Archie Thompson’s highlights reel makes for some fascinating and action-packed viewing. The Australian striker once racked up a world record 13 goals in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier, five goals in an A-League final and is considered royalty among Melbourne Victory fans – the nation’s best supported club – where his whole-hearted performances, loyalty and potency in front of goal are appreciated in equal measure.
All the while Thompson, known for his on-field passion and verve, constantly has a smile at the ready. Some impromptu air guitar with the corner flag as AC/DC reverberated around the stadium in Stuttgart following Australia’s breakthrough qualification for the 2006 FIFA World Cup knockout stage, remains an enduring and telling image Down Under.
Now 34, Thompson is enjoying a late career renaissance in the international sphere. Remarkably, after irregular appearances for the Socceroos and six years without an international goal, Thompson managed to net eight times for his country in 2012. He now sits just one shy of Damien Mori’s all-time Socceroos record tally of 29 goals. And there would not be a better time for Thompson to achieve the milestone than in the coming few weeks. Following qualification for successive FIFA World Cups, Australia have little margin for error in their Brazil 2014 campaign, which concludes during June with a decisive trio of matches against, firstly Japan in Saitama, before home outings against Jordan and Iraq.
The hard way
For all the highs, it was a career that was in danger of foundering before it had really begun. Living in a rural town a few hours west of Sydney, Thompson was far removed from the glare of the nation’s football hubs. Leaving school early, the teenager found himself washing dishes at the local Chinese restaurant “going nowhere”, when he had a footballing epiphany. There on the television was Harry Kewell, a former junior team-mate, starring for high-flying Leeds United.
It stirred a briefly dimmed passion in Thompson and within a few months his career was back on track after inking a semi-professional contract with the smallest club in the now defunct National Soccer League. Thompson signed on the basis of an impromptu trial on the rough-hewn gravel surface of the Morwell Falcons club car park, such was the understated manner of his entry to senior football.
Fast forward a few short years to 2001 and Thompson found himself playing professionally in Europe, donning the Aussie jersey at the FIFA Confederations Cup and the holder of a new world mark that is unlikely ever to be eclipsed. Just two months into his international career, Thompson – still barely known in Australia – grabbed an inordinate share of global headlines with a 13 goal return in a 31-0 win over an American Samoa side hamstrung by player eligibility issues.
“I honestly don’t remember much about it,” Thompson told FIFA.com of his world record achievement. “I was fresh in the Socceroos then, and I was just happy to be involved and enjoying the experience.
“You can go through a career and achieve a lot, but not many will have a world record so I’m grateful and proud to have it. I bring out my many copies of the record books whenever I get the chance,” Thompson says with a characteristic smile. There was, however, a price to pay for the headlines with Thompson burdened with an inflated weight of expectation. “I went overseas after that match and people expected so much, which made it hard.”
Nevertheless, Thompson enjoyed a hugely productive three-year stint with unheralded Lierse in Belgium, before a less successful spell at PSV Eindhoven under Socceroo boss Guus Hiddink. Thompson has been a model of consistency since joining Melbourne Victory back in 2005 in the then fledgling A-League, and has remained in an on-going joust with New Zealand ace Shane Smeltz to be the competition’s most productive striker.
Though now within touching distance of the Australian record, Thompson, who has Papua New Guinea heritage on his mother’s side, was in fact born in New Zealand. “I’m just grateful that I’m close,” says Thompson of the Socceroo goalscoring milestone. “Some of the goals I have scored are not at the level that the likes of (Mark) Viduka and (Harry) Kewell have scored, but in saying that how many people can say they are their nation’s top scorer.
“I had a good opportunity to score against Chinese Taipei (in an East Asian Championship qualifier last December),” said Thompson. “Perhaps I thought about it too much. There had been quite a bit of talk about it. Instead of letting it happen, maybe I was trying too hard to make it happen.”
Thompson though could yet be tipped out of the honour by, somewhat quirkily, Tim Cahill whose 27 international career goals puts him third on Australia’s list. The pair are close friends, and Cahill attributes his corner flag-boxing goal celebration to a similar trademark routine by Thompson.
Though ostensibly now in the twilight of his career, Thompson is showing few signs of ageing and has lost little of his characteristic speed. The prospect of featuring at next year’s FIFA World Cup – and becoming just one of a handful of survivors from Australia’s breakthrough Germany 2006 campaign – now looks stronger than ever.
“There is always a little bit of talk that I’m getting on,” Thompson says. "That is scary because football is something I have done all my life. But I am just enjoying what I am doing now. I put everything in and I don’t take anything for granted.”