Former Socceroo, NRL forward launch support network for Aussies abroad

Mark Robertson and Cory Paterson Source: Getty Images

Former Socceroo Mark Robertson and ex-NRL forward Cory Paterson have started a support network for Australian footballers looking to make their mark in the UK and Europe.

Robertson played in the NSL and A-League, had nearly a decade in British football and his talented teenage son Alex is currently on the books at Manchester City.

Paterson, whose son is in Liverpool's academy, enjoyed spells in the NRL with the Newcastle Knights, North Queensland Cowboys and Wests Tigers, and had six seasons playing rugby league in the UK.

Both Manchester-based and with sons tied to Premier League clubs, the pair have teamed up to build an organisation called Aussie Football Ambassadors (AFA) that will assist and mentor the next generation of young Aussie professionals plying their trade overseas.

“We want to help the young players coming through in the UK and in Europe,” Robertson told The World Game.

“I’ve helped a lot of kids in the past anyway, as a by-product of being a Socceroo myself and playing in this country for 10 years, I’ve helped a lot of my friends’ sons.

"So I’ll speak to Scotty Chipperfield, I’ll speak to Stuart Young, Chris Coyne, Hayden Foxe, Lucas Neill – they all got boys coming through – Timmy Cahill.

“We’ve all had this conversation and we all know the pitfalls that are going to present themselves and, really, it’s just (that) I have more of a flexibility and a desire to try and help as many people as I can because I maybe didn’t have the career some of the other boys had.

“So I’m thinking (about) how I could have done better, and how I could (steer) some of these players away from the pitfalls that I had, and then maybe try and guide them in the right direction. That’s probably my driving force, more than anything.”

The son of Scottish-born former Socceroo Alex, Robertson grew up in Sydney and won an NSL grand final with Wollongong Wolves in 2000.

The defender played for Burnley, Swindon Town, Dundee, St. Johnstone and Stockport County in the UK, and earned his sole senior cap for Australia under Frank Farina in 2001.

Robertson retired in 2009 and his 17-year-old son is now impressing at the Sky Blues’ academy, having represented England at youth level and turned out for the Young Socceroos at the start of 2020.

The 43-year-old says he and Paterson want to give back to the next brigade of Aussie talent through advice and support, who might be battling homesickness or loneliness on foreign shores, and that there is no hidden agenda.

“It’s important that people understand this is voluntary – we’ve both got jobs, we’ve both got investments, families, other things that we do with our time, so anything we do with the Aussie Football Ambassadors is completely voluntary and something that we do out of generosity or a feel-good factor,” Robertson said.

“All of these boys will have their agents. We are not there to take over any roles of any agents, we’re there to support agents. And I think what you’ll find in time is that a lot of the boys’ agents will contact me directly.

“It’s not an agency, it’s an organisation that’s there to help and support these players. We can help fill the void between home and careers – and I think that’s a really important part and it’s an emotional void - you’ve left behind your family, your friends, your lifestyle.”

The AFA plan to eventually hold events and get-togethers next year when the COVID-19 situation improves. 

Paterson retired from professional rugby league last year and now runs a café in Astley in Greater Manchester.

The 33-year-old turned to Robertson for advice on his son’s fledgling career, now in the Under-11s with the Reds, and from there the idea of the AFA was born.

“Robbo’s been in the sport, done it professionally and lived the life within football,” Paterson said.

“Obviously with young Alexander coming through the ranks and blazing his own trail now, just straight away we had a bit of commonality with each other being Australians in England. They’re easy conversations with Robbo because we’re the same type of people.

“So when this thing came up it was good to bounce an idea off him and see where he wanted to take it and where we could take it. Together, I think we can help a lot of young people.

“The sport of football and rugby league are just vehicles that got us to where we are now. The experiences are all 99.9% the same, the challenges are all the same, it’s just different vehicles that got us here.

“The whole common thing about homesickness, having no support, how you deal with injuries in a cold, dark, rainy country where you don’t have anyone to be there for you, where to live, your taxes, your medical insurance is different – the whole thing is different, it’s a different country.

“When Robbo came out here, he didn’t have anyone except his immediate family, I was the same, so if we can help young men over here, help them in their day-to-day off-field stuff, chase their dream and make it more achievable, that’s what we’re trying to do.

"We don’t want anything out of it, we just want maybe one day they say ‘cheers for the help’.

“There’s a lot of emotion into it, both of our kids are in the system, we did it ourselves without any help so it’s coming from a really organic and authentic place.

"It’s something we think can help, and there isn’t many better things than helping people.

“We don’t need the money, we’re not getting any money, but it’s good for your soul doing this type of stuff.”