If Noureddine ‘Dino’ Maamria ever calls time on his football career and looks for a job outside the game, he may well make a fortune in the salvage business. Whilst spending most of his playing and managerial career below the radar of most football supporters, he has earned a name for himself as a saviour-manager in the non-league game. He may also be the only manager anywhere in the world who was brought up in a tent, named a goat after Gary Lineker, and has a penchant for rap music.
The tent and the goat hail from his childhood near the city of Gafsa, central Tunisia, where Maamria was born on 26 May 1971. He speaks fondly of his poor upbringing, living in the tent for his first four years and running ten miles to school and back every day with his sister and five brothers. People laughed when he said he wanted to be a footballer, as ‘no one ever went from the desert to the big city’, as he puts it. The young striker joined the youth system at Avenir Sportif de La Marsa at the age of 18. Having been selected to play for the Tunisia U21 side in 1991, he fought his way into the first team that same season. The real highlight came in 1994 with a 1-0 President’s Cup Final win over Étoile Sportive du Sahel. After a season playing for Club Olympique des Transports in Tunis, he moved to England where Burnley scout Brian Miller offered him a two-week trial at Turf Moor in 1996. Maamria earned a short-term contract after scoring in a reserve team match against Bradford.
Unfortunately his short time at Burnley was marred by a broken leg, and he was released at the end of 1996 without making a first-team appearance. It was during his time out with the injury that he started studying for his coaching badges, a prescient act from a 25-year-old. Part of his time was spent coaching at the Burnley Academy, a role he continued for a number of years. He spent the remainder of the 1996-97 season playing for Glentoran before making two appearances for Ayr United in 1997-98. He next appeared in July 1998 at Doncaster Rovers, just relegated from the Football League. Doncaster played him on the wing in his first season, and as a striker in his second when he played without a contract. During his second season he finished top scorer and attracted a bid from Cardiff City. For some reason, the move did not take place and Maamria was released in the summer of 2000 after scoring 13 goals in 56 appearances in a struggling side. In 1999 he obtained the UEFA B Licence and continued to ply his trade as a player while coaching with Burnley.
Maamria had one productive season with Southport in 2000-01 in which the Sandgrounders finished fourth in the Conference, their highest position since relegation from the Football League in 1978. In July 2001 he moved on to Leigh RMI, who had just finished in fifth place, one point behind Southport. He also completed the UEFA A Licence at the same time.
In February 2003, Graham Westley of struggling Conference rivals Stevenage Borough tried to sign Maamria, who was Leigh’s leading scorer with 13 goals. Despite a transfer fee having been agreed, he rejected the move in favour of staying to assist with Leigh’s own fight against the drop. Three days later he changed his mind and headed south for a five-figure fee. It was the start of a relationship with both Westley and Stevenage that would continue to the present day. Maamria scored five goals in ten games to help secure Conference status for Stevenage. He spent the summer of 2003 playing for USL side Charleston, then managed by Chris Ramsey, and helped them to win the A-League championship. Returning to Stevenage in September, he was a regular as the side started to challenge for Football League status. After a near miss in 2004, Borough made the playoffs in 2005 with a fifth-place finish. A 2-1 aggregate win over Hereford took them to the final where they were beaten 1-0 by Carlisle United at the Britannia Stadium. Stevenage missed the playoffs in 2006, finishing sixth, and he was released at the end of the season after scoring 33 goals in 96 games during his second spell with the club.
Despite being 35 by this stage, he chose to continue playing with former club Southport who were struggling near the foot of the Conference. The connection with Graham Westley reappeared in January 2007 when he signed Maamria as player-coach for his new club Rushden & Diamonds, late of the Football League. After Westley was sacked after just two months in the job, Maamria was soon back at Southport on loan for the remainder of the season. Unfortunately he was unable to prevent their relegation to Conference North. Despite having signed an eighteen-month contract with Rushden, he moved on to Conference rivals Northwich Victoria during the summer of 2007.
Northwich started the season very poorly against a backdrop of unpaid tax bills, winding-up orders, players not being paid and regular changes of manager. His first job in management came unexpectedly when Northwich caretaker manager Paul Warhurst resigned in September 2007. Northwich were bottom of the Conference with one point from eleven games and had just entered administration. Northwich lost their first game under their new player-manager, 3-1 at home to Woking. However, they took themselves off the bottom of the table in his second game with a 1-1 draw at home to Kidderminster, and an unlikely revival was underway. Form improved steadily, and after a successful takeover of the club in December 2007, Maamria was appointed manager on a permanent basis. Against all the odds, a 2-1 win at former club Stevenage in the penultimate game ensured another season in the Conference. Ironically, the win also ended Stevenage’s bid for the playoffs. It had been such an extraordinary turnaround that Maamria was named Conference Manager of the Year. Things were looking better for Northwich but there was a sting in the tail. After a poor start to 2008-09, Maamria was suspended on 30 September 2008 and sacked a month later for reasons that have never been explained.