Why I Support the Socceroos
On Sport and Multiculturalism in Australia
When foreigners think of Australia, they typically picture golden beaches, surfing, and koalas.
But this is far from the reality for most Australians.
I grew up in Sunshine — a working-class suburb in Melbourne’s west, and we had none of that.
We grew up in architecturally uninspired brick homes on an industrial landscape dotted with factories and semi-trailers. The closest beach, Altona, was a good 15-minute drive away and an industrial backwater unfit for a postcard.
While some of today’s most iconic Australian surnames are Hemsworth, Jackman, Kidman, and Minogue, where I went to school, such Anglo-Celtic surnames were few and far between. My classes were full of kids with surnames like Jurić, Vella, Costa, Popovski, Demir, Panopoulos, and Nguyen.
And when lunchtime came, we rarely played cricket, rugby, or Australian Rules football.
We played soccer, football to the rest of the world, and ‘wogball’ to many white Australians — a testament to the number of ‘wogs’ (an ethnic slur referring to immigrant and first-generation Australians from southern Europe) that played the game.
While we might have barracked for Aussie Rules teams, come Sunday, you were more likely to find us eating cevapi rolls and souvas while watching Melbourne Croatia, Preston Makedonia, or South Melbourne Hellas play soccer, than at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Most of my peers spoke the language of our immigrant parents and were rightly or wrongly indoctrinated into their traditions, religions, beliefs, and values.
But despite this upbringing (and the ability to read and write Cyrillic fluently in the case of many of my Macedonian friends), we weren’t embraced by our supposed brethren back home as Macedonians, Greeks, or Italians, but as Aussies or the derogatory “kangaroos”.
And this is why I support the Socceroos.
Sure, I throw my support behind Macedonia’s national team whenever they compete, but the Socceroos are the only team whose mix of players truly represents me ethnically, culturally, and socioeconomically.
Unlike Australia’s other ethnically and socioeconomically homogeneous national teams, one look at the Socceroos’ squad reveals surnames that sound just like the ones I grew up with.
Behich — ethnically Turkish, Degenek — Serbian, Hrustic — Bosnian/Romanian, Karačić — Croatian, and Tilio — Italian. The team also represents the changing faces of Australia, with naturalised Australians of African descent — Awer Mabil, Thomas Deng, and Garang Kuol, donning the green and gold at this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Admittedly, today’s side is less ethnically diverse than it was when the ‘golden generation’ of 2006 took to the field at the World Cup in Germany. Then, 12 of the 23-man squad, boasting names like Viduka, Bresciano, and Grella, came from southern European migrant communities.
Today’s Socceroos boast many Anglo-Celt names such as McGree, Duke, Goodwin, Atkinson, Wright, and Irvine. Together with the above-mentioned players of southern European descent, they are perhaps a better representation of Australia’s demographic makeup.
Whatever the case, the 2022 Socceroos is a side all Australians can relate to and support.
And their support hasn’t gone unrewarded. This year’s contingent has become the first Australian side to win two group stage games at a World Cup, surpassing the heroics of 2006, where four points against Japan and Croatia was enough to see the team progress to the knockout stages.
Australia’s progression to the round of 16 in Qatar came courtesy of an outstanding solo effort from Melbourne City forward Matthew Leckie against favourites Denmark, ranked 10th in the world, 29 places ahead of Australia.
Fittingly, Leckie went to school in Sunshine, where the same multicultural student body I went to school with inspired him to take up the sport. His goal was a celebration of Australia’s many parts coming together to elevate the country to new and unforeseen heights.
Steve Glaveski is the founder of innovation accelerator Collective Campus, and author of Time Rich: Do Your , host of the Future Squared podcast, and frequently contributes to Harvard Business Review. Find him on Twitter at @steveglaveski.