When David Mitchell first arrived in Europe, the notion of Australians being able to play football seemed fanciful to many. However, along with a handful of fellow pioneers, the tall striker led the way for today's influx of Aussie talent abroad.
The Scottish-born, Adelaide-raised Mitchell achieved success with a number of clubs across a variety of leagues. Stints at Eintracht Frankfurt, Feyenoord and Rangers saw Mitchell become the first Australian to compete in the German Bundesliga, Dutch Eredivisie and Scottish Premier League.
Mitchell's national team career was equally ground-breaking as he was the first to represent the Socceroos in four FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaigns. Now 46, Mitchell has been giving back to the game in a variety of capacities in his homeland, notably as a successful coach at national league level.
Mitchell's career spanned a fascinating era in Australian football, kick-starting with the teenager playing a key role in one of Australia's breakthrough wins in the international arena. The year was 1981 and the stage was the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Sydney, where Australia's youngsters knocking over reigning world champions Argentina in front of a enthusiastic home crowd.
"That match to me was a turning point in Australian football as the crowd was united behind the national team like never before," says Mitchell, who set up the winning goal. "It also showed that Aussies could compete at the top level and helped give our national teams that little bit of extra self-belief."
Two years later Mitchell returned to the city of his birth, having been picked up by Rangers, and so commenced his European football odyssey. Successful two-year stints at Eintracht Frankfurt and Feyenoord followed, before brief spells at Chelsea and Newcastle United. A move to Swindon Town saw an epic play-off win over Leicester City at Wembley as the Robins reached the Premier League with Mitchell playing an important role in the success. There followed another groundbreaking stint, however brief, for the Australian with Altay Izmir in Turkey, before a return to England and Millwall.
That match to me was a turning point in Australian football as the crowd was united behind the national team like never before
"They (Millwall) were a club on the up with Mick McCarthy there, and with their new stadium at the time, it was a really enjoyable period for me," says the affable Mitchell. The nomadic nature of his 20-year career continued firstly in Malaysia with Selangor, before concluding with a number of seasons in Australia's national league.
Mitchell's club career could have taken on a more stable and very different look but for his commitment to the green and gold. Some ten years after joining Rangers, Mitchell very nearly became one of the first players to appear for both Rangers and Celtic but he forsook the opportunity to join the Bhoys to appear for Australia in their crucial FIFA World Cup play-off against a Diego Maradona-led Argentina. It was to prove his last international for Australia and a disappointing one in the context, with Australia narrowly losing over two legs and with Mitchell's commitment repaid with a position on the substitute bench despite promises to the contrary.
Similarly, it was the call of the national team that lead to an exit from Feyenoord, where Mitchell was frozen out of the first team after a lengthy absence representing Australia at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Yet the highlights far outweighed the low points for Mitchell, a proud Australian, who has many fond memories of wearing the national team shirt.
Mitchell has been active over the years in a variety of roles that have included scouting for Feyenoord and a brief role assisting with the Australian Olympic team. Later this year, Mitchell's autobiography is set to be released, a rare chronicle of an Australian footballer. Away from the game, Mitchell enjoys a game of chess, likening the tactical battle of wits to that encountered on the field, where "you have to try and stay a step ahead of your opponent".
Success in the coaching field came quickly for Mitchell, winning the Australian Premiership with Sydney United in 1999 and being named coach of the year into the bargain. That triumph came 18 years after he had been named Australian youth player of the year in a career that had come full circle.
Mitchell is currently coach of Perth Glory in the Australian A-League. He has been in charge there for just over 12 months and is helping this once-great club get back on its feet after several years of instability. It is a challenge that he is relishing: "My coaching ambition for now is to lead Perth back to its former glory and to be regular challengers for the championship."
Born: Glasgow, Scotland, 13 June 1962
Clubs (player): Adelaide City (1980-83), Rangers (1983-85), Eintracht Frankfurt (1985-87), Feyenoord (1987-89), Chelsea (1990-91), Newcastle (1991), Swindown Town (1991-93), Izmir (1993), Millwall (1993-95), Selangor (1995), Sydney Olympic (1996-97), Sydney United (1997-99)
Clubs (coach): Sydney Olympic (1995-96), Sydney United (1996-99), Parramatta Power (1999-01), Sarawak (2005), Perth Glory (2007-09)
National Team: 29 caps (11 goals)