Australian football icon and A-League legend Archie Thompson goes 1v1 with the PFA to discuss his 20-year professional career, the highs, the lows and why he cherishes every moment of it.


PFA: The start of your professional career was with the Gippsland Falcons in the old NSL, what are your memories of life back then in the old National League and emerging into the competition as a young player?

 AT: It was kind of out of the blue that I went to Gippsland as I was kind of just cruising along at local level in Bathurst, I got a phone call from an old coach who used to look after me in Albury-Wodonga and he said to me ‘I don’t know what shape you’re in but I’ve got an opportunity for you to go to Gippsland Falcons.’ Obviously coming from the country these opportunities don’t come very often so Dad and I just jumped in the car.

I remember being on trial there and there was about seven of us and Frank Arok was in his first season as coach. The trial didn’t take place on the pitch but on the gravel car park outside the ground where we played a 3v3 game, I remember I wanted it that desperately that I was throwing myself around and by the end of the trial my legs were all cut up. After that I remember Frank Arok kept calling me Asprilla as I reminded him of the Colombian striker at the time, Faustino Asprilla, and from there he pretty much told my Dad I want to sign this kid.

From then on I had signed and was playing with the youth team for a long time, as I was doing a trainee ship with the Falcons, Frank had seen I was doing well with the youth team so he decided to put me in with the seniors. I started playing with the senior team and in one of my first games it was against Olympic, and at that stage they players like Jason Culina and Brett Emerton, and I must have caught the eye of Johnny Warren. I remember watching it back and Johnny Warren was saying ‘this kid here right now has got so much talent he takes players on, he reminds me of a Brazilian and is one for the future.’ I just remember feeling a big buzz from that and being so young hearing someone give you that praise, but even more so from the great Johnny Warren at the time was just a buzz and it just continued to grow from there.


PFA: The next destination was Carlton how did that move come about?

 AT: I was actually meant to go there the first year they started because Eddie Krncevic was playing at the Gippsland Falcons and he had seen me in his time there and saw how I played, he had actually wanted me to go to Carlton when he went there. When I had signed my contract (at Gippsland) being young and a bit naïve I assumed I was signing a one-year deal but in actual fact I had signed a 2-year contract. After the first year I originally planned to go to Carlton, but Gippsland turned around and said ‘hang on you’ve still got a year left here with us, so Carlton had to pay a fee to Gippsland to get me out of the contract, which I think was around $40,000, which at that stage was one of the highest transfer in the old NSL. Everyone at the time wanted to be at Carlton because of the players they had there and the club was wanting to affiliate itself Carltons AFL club to give it that professional setup. The likes of Vinnie Grella, Mark Bresciano, John Markovski, Alex Moreira, Andrew Marth and Steve Horvat were all really big players at the time and I was lucky enough to learn off them and mould my game.

It was these type of players the club who I think really helped guide me and set me up to succeed along with the hard work I had to put in myself. Their help in showing me what I had to improve on was important for my game and I was lucky to be able to learn from them. That’s why I think it’s important for any young players at clubs to not just blow off experienced players, but to take a little bit in as I took a little bit from each of these players and they helped me a huge amount in my career.


PFA: Getting to play with some top players was a high for you but the demise of the club must have been a difficult experience for you.

 AT: Yeah it was sad, it was a great group when you look at the players that were there, we were a very tight knit group and it was hard because a lot of players hadn’t been paid. Some players had jobs outside to fall back on and other players like myself at the time were relying on money from our football so it was a tough time. That’s why I think a lot of the young players that come through now are very lucky as they don’t have to experience that hardship, they don’t know what it’s like. It’s a hard gig when you haven’t been paid for a while and it was a such a shame because I believe the Carlton Football Club could have been such a big thing, but it was tough for every club back then.


PFA: You had a brief stint at Marconi after Carlton, but then made the inevitable move to Europe, was that something that had been on your mind from and early in your career or did it come out of the blue?

 AT: Eddie Krncevic helped a lot, he had such a great career over in Europe and especially in Belgium, so an opportunity arose to go over to Anderlecht. I went there and they loved the way that I played as well as the way that I trained but for some reason I fell sick and couldn’t play in this one important game against the Ajax, which was a youth team built up of great players like Vincent Kompany along with some other pretty prestigious names. Not being able to play meant they wouldn’t sign me then and  I had to come back to Australia and back with Marconi, which was then followed by a trip away with the national team to the Confederations Cup.

From there I went back to Belgium and within a day I was playing in a trial game with Anderlecht against another Belgian team in the same league, having just stepped of the plane less than 24 hours before I didn’t have the greatest of games. I was lucky though as there was a guy watching from another club who said he loved the way that I played and said ‘you probably didn’t have the best of games, but I can see that there is potential there’ and he was aware I had just been travelling and just said ‘I want to sign you, here’s a four-year contract,’ so I was like okay sure why not. I had signed for Lierse and Joe Spiteri was there and had success at the club. Lierse was one of the bigger smaller clubs in Belgium if you understand what I mean and always sort of a mid-table finish on the ladder.


PFA: What was the experiences like adapting to living and playing overseas?

 AT: You know football is football and I wouldn’t have been over there if didn’t think I could do well. The one big difference I found from Europe to Australia was how competitive it was, there was always a fight at training as everyone wanted their positions. In Australia it was a bit more comfortable you know you were going to be a part of the starting 11 whether you had a good game or not. In Europe you had to fight for you position to start and that was something that I needed to adapt to but I knew my football would do the talking.

With football you can be high at one point and then you’re at a complete low and I think some of my lowest times in football were overseas in Europe because the coach who brought me over got sacked the first year and then another coach came in which was difficult. The way I looked at football is you win games and you lose games it’s not the end of the world if you lose. As players you don’t go out there to try and lose games we always go out there to try win it.

For all the reasons you can work as hard as you want through the week, but sometimes on game day things just don’t go your way and you lose a game. We lost a very important game and the next day after that game I happened to be having a little laugh at something on the TV and the coach saw and from that point on he just didn’t want to play me. I went from the starting 11 to being put all the way down to the under 16s which was all in the space of sort of 2-3 months. I was in that position for about 6 months and that was at my lowest point, I was like ‘what am I doing here’ and if it wasn’t for my wife and my kids I would’ve packed up my bags and come straight home, but I stuck it out.

The same coach had sold players in my position and needed me back, we were sitting in a relegation battle. I got to score some vital goals and helped keep the club up and all of a sudden I was on a high. Sometimes that’s the highs and lows of the game, one day your training with the u16s in a European winter thinking what am I doing here and then one day you help your team to staying up from relegation and you’re back in first team again. Then another coach came and I had success with him and I was 2nd or 3rd highest scorer in the league and then my wife got pregnant and I received a call from Ernie.


 PFA: Leaving Europe to then coming back to a league that was just coming into existence must have felt like a risk for your football.

AT: I actually didn’t even know being over in Europe that the NSL had broken up. All I got told that there was a new league that was going to be formed and it was going to be a revamped NSL with a bit more to it. Ernie did give me a great spill about the new league, the club with where they were heading and what players he wanted to bring back and he just sold me. I told my wife and she was happy to go back she said why not and let’s see what happens. The first year was tough coming back from Europe where the competitiveness and structure was a lot better than the new A-League. The club was obviously in its early stages so it was learning day by day and we had just put a team from scratch together along with a league that started from scratch there was always going to be difficulties.

I remember I was a pretty hard one to handle at the start because I always have high expectations of certain things. I finally got my head around it and the rest is history. I had 12 great years at Melbourne Victory, won three Championships, three Premierships, been a part of a World Cup, World Cup Qualifiers, Golden Boots, Two Victory Medals and I think that’s because I pulled my head in and started believing in the people around me like Ernie who played a big part in it all.


 PFA: What has it been like finishing your career after 12 years with the club and seeing how much you have meant to the fans?  

 AT: You’ve got these supporters that come to the game and spend their hard earned money who work 9-5 jobs, who come to be entertained and they want to see their team work hard, chase everything down, even if you’re losing to not give up and want to win. That’s always what I’ve believed in, that the supporters put a lot of money into buying memberships, I believe they are the ones that make the club. What you saw on the pitch is what you get off the pitch, I always try to play with a smile, I always tried to entertain, I always tried to take the time to speak with the supporters and stop and sign autographs. I think that’s what the fans appreciate me. I remember my last speech when I announced it was going to be my last game, I stressed to all the current victory players that they should always take the time out for fans, what 5 or 10 seconds can do for a kid is amazing. I think that’s why I’ll have a connection with supporters and the club and I think I’ll always have that.


PFA: You had 12 years involved with the national team with 54 caps it’s a very impressive international career, how do you look back on your time with the national team as there are plenty of highs in there but what stands out for you?

AT: To represent my country has always been the pinnacle of my career and to this day I still get calls from boys that are in the national team asking how I am and I feel great that if l can have that effect with those boys to still be in contact today. I think to qualify for Germany after so many years I don’t think you can ever take that away from us. The 2005 game against Uruguay being a part of that squad was amazing and qualifying is one thing but having not qualified for so long made that feeling so special.


PFA: Finally, how have you found life since retiring from professional football?

AT: I am very grateful for what the club have given me with my ambassador role. I was a little bitter at not being given the opportunity to play on for one more year and kind of finish on my terms, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen like that. I was gutted when Kev (Kevin Muscat) had told me I wasn’t going to  be offered a new deal but now I’ve let that all go and I am grateful that Kev was honest with me and I couldn’t see it at the time but I can see that now so I am I grateful for that. I am enjoying what I am doing I play some indoor football with some mates, I play mixed netball with my brother and his partner, I just did a tough mudder on Saturday I get to do the ambassador role for the club and head out into the community and try do some good there. It’s also been great being stopped by people in the street who let me know that they enjoyed watching me play and thanked me for everything I did, leaving that effect on people gives me great happiness and I don’t think I knew exactly the effect I had on people until I stepped away from the game. I am enjoying my current work with Fox and still unsure whether I will go down the route of coaching we will see, but I am loving life.