by Lucy Mullinger. — Strengthening the bond of football players to the game they love is just one of the focusses of newly-appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Auckland football, Steven Upfold.
The 38-year-old ex-Pukekohe Amateur Football Club (AFC) player and coach, took over the role from interim CEO Bob Patterson in May this year and moved on from his previous role as Chief Operating Officer (COO), which he took on in June last year.
While football continues to be classified as a number one sport for the younger generation, Steven is aware that once children get to the age of 12, and again once they are in high school, many young players move away from the game. He believes the key to becoming the nation’s favourite sport is to enthuse young people to keep playing on to their adult years.
In his new role, Steven has a clear vision of where he wants football in Auckland to head and believes that the key is to keep New Zealanders playing the sport throughout their lifetime. “We need to make sure that we retain and build on the fact that football is the number one sport for young children in New Zealand. I want to work on every opportunity to solidify and grow the base of our pyramid in the biggest city in the country.”
According to Steven, the key to keeping young people interested in the sport is to get them to engage and connect with the game. “We want to encourage them to keep coming back year after year and explore the love of the game”. This includes enthusing existing players to get more involved with roles such as coach or referee. “We need to foster and help create that link and love for the game. We want our players to keep playing and watching and stay physically and emotionally connected to the sport.”
He sees a future where clubs have greater responsibility for delivering junior, youth, senior and female pathways, with an extra supportive framework from Auckland Football.
As an ex sport’s-journalist and communication’s specialist, Steven plans to utilise his existing skills to work on marketing the game even more effectively and thanks to his existing experience working with grassroots football with smaller clubs such as the Pukekohe AFC, he believes the key to retaining people within the sport throughout their lifetime is to ensure that all clubs, no matter the size, are offered the same amount of support.
At present, “there are a huge amount of people playing the game over the weekend, in Auckland, and there are so many amazing people behind the scenes working to keep this sport going.”
Steven feels that part of the reason he has climbed the ladder within NZ football, so quickly, has a lot to do with his experience playing and working within a smaller club, where he believes there is a strong understanding of how to make the most of what you have in terms of resources and people power. “The smaller clubs really know how to work together with the community and make the most of what they have in volunteers and other resources. It’s Auckland Football’s role to help clubs in any way we can for the ultimate benefit of the people who register to play the game.”
For Steven, one of the many interesting aspects of the sport, is how players and teams can perform from both a physical and tactical point of view. “Sharp minds can be beneficial and a lot of our coaches use a variety of different resources to help increase mental capabilities. The game of football is a puzzle of problems and players who are able to think for themselves in the moment and work out solutions to those problems will be the ones able go the furthest in the game.”
As an ex-football player himself, the dream began, for Steven, when he was eight-years old and his friend took him down to the local club to play. “My grandfather had been very involved in football back in the UK and it was a passion for him. It quickly became a passion for me also and I’ve been involved ever since.”
Born in Pukekohe, Steven attended Pukekohe Valley Primary School, Intermediate and High School and lived in the region into his early adult life. He played for the local football club and coached men’s and women’s football. From there he went on to study communications at AUT University and became an online producer at TVNZ. But his passion for football was always a big part of his life and he began at Auckland Football as communications manager in 2007.
He spent six years in the role, before moving on to New Zealand Football for a twoand-half-year stint with the national body as communications and media manager. The motivated sportsperson, returned to Auckland Football in January of last year, when he became head of women’s football before moving on to become Chief Operations Officer in June. “I was fortunate enough to be chosen to take on the CEO role earlier in May this year,” he says.
Up until last year he was coaching football but stopped playing a few years ago due to injuries. He was also coaching women’s premier league and the national women’s league for a couple of seasons. “I have experience in playing, coaching and administrating the sport, so hopefully I can put some of that experience to good use,” he says.
While he will always have a passion for the game, he realises that it is healthy to have a varied life and likes to take a step back and enjoy other hobbies when he gets the chance. “I am an average golfer and try to get out and do that as often as possible. I try to get out for a run as much as possible to stay active and I’ve also always been a basketball fan and as an ex-sport’s journalist, I am, of course, a sports nut. I also like to take a breather and read a book or have some down time.”
For now, he is at the pinnacle of his career but he is not sitting on his laurels, instead, he says, there is still a lot of work to do and he hopes to improve upon the existing passion that New Zealanders have for the sport. “Football brings people together and you see that on the fields around New Zealand in abundance.”