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Australian football's future: how best to maintain the greater interest achieved in recent decades

By Chris Lewis - posted Thursday, 8 April 2021

While it is difficult for Australia to become a major football power, there are reasons why football will long remain a major sport in Australia.

Unlike nations where football is by far the most important sport and produces a much larger talent pool due to vastly bigger populations, such as Brazil and Germany, Australia's relatively small population has six major professional or semi-professional team sports that can lure our best athletes. They are AFL, rugby league, rugby union, football, basketball and cricket.

Nevertheless, rather than bemoan this reality, we should celebrate Australia's love of sport that enables so many sports to flourish, a reality that enables many young Australians to play at the highest level and possibly earn a living.


Just recently, Sam Kerr, Australia's highest paid female footballer, signed a lucrative contract with Chelsea reportedly worth around $2 million for a two-and-a-half year deal.

But the reality of a smaller talent pool does make it difficult for Australia to produce enough world class footballers to win a World Cup.

With our best ever World Cup squad being the 2006 team full of top class players playing in Europe's top leagues, with nine of Australia's then 23-man squad represented in Premier League sides and four others playing in the Spanish La Liga and Serie A in Italy, we did perform admirably beating Japan 3-1, drawing 2-2 with Croatia, although losing to Brazil 2–0 and then Italy 1-0 in the last 16.

It has been argued that the 2006 team was the result of players learning their trade from the old ethnic-supported soccer clubs of the previous National Soccer League (NSL) when player development was central to the mission of these clubs, in contrast to the few top players that have been produced since the A-League clubs developed their own private (and expensive) soccer academies.

However, while several theories persist to explain the decline of Australian players overseas, there is also much greater competitionwith players from new country sources as indicated in the Premier League which now has a greater presence of players from Liberia, Tanzania and Gabon given "the net of talent is wider than ever".

But, with Australia still having 101 Australians playing overseas (as of 2019), the potential for talent remains given that many Australians now consider football to be a mainstream sport after earlier years where the sport was referred to as wogball, directed primarily at fans mainly of southern and European backgrounds.


Football has come a long way.

At the club level, the NSL by 1997 was hosting a record grand final crowd of 40,000.

At the international level, when once 20,000 packed into Olympic Park to see Australia draw with Scotland, and I personally witnessed annoyed Scottish fans mocking the so-called wog component of the crowd, by 1997 I enjoyed the electric atmosphere of 98,000 at the MCG when cheering and sighing as Australia blew its 2-0 lead against Iran to draw and end its 1998 World Cup campaign.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis, who completed a First Class Honours degree and PhD (Commonwealth scholarship) at Monash University, has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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