Having racked up over 200 A-League appearances, won a Championship and played an enormous role in building the outstanding playing culture of the club, Mariners Skipper John Hutchinson goes 1v1 with the PFA to discuss the rise of the A-League, what the keys are to further growth, life after football and much more.

You are now in your 10th season in the A-League what are your memories of the build-up to that first season?

JH: It was strange at the time I remember thinking I hope it works and I hope we get paid, these seem like small things but that was what it was like in the NSL. At Northern Spirit we had gone nine months without wages and with a new league we did not know what to expect.

That first season was hugely successful for the club, did you exceed even you own expectations?

JH: There has never been big expectations on the club at the start of any season. The first season was no different. We had some fantastic players that first year, like our captain Noel Spencer, Tom Pondeljak, Andre Gumprecht and Michael Beauchamp. We ended up finishing third and made the Grand Final, where we unfortunately lost, but that kind of set the scene for what we were all about.

I was out of the Grand Final with a knee reconstruction but to see the amount of people and the build-up was massive. That game set the tone for the A-League and we have now moved forward from that. We are building, and the standard has grown and we just need to make sure the infrastructure grows throughout the league.

On that point of infrastructure there has been a lot of change at the Mariners hasn’t there?

JH: We used to train on a pitch with a burnt out car in the middle during the John Aloisi and Tony Vidmar days and to take them there and show them that training field was pretty embarrassing for the players. We used to wait for text messages everyday to find out where we were training. To turn up every day and have your own change room, training field and gym is fantastic and I always tell the boys to respect it because people had to work hard to get it and the players in the past went without a lot to get to where we are know.

The players at the club seem to have a very strong connection with the local community, how has that been achieved?

JH: During preseason we try to get out there as much as possible in the community to get people behind us. Without the community I don’t think this club would still be here. During the season it drops off a bit but during Christmas I had the privilege to go to the Children’s hospital and see their smiling faces, it knocks you back to reality and you realise just how fortunate you are.

During your time at the club does the Championship win of 2013 stand out as the highlight?

JH: From a playing point of view that Championship win of course. We had strived for it for so long, and come so close, and to finally break the duck and get one was fantastic. Beyond that the friendships you make and people you will stay in touch with for the rest of your life is massive and something that has been a real important part of being at the club.

There has been a few tough times at the club how have you and the players got through them?

JH: I remember when we weren’t getting paid and the boys stuck together and were shouting each other money and Graham Arnold dipped into his pocket for the players and you feel just how much the boys care for each other.

Having been part of the decision of the players to close down the old NSL, how satisfying has the growth of the A-League been for you, especially considering all the sacrifices the players have made along the way to get to this point?

JH: Hugely satisfying because you know just how hard it was for many players and what they sacrificed to get the competition to where it is. The growth of the A-League has been unbelievable and I don’t think anyone expected it from season one. If it can keep going then we can give the young players coming through the right platform.

Over the course of the A-League the style of football and the speed has changed so much. The crowds that now come in to the games are fantastic and the professionalism of the clubs has improved a lot. The players that now come in from overseas or Australians that come back make a big difference. Mile Sterjovski and John Aloisi’s time at the club was massive and gave the players a lot of knowledge and wisdom. Even now a player like Carl Valeri coming back in his prime is helping all the young players and making the standard in improve.

What is the key to attracting the best players to the A-League?

JH: You have to offer these players something that is attractive to them as these guys are professionals and have options to play all over the world. The more the competition grows and the better the infrastructure you build you are going to be able to get these top Aussies to come back at some point. They have so much knowledge to hand back to young players. At the Mariners we have seen with the likes of Mile Jedinak just how important the older players were when he was at the club in the helping him prepare for going to Europe.

You have racked up over 200 A-League appearances but what are your plans for life after football?

JH: I went and took my B-License in Wales and my missus told me my arms are painted on so they are no good. All I know is football and I want to coach and become a Manager one day but obviously you have to go through the stepping stones. I’m coming off contract now and I’m not sure what is going to happen and you do get worried about what the future is going to hold. Obviously I hope ten years in the A-League means something I can stay involved in it in some capacity.

Finally, what has the process been like going down the coaching path?

JH: I found it easier going to Wales to do my coaching badges then doing it in Australia. I went over there and did an eight or nine-day course and then flew home and they bent over backwards to help me. Where here in Australia we have tried numerous times to do the C-license at the Mariners but it has not been possible. In Europe you skip the C and go straight to the B-License being a professional footballer, where here it is tough. I have looked at all the courses here and they all run during the season and it’s too hard. Hopefully in Australia they can start helping the professional players get their coaching qualifications as ultimately it is in the best interests of the game.

Each week the PFA will go 1v1 with a member to gain an insight into their lives on and off the pitch.