Volume 24, Issue 7
Words Edwina Hall
Pictures Peter Casamento
Melbourne Heart coach John Aloisi is an Australian sporting hero who will always be remembered for kicking the penalty shot that saw the Socceroos advance to the World Cup in 2006, after 32 long years of waiting. He took time out of his busy schedule to reflect on the importance of faith and family in his life; for him, home is where the heart is.
JOHN Aloisi’s passion for soccer began early. Since his first game at the age of five, he has gone on to achieve huge success in the sporting arena.
Born in Adelaide, his introduction to soccer was kicking a ball around the backyard with his brother, former Australian soccer player Ross Aloisi, and, from the sidelines, watching his father coach the game that would one day become his own.
In 2005, John was immortalised as one of Australia’s greatest sporting heroes when he scored the decisive penalty against Uruguay in the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualification playoffs. This penalty shot, which took the Socceroos to the 2006 World Cup—the first time Australia had qualified since 1974—was voted one of the three greatest moments in Australian sporting history by the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
John’s career on the football field is wide ranging and he has played in Europe’s three leading competitions: the English Premier League, the Italian Serie A and the Spanish Primera Liga, the only Socceroo to do so; nationally, he played for Adelaide City, Central Coast Mariners, Sydney FC and Melbourne Heart; and he played for Australia from 1997-2008.
John says that it is the versatility of the game that has sustained his love of soccer for so long.
‘When I was a kid, I just loved kicking the ball around and, as you get older, it’s a real technical and tactical game.
‘There are very few sports where you can dominate the opposition and still lose. It’s such an entertaining sport. As a player, I just loved scoring goals and winning games.’
Kicking the goal that secured Australia’s place in the 2006 World cup ‘was a massive high’, John said. ‘And playing in the World Cup was a dream come true because, as a kid, I always dreamed about playing for Australia, never having seen Australia play in a World Cup.’
John says that his transition from player to coach has been a good one. After playing with Melbourne Heart from 2010-11, he became coach of the junior side in 2011 and head coach of the A-League team in May last year.
He says he has enjoyed the challenge of both roles. ‘It’s completely different. As a player, you have to make sure that you look after yourself and that you do all the right things so you can prepare for the game,’ he said.
‘As a coach, you have to prepare over 20 players and also keep on top of everything else around the club. It’s very hard to switch off as there is always something that you have to do; but I really enjoy it, I enjoy the challenge.’
He says that he ‘loves that Melbourne Heart has a philosophy on the way we want to do things, not only as a team but as a club.'
‘We did say, when we first started the club, that we would help develop young players and fulfil their potential, help them one day play for Australia or go overseas and better themselves. We are always giving youngsters a go.’
In a season that has had its ups and downs, Melbourne Heart did not make the finals this year, but will no doubt use this as motivation next season.
‘We are trying to play a certain style of football. We won't always get the results at the moment from that, but we believe that in the future we will. And at home, especially, we are playing really entertaining football and the crowd really enjoys watching us too.’
Since 2005, the name ‘John Aloisi’ has become well known in most Australian households. Yet the glory that comes with success has not changed this gifted sportsman’s essential outlook on life, which he attributes to his family and his faith.
‘My parents, my wife and my family have always kept me grounded; they’ve made sure that I don’t forget where I come from,’ he said.
‘The most important thing for me is family, and no matter if you are really successful or you are having a hard time, you have always got them to turn to.
‘My number one priority in life is to make sure my family are happy and healthy.
‘My wife Angela and I have been married for 16 years. I’ve always wanted to have a family and be with someone I love. I was lucky to find Angela early in life.
‘Any spare time that I’ve got, I try to spend with my wife and our daughters Alisia, 11, Katia, 9, and Amaya, 6.’
John, who is a parishioner at Sacred Heart in Kew, was brought up a Catholic and said before the World Cup in 2006 that he had always called on his faith, ‘not just when I play, but every day—it’s an important part of my life’, a faith he continues to embrace.
‘I come from a Catholic upbringing, I was educated at Catholic schools and we always went to Mass every Sunday, which was a family tradition.
‘When I went overseas to Belgium, aged 16 [to play for Standard Liège], it was tough going, and that’s where I really turned to religion. It helped me through tough times and it also helps me when things are going well.
‘When you are going through both good and bad things, you get people from the outside world sayings things, and I think that my faith helps me to switch off and ask God to help me through every challenge that I am facing.
‘I also thank God and Jesus for making sure that I appreciate when things are going well for me in life.
‘I will make sure that my kids believe in the Catholic faith and they are also going to a Catholic school where they will learn exactly what I learnt.’
When I asked John how he feels about being a source of inspiration to others, he replied: ‘I just try to be myself.
‘I am conscious that I am in the spotlight and that I act appropriately. I played soccer not so much to inspire other people but for myself because I loved the sport so much.
‘As a kid growing up, I was inspired by older players and when I used to see them and ask them for their autograph, that used to inspire me. When young kids come up to me, I’m more than happy to give them some advice or have a photo taken with them because I know how much it means to them.’
John’s parents and grandparents have been a constant source of inspiration in his life.
‘My grandfather arrived in Australia from Calabria in Italy on his own to raise money to make sure that he could bring his family out and consequently gave my family a life; I look to my grandparents a lot.
‘Also, my mum and dad have been an inspiration for me. They had five kids [John is third in line], which isn’t always easy.’
As our conversation drew to a close, I was keen to know John Aloisi’s take on the correct term for his sport in Australia—soccer or football?
His down-to-earth reply was: ‘To be honest, I’m not too worried about it; as long as you are talking about the sport, that’s the main thing.’
A sport that John Aloisi’s influence has certainly raised to its rightful place in Australia.