch together after training, which didn’t happen at other clubs.
Steve’s last first team game was that crazy 3-3 draw with Notts Forest in October ‘97.
”I’d been carrying a torn knee cartilage injury for a few weeks. The night before the next game versus Port Vale away, I was told that if I can keep going until December, I could have the operation then. [Why?] A few games might get postponed.”
Can’t imagine that these days, can you?
“So in the warm-up, I went up for cross, as I landed I jarred my knee. I went to the surgeon who had operated on Robbie Fowler when he had similar problem. However, I wanted to go back to a surgeon in Australia. He specialised in these type of injuries, with NFL players in America. I felt the whole thing was mismanaged, I ended up having a number of operations. When Tommy Burns came in I was offered a week to week contract. I needed the security of a one-year contract so I could come back properly. Wolves offered me a six-month one but I still couldn’t take time off to rest the knee.“
“I had to keep proving myself so I could hopefully get a contract. I ended up at Slough Town. I was on to clubs to come and watch me play. I never thought my career would end and I never gave up. Sadly it did.”
How did it affect you?
“Look, I’m pretty level headed and realistic. I don’t hold it against Reading, I loved my time there.”
Thoughts on the managers you worked under... Quinn and Gooding?
”They gave me the opportunity to play, I have the utmost respect for them. It was difficult for them as they had feet in both camps as player/managers.”
”I liked him and his style, but he wanted to be everyone’s mate which made it hard for him to put his foot down when needed.”
”I didn’t have much to do with him, but I had lot of respect for what he did in the game.”
Ex-Royal Colin Lee, his manager at Wolves?
”He had an aura about him, you knew he was boss.”
Ex-England boss Peter Taylor
”Fantastic coach & developer of players. You knew where you stood.”
On his Reading teammates... Phil Parkinson?
“Inspirational player and a true professional. I’ve lot of respect for Keith McPherson and Paul Holsgrove. Darren Caskey was a really good gifted talented player, with more commitment he could have become an international.”
On James Lambert who that scored ‘that’ goal on Steve’s last Royals appearance.
“A Lot of talent, but he would ring Clive Baskerville and ask why he gave him a six and not a nine in his match ratings in the paper.”
Look out for Part Two on The Tilehurst End soon.