Paston's unique journey

Mark Paston never had a burning ambition to be a goalkeeper.

Mark Paston never had a burning ambition to be a goalkeeper.

In fact, he freely admits he'd love to be firing the ball into the back of the net rather than trying to keep shots out.

"I think if I had a choice now and I was talented enough I'd probably be a striker. They seem to get all the glory and all the money," the Wellington Phoenix goalie said with a laugh.

Paston was in his early teens when he found himself stuck between the sticks for the first time while playing for his Hawke's Bay junior representative team.

"I was a centre back until I was about 14 or 15 and someone chucked me in goal and I did all right," he recalled.

"We needed a reserve goalkeeper at the time and I think we had a penalty shootout actually and I basically ended up doing quite well."

"I think I ended up in a tournament that year and did quite well there and it went from there really."

"I definitely didn't have eyes on being a goalkeeper when I was younger."

Paston has not followed the typical path of a professional footballer, describing himself as something of a late developer.

After several seasons playing national league football with Napier City Rovers he turned his attentions to study in his early 20s, completing a degree in computer science at university in Wellington.

After that, as many Kiwis do, he headed to London to live for a year.

"Then I decided I'd just give it (football) a bash for one more time to see what happened," he explains.

"I came back to New Zealand had half a season in the New Zealand Football Championship then went overseas with the All Whites at the Confederations Cup (in 2003)."

"And then after that got the trial at Bradford City and they ended up signing me."

Paston spent the next three years in Britain playing for Bradford, Walsall and St Johnstone.

But it proved to be a difficult time for the shot-stopper who was plagued by injuries.

"It's a hard place to make a living at the best of times but when you're picking up injuries it's really difficult to keep things going in the right direction," he says.

"It was a frustrating time for me over there but I ended up coming back and playing for the (now defunct New Zealand) Knights in the end and it went from there."

Paston believes that time spent in the UK has made him appreciate what he has now with the Wellington Phoenix.

"I learned how good the lifestyle is here in New Zealand. Obviously the weather's nicer and you play on good pitches in front of good crowds," he said.

"We've got a great set-up here in Wellington and you don't sort of complain about things too much when you realise what you could be doing in the UK in the freezing cold and mud."

Those early set-backs also helped strengthen Paston's resolve, something which has stood him in good stead at the Phoenix where he had to battle All Whites team-mate Glenn Moss for the No.1 jersey before the latter's departure to Melbourne Victory this season.

"It's like that saying 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger'," he said. "You do realise it's a good living. You can't complain about things too much any more. We realise we're pretty lucky to be doing what we're doing."

There is plenty of buzz around New Zealand football at the moment as well thanks to the All Whites being on the cusp of reaching the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Paston has vague recollections of the last time New Zealand was in the World Cup back in 1982 (he was six at the time) and would love nothing more than to raise the sport's profile even higher with victory against Bahrain in the final leg of their World Cup qualifier in Wellington next month.

The 32-year-old, who became a father for the first time in August when wife Amie gave birth to Jack, was in superb form to ensure the New Zealanders kept a clean sheet in Manama in the first leg.

"There is a massive potential for football in this country and part of that came out in '82 and there were thousands of people watching national league games back then," he said.

"I think there is the potential for that to happen again here. A good result on November 14 would help and hopefully the sport goes from strength after that."

"The fact the stadium has sold out so quickly shows what potential there is for football in this country."

"For me that's the big thing - get the football out there and get everyone playing and watching and hopefully it snowballs from there."