Fifty years ago – in 1967 – a team of Australian footballers, in a foolhardy attempt at wartime propaganda were dropped into the middle of a Vietnam warzone.

The faces of the players were so young that they could have been mistaken for draftees and not players. Battling the steady stream of mortar fire, the threat of the Viet Cong, toxic food, accommodation straight from the set of M*A*S*H, and a mid-match riot, the players would win Australia’s first silverware in the “Friendly Nations Cup”. Peak irony.

The team would emerge as the Socceroos.

For players such as the late Johnny Warren, it would serve as a catalyst for the missionary zeal with which he would live the rest of his life. It would drive a collective sense of mission that Johnny would live and breathe until his passing.

This collective sense of mission was contagious. In recent weeks, the sport has lost two journalists who would share Johnny’s missionary ethos, in Les Murray and Mike Cockerill.

This ethos was at the heart of Australian players heading to Europe in the eighties and into the nineties. From Krncevic to Farina to Okon to Kewell, Australian players would leave our shores as football envoys, out to show the world what they were capable of. And it wasn’t born only out of their own ambition, but a broader sense of mission to prove the worth of Australian football and Australian footballers.

In analysing the recent results of the PFA’s Player Pathway Study, the big challenge that we have is keeping up with the rest of the world. If the litmus test of our quality is how many players are competing in the top leagues of the world and how much ground our young players are making, then fifteen years of data tells us that we are now falling behind.

In order to reverse this trend, it is important that we recapture this collective sense of mission at all touchpoints of the sport. From journalists to professional players to senior administrators to grassroots coaches, we have to start defining and preaching our collective goal and each person’s role in achieving it, as well as being fearless in holding each other to account when we fail.

The entire sport should be able to feel a sense of pride at having worked together to build a platform that allows the Matildas to annihilate Brazil and Aaron Mooy to score the winner in the Premier League. But these achievements shouldn’t leave us scratching our heads, but be the end result of a cohesive and visible mission.