The head coach of the Matildas believes it is time soccer caught up to other sporting codes and tapped into the talent pool of remote Indigenous Australia.
The revelation brought Alen Stajcic, the man at the helm of the national women’s soccer team, to Borroloola — a tiny community in the Northern Territory.
More than a thousand kilometres south-east of Darwin, Borroloola has a population of around 900 people.
But what it lacks in numbers, it makes up for in its love for soccer.
“There’s just so much untapped potential around the whole country and Borroloola is just one example,” Mr Stajcic said.
“It’s something to be honest that football hasn’t done really well in the last period of time, so we really need to grasp the opportunity.”
Alen Stajcic was the first head of an Australian soccer team to visit the remote NT town of Borroloola. (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)
Soccer lagging behind other codes
Aussie Rules and NRL have long backed the value of Indigenous talent with sustained representation of around 15 per cent and 12 per cent respectively.
But only about 1 per cent of the A-League or W-League come from the ranks of First Australians.
Mr Stajcic says it is time to move forward.
“I look at sports like NRL and AFL and see how many Aboriginal players are in there, and they’re not just making up the numbers — they’re generally the best players in the team,” he said.
“And again, I look at them and think what if these guys had a played football [soccer] as youngsters?
“If we embrace these kinds of kids and all the other kids around Australia who really love our game, there’s no doubt we can be a world contender in the future.”
Mr Stajcic has run a two-day clinic with more than 50 Aboriginal children in Borroloola, with a focus on engagement and talent identification.
Mr Stajcic has not travelled alone.
Aside from bringing his wife and kids, the trip to remote Northern Territory is also a homecoming for 16-year-old Shadeene Evans.
After receiving a scholarship with the John Moriarty Foundation three years ago, Ms Evans has been living and playing soccer in Sydney and now represents Australia in the Young Matildas.
Shadeene Evans plays for the Young Matildas, which is the pathway team for the national women’s soccer team. (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)
“Everything went so quickly, moving from here to down there. I enjoy everything, I enjoy the school and I just love going to training and seeing all the girls. They encourage me to be a better player and person as well,” Ms Evans said.
Ms Evans was identified by Mr Stajcic at a tournament in Canberra when she was 13 years old, and hoped to inspire other remote kids to pursue their dreams.
“Definitely it’s worth it,” she said.
“If you really love something and want something, you have to chase it and just fight through all the homesickness and stuff.”
Borroloola has a history with the sport. It is played every week under the John Moriarty Football Foundation.
Named after Borroloola-born John Moriarty, the first Aboriginal footballer selected for Australia, the foundation has been engaging six to 16-year-old children for seven years now.
Mr Moriarty wants remote children to continue his legacy and love of football.
John Moriarty was the first Indigenous person to play soccer for Australia. (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)
“They just want to play football. Want to come to the upper levels of the game here, but also represent Australia and play in the World Cup,” he said.
“The game is there for us to conquer, especially for these kids here.
“We need to develop the grassroots and it doesn’t get more grassroots than this.”
While the rest of the globe enjoys World Cup fever, the remote kids in Borroloola are revelling in the chance to show one of Australian football’s elite coaches exactly what they have to offer.