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Football Australia set to honour Socceroos 100th anniversary
Football Australia will celebrate the Centenary of the Australian men’s national team on June 17 of this year.
The date marks the 100th anniversary of the Socceroos’ first ever match when a team coached by Alf Morgan – and captained by Alex Gibb – took on New Zealand in Dunedin.
Players from New South Wales and Queensland were chosen for the tour which consisted of 14 games, including three ‘Tests’ against New Zealand. New Zealand won the first game of the series 3-1, with the history books highlighting that William Maunder became the first man to score for Australia when he found the back of the net shortly before half time.
Throughout the remainder of 2022, Football Australia will be acknowledging this significant milestone in Australian sport with a program of activities, events, and initiatives, including the possibility of hosting a celebratory match featuring the Socceroos and New Zealand’s All Whites later in the year.
“The Socceroos are arguably Australia’s most identifiable and popular national sporting team, both at home and abroad, uniting the nation like no other sporting team,” Football Australia Chief Executive Officer James Johnson said in a statement.
“2022 marks the Centenary year of the Australian men’s national team, and since formation, the Socceroos have embodied the spirit of Australia, a local team forged through hard times and adversity, always punching above their weight on the global stage who pull on the green and gold jersey with great pride and a steely sense of responsibility.
“Throughout 2022, Football Australia will pay homage to the players and personalities involved in the Australian men’s national team over the past one hundred years through a series of initiatives, including the unveiling of the Socceroos’ Team of the Century.
“The Socceroos are Australia’s team, and we hope that the Australian football family and supporters alike join Football Australia in celebrating the rich history of the Australian men’s national team during this special Centenary year.”
The first item to be unveiled as part of the program of activities is a coffee-table book titled, “Socceroos: 100 Years of Camaraderie and Courage”, curated by Are Media Books in connection with Football Australia.
Football Australia’s and the Socceroos’ websites and social media channels will also pay tribute to both past and present Socceroos, with an ongoing series of digital and written interviews and features, podcasts, galleries, and interactive experiences to be shared throughout the year.
With the Socceroos having achieved a fifth straight FIFA World Cup qualification for the 2022 edition set to be held in Qatar, Soccerscene chatted with Australian football legend, Football Victoria Hall of Fame inductee, and Football Coaches Australia Executive Committee member Gary Cole to touch on the significance of the occasion and where Australian football goes from here.
How momentous of an occasion is this qualification?
Gary Cole: It’s probably not quite as big as qualifying for the first time in ’74, and then going back in 2006. Because they were from huge periods of not going – this is the fifth time in a row now. I think given how tough this qualification has been on the coaching and playing staff – with COVID quarantine, isolation and playing 16 out of 20 games away from home – it’s a remarkable achievement. And all power to Graham Arnold, his coaching team and the playing group that’s been there over the journey. It’s been Australian Socceroos being proud to wear the green and gold and doing everything they could to get us to another World Cup.
With yourself being such a significant part of Australian football’s history and now being a part of Football Coaches Australia, what’s it like for you seeing Graham Arnold reach what appears to be a definitive moment in his journey so far?
Gary Cole: Arnie’s been a wonderful servant of Australian football for such a long time now as a player and then as a coach. In his role as Socceroos coach, he jumped in to get the group to the Olympics and was doing two jobs during COVID.
In his time as a coach, he’s been incredibly giving to not just other Australian coaches and Football Coaches Australia, but coaches in general. He’s been battered from pillar to post, because not every soccer fan in Australia is a Graham Arnold fan. To think there were some people talking about not wanting to see Australia qualify because Graham would get his just desserts, well the just desserts for Graham are the fact that the team did qualify.
You couldn’t wish for success on anyone more than Graham. It’s no different from Ange doing what he did the last qualifying campaign through essentially the same process, albeit without COVID. I just can’t speak highly enough of the man and the way he’s carried himself throughout all of this. Most people didn’t know that he spent time in quarantine in a hotel by himself and was the only guest at the hotel. He moved to the UK and stayed at his grandma’s place to be around the team when people were locked down. Then he got hung, drawn and quartered because he dared to take his dog out for a walk. It is just fantastic to see, and I know how much it’ll mean for Graham as well. There’s a great joy in it for every soccer fan in the country, I think.
It’s pretty remarkable that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will see the Asian Football Confederation represented by a record six national teams – Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Iran, South Korea and now, Australia. What do you think that signals about Asian football and where it’s at?
Gary Cole: I just think that there should be a red flashing light and a siren sounding the alarm if we needed that. We moved into Asia with the golden generation team and the region was in awe of our players playing in the Premier League. And even going further back than that in the 70s and 80s when I played, the Asian players have always been technically good but physically we were strong and could intimidate, and we won a lot of games in Asia that way.
Now of course the investment in Asian football, and not just the ‘big six’ but across the entire depth and breadth of Asia, has been heavy because in most of the countries it’s the number one sport. There’s been heavy investment into player development, coaching development and facility development, with a growth in players, coaches and administrators and because of where football is in Australia, we just haven’t seen that same level of investment and the truth is that they’ve caught us up. And many of them have gone by us.
Countries like Thailand and Vietnam have proved that on any given day they can beat us as well, because their investment in football is there. It’s fantastic for the region because we went into Asia and we wanted to have that regular contest, we didn’t actually think that would mean it would be harder for us to qualify. Because it’s not proved a whole bunch easier. But it is great that at all levels we get that regular competition and we can continue to grow our game and get better across all levels of it, if we’re going to be successful in Asia going forward.
With the Socceroos qualifying for the World Cup this year and the Matildas set to co-host a massive Women’s World Cup next year with New Zealand, it seems like there’s a lot of positivity in Australian football currently. How do you think the game’s leading stakeholders and authorities can capitalise on this moment?
Gary Cole: If you look back in our history, one of the most significant challenges we’ve had is that we’ve been divided. For some reason we find it incredibly difficult to get on the same page. This is a wonderful time for the Socceroos and the Matildas. We’ve got Trevor Morgan and our under 23s in a semi-final against Saudi Arabia in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup as well.
There’s so much happening with our national teams, men and women. If we can get more people on the same page then the game is going to be better for it. It will continue to grow and go up but we sort do that begrudgingly with an anchor around our neck. Watching the Socceroos game yesterday, how good were those Peru fans? And what you know is that’s a country where, I’m sure they don’t agree on everything, but when they come together and they put on that red and white it means so much. Wouldn’t it be immense in five or even 10-years’ time that’s the football culture that is developing here in Australia? That only comes from being on the same page.
July 20 next year will mark the opening match of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup at Auckland’s Eden Park. Moreover, it will signify the beginning of a historic footballing tournament held by two nations yet to fully realise their potential with the sport on and off the pitch.
The development of facilities and infrastructure that serve to suffice the ever-growing population base and football participation rates within Australia (and New Zealand) is one thing. But to construct amenities with one eye on contributing to a progressive and inclusive Australia that encourages greater overall growth is an entirely separate concern that deserves to be prioritised.
The year leading into the Women’s World Cup will undoubtedly serve as a pivotal stretch in the collective Australian sporting psyche, and capitalising effectively on such an influential period is what Football Australia has endeavoured to do with the launch of its #EQUALISER campaign.
#EQUALISER is an initiative supporting the ‘Community Facilities’ Pillar of its Legacy 23’ Plan, with the sole purpose of delivering adequate female-friendly facilities across the country.
In a time where significant attention is being paid to the necessity of equal pay between men’s and women’s national teams – with the Socceroos and Matildas achieving an equal pay deal in 2019 and the US national teams following suit just last month – the spotlight on women’s football is bigger than it’s ever been. And subsequently, the need to sustainably nurture and foster female football participants presents itself accordingly as being crucial to the growth of the women’s game, something which can be achieved through investment into facilities and infrastructure.
As an Australian football fan, it can be mystifying to see various strategies and prospective plans announced with the intention of leading football to greater heights come and go, which often leaves us pondering how and when they are going to come to fruition. Perhaps it is due to the seemingly ever diminishing state of Australian football media coverage that these plans don’t receive the attention they deserve; the reality is however that these strategies take time to implement and to see the fruits of their labour.
Pertinently though, Football Australia’s #EQUALISER campaign has already proven to be a success.
Having conducted a survey which received more than 6,000 individual responses, Football Australia revealed in their announcement of their #EQUALISER campaign that as little as 8% of respondents believe football actually receives a fair-share of government funding, compared to other sports.
In addition, a new Football Australia report has revealed that only 35% of football facilities across Australia are currently categorised as being female-friendly or gender-neutral.
In the recent Federal Budget, the Government emphasised the importance of maximising the social, economic and sporting outcomes of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 – the single largest women’s sporting event in the world with an estimated one billion viewers set to tune in – and the unique opportunity it presents to influence substantial legacy initiatives.
Furthermore, the Australian Federal Government has announced an investment of $3.1 million over two years to encourage greater participation of women and girls in football, to expand the MiniRoos for Girls Program (for girls aged 6-12 years) and the Girls 12+ Football Your Way Engagement Experience Program.
The funding forms part of Football Australia’s ambitious Legacy ’23 plan to deliver enduring benefits as a result of co-hosting the Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023, including gender parity by 2027, which would see an additional 400,000 female participants.
Early steps are already being taken, with Northern NSW Football (NNSWF) set to welcome nine promised infrastructure upgrades from the Labor Government following the party’s win at the Federal election.
Namely, Dudley United Senior FC is set to receive $320,000 for gender neutral amenities upgrade, disability access and toilets, whilst Garden Suburbs FC will see $400,000 put towards female friendly changerooms. These commitments are a direct result of NNSWF’s strategy to lobby Federal MPs as part of its key strategic priority of Places to Play, as well as the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 Legacy plan.
Within Football NSW, the sport will receive a $10 million boost from the NSW Government as a legacy of hosting matches in the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Separate to this, Ryadalmere Lions FC have received $3 million for improved facilities and new female changing rooms.
In addition, the NSW Football Legacy Program will support football at all levels through the construction of new community facilities, participation initiatives, high performance, leadership and development programs as well as tourism and international engagement. With Football NSW also recently celebrating their biggest Female Football Week yet, it’s evident that the buy-in is there from aspiring female footballers.
To adequately build on hosting what is set to be the biggest-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup, Football Australia must continue to deliver on their word and on the projected plans of the #EQUALISER campaign.