Former Socceroos stars and First Nations Australians Harry Williams and Jade North discussed their respective upbringings and journeys that led to them playing for Australia.
In our latest NAIDOC Week special, Williams and North talked us through their respective routes to the top as we celebrate the massive role that people of First Nations heritage have in Australia’s national football sides.
Before we dive into all the amazing accolades that the pair have achieved, we thought it would be best to give an update on what they are up to at the moment.
Where are they now?
Although the duo may not be directly involved in the game right now, they still remain active in terms of supporting First Nations communities.
North is currently working with a large scale commercial cleaning company and also holds an important position with a national charity.
“I’m the national Indigenous ambassador for GIVIT which is an online warehouse where people can donate items and goods for people that are in need,” North said.
“I’m doing a lot of charity work within the Indigenous space to help give back.”
With Williams 31 years North’s senior, it is no surprise to hear that the 1974 FIFA World Cup star is rightly enjoying his retirement but that has not stopped him from being handpicked for a position within the Indigenous program at the A-League’s newest club.
“I have accepted a role as the ambassador for the Charles Perkins Soccer Academy which is tied up with Macarthur FC,” Williams said on the ZOOM chat.
“We had a meeting earlier in the year and another formal discussion about the state we’re in but because of the pandemic, that’s put everything on hold for the time being.”
Where it all began: Choosing football over rival codes
North was brought up in Taree, amongst a rugby league mad family so it was quite a shock to see the former Socceroos captain choose football when he and his mum and younger brother made the move to the Gold Coast when he was young.
“I was the only Indigenous kid at school who was playing soccer even at my club level,” he said.
“Even when I was in the national team, under 17’s, under 20’s and under 23’s, I was the only Indigenous kid that was playing.”
The 38-year-old went on to say: “Football brought the best out of me, it taught me to be proud of who I am and what I represent.”
“I think it was after I won my first award when I was playing for (Sydney) Olympic back in the NSL. I was 18 or 19 at the time and that just spring boarded me and gave me the confidence to be proud of who I am and where I’m from.
“Just to teach all the young kids that are coming through because I know that a lot of kids have the same problems today with the racial abuse and anxiety of not fitting into society so that’s why I love football.”
Williams was brought up in Sydney but at a young age, his parents, brothers and sisters made the move to Victoria however the ex-Socceroos defender decided to remain in Sydney.
“I was raised by my aunt and uncle in Sydney, they were a working class family and that’s where I was introduced to football by my school mate who lived across the road from me,” Williams said.
“I fell in love with the sport immediately and the rest was history.”
Success with the Socceroos
A 19-year-old Williams burst onto the scene with St George Budapest in 1970 when he was given his first chance to impress for the Division One outfit – filling in for injured English defender Roger Hillary.
“Frank Arok who was our coach as well as the national coach. He was a believer in giving youth a go,” Williams said in regard to his first grade debut.
He added: “Roger was out for a number of weeks with an injury. I played pretty well the first week and Frank kept me in the side and I think I played six first grade games before being selected for the national side to tour the world for eight weeks.”
“I established myself over the coming years in the first team as well as the national side. The 1970 Australian squad became the nucleus and platform for the squad for the 74′ World Cup.
“There were players that moved in and out of that squad but I was fortunate enough to stay in that squad for most of that time and fortunate enough to be one of the 22 players that went to Germany in 1974.”
Williams’ rise up the footballing pyramid was complete when he became the first Indigenous Australian to feature at a FIFA World Cup when he played the final group stage match against Chile.
It was therefore no surprise to hear Williams describe this landmark achievement as a ‘dream come true’ with him and his fellow World Cup teammates still reminiscing about that tournament at the various reunions that they’ve had down the years.
“We felt very privileged to have made that squad. You could have picked another 22-30 players.
“To have that experience to play and rub shoulders with players like Franz Beckenbauer.”
On reflection, the 69-year-old believed that the Socceroos side that went to Germany were more than worthy of taking part in that tournament.
“We fared pretty well in our first World Cup. We were only part time players back then; we were semi-professional and we made the World Cup.
“It was a pretty special occasion for all of us.”
Williams was the first Indigenous person to break into the national team, however it was North who became the first Indigenous Australian to captain the Socceroos when he was handed the armband midway through a friendly match in 2008.
“It was against Singapore. Pim Verbeek was the coach at the time and Harry Kewell was captain. He came off at half time injured and then Verbeek looked around and because I just lifted the (A-League) trophy with Newcastle (Jets), he threw me the captain’s armband,” North revealed.
Away from the pitch, North’s dedication to helping Indigenous communities was recognised in 2016 when he received the NAIDOC Award.
“My proudest moment as a sportsmen was winning the 2016 NAIDOC sportsmen of the year,” he said.
“It was great to be recognised by not just football but by your own mob and community and it’s a pretty prestigious award.
“To be able to have that sitting at home is something special.”