Matildas immortal Melissa Barbieri will be recognised by Professional Footballers Australia (the PFA) in July for her immense contribution to Australian football. 

Barbieri, who captained Australia to the 2010 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, represented the Matildas at four FIFA World Cups and the 2004 Athens Olympics, will be honoured with the PFA’s Alex Tobin OAM Medal at the 2023 Oakberry Players’ Awards on Monday 17 July 2023. 

The Alex Tobin OAM Medal is the PFA’s highest individual honour. It is awarded by the PFA Executive to current or former players who demonstrate the four attributes symbolised by former Socceroo and PFA President Alex Tobin during his career: leadership, achievement as a player, commitment to fellow professionals, and service and dedication to the game. 

Barbieri joins giants of Australian football in Joe Marston, Johnny Warren, Craig Johnston, Mark Viduka, Frank Farina, Mark Schwarzer, Harry Kewell, Cheryl Salisbury and Paulo Okon as an Alex Tobin OAM Medal recipient. The 43-year-old is the second female to have won the award. 

Barbieri said she was thrilled to receive the esteemed accolade on the eve of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. 

“The Tobin Medal is probably the single most prestigious honour I’ve ever received,” Barbieri said. “I’m truly humbled. Being alongside some of the greats of our game in this country, let alone being alongside Cheryl, my former captain, it’s such a blessing. 

“I feel like when I look back, a lot of my heroes have won the award. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself when you are included in the same category as those players.”

PFA Co-Chief Executive Kathryn Gill said Barbieri was an extremely deserving recipient for her tireless efforts over two and a half decades advancing standards and conditions for female footballers. 

“‘Bubs’ has been a household name in Australian football and her achievements on the pitch make her one of Australia’s finest ever players. But her impact has been much more than that. Bubs provided her voice, and elevated the voice of many others, to major areas of progress for women’s footballers in the A-League and the Matildas. She has an unmatched ambition and drive to improve the game and leave it in a better place for the next generation. Bubs stands among the greats of the game and is a deserving recipient of the PFA’s highest honour.” 

Barbieri was central to the industrial action the Matildas took in 2015 and was a living example of the need for a world-class maternity policy when she balanced motherhood with elite football following the birth of her daughter Holly in 2013. 

“I joined the PFA when the Matildas joined as a group [in 2007] and we went from having nothing, to being able to fight for our rights and being able to leave the game better than we found it,” Barbieri said. “A lot of the players who started that quest through the PFA at that time, knew they didn’t have long left in the game, so they were setting it up for generations to come. 

“I’ve probably been known as a disruptor for a lot of my career. I’ve lost a lot of contracts for my tenacity in striving for the women’s game and making it on par with the men’s. 

“The game has come a long way. I had to make some huge sacrifices when I had my daughter, Holly. To see today we’re moving toward a full home and away season [in the A-League Women] and we’ve got much better pay. Players can now choose their future.”

The Alex Tobin OAM Medal will be awarded alongside the 2023 Oakberry Players’ Awards including the Austraffic Footballer of the Year awards and the Beyond Bank Community Medal in Sydney on Monday 17 July 2023. A second recipient of the medal will be unveiled prior to the event. 

The 2023 Oakberry Players’ Awards will also commemorate 30 years of the PFA, with the organisation celebrating three decades of supporting the players and building the game in 2023. 

Tickets for the 2023 Oakberry Players’ Awards are on sale now with all proceeds donated to the Footballers’ Trust.