Aussie Icon: Francis Awaritefe

Scarcely has a player in the Australian game had the same impact on and off the pitch as this storied striker

By Nick Boffa

Francis in full flight for Marconi Stallions. Illustration by Emily McNamara

Few players in Australian football can rival the impact of Francis Awaritefe both on and off the pitch since his arrival from the United Kingdom all those years ago. Often a cult hero among supporters, Awaritefe was born in London to Nigerian parents in 1964, and spent parts of his childhood in the homeland of his parents. A striker by trade, Awaritefe played for a number of clubs in the UK before landing in the now-defunct National Soccer League in 1989 as a 22 year-old. He suited up with traditional powerhouse, Melbourne Knights, for three seasons before joining a bitter rival, South Melbourne Hellas, in 1992 (via a brief stint with North Geelong Warriors).

Awaritefe was saddled with the expectations that usually accompanied foreign imports (and still mostly do) in Australian football and he didn’t disappoint – he was the top-scorer in the 1992/1993 season for Hellas. The forward clearly took to life in his adopted country and also enjoyed spells with Marconi Stallions, Sydney United and finished at Rockdale City Suns. Awaritefe made the ultimate transition by becoming the 398th player to be capped for the Socceroos (he played three times for Australia scoring one goal).

Whilst Awaritefe enjoyed a stellar career in Australia, it speaks volumes about him that his impact on the game is arguably greater after he hung up the boots. Most football fans in the 2000s will remember him as a mainstay of this country’s premier football TV experience (no debate needed); The World Game, a six-hour football extravaganza every Sunday on SBS. Awaritefe provided great insight into the machinations of the local game but also contributed to highlighting the best from abroad alongside the much-loved Les Murray, Johnny Warren, Ned Zelic, Craig Foster, Tony Palombo and more. The Londoner cum-adopted Aussie was much loved by the show’s audience (this writer included) and his beaming smile was a constant fixture on the program.

Awaritefe continued to contribute to the development of football in Australia through a series of roles in governance and administration. During his playing days, he was a club delegate to the Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) and was subsequently awarded life membership to the organisation in 2000. In 2011, there was a short spell as Director of Football at Melbourne Victory before he returned to governance-based roles. Awaritefe, who holds an honours degree in Law from City Law School (London), was elected to the board of FIFPro in 2017 and represents Australia and advocated for professional players here. It’s a position and a responsibility that he has taken very seriously with aims to making great impacts in his adopted homeland and internationally.

Now the vice-president of FIFPro, Awaritefe is at the forefront of a movement to allow players greater freedom of choice in their career paths through proposed reforms of the global transfer market (along with another former Socceroo, Simon Colosimo). Reforms would include greater player access to unilateral termination, agent fees regulations and greater dividends paid to clubs for player development. Most recently, Awaritefe lent his considerable support to the campaign to free ex-Bahrain international Hakeem al-Araibi from wrongful detention in Thailand, spearheaded in Australia by his former SBS colleague Craig Foster.

Francis Awaritefe, in his post-career endeavours with the PFA.

From his exploits on the pitch to his contributions to Australian football media and his efforts to improve the state of the game everywhere, Francis Awaritefe is most certainly an icon of Australian football.

 

 

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