Sam Kerr is almost everywhere in Australia. On trains and trams. The billboards and the big screens. The back and front pages. But until Monday night, he wasn’t the one place he wanted to be: the pitch.
His calf injury, sustained a day before Australia’s World Cup-opening win over Ireland, hurt the co-hosts and anyone who followed them. Speculation on when she will return reached a fever pitch after the Matildas lost to Nigeria in match two.
He was not needed in the statement 4-0 win over Canada, which sealed Australia’s progress to the round of 16. But with Denmark building, his imminent return is all anyone can say.
As he warmed up at Stadium Australia, the crowd roared with anticipation, desperate to see the nation’s hero. And when he actually entered the pitch in the 80th minute, the atmosphere reached a new decibel level.
“That was amazing, honestly the Australian public are amazing,” Kerr told the media postgame. “The fans meant everything to us. It was a great moment, but I’m relieved and happy to be back there.”
His teammates have already done the job in a 2-0 win over Denmark, but his return is clearly a big boost for the tight-knit team.
“It’s a lot for him to go to the World Cup and start his dream now. It’s a big boost for us and also scary for the opponents,” said fellow forward Caitlin Foord.
“His talent and career speaks for itself. He is a wonderful leader for us,” said midfielder Emily van Egmond. “She’s probably the best striker right now in women’s football. And she deserves every cheer from the crowd she gets.”
Although the intense glare of national and international attention is more intense than ever, the spotlight is nothing new to Kerr. Since making his Australian debut as an early teenager at the age of 15, he has had to deal with attention and scrutiny on and off the pitch. He appears, for the most part, to do both with equal ease.
A leader and role model
Although perhaps not always the most naturally effusive, the 29-year-old is the clear leader of this Australian squad. His honest approach to the press and social media only increased his popularity.
“As I find myself more and more in the spotlight, I’m more aware of the impact the things I post and the things I say can have on people. But the one thing I always proud. so I’ve always been myself, and hopefully people can find comfort in that,” she told the Matildas website earlier this year.
“I also think that all my role models are people who affect me off the pitch, more than on the pitch. I know that when someone is very strong off the pitch, they bring people along them, they bring the team, they bring a country with them.”
The Chelsea striker also played in the US, as well as two stints with Perth Glory, based in western Australia, where Kerr and his three siblings were born and raised.
He comes from rock solid sporting stock. His father, Roger, was born in India to an English father and went on to play in the West Australian Football League (WAFL). Her mother, Roxanne’s father, and several of her uncles also played in the same competition, while an additional uncle was a champion Melbourne Cup jockey.
“That feeling of being home again, nothing beats it,” he previously told the Sydney Morning Herald of western Australia. “Especially a family like mine. At any given time, there’s eight, nine, 10 people here. You’re never alone. I love it.”
AFL’s loss is football’s win
Kerr’s athletic ability was evident from the start. She initially excelled in the AFL before finding her way into the high hurdles for women.
“One hundred percent I’ll stay with [Aussie Rules] football if I can,” he added. “I’m all AFL. I don’t like soccer very much. This is a completely different skill. I think anyone can pick up an AFL ball and move on: you drop the ball and kick it. A soccer ball, however, requires more skill.
Where Kerr’s route to the top of the AFL was blocked, older brother Daniel has already walked it, joining Perth’s West Coast Eagles in 2001 and winning the Premiership five years later. But he struggled with alcohol and violence issues throughout his career, leaving the siblings’ relationship strained. After a quieter period, Daniel retired in 2013 but his troubles continued, culminating in a prison sentence for arson in 2021.
Kerr has had few such issues, with a rise to prominence that seems smooth, even on the outside. In three different leagues, he scored 240 goals in 346 games and has 63 out of 120 caps for his country.
Kerr: ‘Football is 5% of my life’
Despite the challenges of a career that is often fleeting, he has also maintained a long-distance relationship, conducted during the COVID lockdown, with US player Kristie Mewis.
Mewis famously comforted Kerr on the pitch after the US beat Australia in the bronze medal match at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and the pair confirmed their relationship rumors soon after. But the Australian captain wrote on Instagram that although he was “proud” Mewis had been selected for the squad, the post in June was “the last time I will cheer you on.”
Kerr and Mewis are one of the most high-profile couples in the women’s game, and both are proud to be together in public like they are.
“I think it’s not just two women in love, I think if we can change one or two people’s lives and the way they feel about each other and how comfortable they feel, then very important to me,” Mewis said. “I love sharing my relationship on social media.”
Kerr agreed. “We are not private people. I like to share my story. I like to share who I am outside of football. Football is 5% of my life.”
It may be just a small part of his life. But even if he is less disruptive than those around him, it is football, and this World Cup, that arguably defines his international legacy.
Edited by James Thorogood