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The dark days of a divided NSL and dinosaur opinions are finally dead: Australian football is entering an unprecedented period of success

31st October, 2023
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31st October, 2023
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Despite all the highs experienced in Australian football history and the deserved credit given to those who pioneered the path for the modern generations, the game has never, ever, been amidst a more exciting and potentially successful phase.

Plenty is made of the heroes of 1974; the amateur players that headed to the FIFA World Cup as the most significant of underdogs and a group that did themselves proud under the captaincy of Peter Wilson.

The brilliant English careers of players like Harry Kewell, Stan Lazaridis, Mark Viduka, Tim Cahill and Australians who did amazing things in other foreign leagues such as John Aloisi, Vince Grella, Lucas Neill and Kevin Muscat, will forever live in the memories of those of us who longed to see the men’s national team do something of significance and prove themselves on the world stage.

That finally happened in 2006 when the team came together and advanced beyond the group stage of a World Cup for the first time since ’74.

All and sundry who are old enough will remember exactly where they were the night that John Aloisi hammered home from the penalty spot to return Australia to World Cup play for good.

Increasingly, people are becoming aware of the pioneering women who paved the way for the current Matildas. Greg Downes’ book The First Matildas captures that sentiment superbly and the historical Encyclopaedia of the Matildas by Greg Werner and Andrew Howe is a stunning read that continues to be republished thanks to significant demand.

Yet as increasingly aware as Australian football fans become of the past and the platforms laid by players who fought seemingly impenetrable odds considering the tyranny of distance and reputational disadvantage they suffered, the future looks rather special.

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Socceroos celebrate after scoring a penalty kick during the friendly match against Mexico. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)

The reality in which Australia’s domestic leagues exist and the impressive performance of our national teams across both sexes is simply unparalleled in the history of the game.

In short, the A-Leagues, their impressive representation in the national teams and the sheer number of Australian players impressing around the world flies directly in the face of archaic attitudes that have consistently suggested there was something of a dearth in player development in Australia.

It has been a great source of frustration for many, myself included, that male players of the NSL era have ridiculed, mocked, questioned and derided the local talent produced over the last 20 years.

Quite frankly, the small number of stars that made the grade in Europe when those modern critics played the game, did so prior to the explosive of African representation, whilst also accepting national selection in the incredibly weak Oceania Confederation amidst one failed World Cup campaign after another.

Australia’s decision to leave and embark on a bold journey into Asia has been far from plain sailing, yet beneficial in the long run, for both our male and female teams.

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As has the much lambasted National Curriculum, from which the first graduates having experienced the full course have now, and continue, to emerge, with stunning results in terms of the young talent on display in the A-Leagues.

Whether it be young stars like Western Sydney’s Talia Younis, Indiana dos Santos of Sydney FC or young women already abroad like Sarah Hunter, the Matildas are set to be bolstered with future stars to add to the young players already forging impressive careers like Charlie Grant, Mary Fowler, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Courtney Nevin.

Mary Fowler celebrates scoring a goal.

Mary Fowler celebrates scoring a goal. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

It is time for the likes of Katrina Gorry, Tameka Yallop and Claire Polkinghorne to step aside and facilitate the transition; with the next World Cup and a potential victory the long-term and non-negotiable objective.

From a male perspective, never before has the A-League seen such an explosion of talent and quality that continues to draw the eyes of scouts abroad. After the most statistically impressive World Cup in the history of the men’s team, the future looks nothing but bright.

Teenagers right across the league have popped up as replacements for the swathe of players given opportunities abroad and the cumulative number of goals scored by players under the age of 23 across Round 2 was stunning and groundbreaking.

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Toss in the fact that Australian coaches are enjoying increasing success and recognition around the globe and it could easily be suggested that Australian football has never been in a brighter place than it is right now.

Personally, I align closely with that school of thought and challenge anyone still hanging on to a mythical ‘Golden Generation’ that was created abroad rather than locally and based more on fluke than good management, to a rousing debate.

Fans are certain to keep the momentum going, with a men’s Asian Cup crucial in the New Year and the Matildas’ Olympic campaign certain to demand nothing less than an impressive tilt at the title and a potential medal.

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We are living in heady times for football in Australia and as a few colonial endeavours appear on their knees, the timing could not be better in terms of the future of the game.

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