ANZAC Day 2021: How football embodies the ANZAC Spirit

Together, football and the legendary ANZAC spirit share a long history that continues to this day. 

As we remember those who served our nation so courageously on ANZAC Day, it provides us with a compelling opportunity to celebrate their values that remain embedded in our culture. 

From the birth of the Socceroos spirit at the height of the Vietnam War to last year's successful 'As One' bid alongside New Zealand, there are countless examples of where these characteristics have risen to the fore through football.  

Many can recall the famous stories of Australian and international troops who passed time on the battlefields by playing our game, but the connection between football and the ANZAC spirit runs even deeper. 

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In fact, the nation's first international trophy was won in a tournament set up to aid the allied war effort in Vietnam. 

The 1967 Quoc Khan Cup, or Friendly Nations Tournament, saw some of Asia and Oceania's best face off amidst a backdrop of thousands of screaming troops in Saigon, during the height of the Vietnam War. 

A squad that only averaged 22 years of age, coached by Joe Vlasits and captained by Johnny Warren, went on to finish the tour undefeated, lifting the trophy after a 3-2 victory over South Korea in the final.

Incredibly, they did so after rubbing shoulders with soldiers at mealtime and training on the concrete roof of their hotel, while navigating minefields, riots and the persisting threat of Viet Cong insurgents.

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Warren exchanging pendants ahead of the tournament's opening match

The touring party even dined with the Australian troops at their headquarters, ‘The Canberra’.  

“While they went out to fight, we went out to play football,” Warren wrote in his memoir Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters, “it was a surreal experience.”

While the 'Socceroos' name did not emerge until a few years later, those involved in the tour reflect on that remarkable experience as the birthplace of the fighting spirit that remains engrained in our national teams culture to this day. 

“The camaraderie of that team is hard to describe - it was incredible and something I’ll never forget,” reflected Attila Abonyi.

“The legacy of this tour should be that we carried the Australian spirit to a new frontier - it was all about representing our country."  

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Through the Westfield Matildas, the shared affinity between Australia and their Trans-Tasman neighbours remains to this day. 

While Australia played against New Zealand time and time again over the last 40 years, 2020 saw the two unite - sparking a moment to remember in the process.

Together, the two nations made history as it was announced that they are set to host the first ever co-confederation hosted FIFA World Cup™, the first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup™ to be held in the Asia-Pacific region, and the first ever to be held in the southern hemisphere.   

This week it was also revealed that our on-field rivalry is set to be reignited in Australia's opening match of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Women's Football Tournament. 

21 July 2021 will see the two meet at Tokyo Stadium; their first meeting since February 2019. 

READ MORE: Matildas and Olyroos learn their Olympics opponents

There are also less tangible connection between those who play our game and the spirit of those who served our country.

The 'Never Say Die' culture of the Westfield Matildas, or the family environment fostered by the Socceroos, aligns directly with those persisting values of mateship, persistance, endurance and determination. 

Another common thread is sacrifice. 

The pioneers of both the women's and men's game travelled throughout the nation and world with little to no financial backing - giving up so much, to advance the sport to where it is today. 

All in all, while ANZAC Day no doubt provides a powerful window into Australian football's past, present and future; nothing will ever compare to the ultimate sacrifice made by so many who fought for our country's freedom.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

Lest We Forget.