Soccer in Australia

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Soccer in Australia
Country Australia
Governing body Football Federation Australia
National teams Men's (U-23, U-20, U-17)
Women's (U-20, U-17)
Beach, Paralympic
First played 1880
Registered players 1,960,000 [1][2]
Clubs 13,868
National competitions
Club competitions
International competitions

Soccer, also known as football, is the most played & the most popular outdoor team sport in Australia.[3] The sport has a high level of participation in the country both recreationally and professionally. Football Federation Australia (FFA) is the national governing body of the sport which organises the A-League, W-League, FFA Cup and the Australia national teams amongst other duties. In addition, nine state governing bodies oversee in all aspects of the game within their respective region. Modern soccer was introduced in Australia in the late 19th century by mostly British immigrants. It has since become one of Australia's most popular sports. The first club formed in the country, Wanderers, was founded on 3 August 1880, while the oldest club in Australia currently in existence is Balgownie Rangers, formed 1883. Wanderers were also the first known recorded term to play under the Laws of the Game. Australia was a founding member of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) before moving to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 2006.


Establishing the sport in Australia

File:St kilda british football club.JPG
St Kilda British Football Club at Middle Park, 1909 – one of the earliest known photographs of a soccer club in Australia.

An early match took place at the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum, located in Wacol, on 7 August 1875, when a team of inmates and wards men from the asylum played against the visiting Brisbane Australian rules football club; the rules of the match which clearly stated that the "ball should not be handled nor carried" was a direct reference to British Association Rules.[4]

A match was recorded to be played in Hobart on 10 May 1879, when members of the Cricketer's Club played a scratch match under English Association Rules, which were adopted by the club.[5] The following month, on 7 June, the Cricketer's Club took on New Town Australian rules football club in the first recorded inter-club match.[6] The game was a return match to one played on 24 May by the clubs, under a variant of the Victorian rules; to prevent the disadvantage faced by the Cricketers, the clubs agreed that Association rules would be adopted in the return match.[7]

The first recorded match played under the Laws of the Game was contested between Wanderers and members of the Kings School rugby team at Parramatta Common on 14 August 1880.[8] The Wanderers, considered the first soccer club in Australia, was established on 3 August 1880, by English-émigré John Walter Fletcher. Later, in 1882, Fletcher formed the New South Wales English Football Association (also referred to as the South British Football Soccer Association), the very first administrative governing body of soccer within Australia and one of the first to be established outside the United Kingdom.[8]

In 1883, Balgownie Rangers, the oldest existing club in Australia was founded; the club currently competes in the Illawarra regional league.[9] Later that year, the first inter-colonial game was played at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground, between a representative Victorian team and one from the neighbouring colony of New South Wales.[10]

As soccer continued to grow throughout Australia, John Fletcher's New South Wales soccer association gave inspiration to other states to establish their own governing bodies for the sport. In 1884, Victoria formed its own association, the Anglo-Australian Football Association (now, Football Federation Victoria), as did Queensland, in the Anglo-Queensland Football Association (now, Football Queensland), and Northern New South Wales, in the Northern District British Football Association (now, Northern New South Wales Football. In 1896, the Western Australian Soccer Football Association was formed. In 1900, a Tasmanian association was formed, and later, the South Australian British Football Association was formed in 1902.[citation needed]

It was not until 1911 that a governing body was formed to oversee football activities in the whole of Australia. The first such organisation was called the Commonwealth Football Association.[11] However, this body was superseded by the Australian Soccer Association, which was formed in 1921.[8]

On 17 June 1922, the first Australian national representative football team was constituted by the Australian Soccer Association to represent Australia for a tour of New Zealand. During the tour the Australia men's national team lost two out of the three matches against the newly formed New Zealand side.[12]

With British and Southern Europeans settlers it was immensely popular and this led to establishing soccer as a major sport in the country.

Soccer boomed in the immediate post-Second World War period when the sport became more commercial and professional. A distinct rise in popularity in New South Wales and Victoria, among other states, was linked to the post-war immigration. Migrant players and supporters were prominent, providing the sport with a new but distinct profile. Soccer served as a cultural gateway for many emigrants, acting as a social lubricant. Soccer transcended cultural and language barriers in communities which bridged the gap between minority communities and other classes within the country, thus bringing about a unique unity.[13][14] The most prominent soccer clubs in Australian cities during the 1950s and 1960s were based around migrant-ethnic groups, all of which expanded rapidly at that time: Croatian, Greek, Italian and Serbian communities gave rise to most of the largest clubs, the most notable being South Melbourne (Greek-based), Sydney Olympic (Greek-based), Marconi Stallions (Italian-based), Adelaide City (Italian-based) and Melbourne Knights (Croatian-based).[citation needed]

Creating national foundations

In 1956, Australia became a FIFA member through the Australian Soccer Association. Though Australia's membership was soon suspended in 1960 after disobeying FIFA mandate on recruiting foreign players without a transfer fee.[15] In 1961, the Australian Soccer Federation was formed and later admitted to FIFA in 1963, after outstanding fines had been paid. In 1966, Australia became founding members of the Oceania Football Federation (now Oceania Football Confederation).[citation needed]

Pre-1960s, competitive football in Australia was state-based. In 1962, the Australia Cup was established,[16] but its ambition of becoming an FA Cup style knockout competition went unfulfilled with its demise in 1968. In 1977, the first national football competition, the National Soccer League, was founded.[17] In 1984, the National Soccer Youth League was founded as a reserve and academy league to run in parallel to the National Soccer Youth League. In 1996, the first national women's football competition, the Women's National Soccer League was founded. The National Soccer League and those for women and youth flourished through the 1980s and early 1990s, though with the increasing departure of Australian players to overseas leagues.

South Melbourne's change in name and logo, removing itself from its Greek-ethnic ties.

Soccer reached notable popularity among Australian people during the second half of the twentieth century. Johnny Warren, a prominent advocate for the sport, who was a member of the Australia national team at their first FIFA World Cup appearance in 1974, entitled his memoir Sheilas, Wogs, and Poofters (a reference to the Australian slang: sheila, wog, poofter), giving an indication of how Warren considered the wider Australian community viewed "wogball".[8]

In the mid-1990s, Soccer Australia (the governing body for the sport) attempted to shift soccer into the Australian mainstream and away from direct club-level association with migrant roots. Many clubs across the country were required to change their names and badges to represent a more inclusive community.[18]

The sport experienced major change in the country in 2003, after the then Minister for Sport Rod Kemp and the Australian Parliament commissioned a report by the Independent Soccer Review Committee. Its findings in the structure, governance and management of football in Australia led the restructure of Football Federation Australia (previously Australian Soccer Federation, Soccer Australia, Australia Soccer Association) and later in 2005, the succeeding relaunched national competition, the A-League. The restructuring of the sport in Australia also saw the adoption of "football", in preference to "soccer", to align with the general international name of the sport.[19] Although the use of "football" was largely cultural, as part of an attempt to reposition the sport within Australia, there were also "practical and corporate reasons for the change", including a need for the sport to break away from the baggage left over from previous competitions.[19] However, the move created problems within the wider community, engendering confusion due to the naming conflict with other football codes, and creating conflict with other sporting bodies.[20]

Australia ended a 32-year absent streak when the nation team qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. The team's qualification and success in the tournament helped increased the profile and popularity of the sport in the country.[21]

The national team qualified for second and third consecutive FIFA World Cups in 2010 and 2014; and placed second in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. The joining of Western Sydney Wanderers to the A-League in 2012 saw a rise in interest for the league within Australia, particularly increasing mainstream interest [22] and re-engagement with disaffected Western Sydney football fans. Also, the formation of the National Premier Leagues in 2013 and subsequent restructuring of state leagues as part of the National Competition Review and Elite Player Pathway Review has paved the way for the development of the sport throughout the country.[23][24] The launch of the FFA Cup in 2014, has also similarly increased mainstream interest and grassroots development.


Soccer in Australia is governed by Football Federation Australia (FFA) which is currently a member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the regional ASEAN Football Federation (AFF), since leaving the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) in 2006. FFA is underpinned by nine member federations which oversee all aspects of the sport within their respective region, including the organisation of state league and cup tournaments as opposed to national tournaments which are organised by FFA. Member federations are state-based, although New South Wales is divided into a northern and southern federation.[25]

Former and current Australian professional soccer players are represented by the Professional Footballers Australia (PFA), a trade union affiliated with the Australian Council of Trade Unions and a member of FIFPro, the global representative organisation for professional footballers.[26] The association tends to footballer's pay and conditions, and also protects footballers from unfair dismissal.


According to FIFA's Big Count in 2006, a total of 970,728 people in Australia participated in the sport, with 435,728 registered players, and 535,000 unregistered players.[27] These numbers were higher than the equivalents for other sport codes such as cricket, Australian rules football, rugby league and rugby union.[28] In 2013, an audit on the sport by Gemba found that 1.96 million Australians were actively involved in the game as a player.[2] When coaches and referees are included it is estimated that involvement with the sport is around 3.1 million,[29] which is higher than any other sport in Australia


An A-League match between Newcastle Jets and Sydney FC at Newcastle Stadium, 3 November 2007.

In Australia, domestic soccer competition is played all year round, with the competition season depending on the level of professionalism of the league, whereby fully professional leagues (only one) compete during the Australian summer season and semi-professional/amateur leagues compete during the Australian winter season.

Since 1977, the league system in Australia has involved one national top tier league controlled by the national body and many leagues that run below within each state, with no promotion or relegation between the two.[30] As the third least densely populated country in the world, Australia's large geographical area and the spread of the population, concentrated mainly around urban areas is reason for a lack in national competition and a greater focus on state-based competition.

The National Soccer League (NSL) was established in 1977, as the first national top tier soccer competition in Australia, with teams based in five (eventually six) states.[31] In 2004, the NSL was disbanded and replaced by the A-League.[32] The first season of the new league began in 2005.[32] The National Youth League was also launched in 2008 to provide a national youth development league for A-League clubs.[33] In 2013, the National Premier Leagues (NPL) was established as a national second tier banner of the sport, underpinning the A-League.[34] The NPL consists of the top-tier league competitions within each state federation (currently eight) in Australia.[34] The eight league winners compete in a finals series at the conclusion of the regular season to determine the Champion.

The FFA Cup is Australia's national knock-out cup competition involving all teams in the A-League and other teams qualifying via preliminary competitions. Previous attempts at a national knock-out cup competition include the Australia Cup and the NSL Cup.[35] As well as the national FFA Cup, each individual state also has its own cup competition run by their respective state federations. Some restrict the participants to only professional top flight or semi-professional clubs whilst others have more open entries via invitation or qualifying rounds.

As with the men's national competition the women's W-League replaced the long dormant Women's National Soccer League as the women's national top tier league in 2008.[36] Similarly, the women's league system involves one national top tier league controlled by the national body and many leagues that run below within each state, with no promotion or relegation between the two.

Men's national teams

National Men's soccer teams of various age groups represent Australia in international competition. Australian national teams historically competed in the OFC, though since FFA's move in 2006, Australian teams have competed in AFC competitions.

The Australia national association football team, nicknamed the "Socceroos", represents Australia in international football. Australia is a four-time OFC champion, one time Asian champion and AFC National Team of the Year for 2006. The Men's team has represented Australia at the FIFA World Cup tournaments in 1974, 2006, 2010 and 2014.

In the Olympic arena, Australia first fielded a men's team at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. Australia did not compete again in the Olympic arena, until the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. Apart from London 2012, where it failed to qualify a team, Australia has competed in all Olympic Men's Football competitions since 1988.[37]

There are also a number of national youth teams: Under-17 team, nicknamed the "Joeys"; Under-20 team, nicknamed the "Young Socceroos"; and the Under-23 team, nicknamed the "Olyroos". The latter is considered to be a feeder team for the national team.

In addition there is a beach team, nicknamed the "Beach Socceroos", which represents Australia in international beach soccer and a Paralympic team, nicknamed the "Pararoos", which competes in international Paralympic association football.

Women's soccer

The participation of Australian women in soccer was first recorded in the early 1920s.[8] It has since become one of the country's most popular women's team sports. As with the men's game, the women's game in Australia saw a large expansion following the post-war immigration, though it is only in recent years that women's soccer has gained momentum, with such factors as the creation of the W-League and the success of the Australia women's national soccer team nicknamed the "Matildas" aiding the increasing popularity of the game.[8][38][39]

Women’s soccer was added to the Olympic program in 1996, with Australia first fielding a Women's team at Sydney 2000. Australia fielded a team at the Athens 2004 Olympics but did not qualify for either of the Beijing 2008 or London 2012 Olympics.[37]


Futsal, an indoor variant of football, was introduced in Australia in the early 1970s and soon gained popularity after a wet period during the winter football season forced players indoors where they took up the new sport.[40][41]

Media coverage

Pay television is the predominant outlet for both domestic and international soccer in Australia. Some games can also be heard on local radio stations. The anti-siphoning list which controls what must be kept on free to air television in Australia includes only the FA Cup games.[42] The A-League will be added to the anti-siphoning list, but not until 2014 in order to prevent a breach of contract on the part of FFA.[43]

A A$120 million, seven-year broadcasting deal between FFA and Fox Sports gave the Australian sports channel group exclusive rights from 2007 to all Australia internationals, all A-League and AFC Asian Cup fixtures, FIFA World Cup qualifiers through the AFC, and all AFC Champions League matches.[44] In 2013, FFA signed a joint A$160 million, four-year deal with Fox Sports and SBS for the A-League.[45]

Since 1986, SBS has been the official Australian broadcast rights holder for the FIFA World Cup, and the television network will continue to hold the rights to the competition until 2022.[46]

The media has often been subject to criticism for its perceived negative attitude towards soccer in Australia.[47]


The following articles are an incomplete list of Seasons in Soccer in Australia. Each article covers the national leagues played that season as well as the highest state based league played in the first calendar year, as well as games played by all national teams during that period.

2000s 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03 2003–04 2004–05 2005–06 2006–07 2007–08 2008–09 2009–10
2010s 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 2016–17 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20

See also


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