Former Matildas captain and Australian football’s most capped player Cheryl Salisbury will create history once more when she becomes the first female footballer inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
A pioneer of Australian women’s football, Salisbury played 151 games for Australia, a record for either gender and captained the Matlidas for seven years until her retirement in 2009.
She scored 38 international goals and played in four FIFA World Cups (1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007), two Olympic Games (2000 and 2004) and two Football Confederation Women’s Asian Cups (2006 and 2008).
Salisbury will become the first female, and just the seventh footballer in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, joining Ray Baartz (1985), Harry Kewell (2018), and Peter Wilson (1985), along with the late Alfred Quill (1996), Joe Marston MBE (1988) and John Warren OAM MBE (1986).
Salisbury’s ground-breaking achievements will be celebrated at the sold-out 35th Induction and Awards Gala Dinner on Thursday, 10th October, 2019 when she is inducted as an Athlete Member of The Sport Australia Hall of Fame and receives one of the highest honours that can be bestowed in Australian sport.
Cheryl Salisbury is widely credited with being a driving force behind the Matildas becoming a true contender in the world game.
Salisbury played the game at the age of seven with the neighbourhood boys in her hometown of Newcastle, but because she was the only girl playing the game she loved, she had no idea other girls played it, let alone that women’s football existed at international level.
“I was never exposed to it,” Salisbury says. “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.”
As she made her way through the ranks, women’s football became a possibility, as did the opportunity to play for Australia and as a graduate of the Institute of Sport Salisbury made her “A” international debut as a 20-year-old against Russia in 1994, scoring the first of a career total of 38 goals.
With the capacity to play in any position she loved to push forward but did her best work as a central defender where she employed a trademark long throw and thumping clearance kick which made her a force on the international scene.
Still, the first of four world cup appearances in 1995 was an eye-popping 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. 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.”
By the time of the Matildas’ first Olympic appearance in Sydney, Salisbury was vice-captain and she scored Australia’s first ever goal at that level against Sweden in front of 33,000 fans at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Salisbury says it provided one of the most memorable moments of 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.”
“I was that kid that watched the Australians walk out and watched all the different sports and circle on the newspaper which ones I wanted to try and stay up and watch and which ones I’d get up early to see and what I’d see after school.
“I was like, these people are amazing but none of them were the sport that I love and I was into. 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.”
After years of qualifying for the world cup and other major tournaments but not progressing past the pool matches, Salisbury says the 2007 and her final world cup is also near the top of the list of memorable moments, scoring with effectively the last kick of the game to secure Australia’s passage to the quarterfinals for the first time.
“Something was always happening, and we couldn’t win the right game or played bad, whatever it may have been we always missed out. So, it was like this longevity of constantly failing and then we finally made it through and into the quarterfinals and that I think was the moment where we stood up as Matildas and went to the next level. We broke that barrier that had been put on us in the history of our sport.”
With 151 caps in total Salisbury easily out-paced Alex Tobin’s record of 87 for the Socceroos and became only the second woman to play 100 internationals, which she achieved during a 1-1 draw with the United States at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.
As well as representing two clubs as a junior and three at senior level, she played for the Memphis Mercury in the 2002 American W-League and for three years in the Japan Women’s League.
Always a trail-blazer in an era when professional football was a pipe-dream for women, she had the determination and the talent to push its case and was one of a handful of Australians who participated in the short-lived American Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) playing for the New York Power in 2003, the world’s first fully professional women’s competition and the forerunner of the W-League.
She was a fearless leader on and off the field, demonstrating the values of fair play and teamwork along with being a fearless campaigner for the rights of her team, teammates and women’s sport, something she rightly remains passionate about.
“Every step was a step in the right direction and every time something happened I was always grateful that I got these opportunities that others before me did not get. But it still didn’t happen fast enough… it was often just discrimination, discrimination against women. I can get up on a stage like I’m about to. I can win the same award that a Socceroo has won before me, but we aren’t equal. We walk off that stage and we have an entirely different life. And that’s part of those inequalities that no one sees.”
Like caps for her country Salisbury collected honours and awards. FIFA, honoured Salisbury by twice naming her in the Women’s World XI squad in 2004 and 2007. In 2009 she was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in the Hall of Champions category and in 2017 she became the first woman to be awarded the Professional Footballers Association’s Alex Tobin Medal, the highest honour for Australian soccer players.
Being the first female footballer into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame evokes similar memories to the Tobin Medal achievement.
“I sort of had these same feelings with the Alex Tobin Medal,” Salisbury says
“It felt like there’s been so many other great female players that have gone before me. They were even less known. There are some amazing women that have done tremendous things within football but they’re unknown. And a lot of them were unknown to me because I didn’t know the background or the history because there wasn’t any information and we didn’t get to see these people play.
So it’s sort of hard for me to sit with that.”
“It’s extraordinary and it’s exciting to be the first. But it’s also like I feel I’ve cut in line in front of someone as well because there are other great female players that probably deserve it as well.”
Chair of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Selection Committee Rob de Castella AO MBE said: “Cheryl’s talent, longevity and leadership in football is legendary. Over nearly fifteen years of international representation, she scored 38 goals, captained the Matildas for an incredible seven years, and lived and played for over four years overseas in the US and Japan. Her success and courage have shown our players today what is possible.”
Sport Australia Hall of Fame Chair John Bertrand AO said: “Cheryl is a true pioneer of women’s football both nationally and internationally and has paved the way for future generations of the Matildas. Her record is incredible, recognised in FIFA’s Women’s World XI and being this country’s most capped player – male or female.”
Cheryl Salisbury will join Paralympic swimmer Matt Cowdrey OAM, shooter Russell Mark OAM, cyclist Robbie McEwen AM, swimmer Stephanie Rice OAM and triathlete Emma Snowsill OAM with induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame on Australian sport’s “Night of Nights” – the 35th Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala Dinner on Thursday, 10th October at Palladium at Crown, Melbourne.
Established in 1985, The Sport Australia Hall of Fame exists to preserve and celebrate the history of Australian sport and to inspire all Australians to achieve their potential both in sport and life.
The Sport Australia Hall of Fame plays a vital role in preserving and perpetuating Australia’s rich sporting heritage, whilst promoting the values of courage, sportsmanship, integrity, mateship, persistence, and excellence, all underpinned by generosity, modesty, pride and ambition.
Along with the seven new inductees, ‘The Don’ Award will be presented to the athlete who has most inspired the nation and the Scholarship and Mentoring program recipients will be presented. In addition, the 41st Legend of Australian sport will be celebrated.