What a moment for Australia’s refugee community when South Sudanese-Aussie Thomas Deng captained the Olyroos to victory over Argentina. Deng’s family fled the Sudan civil war to Kenya and he moved to Australia when he was 6. Football helped Deng adapt to Australia: “It was a really different culture that my family and I had to adjust to. So the first few years wasn’t too easy, making that adjustment was hard, but I think football and school made it much easier to make friends and relate to others.” Deng told PANSA.
“Football was a place I felt I belonged. With football you don’t need to speak a language. I just felt an acceptance as soon as I joined an Italian club, – Adelaide Blue Eagles – everyone was very welcoming and it made the transition a lot easier.”
At age 15 he moved to Melbourne’s Green Gully club and was invited to trial with Melbourne Victory: “As soon as I heard that I was shocked and happy. I told my family, who were very proud of what I had achieved.”
Deng’s father tragically passed away in 2007 and he owes his success to his supportive mother: “She used to drop me everywhere in Adelaide and Melbourne and through football I can now help my mum out, and help my family out financially as well, which is a good thing.”
In 2017-18 he was a member of the Melbourne Victory team that won the Grand Final 1-0 over Newcastle jets.
“It all happened very fast,” Thomas remembers. “If you track back a few years I was in Adelaide, we had an African tournament and I was wearing a Victory shirt and some guy asked me ‘do you play for Victory?’ I was like ‘no, I don’t,’ and then four or five years later I am playing for the senior team! A crazy story, and me and my brother laugh about it all the time.”
Then in 2018 he made his full international debut for the Socceroos against Kuwait, a moment that he will never forget.
Deng proudly wears the mantle of African Australian football pioneer: “I hope it’s an inspiration for the younger generation and others in the African community. For the younger kids that look up to me and Awer (Mabil), every time they turn on the TV and they see us playing I’d like to think they get a sense of hope and a bit of drive that they can achieve that dream as well.”
He’s moved on from Melbourne Victory to play for the Urawa Red Diamonds in Japan but his heart remains focussed on playing for Australia: “I think it is a privilege every time I go into camp and I wear the green and gold, it’s a privilege and a honour to represent Australia.”
Good luck Thomas. The nation is behind you.
Image Source: Socceroos