Stevenage boss Maamria relishing new season
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
It’s a long way from Gafsa, on the fringes of the Sahara desert, in south-west Tunisia, to Hertfordshire, but Dino Maamria has made the journey back to his spiritual home.
Maamria is fast earning a reputation for ruthlessness in the way he is reshaping his squad this summer after the disappointment of the Broadhall Way outfit finishing in 16th position in League Two last season.
Maamria took over the reigns at the Lamex after previous boss Darren Sarll had been axed in mid-March following a series of underwhelming results with an underachieving squad.
Since then the 46-year-old Maamria has been steadily remoulding Boro’s playing personnel with the addition of a whole new team of new signings.
Holding court at Boro’s Bragbury End training ground, the nerve centre of the club, the engaging Maamria was bullish about next season – and he wants as many Stevenage fans as possible to back the Boro.
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He said: “We need to get the fans back in. It is my responsibility as manager to bring the brand of football they are wanting to watch here and we need the whole town together.
“I know the chairman, Phil Wallace, is talking about having average attendances of 4,000.
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“We need to achieve that. Hopefully we can start the season well and hopefully fans will see the brand of football we want to be playing and they return and back us in large numbers.”
Maamria’s life could be turned into a film. He grew up in Tunisia poor, but with big dreams.
The youngest of seven children he grew up street-smart with a quick wit and ability to appraise situations immediately.
While his football-mad friends on the dusty streets of Gafsa held ambitions to be doctors and engineers, all Maamria wanted to do was become a professional footballer.
Former Burnley scout Brian Miller spotted the teenager playing up front for a team from the tourist resort of Sousse, Etoile Sportive du Sahel, while on holiday in the country and offered him a two-week trial.
He then made the leap to post-industrial Lancashire and never looked back, fighting harder than anyone through the travails the sporting life has thrown at him.
“Yes it was a culture shock, coming to England. It was cold, it was dark. Everything closed at 5pm just when I wanted to go out and have a coffee,” he added.
“In Tunisia you would go out with your friends for a coffee in the evening, but in Burnley, everything was closed at 6pm. If you wanted a coffee you had to go to a pub.
“I remember sitting in pubs drinking coffee with the rain lashing down outside. Some people would have got homesick and given up.
“But I am a fighter. And don’t forget I was living my dream of becoming a professional footballer – in England, the home of football.”
A broken leg early in his career saw his Claret hopes stall, but he was always a student of the game, and relished helping other young players through coaching – including future England player and Burnley alumni Jay Rodriguez.
A charismatic character, with a ready smile may offer a misleading view of his personality – but woe betide anyone who mistakes his geniality for weakness. Maamria is as tough as they come.
He works out in the gym on a daily basis and has the toned torso and muscles to prove it, but it is his mental strength that is most impressive.
Thousands of miles away from home in a cold, strange land, with little English, he thrived as he progressed through the difficult world of professional football.
He arrived at Stevenage and proceeded to be part of the team that challenged at the top level of non-league football to the point where Maamria is already revered as a club icon.
He was also No2 to the abrasive but successful Graham Westley as the club continued their ascent through the fourth tier.
Fuelled by a desire to be his own man and a curiosity to see if he could cut it as a manager he worked hard at non-league outposts Northwich Victoria, Southport and Nuneaton Town – before being headhunted by astute businessman Wallace who knows a good manager when he sees one.
Maamria said proudly: “I am delighted to be back in Stevenage. This is my town and my family still live here. But I’m not here just to have fun. I want to bring success back to this club. I love this club and I know the fans.
“We will be working as hard as we can to do this. Yes I am demanding. Yes I expect my players to give everything for the shirt. But I am also excited at the prospect of next season.
“I don’t care that I was born poor and lived in a tent. That’s just headlines. There is more to me than that. I am proud that I am the first African to manage in the Football League and I am determined to do well.”
After the challenges impressive Maamria has already faced in his life, not many will bet against this force of nature bringing the feel-good factor back to the Boro.