MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Former Australia soccer captain and the country’s most capped player, Cheryl Salisbury, will become the first female footballer to be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame next month.
Widely considered the pioneer of women’s soccer in Australia, Salisbury will receive one of the highest laurels in sports in the country on Oct. 10 when she is inducted as an Athlete Member of The Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
The 45-year-old played 151 games for Australia - the highest across genders - and captained the Matildas for seven years until she retired in 2009.
She started playing soccer at the age of seven with neighbourhood boys in the town of Newcastle and debuted for Australia in 1994 as a 20-year-old against Russia.
“I was never exposed to it,” Salisbury said in a statement.
“I never saw any other girls on TV or anywhere else that ever played the sport. I couldn’t figure out why - it was so unfair that girls didn’t have soccer teams. I couldn’t play on the girls soccer team at school because it just didn’t exist.
“I didn’t have anyone really to look towards. The only person I knew of and could assimilate to was Craig Johnston because he was from Newcastle and I saw him playing on TV. But I knew I couldn’t beat him because he was a boy.”
The centre back went on to play in four World Cups and two Olympic Games, scoring 38 goals for the Matildas. The first of four World Cup appearances in 1995 was an exciting experience.
“That was probably the first time I was ever exposed to it ... you know, my God, there’s women all over the world that play this game and they’re damn good at it,” she said.
“I was suddenly thrust into this world that there’s so many more girls out there that are same as me and want to play football and love it. And that was so good and was really eye opening.”
FIFA has twice honoured Salisbury by naming her in the Women’s World XI squad, in 2004 and 2007.
Representing Australia at the home Olympics in Sydney was the most memorable moment in her career.
“As a kid, although football wasn’t an Olympic sport, it was one of those things you sat cross-legged three inches from the TV constantly getting told to sit back or your eyes will go square,” she said.
“So it’s still one of those ‘wow’ moments. To actually walk out in the Olympic Games, it still gives me goose bumps that that became me.”
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by Robert Birsel