Australia prides itself on its international sporting teams. Frankly, most punch well above their weight on a per capita basis.
On Friday morning, the national team I care about the most took on China PR in its opening match of third round World Cup qualifying. The result was more than pleasing and many Australians punched the air three times somewhere between 4 and 6am, as the Socceroos towelled up what was a very disappointing opposition.
Those willing to emotionally invest in the nation’s male football team cause themselves much grief and anxiety, but every now and then enjoy a moment of ecstasy.
We are all hoping for a little more of that joy as the qualification campaign continues and should people reflect on who the Socceroos are as a team as they watch, they may well discover the kernels of an incredibly powerful metaphor.
It is a metaphor laced with inspiration, inclusivity and equality, as well as being something potentially powerful in a world still cursed by racism, bigotry, division and the lack of knowledge that fuels all three.
The 11 men who took to the pitch against the Chinese articulated a wonderful story. It is a story of culture, migration and diversity and one that should feature more prominently when Australia seeks understanding around unsavoury incidents that continue to call the average Australian’s degree of empathy and acceptance into question.
Outstanding on the night and seemingly destined to be one of Australia’s best Socceroos of the modern era, Kenyan born Awer Mabil continues to inspire. Mabil’s parents are from South Sudan and lived the frightful existence as refugees before finding a home in Adelaide.
Still just 25, the Denmark-based attacker appears to be a wonderful man, professional and lightning rod.
Playing on his right shoulder was Tom Rogic, one of Celtic’s best and a player born in the nation’s capital. Rogic is one of thousands of Australians who call Serbia an ancestral home, another nation whose political past has seen many arrive in Australia, desperate for something better.
Just a few paces further across the pitch was Martin Boyle, one of the freshest Socceroo faces. Born in Scotland yet with strong bloodlines embedded in Australia, Boyle has four goals in just seven matches for the national team. His accent is as thick as a Glasgow fog, yet looms as one of the most vital cogs should the squad navigate their way to the finals in Qatar next year.
Tucked in behind those three on Friday morning was the man who looks as polished as any Socceroo of modern times. Ajdin Hrustic was born to a Bosnian father and Romanian mother, in Dandenong of all places; potentially the first time those three locations have ever been included in the same sentence.
Alongside him was Jackson Irvine, a player born in Australia yet whose first taste of international football was with Scotland’s under-19s in 2011. Thankfully, the 28-year-old saw the light and has become a reliable Socceroo after 37 caps for the national team.
Sitting at left back was Aziz Behich, a Turkey-based Socceroo and the son of Cypriot migrants who came to Australia for the better life so many sought. Behich is simply outstanding, consistently professional and a wonderful role model for young footballers seeking an understanding of what it takes to build a respected playing career in the game.
Holding the fort in the centre of defence were Harry Souttar and Trent Sainsbury.
The six-foot-six Souttar continues to provide an aerial threat not seen for the Socceroos since Tim Cahill departed. He was born in Scotland and we can thank the fact that the 22-year-old’s mother is Australian, for presenting this immensely promising young player to the Socceroo squad.
Sainsbury holds a UK passport, despite being born in Western Australia and is one of the thousands of Aussie footballers before him with connections to the ‘old dart’.
The three remaining members of the squad may well have had their tents pitched in Australia early in their lives, yet even their stories say a great deal about the unique diversity found in Socceroo ranks.
Goalkeeper Mat Ryan was not born in a salubrious Sydney suburb where his gifts where certain to be nurtured by every possible advantage. Instead, he hails from Plumpton, a suburb in the local government area of Blacktown and one that continues to struggle with poverty, domestic violence and disadvantage.
Right back Rhyan Grant was born in Canowindra, a town in the central west of New South Wales that still houses a tiny population of just 2258 and Adam Taggart lives out the diversity in the squad in a slightly different way.
Western Australian born, the striker’s football journey has taken him to London, Scotland, South Korea and now Japan, with considerable success along the way.
The Socceroos are the most beautiful of teams. The most unique of teams.
A perfect metaphor for a nation based on migration and diversity.
Sadly, without the presence of First Nation’s Peoples it is incomplete, for now. However, indigenous Socceroos have inspired us before and will do so again.
When that time comes, the picture and the most universally appealing national men’s team will be even more complete.