Australia’s performance at the Football World Cup and other international tournaments will have a direct impact on how the game develops at home, according to one of the country’s leading football writer.

Lucas Radbourne, who has just authored the well-timed book The Immortals of Australian Soccer, told Central News for the game to continue to grow alongside the more dominant codes of rugby league and Australian rules football the achievements of both the Socceroos and the Matildas on the world stage needed to be in the spotlight.

“I think it all depends on the success of the Socceroos and the Matildas,” said Radbourne, pictured above. “You saw after 2006 the amount of fanfare that Australian football can produce because you saw the Socceroos on the cover of every newspaper.

“They were taking on the world, they had tapped in on Australia’s underdog mentality, and you also got to see that football at its best has something to offer Australia that no other sport can.”

Football, or soccer as some know it better, was introduced in Australia in 1875 when a group of Woogaroo Asylum inmates and wardens challenged a visiting Brisbane Australian rules football club.

The sport is the most popular in the world with an estimated 5.5 billion people considered players or fans, according to the governing body, FIFA.

While it draws less attention in Australia than codes such as rugby, AFL and cricket, the country’s recent World Cup clash with Argentina (ending in a 2-1 defeat for Australia) drew an average TV and streaming audience of 1.7 million despite its 6am start.

We don’t have that idea of us taking on the world in any other sport regardless of how successful we are in them.

Radbourne, the editor of soccer magazine FourFourTwo, epitomises every day football fans and said his book The Immortals of Australian Soccer was written purely to represent the sport in a better light to everyone.

In it he names a mixed mens and womens team of all-time greats: Mark Schwarzer, Mile Jedinak, Cheryl Salisbury, Johnny Warren, Julie Doran, Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill, Lisa De Vanna, Craig Johnston, Mark Viduka and Sam Kerr.

“It’s hard when you [love] a sport so much and yet nobody you know likes the sport essentially,” he mused.

“We don’t have that idea of us taking on the world in any other sport regardless of how successful we are in them, the Olympics is the only thing that can come close.

“In my opinion the only way Australian football is going to compete with the major codes, that we are incredibly successful in and have an incredibly long history within, is through the success of our national teams.

 “Now in order for our national teams to be successful that’s a whole other level, there are so many factors [that] feed into that but certainly I can’t see Australian football being able to compete with the other codes unless the Socceroos and Matildas are not only qualifying for every World Cup, as they have for a long time now, but continue to improve in each World Cup, continue to climb the ranks and continue to force their way into becoming the world’s best team.”

Additionally, the numbers of spectator attendance in stadiums tells a vivid story with A and W-League numbers lagging behind the men’s AFL, cricket and rugby games.

A-League games in the 2022-23 season have averaged 8,794 whereas W-League attendances are much lower at 1,513 – the highest attendance for the women’s game peaked during the 2019 grand final between Melbourne Victory and Perth Glory with 8,599. The A-League’s biggest ever attendance was at the ANZ Stadium between Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC with 61,880 in the 2016/17 season.     

By comparison the AFL record attendance was in the 1970’s at the MCG Grand final match between Carlton and Collingwood with 121,696. The NRL grand final between St George-Illawarra and Melbourne in 1999 attracted a crowd of 107,558 spectators and in the 1930’s a six-day Test cricket match drew an audience of 350,534 fans.

Radbourne said the low numbers for attendance of W-League was inexplicable “considering the quality that’s on offer, the position of the Matildas in the world and how the W-League is still to this day one of the foremost leagues in the world”.

I think the attendance is a mystery to all and unfortunately it’s beholden on the fans of the sport in general to get out and support their team sport because without that where is the money coming from, where is sponsorship coming from,” he said.

I always wanted to do something that would help in whatever little way amplify the position of Australian football, so I dedicated my whole career to only writing about Australian football.

“Why would the media need to? I know a lot of people argue that there needs to be more media exposure, [but it needs] more sponsorship interest first in order to get the game to more people and perhaps we will see that after the 2023 World Cup and then see W-league attendances rise as a result. But without that interest, I don’t know how far we can push all these other things.”

Other factors play a crucial role in how football is viewed across the country with some of them being internal while others are external, such as the dominance of European football leagues like the English Premier League, Spanish LaLiga, Italian Serie-A and the French Ligue-1, as well as the emergence of women’s leagues across Europe – which has made it difficult to compete with them due to their already established global dominance.

“When you see people obsessed with European football and so on and so little credit is given by a large proportion of the population to Australian football, I always wanted to do something that would help,” Radbourne said. “I guess in whatever little way amplify the position [of] Australian football.

“So, I dedicated my whole career to only writing about Australian football, I never covered the European game except for when Australians were involved and and this book is [a] similar thing.” 


The book highlights the struggles and success of various Australian professional football players who have graced the green and gold over the years, players who had the biggest impact on Australian football and those that are considered to be pioneers, shaping how the game is known today in and around the country.

“The book’s format was restricted to having a player or more or less every position, you take licences with exact positions, you’ve got certain players that wouldn’t necessarily play in that exact position but essentially you want to have goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and strikers and a bench that roughly correlates to the same thing, that’s the first factor,” he said.

The second factor was their playing career and how important they were, how skilful they were and the third factor was their legacy and their play within the game more broadly.

The first organised Australian women’s football teams aren’t even recognised officially in Matilda’s history, I think that’s a bit strange.

“Players had to meet any one of those criteria and there were lots of players that I couldn’t cover just restricted by space, Radbourne said. 

The book also shines a light on the barriers women footballers faced, especially those that paved the way for the current generation of Matildas – players like Cheryl Salisbury and Julie Dolan, who faced challenges such as a lack of funding from the government and football federation Australia, lack of recognition for their services and achievement and a struggle for media exposure.

“The idea that the first organised Australian women’s football teams aren’t even recognised officially in Matilda’s history, I think that’s a [bit] strange and I don’t understand why they are not giving a right of recognition,” Radbourne added.

 It’s sad that Cheryl Salisbury and Julie Dolan aren’t heavily involved or more involved in the formation, governing and the punditry around women’s football.

You can’t imagine that would be happening with the current crop of Matildas. You can’t imagine that Sam Kerr, Kyah Simon and Caitlin Foord would just slowly disappear out of the game.

“Julie Doran plays a crucial role in the Central Coast [Mariners] football academy but they don’t have that national status and certainly not Cheryl Salisbury. I mean growing up she was the figurehead of Australia’s women football.”

The struggles weren’t limited to women’s football, in the early 1970’s and 1980’s saw a player come from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of world football. Craig Johnston, a South African born Australian football player, never represented Australia on an international level

Australian football has seen progression and development over the years and on the international stage, evidenced by its qualification for every FIFA World Cup since 2006 on the men’s side and the Matildas qualifying for all World Cup’s since 1999. The biggest prize was when Australia secured the Asian Cup in 2015 on home soil against a difficult South Korea side at Stadium Australia (Accor Stadium). 


Significantly, with a good run for the men in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia, all eyes will be on how we progress from the group stages and how deep into tournaments the teams go.

But the consequences will be far reaching beyond these years because the competition gap for the game between nations is narrowing down with some investing heavily in the development of talent through nation-wide world class academies and facilities like France’s Clairefontaine, Qatar’s Aspire Academy or England’s St George Park – training future generations from a young age. Australia has no such national footballing development institutions.

“For women’s football you would assume that… having the World Cup on home soil will help establish it to become a true norm,” said Radbourne.

I suspect that the Matilda’s will find it harder to compete on the world stage in 10 years time, I hope I am wrong.

“My concern is that the Matilda’s will go through the same thing the Socceroos went through post-2006, and that is you have a golden era because players go overseas really young and play in major leagues and get a huge amount of exposure and that leads to the success in the national team.

“However, what happened to the Socceroos is that English Premier League changed and the global football landscape changed.

“​​The Matilda’s may go through that same thing where they come in at really the front of the massive advance in women’s football around the world. Will Australian women still be able to compete in five to 10 years time when women’s football has surged in popularity around the world and the opportunity for women in developing nations, Asian nations and nations all across the world have improved dramatically? That’s my concern. I suspect that the Matilda’s will find it harder to compete on the world stage in 10 years time, I hope I am wrong.”

Main images supplied and Central News.