It is hard to imagine a much-eulogised career starting in such ignominious surrounds. It began with an impromptu trial on the gravel car park of a small rural club, but 20 years later Archie Thompson ended his tenure at Melbourne Victory as the Australian A-League’s record goalscorer, and with a world record to his name that is unlikely to ever be surpassed.
Thompson walked off Melbourne Victory’s home ground on Tuesday for the final time. Long renowned for his charisma and down-to-earth personality, Thompson exited trying – only with limited success – to smile amid a flood of tears and emotional scenes.
The still-sprightly 37-year-old will have one more potential opportunity to wear the Victory shirt when the 2015 A-League champions visit Korea Republic for next week’s AFC Champions League last-16 second-leg tie against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
The Victory could only manage a 1-1 draw against the Koreans but, for many on hand, it will be the final memories of their departing favourite son that will live longest in the memory.
*From humble start to history-maker *
Thompson’s remarkable 13 goals against American Samoa in a 2002 FIFA World Cup™ qualifier brought him global attention, with his name likely to feature in trivia questions for decades to come. His international career eventually reaped 28 goals in 54 matches and incorporated four FIFA World Cup campaigns.
But in his native land, Thompson will always be synonymous with the A-League and Melbourne Victory. From the A-League’s inception in 2005, Thompson’s star power – he was a regular national team member and featured in the Socceroos’ breakthrough 2006 FIFA World Cup appearance - provided immeasurable impetus to the fledging competition. Local football fans held their breath wondering if the A-League would take off, let alone thrive. But thrive it did, and Thompson was arguably it’s greatest poster-boy, certainly it’s most consistent.
Thompson scored a competition-high 90 goals in 224 A-League appearances, as well as 46 goals in the former National Soccer League. Thompson also enjoyed stints at Lierse in Belgium, and with Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven.
On-field exploits aside, Thompson’s fun-loving character means he will also be fondly remembered as a breath of fresh air in the sometimes sombre world of modern football. Thompson’s impromptu corner-flag air-guitar to the din of AC/DC as Australia celebrated maiden qualification for the World Cup Round of 16 in Stuttgart ten years ago, being just one of many examples.
I consider myself to be one of those guys on the terraces.
Yet the glittering 20-year career may have turned out very differently. In 2013, Thompson told FIFA.com of his teenage memories and “going nowhere when I had an epiphany”. Thompson was cleaning dishes in the local Chinese restaurant when he saw former teenage team-mate Harry Kewell starring for Leeds United on the television. There and then Thompson made a decision to have another go at making a career in football.
Thompson sought a trial at humble national league club Gippsland Falcons, and former Australia coach Frank ‘mad dog’ Arok had the youngster juggle the ball on the rough-hewn surface, amid cars parked for lunch at the local sports club. The bright lights of stardom could not be any more distant.
And Thompson, true to his background, remained a man of the people. “I consider myself to be one of those guys on the terraces,” Thompson said, pointing to the crowd after Tuesday’s match. “The supporters are the lifeblood of this club, and I’m glad they adapted me as one of their own.
“I have always worn my heart on my sleeve. It’s been a long two or three weeks (since the previous home game) and I tell you what the tear ducts are just about empty.
“But I tell you what, that chant the supporters gave me was something that will live with me for the rest of my life. It’s been a pleasure. I’ll always bleed blue. I love this club.
"It's always hard to say goodbye to something that's been such a big part of your life for such a long time.”
And the credits continued to roll in for Thompson. “When you think Melbourne Victory, you think Archie Thompson,” said former Australia goalkeeper and TV analyst Mark Bosnich, further underlining Thompson’s role in the success of the A-League.
"What he has done for this club, the competition and the national team is immeasurable,” said Victory coach Kevin Muscat. “We can be grateful that he represented Victory with such class and professionalism over a long period of time. It was a privilege to play alongside Archie for many years, and an honour to coach him.”
As for Thompson himself, his exact future remains unclear. There remains the possibility that he will pick up another A-League contract, but one thing is certain, Thompson will not be lost to the game. "The decision is down to me ... you're a long time retired,” he said. "Maybe I might get to local football. Maybe I'll go play six-a-side. Or over-35s where I could actually have a beer before the game."