Huddersfield Town Women FC’s new manager Steve Appleton has told how working in the Prison Service helped prepare him for football management. 

Steve, 52, has worked in six different prisons around the country including in the Midlands, Staffordshire and Merseyside. Working mainly with young adults, Steve revealed the extent of football culture behind prison walls. 

He said: “It’s huge, there are a lot of different people mixing. From an inmate perspective there is a hell of a lot of talent in there. I got to meet some quite high profile professionals who had been on the news. However there was some unbelievable talent in the amateur players. 

“It wasn’t just football, though, there were a lot of talented offenders in the music and arts sections too. Unfortunately these people fall on the wrong side of the tracks and only show their talent when in prison. It’s like when they get out, you never hear of them and it’s like they only show their talent in the wrong places.” 

Steve applied to be a prison officer after deciding on a career change in 2002. 

He said: “I was in a sales job and I was up and down the motorway all the time constantly caught in traffic and I just got sick of it. I thought I needed something else, and the Prison Service was recruiting and so I applied. I then moved up the ranks from prison officer and ended up becoming the manager for the PE department.”

Steve Appleton is the Terriers new boss

Alongside Steve’s job in the prison he played in the 2009 men’s prison staff world championship in Canada and then managed the women’s team in the world championship in 2011 in New York. This eventually led him into a career in women’s football outside of prison life.

On playing and managing in those teams, Steve said: “I have coached both in the men’s and women’s game from amateur to elite level, including coaching at Liverpool Feds, Stoke City and now at Huddersfield Town. 

“My main career up until 2015 was working for the Prison Service. I played for the national prison service men’s team and then managed the women’s team. I had to retire from playing because of a knee injury. 

“I remember going over to Canada and playing for the prison staff team in a world championship. The women’s team was over there too but without a manager so we just started helping out. Once we got back to England I got more involved and eventually became manager. In 2011 we went out to the women’s world championship in New York which was an amazing experience.” 

READ MORE: Former Huddersfield Town Women chairman David Mallin looks back on a tremendous 12 years in charge.

Based in Liverpool the new Town boss spent much of the last 18 months abroad. Having left the Prison Service Steve wanted a different life experience and ended up going out to Qatar to help build a successful women’s team. 

Leaving England in 2018, he returned for a short break before going back out to Qatar until July 2020.

On his experience out there, he said: “There are a lot of ex-pats who are out there with their families. I was working for the Qatar FA and we wanted to get more females into playing football. There was a wide variety of different nations so you ended up working with people from all across Europe. 

“I worked at the Swiss International School out there. We would start games with a Mexican keeper, a Dutch midfielder, a Swedish right-back, a winger from Pakistan and the other winger from Jordan and a Brazilian striker, then the rest were from Qatar. Football is a truly international game and that was a great experience. 

“I had the opportunity to join a semi-pro club called Al Dafna whilst out there.

Steve Appleton loved his time in Qatar

“It’s a weird one working out there because you need to play six players from Qatar on the pitch at any one time. A lot of the players don’t play for the money because they are already very wealthy and it’s not like in England where we play just for the love of the game. So unless you have a really interested player, they tend to not be that bothered.” 

Whilst out there Steve saw the amount of work that has been put in place for when the 2022 World Cup hits the shores of Qatar. 

On living in the country, said: “Life out there was absolutely fantastic, but you do hear of the horror stories about injuries of migrant workers, working on the new stadiums. It wasn’t ever headline news over there though. From my experience and from what I saw, the infrastructure and facilities for the World Cup are phenomenal. 

“Whilst there I went to cup finals and league matches. The stadiums are never full and you don’t pay for tickets. A lot of the time the workers are bussed to and from the stadium. They can go into the games and have some food but that’s it. Whilst they are glad to have the World Cup most of the appetite for football comes from the ex-pat communities rather than the locals. 

“They have the Aspire facility which is what all sports people in Qatar come through. However you never really see a player come from there and become a star in Europe. A lot of the coaches who work in the Aspire academy are from Europe.” 

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Since returning to England Steve joined up with the Terriers becoming their first team coach under previous Town manager Jordan Wimpenny. With Jordan departing the club because of personal reasons there was only one man for the job.

On becoming manager of Town, Steve said: “I didn’t have any plans to climb over Jordan for his job. Things have just happened the way they have. 

“I knew David Mallin (former Town chairman) from when I brought my Stoke City side here to play. I knew there was a lot of respect for David and that he ran Town very well. So coming in I knew I was joining a good club. Obviously David has now stepped down and Allison Bamforth has taken over. Allison and I have already built a good relationship and I’m excited to see where we can take the club. 

“This is the best and most talented squad of players I have ever worked with. It’s a real privilege to help them develop. What is apparent is that the club has always invested time and effort into its squad and the sort of characters they like around the place. David has done a tremendous job in where he has got the club to. 

“Allison has some fresh ideas and we’ll be working through them. However I know I’m in a good place here and the challenge is exciting.” 

Steve insists that he’d like to see the club one day play in the Championship and believes it can get there. That’s despite the fact the financial gulf between both leagues is huge. 

He said: “We always want to aim as high as we can. First of all I want us to be consistent and look to challenge at the top of the table as the club has for the past few seasons. 

“It would be great to challenge for the title and then look at the promotion situation. I know finances have to be considered and that is something both David and Allison are very good with.

“However I really would love to see the club make that next step and I think we can make that transition. Everything is so positive at the club at the moment and that’s a brilliant starting point for us.”