The recent retirement of Australian Cheryl Salisbury has deprived women's football of one of its most iconic figues. The resume of this literally towering captain is remarkable in both national and global terms.
In an impressive 15-year career, Salisbury competed at four FIFA Women's World Cups and two Women's Olympic Football Tournaments, and made two appearances for the FIFA Women's World Stars. Moreover, she holds the Australian record of 151 caps and 38 goals for the national team, which makes her easily the most capped male or female Australian footballer, and, incredibly for a defender, the highest scorer for her country.
After a career of such longevity, it is no surprise that the body is starting to give out on the 34-year-old, resulting in Salisbury taking her final bow in front of an adoring home crowd on Saturday, when the Matildas drew 2-2 with Italy. Typical of a career that always seemed to hit the right notes on the big occasion, Salisbury scored what looked like the winning goal from the penalty spot, only for the Europeans to equalise late on.
A glittering career
A career of such magnitude began in 1994 amid humble circumstances for the 20-year-old from Newcastle, Australia's football cradle, with the Matildas losing at home in front of a modest crowd in Brisbane. The following year, the Australians made their maiden FIFA Women's World Cup appearance, and despite suffering some ignominious defeats, the birth of a special career on the world stage had been witnessed.
Salisbury made two appearances at that tournament in Sweden, missing only her country's last match against USA, which, impressively, is the only game she has missed at any of her four FIFA Women's World Cups or two Women's Olympic Football Tournaments.
After years of failure, the Australian dream finally came to fruition at China 2007, with the team reaching the quarter-finals; a breakthrough success which enjoyed unprecedented coverage Down Under. Much like the Socceroos at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, it took a dramatic late goal in the final group match for Australia to progress - and this could not have been any more dramatic or late. With literally seconds of injury time remaining, and Australia needing a draw to edge past their Canadian opponents, skipper Salisbury produced an equaliser that became a defining moment for women's football in Australia.
While initially reluctant to talk about a single career highlight, Salisbury of course nominated that match in Chengdu as a special one. "Obviously the goal against Canada that got us through to the quarter-finals at the 2007 Women's World Cup was the biggest thing that's ever happened in women's football here," she said. "To be part of that team and to be the one who scored the goal is probably the biggest moment."
The future is bright
Undoubtedly the prospects for women's footballers in Australia are far brighter than when Salisbury first joined the fray, however, this is a development that she is happy to see. The establishment of the Australian W-League, and the massive growth in the number of female players, are just two of the enormous leaps that have been made in the game.
After a remarkable club career that included stints in Japan, and in the USA with New York Power, Salisbury would not categorically rule out taking to the field again for the Newcastle Jets. However, the lure of spending leisure time surfing, and perhaps even the more gentile pursuit of coaching has finally won the day.
"I'm so happy, I look back on my career and there are so many great things, but at the same time I'm looking forward to the other things in life," she said. "For many years football has come first, so it will be nice to lead a normal life."