Why London is the Socceroos’ home away from home

The Socceroos are in London for their 14th visit to the British capital since 2003. Ahead of their friendly with Colombia on Wednesday (AEDT), we take a look at the Australian national team’s second home on the other side of the globe.

It was an inauspicious start to the Australian national team’s first ever game in the greater London area. 

On a cold November evening in 1970, Luton Town’s £100,000 (A$184,000) striker Malcolm McDonald headed home from a corner midway through the first half. 

But having beaten Greek and Israeli teams in the preceding weeks, the Socceroos – a nickname not yet in common usage at that point – knew they could match this second division English club side. 

Featuring the likes of SBS icon Johnny Warren, Ray Richards, Adrian Alston and Peter Wilson – stars of the team’s FIFA World Cup campaign four years later – Australia battled back with an equaliser before half-time.

To the surprise of around 6,000 spectators at the Kenilworth Road ground, Alston then found a winner in the dying minutes. 

“Luton shocked by eager Australians” and “Australians jolt Luton” were among the headlines in the “brief but respectful notices in the London Press”, according to a dispatch from AAP

It would be more than three decades before the Socceroos recorded another win in London and surrounds.

Clashes with Tottenham and Arsenal in 1984 yielded losses, and it was not until 2003 that the Australian national team returned to the iconic city with an upset over England at Upton Park. 

But in the 15 years that followed, London has transformed into a veritable second home for the Socceroos. 

In the 21st century, Australia have played 13 games in the greater London area at the stadiums of Fulham, Queens Park Rangers, West Ham, Millwall and Reading.

They have lost just twice, accordingly to statistics compiled for The World Game  by Andrew Howe, author of the Encyclopedia of Socceroos (2018) and the FFA’s official statistician. 

In that time, the Socceroos have recorded wins over Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Jamaica and New Zealand, alongside draws with South Africa, Norway and Ghana.

This 61 percent win record is a significant improvement on the team’s all-time percentage, which hovers around a victory in every second match. 

While the Socceroos’ historical connection and impressive form in London may be a nice bonus, practical considerations carry more weight in determining the location of friendlies such as the forthcoming tie against Colombia. 

“The key factor is where most of our players are based and the amount of travel they have done throughout the year,” explains the FFA’s Head of National Performance Luke Casserly, a former Socceroo. 

“Matches are proposed all over the world, however we endeavour to play friendlies in locations which will minimise the travel on most of the playing group.” 

Holding the friendly in London also has added benefits for the Australian coaching staff. 

“Playing in the United Kingdom and Europe allows our staff to visit many of our players and their clubs pre and/or post-match for monitoring purposes,” Casserly continues.

“This helps us to strengthen relationships with the players and their clubs, and get even more out of each camp.” 

Another former Socceroo, Stan Lazaridis, has particularly fond memories of London.

The left-sided player spent some of the best years of his career with West Ham United in east London, and played all 90 minutes in perhaps Australia’s most significant encounter in the English capital. 

“It was an incredible moment,” reflects Lazaridis of the evening in February 2003 that the Socceroos emphatically beat England – a team featuring David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney – on their home turf. 

“It is one thing to beat a team and think you were lucky to get away with it, but we genuinely beat them and beat them well,” says the West Australian, who was capped 58 times for the national team.

“The score-line flattered England – it should have been much more than 3-1!” 

Lazaridis distinctly remembers the vocal crowd during that famous clash at Upton Park.

“There was something electric in the air that night,” he said.

“We had a great crowd – the Aussies in London really came out in their numbers, it almost felt like we were playing at home.” 

London, he says, is a “home away from home” for the Socceroos.

“We have a good army of Australians based there, and plenty of English supporters who like watching us play as well.” 

On Wednesday, thousands of expatriates will throng to Craven Cottage on the banks of the Thames as the Socceroos face Colombia, four days on from their 4-1 defeat to Norway.

While Australians may be accustomed to the historic ground, with the national team having played there on six occasions in 15 years, this time they will face a vocal opposition. 

“London certainly has a ‘home away from home’ feel for us with the strong expat community,” echoes the FFA’s Casserly.

“Though I do expect us to be outnumbered when we play Colombia.” 

While London may have a particular attachment for the Socceroos and their fans, Casserly is buoyed by the knowledge that no matter where his team plays, a loyal following will cheer them along. 

“The support we receive from Australians wherever we are around the globe is appreciated.”

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5 min read
Published 27 March 2018 at 9:47am
By Kieran Pender