The contribution Indigenous Australians have made to the sport of football, or soccer, has been rich, diverse and plentiful. So, with the Socceroos battling to match it with the world’s best, should the celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander athletes be stronger in ‘the beautiful game’?
Harry Williams was first Indigenous Socceroos player and in 1974 was also a member of the first Australian team to play at a FIFA World Cup.
Since Williams, a host of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soccer players have made their mark on the game, including A-League and Socceroos star and Olympian Jade North, Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams, Kyah Simon, Travis Dodd, James Brown, Jada Whyman and Allira Toby.
Before them, there were the trailblazers such as John Moriarty, Charles Perkins and Bridgette Star.
Although the other major football codes in Australia have reached a point where such contributions are significantly publicised and the pathways for talented athletes are well set, the achievements of players such as the above mentioned, receive much less attention.
But that is something that Football Federation Australia and the Professional Footballers’ Association are hoping to change.
In 2016, the FFA launched the National Indigenous Football Championships.
At the time, FFA CEO David Gallop said soccer should be doing more to promote Indigenous achievement.
“Football’s got some catching up to do, in terms of embracing the Indigenous communities and making sure we provide opportunity for Indigenous boys and girls to play football, so I think this championship that we’re launching today is an overdue step,” he said.
Professional Footballers Australia CEO John Didulica agrees that the talent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander athletes possess is something that needs to be further showcased.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the alchemy needed to produce a truly world class footballer sits within our Indigenous community,” Didulica told NITV.
“In committing to this vision, the PFA has partnered with John Moriarty Football to drive engagement in football in remote areas, particularly in Borroloola which is nearly a thousand kilometres from Darwin.
“Most recently, the Socceroos donated close to $100,000 to JMF in support of this project. And we are already seeing some benefits with young Shay Evans, one of the beneficiaries of this sponsorship, picked in a Young Matildas camp.
“There is so much more that we can and need to do. Talent pathways and talent identification are fragmented and the competition from other sports is fierce.
“A generation ago it was unthinkable to have so many indigenous players within the AFL; but through the leadership of individuals within the Aussie Rules community and within the Indigenous community, the tide turned. Football must do the same. It’s the only (way) we can cultivate the talent that is created within those unique and special environments.”
Didulica and the PFA is committed to supporting these players and celebrating the contributions of those who have come before, as well as the players working hard to carve their own path.
“If you go back to the ‘60s and look at the commentary and the leadership that someone like Charles Perkins built through football,” Didulica said.
“You look at similarly someone like John Moriarty and what they did for their culture in the early 60s and what they learnt through football. It’s a great feather in football’s cap that they were able to nurture and develop two really important Australians.
“We had an Indigenous player in the 1974 World Cup team in Harry Williams. These are incredible stories and you fast forward to modern times and Jade North, when Newcastle Jets won the A-League nearly a decade ago now, he was the first Indigenous captain of a championship winning Australian team, from memory.
“Lydia Williams and Kyah Simon are two of our best ever women’s footballers.
“So there’s such a rich history and disproportionately important contribution that football’s made to the Indigenous community and vice versa.
“It’s really a story we need to start telling a lot more effectively and widely, both from a selfish perspective to show the world what the game’s doing and what it can do, but also to inspire the next generation of Indigenous athletes about what football can do and help them achieve.”
Watch all the action from the 2018 FIFA World Cup on SBS. For broadcast information, go here.
See all fixtures & results from the World Cup here.