When Aaron Scott celebrated his 200th appearance for Melville United, at home against Bay Olympic last season, Chairman Bruce Holloway wrote in the match day programme that “for Melville he has been the ultimate role model. For many years his thicker team mates thought his name was Aaron Manofthematch, so often did he get honours for his on-field deeds, and it is not over-stating it to conclude that he has been the most constant and commanding player influence at Melville since amalgamation in 1996.”
He’s been capped five times by the All Whites and represented New Zealand in all three games the Oly Whites played at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. There, he faced a Brazilian side that had some bloke a few people have heard of by the name of Ronaldinho in it, and he was named as captain against a Belgian squad that included the likes of Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany and Marouane Fellaini.
He’s also played National League Football over the space of a decade for Waikato FC, Waitakere United, WaiBOP United and Hamilton Wanderers.
Now, coming off the back of a tough National League campaign during which he found himself wearing a strange blue coloured shirt, he seems to be looking forward to another season at his beloved winter club, newly invigorated under a fresh young coaching team.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, last weekend I sat down with Aaron for my annual NRFL pre-season interview. We made ourselves comfortable on the grass near the Gower Park playground so my subject could keep one eye on his kids having a blast on the swings. Silently noting the Arsenal shirt he was wearing, I decided against making the first question about Arsene Wenger and instead went for:
EG: Was it weird playing for Wanderers over the summer?
AS: Haha yep it was ahh, the decision didn’t come easy, wearing blue and playing for the crosstown rivals but in the end I wanted to play and that was the local team. There was a few Melville old boys gave me a bit of stick when it was announced and things and so did a few people but I wanted to play and that was the team I had to play for so in the end I just had to. Not that I didn’t want to but that was just how it ended up.
EG: Did you enjoy it?
AS: The playing side, yes. Some of the other issues around things… I don’t want to dive into today as obviously we’ve still got a game to go and I’ll wait for our evaluation to convey my views rather than to everyone else but… Most of it… Some of it no, there were things…
EG: You had a few things to say about the team culture. Did it improve?
AS: Yeah, I think it did to be fair. We had a few players that wanted to turn up but not really get involved into what we were trying to do. Things didn’t really work and OK we got some results in the first half but in the second half of the season people got a bit more stuck in, in terms of the local ones training wise and they were the ones playing and I felt it got better.
EG: There was quite a bit of player turnover, did that have anything to do with just people who didn’t want to be there…
AS: Yeah, but, I dunno a bit of everything I think. They didn’t want to be there, the travel thing – and the traveling commitment is hard I know that as well as anyone – but I think if you commit to it you’ve got to go full into it and I think people wanted to [play] without really committing to it.
EG: So now you’ve experienced National League football with a club and with a franchise. Have you got an opinion of which works better?
AS: I think a standalone franchise seems to work better because then everything is completely separate. I think there are a few things training wise – and once again this is going to be in my evaluation – but I think the thing is when you’re trying to do a winter team and a summer team at the same time when the latter half of the season started to mean sharing coaching resources for one, pitches and things, it didn’t work as smoothly as it should have. But that’s my opinion, they might think otherwise.
EG: What do you think about the overall quality of the league?
AS: Yeah, I think it’s better with the expanded teams. Some games we’re on song and pushing the top teams and other times we got well beaten but I think even the lower ranked teams – and people would have expected teams like Southern and Tasman to be the easybeats – but they’ve still been competitive in most games I think. We’re probably the only team that’s actually been thrashed in a game unfortunately for us. So there have been some high scoring games as well to keep people interested. It’s on TV again so I think it’s been a great little spotlight to promote the game and the inclusion of teams, I think has helped.
EG: Is it harder to play in than the Northern League? Is the quality a bit better, much the same or less?
AS: I think it’s better because unfortunately, or fortunately, sometimes you can play teams and be like “this guy I know, he’s not good at this” – you know, trends and traits that you can use. Whereas in the National League you’ve got people that are a little bit more committed and full time into it so I think they try and be aware of themselves and what their strengths and weaknesses are. In the Northern League you can get by and target certain people and certain things. In the National League you’ve got a bit of a smarter player. A little bit faster. A little bit technically better all around the pitch so there are not too many weaknesses in many teams.
EG: Who’s the toughest player you’ve faced in the Northern League?
AS: Probably one of my best mates David Samson. Absolute competitor, he’s just come back to New Zealand. He’d be the toughest opponent one on one to mark against for just pace and sheer power and never give up. Technically and thought wise Manel Expósito always used to give me the run-around at Auckland City. He’d probably be the trickiest player I’ve ever come across.
EG: Looking towards the season ahead, do you think there are any particular teams to watch out for in Division One?
AS: To be completely honest I haven’t really looked at who’s in there. I’m aware of Waitemata obviously being Mayney’s coached old team so for him I’m weary of them. But other than that, I know there’s the local game against Tauranga again which will always be tough and I know Manukau City have just been promoted and a good mate of mine Hone Fowler is the captain there, and Fallon is in charge so they’ll be competitive, but to be honest I haven’t really looked into it too much. Yet!
EG: Were you always a defender?
AS: Growing up I was actually a striker. In my last game at primary school I scored eight goals and we won 9-1 against our biggest rivals! I went to high school and immediately became a centre midfielder. Played all through school age as a centre mid, rep things and everything and then I think when I came to Melville the coach said right you get five minutes at right back, left back at ten minutes and gradually I ended up just staying there. My brother in law Wayne Bates took me under his wing when I was sixteen years old and I played the next season next to him at centre back and stayed there ever since.
EG: What do you love about playing at the back?
AS: I think to be fair, a lot more than as a wide defender you’re always involved and you can see things and talk and lead things. In the middle of the park – I did used to play there and now I’d sort of not have the nouse for it in terms of what to do all the time. But I think I enjoy the centre back role because you can see things and give advice for everyone around the pitch. Sometimes they don’t listen, granted, and sometimes I’m sure they probably think I’m just talking for the sake of it but I do enjoy that side of it.
EG: What do you say to players?
AS: Ah, just what I think they should be doing in terms of where people are on the pitch, if we’ve got the ball, if we don’t, what things are on if we’ve got it…
EG: If you’re shipping a few goals is there anything in particular you can kind of…
AS: Yeah, I think this season especially it’s been a bit more self-reflective. The talk on the pitch is still there but I think a bit more self-honesty thinking yeah, that one was my fault and how could I have done better to stop that one happening or stop the end product of it. It becomes a little bit different when you’re all of a sudden the centre back and a senior player and the team is losing by a few goals. It mentally makes you question things.
EG: What do you think marks the difference between a good defender and a top defender?
AS: Everyone used to say the top two inches and nowadays you’ve got legions of kids that can all play. Technically proficient, fast, fit, but I think the top two things are the little bit of difference in terms of your composure and I think experience as well when you’ve been through certain situations and you know in a 2 on 1 situation what a player might do because you’ve played them before or you’ve seen situations and you’ve been through both sides of them. So I think that helps but if I said what makes a great defender it’s just has to be a bit more tenacious rather than being competent, being a good player. And I think the difference between being a good player could be the difference of being someone that can actually make a difference in a game. And our coach Ray Pooley always used to tell me “affect a game, whether it’s positive or negative, go out and have an effect on the game don’t just be a passenger in it.” So that’s what I’m after.
EG: As a defender do you want the action to come to you or is it better when you don’t have anything to do?
AS: Obviously it would be great if I had nothing to do! It would be a great season! In all honesty it doesn’t work that way, games ebb and flow as everyone knows but I think if the action is going on I love to be in the middle of it rather than seeing the ball go wide and not being able to affect things. I get frustrated sometimes in games where a goal goes in and you’re like “what could I do – nothing – it was nothing to do with me”, it involved other players other people’s man, and you can’t react and do things in time, it just passes you by. Now getting a bit older and a bit slower you aren’t quite able to get to things as I used to – I will admit that.
EG: So you’ve played alongside Mayney and Sam?
AS: Yeah, I made my National League debut for Waikato FC with them both. I remember my first touch in the National League was a throw-in playing Wellington and I threw it to Mayney and he just told me “are you serious?” and hoofed it back out and just stared at me and I was like “ooh”. So I was a semi-confident 18 year-old and threw the ball in and got yelled at. And about seven minutes later I was the first subbed sub in National League history. But I have a lot of time for them. I respect what they’ve done in the game and I think they are both footballers in terms of they love the game and want to do the right things and put the time and effort into it so I’m quite excited to work under them.
EG: They are quite a young coaching team, does that have pluses and minuses?
AS: Age doesn’t really play a factor and there’s an old adage if you’re good enough you’re old enough. Managing wise they’ve both been through things where they’ve taken teams on their own, been through, got the qualifications to back it up as well. You can be 20 years younger than players as long as they respect what you are doing and buy into it.
EG: What can we expect from Melville this winter?
AS: Hopefully goals! We’ve been playing quite an exciting, attacking brand of football in terms of putting their defence under pressure constantly in terms of how we’re set up and going for things and results so far have showed that as well. I’ve been pretty happy and I’m sure everyone is with the results against Central and today, Glenfield, and a couple of other games when we’ve looked proficient but also looked dangerous rather than just being good. A brand of football that everyone has bought into and everyone knows what their role is rather than ‘just go out and win’. With Sam and Mike we have some structure in place to work out the how we are going to score or create chances and the same to nullify them at the defensive end. We have always tried to outwork and out-scrap teams in the past and now it may be about out playing them with a common idea that has been the focus of what I have seen us trying to do.
EG: So what is it about Melville that keeps you coming back?
AS: Oh look, I’ve been here since I was 14 so more than half my life now I’ve been here. The old boys have always been there. They weren’t always the old boys when I started but just great banter, great laughs, there are some good family friends here, ones that I’d trust, and I really enjoy coming back and meeting the same faces saying hello, having a beer now with them after the game so times have changed. But even training on Thursday I came down and trained and all of a sudden the same people come up and “oh Azza, how’s it going?” and it just makes you feel really welcome and hopefully I’ll do the same for them talking back to them rather than just ignoring them. I’ve always felt Melville opened their arms to me so I don’t think I’d ever go anywhere else.
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.