From Dunedin to Doha

There’s a major milestone for Australian football happening this week when the national team takes on Qatar in Doha – it’s the 500th A international match for the Socceroos.

Australia’s historic first international took place ninety years ago in June 1922, at a venue that couldn’t contrast much more than its 500th. Dunedin (average June temperature 6 degrees) is not only the first venue, but also the most southerly venue an Australian team has played in - and it’s 14,000 kilometres away from a much warmer Doha (average October temperature 29 degrees).

In the meantime 577 players have played in 499 A international matches, across 60 countries and 120 cities to create a long, eventful and worldly history no other Australian national team can come close to.

Over the first four decades, Australia’s opponents were mostly from across the Commonwealth. In addition to many matches against the Kiwis, teams from Canada, India, England and South Africa occasionally toured down under, while the Australians ventured abroad to places such as Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa.

With scant resources for football back then professionalism was just a dream, and most players had to balance their footballing careers with full-time work and family life. And in an era where passenger air travel was in its infancy and transport by sea and railway was the norm, national team tours were very long - sometimes lasting for months.

In those days, a commitment to the Australian national team was a major devotion to the cause. It was an involvement at a completely different level to today, and set a lasting foundation that sometimes seems yet to be fully appreciated by today's football community.

From the late 1960s, the lure of World Cup qualification (first attested in 1965) and a growing popularity in the game increased the frequency and prominence of Socceroos matches. 

The aftermath of the Second World War had seen waves of migrants come to Australia with many bringing their passion for football to these shores and spurring new interest in football in Australia.

Not only were more people watching, this influx of 'new Australians' was evident in successive generations of teams, with the bulk of Australia’s top players from the 1980s having family roots from the post World War II European migrants.

Meanwhile the 577th and most recent Socceroo debutant, Nigerian-born Bernie Ibini, is the first Socceroo born in Africa since Kimon Taliadoros (South Africa) in 1993.

Socceroo records – A internationals:
First match: L1-3 v New Zealand (in Dunedin) 17 June 1922
Overall record – first 499 games: W246-D107-L146
Biggest win: W31-0 v American Samoa (Coffs Harbor) 11 April 2001
Biggest loss: L0-8 v South Africa (Adelaide) 17 September 1955
An A international match is a game played between two FIFA-recognised countries with no major restrictions affecting selection for either team. In addition to 500 A international matches since 1922, Australia has played almost 350 times against other opposition such as club teams, age-restricted national teams, and international selections.

When the first Australian team ran out on to a frigid Dunedin pitch in 1922 there would have been no idea what was in store for the national team over its next 500 games.

There have certainly been many ups and downs for the green and gold over these 92 years, especially during the roller-coaster World Cup qualification campaigns.

The five century milestone matches for the Socceroos give good snapshots of the bumpy ride for the national team over this eventful time:

Match 100: L0-2 v Bulgaria (in Melbourne) 18 February 1973 – Friendly match
Captained by Peter Wilson and coached by Rale Rasic, this was the last warm-up match before the part-time Australians embarked on its 1974 World Cup qualification campaign – which was to ultimately prove successful. It was just reward for a team that had come so close to qualifying in another marathon campaign four years earlier.

Match 200: D0-0 v Scotland (Melbourne) 4 December 1985 – World Cup qualifier
In the final play-off for qualification into the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, Oceania winners Australia were matched up against UEFA Group 7 runners-up Scotland. The first leg in Glasgow had ended 2-0 Scotland’s way, and despite a barrage on goal at Olympic Park, the goalless encounter ended Australia’s hope of reaching what would have been its first World Cup since 1974.

Match 300: W1-0 v Macedonia (Skopje) 12 March 1997 – Friendly 
These were hopeful times (again) for the Socceroos, with high-profile coach Terry Venables hoping to guide the World Cup-starved Australians to France 1998. The win over Macedonia, which featured the debuts of John Aloisi and Josip Skoko, was the sixth successive victory for Australia in a record winning streak that was eventually to run for 14 matches over 12 months.

Match 400: D1-1 v Ghana (London) 14 November 2006 – Friendly
With Australia still basking in the glory of a pleasing World Cup appearance – only its second ever – a hit-out in England was a good chance to get the squad together in the lead-up to Australia’s first AFC Asian Cup appearance in 2007. Graham Arnold was coaching the Socceroos at the time.

Match 500: v Qatar (Doha) 14 October 2014 – Friendly
Another important Asian Cup lead-in match with Australia playing in and hosting the 2015 tournament in three months later. Some of the younger players in the Australian squad will be hoping to return to Qatar in 2022 in what could well be Australia’s fifth successive World Cup appearance in another landmark year for the national team – its 100 year anniversary.

Follow Andrew Howe’s Aussie football stats updates on Twitter @AndyHowe_statto