Tim Cahill: Australia’s favourite sport star

Tom Dunstan

Tim Cahill’s journey from Division Two midfielder to Australia’s most decorated and adored Socceroo is potentially football’s ultimate romantic tale.

Sat down as a teenager and told that he simply wasn’t good enough to play among the professional ranks, a lesser man would have crumbled. But, as we later found out, ‘Timmy’ is a man made of stern steel and the doubts only fueled the youngster’s ambitions.

Born to humble beginnings, Australia’s favourite son was raised in Sydney, his father an Irishmen and his mother a Samoan. Rugby was the game of choice in the Cahill household, however, Tim and his father always squeezed in time to catch just a glimpse of the Premier League.

Despite having nine relatives who would become rugby stars in their own right, Tim’s parents always encouraged him to pursue soccer, a sport that was far from the norm in Australia. His family ethics installed at a young age and his eagerness to give back to those who helped him are all reasons why Cahill has a special spot in the hearts of every Australian.

“It was hard for me to come to England; my parents had to get a loan to get me over here for a trial. I’ve made sure since then that I’ve paid them back and they’ve never had to work since the day I got my first contract.” – Tim Cahill

From Palm Beach to the Premier League

Like all things in Cahill’s life, nothing was given, it had to be earned. Chasing a dream and with his parents gathering enough to pay for a one-way flight across the world, in 1997 the future pioneer of Australian football arrived in Grays, Essex, hoping someone would give him a chance.

That chance came in the form of Division Two side, Millwall. Almost a year on from sleeping in his family’s spare bedroom, the then-18-year-old was plying his trade in England’s lower tiers.

But, it wasn’t all rosy in South London, playing in adverse weather conditions that were a far cry from the sunny parks of Sydney, Tim became sustained to picking up blisters from training in the snow.

Times were tough and the teenager who would often call home in tears – although they were often met with a dose of tough-love from parents who had sacrificed so much to give him this opportunity. 

Nevertheless, Cahill and his mix of professionalism, gratitude, fearlessness, and consistency saw him break into Millwall’s senior side in 1998. Even at the start of the fairytale, Cahill was always humble and to be playing at any level in England was a dream come true.

“I remember cleaning boots at Millwall on £250-a-week and feeling like a millionaire. I’d made it then. At the time, if I never played for another club it wouldn’t have bothered me too much because I’d have made it with a football team in England.” – Tim Cahill

By his second season in England’s third tier, Cahill’s tireless work rate and never-die attitude had seen him become a fan favourite at the Den. His performances on the pitch were a vital part in a season that saw Millwall reach the Football League Trophy final in 1999.

It was during the early noughties that Cahill really started to make a name for himself, securing promotion from the old Second Division before appearing in two playoff semi-finals. If England’s elite didn’t know who Cahill was yet, they soon would.

If there was to be one defining year in Tim Cahill’s story, that year would no doubt be 2004. Under the stewardship of the Premier League veteran Dennis Wise, Cahill helped lead Millwall on a historic FA Cup run.

The competition’s last four pitted the Lions against Sunderland, and on the hallowed turf of Old Trafford, the youngster cemented himself as a Millwall legend. Playing in front of both his father and brother, Cahill scored the only goal that sent Millwall to the final and secured them their first taste of UEFA Cup football.

Despite going on to lose the final 3-0 at the hands of Premier League giants Manchester United, Cahill’s performances had earned him a list of admirers, and after seven years, England’s elite was calling.

After initial interest from Crystal Palace, it was David Moyes’ Everton who made a £1.5million investment and finally awarded Tiny Tim the title of being a Premier League star.

For David Moyes’ side, it had been a real up-and-down start to the Scot’s tenure at Goodison. With minimal funds at their disposal, Everton were looking for someone who could offer them stability, but that someone had to come at a bargain.

So, Cahill’s arrival on Merseyside was a match made in heaven; Everton had their talented bargain and Cahill had his Premier League stage.

Finishing his first season as Everton’s top scorer and Fans’ Player of the Year as the blue half of Liverpool pipped their red rivals into fourth place – earning their best league position since 1988 as they did it – Tim was rewarded with a contract extension and a hefty well-earned pay rise.

Domestically and internationally, things were only on the rise for Tim, though. Coming off the back of a string of record-breaking performances at the 2006 World Cup, Cahill was named as one of 50 nominees for the Ballon d’Or, becoming the first Everton player in 18 years to be nominated.

Following the Socceroos’ successful World Cup campaign and with football mania sweeping across the nation, their homegrown, record-breaking, Premier League star was the elected face of Australia’s footballing revolution.

Cahill would later cement his legacy on Merseyside. During an eight-year spell at Goodison, Cahill served as vice-captain to Phil Neville and formed an unconventional but devastating midfield partnership with Marouane Fellaini, the 5ft10″ warrior made over 200 appearances for Everton and is widely regarded as a key part of their transformation into a genuine challenger for European football.

International Legacy

Although Millwall and Everton fans will passionately argue otherwise, it would be fair to say that Cahill was often undervalued in England’s top tier. But when it comes to his international pedigree, Cahill stands alone. A record breaker and a hero.

“He is the best footballer we have produced. End of argument.” – Robbie Slater

Although he would go onto become Australia’s golden boy, as a teenager Cahill was pulling on a different shirt. With his mother being from Samoan heritage, a young Tim elected to play for Samoa; he made two appearances for their under 20s side, including his debut as a 14-year-old.

After FIFA changed its eligibility rules in 2004, Cahill was free to represent his home country and expected a call up in 2004 and, as they say, the rest is history.

Mr. Australia was about to prove that whenever the Socceroos needed a moment of magic, he would be there.

The World Cup is one of the greatest sporting events on the planet, and it’s how the Australian public will remember Cahill the most. In 2006, he scored the Socceroos’ first ever goal at a FIFA World Cup, which inspired the Aussies to their first ever win in the tournament, scoring another goal in the same match.

Before the landmark match, Cahill was told by manager Guus Hiddink he would have to settle for a place on the bench. For some stars, that would get their head down and lead to a sour attitude. But, for Tim, it was always about putting his country first, no matter the circumstances.

Spearheading Australia’s push to a Round of 16 clash with eventual winners Italy, Cahill’s heroics had dragged football across Australia into the mainstream.

In 2010, with the World Cup calling, Cahill once again showed just why nobody wanted to represent their country quite like he did. Coming off the back of an injury-riddled season with Everton, Cahill had only a handful of minutes under his belt. But when it came to the Socceroos, he could find that extra gear.

After a string of match-winning performances in the qualifying rounds, Cahill had almost single-handedly slingshotted Australia to their first ever consecutive appearance at a World Cup. But there was an ever so momentary hiccup in this fairy tale story.

Determined to play through the pain, Cahill declared himself fit for Australia’s opening game against international heavyweights Germany, a decision he might now regret.

After picking up an incredibly controversial sending off in the Socceroos’ opening group game, some might have crumbled under the bright lights. But Cahill simply brushed away his tears and set an example for everyone back home.

“The first thing I thought about when I got that red card, was to take it on the chin and walk off and think about everyone in Australia watching instead of being a baby and reacting.” – Tim Cahill

Bouncing back in trademark Timmy style, he couldn’t leave the tournament without breaking a record. After putting the devastating sending off behind him, he went on to score three goals in the remaining matches, the most goals any Australian has scored at a World Cup, a record still held today.

Adding a further two goals at the tournament, including that goal of the tournament strike against the Netherlands, Cahill now adds his name to an elite group that consists of Klinsmann, Matthaus, Baggio, van Persie, Robben and Uwe Seeler as the select few to score in three consecutive World Cups.

Currently sitting on over 100 international caps and with a greater goal-to-game ratio than Ronaldo and Messi, Cahill’s legacy even had one more chapter to add.

The 2015 Asian Cup was just another platform that allowed Cahill to add to his already decorated career, scoring three goals in the tournament and leading Australia to this first ever piece of international silverware.

The King returns home

Widely regarded as the greatest signing in the A-League’s brief history, Tim Cahill’s return home was not only a huge scalp for Melbourne City, but for the A-League as a whole.

With Australia’s top tier still very much in its elementary stage, they knew that for someone as hungry as Cahill, stepping down a level was not an option. It wasn’t a case of him coming down to their level, it was a case of the A-league coming up to his.

For most players, a marquee move abroad is often a promotional jackpot, a final hurrah that sometimes offers the odd extraordinary performance, but rarely do they offer both. Cahill’s case is curious though, even now at the age of 37 and with a resume resembling that of a grizzled vet, Cahill still continues to punch the corner flag with as much enthusiasm as he was doing on Merseyside a decade ago.

With his on-pitch legacy etched into the Australian record books, Tim continues to show just why he is universally considered to be one of football’s greatest off-field characters.

Wanting to do everything possible to help Australian football grow and help mold the next crop of Aussie stars, he is the face of the Foxtel All Stars Program The campaign includes over 1000 children, Cahill himself contributes to a $20million investment for the development of future football stars.

I want to be in the minds of kids on and off the pitch. To add to the participation numbers, the grassroots, help with the fundamental skills and, importantly, help the kids to have fun and maybe help them achieve their dreams. – Tim Cahill

Down under, Rugby league may have its eight immortals, the AFL might have a string of superstars and Rugby union has an exclusive hall of fame, but, for footy, one man stands alone.

A legend on and off the pitch,

Tim Cahill…what a guy.

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