By PFA Chief Executive John Didulica.

John Kundereri Moriarty was a Socceroo before he was considered an Australian.

When he was selected to represent Australia in 1960 he was not, as an Indigenous Australian, considered worthy of Australian citizenship.

That would come in 1967, when Australians voted to amend the Constitution to recognise John and his fellow Indigenous Australians as their ‘equals’. John would campaign hard at the 1967 referendum, alongside fellow footballer and indigenous advocate, Charlie Perkins.

Perkins would emerge as a giant of modern Australia, relentlessly railing against discrimination and injustice. A white mob would pelt him with eggs and tomatoes for swimming in a white only pool in Moree in 1965. Little did they know, or probably care, that in the years prior he had refused contracts at Everton and Manchester United.

Perkins and Moriarty would close the loop on modern Australia through football, the continent’s first people driving the fortunes of continent’s newest people at Adelaide Croatia during the 1960s. Both groups bonded by the uncertainty of their role in modern Australia.

“Soccer”, Perkins would say, “is one way of breaking down the barriers between national, racial and language difficulty”.

Indigenous Football Week presents an opportunity reflect on the lost connection between our sport and our first people. A lost connection that fundamentally diminishes our sport.

Close to 3% of Australians identify as being Indigenous yet Indigenous Australians account for 9% of AFL footballers, 15% of those players drafted to AFL clubs in 2016 and 12% of NRL players. Currently, just over one per cent of A-League players identify as Indigenous.

In his book, Paradise of Sport, Richard Cashman notes in relation to Indigenous communities that “sport was the cement which bound the community together”. In failing to engage with communities whose identity is so heavily invested in sport, we ensure that we fail in identifying our most talented future footballers.

Beyond the numbers, however, sits the sort of narrative that draws people to sport. Over fifty years later, we still marvel at the journey of John Moriarty from Stolen Generation to Socceroo. Harry Williams, at the 1974 World Cup, coming on in the 82nd minute of our match against Chile and earn Australia its first World Cup point. The journey that took Lydia Williams from Kalgoorlie to two World Cups.

The opportunity to reconnect though is real.

Lydia Williams and Kyah Simon remain two of Australia’s most inspiring internationals. Socceroo and A-League Champion Jade North was named NAIDOC sportsperson of the year in 2016 and has launched his own academy for indigenous footballers. Travis Dodd continues to break new ground at Fox Sports.

John Moriarty Football offers a bridge to young players from those remote communities for whom sport is cement, to the increasingly labyrinthine pathways of elite football in Australia. It is a bridge that may help football reconnect with a goldmine of unfiltered talent and build on a dimension to the sport we have barely scratched.

Australia’s footballers, through the PFA, are proud to partner with JMF in building this bridge.