Steph Catley chats about overcoming challenges, good coffee, and her new spot at Arsenal
The recent addition to Arsenal's defense talks about her most treasured moments on the pitch, including playing in the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, as well as what it's been like to join her club during the pandemic. Plus, she shares the advice she'd offer her younger self and what she finds utterly priceless.
Australian Steph Catley has already exceeded her ultimate goals as an athlete. As a member of The Matildas, Australia's Women's National Soccer Team, she realised her childhood dream of playing in the FIFA Women's World Cup and the Olympics. The 26-year-old fullback also won the W-League Championship five times, including captaining her former club Melbourne City to an elusive three-peat, with a trio of successive W-League Grand Finals victories from 2016 to 2018. Numerous league awards later, Catley topped it off by being voted the first woman to appear on the cover of EA Sports' FIFA 16. After achieving success in her home country and three US clubs, Catley headed to the UK this July to gear up for Arsenal FC. We caught up with her to chat about how she's been welcomed to her new club, how she bounces back from life's challenges, and her most treasured memories from the pitch.
Tell us about the most important things to you, off the pitch. What's priceless to you?
The most priceless thing for me is when you're at a really good café having a really great coffee with someone that you love. Coffee with family or someone I'm close with, for me, is priceless because I'm with someone I love spending time with and I'm also a bit of a coffee fiend. So it's my two favourite things combined.
What's one moment that has impacted your life, and what did you learn from it?
It's hard to speak about, but my dad passed away two years ago. I think that's one of the hardest things to go through as a human being. It gives you a lot of perspective on life and really makes you appreciate the small things and to really cherish every single moment you have with the people you love and the people around you. I think that's been a moment in my life that has made me into a stronger person and made me appreciate life in a way that I hadn't really before. As much as it's hard to talk about, it's made me into the person I am today.
How has the return to play without fans been for you?
Playing in front of fans, especially in front of home fans—there's nothing really quite like it, and it really does give you the extra boost and feeling that an extra player is out there. As professionals, we just get on with the game no matter what we're up against, and this is just another hurdle that we've all had to overcome. We've had to adapt the way that we play— you just have to be ready and get the most out of yourself regardless.
But we definitely miss having the fans out there. There's nothing that can replicate having all those people behind you and pushing you towards winning and scoring goals. We can't wait to have them back, that's for sure.
How were you made to feel part of the Arsenal family despite all these challenges during COVID-19?
I guess that's a bonus of social media. When I signed, there was a lot of love and tweets and Instagram messages, so even all the way in Australia I felt the love. And now that I'm with the team, it's been the same. Obviously, I can't see them on the ground, but they're definitely there, reaching out.
What are your top three moments on the pitch?
My national team debut, up until that point, was my biggest dream and ultimate goal as a footballer, so to achieve that was pretty special. Another favourite was my first World Cup, playing against the US in a sold-out crowd—massive stadium, a huge occasion, and it fulfilled all my expectations of what a World Cup would be like.
Winning the three-peat with Melbourne City was really special. I loved being a part of that and captaining the team. To look back and say I was part of a three-peat, which is pretty special in any sport, is pretty neat.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
When I was younger, I cared a bit too much about what people were thinking and tried too hard to prove myself, rather than just knowing what I'm good at and believing in myself. I would say don't dwell on those small things and get on with it.
Tell us about a significant challenge you've faced.
About a month before the Olympics, at camp in Brazil, they found a stress fracture in my foot. It was touch and go to see if I would still be able to participate with the squad. I went into full-on rehab with zero football training, zero running. I was in the pool and in the gym twice a day just trying to get back, and I was completely separated. So, for me, that was one of the hardest lead-ups to a major tournament. It was a mental struggle and something I had to build upon. It was a massive challenge, but I got through it and got to play in every single game in the Olympics.