Sam Kerr is just about everywhere in Australia. On the trains and trams. The billboards and the big screens. The back and front pages. But until Monday night, she hadn’t been the one place she wanted to be: the pitch.
Her calf injury, sustained the day before Australia’s opening World Cup win against Ireland, has consumed the co-hosts and anybody following them. The speculation over when she’d return reached fever pitch after the Matildas lost to Nigeria in game two.
She wasn’t needed in the statement 4-0 win over Canada, which sealed Australia’s progression to the round of 16. Yet in the buildup to Denmark, her imminent return was all anyone could talk about.
As she warmed up in Stadium Australia, the crowd buzzed with anticipation, desperate to see the country’s hero. And when she actually entered the pitch in the 80th minute, the atmosphere reached a whole new decibel level.
“That was amazing, honestly the Australian public are amazing,” Kerr told media after the game. “The fans mean everything to us. It was a really nice moment, but I’m just relieved and happy to be back out there.”
Her teammates had already done the job in a 2-0 win over Denmark, but her return was clearly a big boost for the tight-knit squad.
“It was massive for her to come into the World Cup and start her dream now. It was a massive boost for us and pretty scary for the opponents as well,” fellow forward Caitlin Foord said.
“Her talent and career speaks for itself. She’s an amazing leader for us,” midfielder Emily van Egmond said. “She’s probably the best striker at the moment in women’s football. And she deserves every single scream in the crowd that she gets.”
Though the intense glare of national and international attention is more intense than ever, the spotlight is not new to Kerr. Since making her Australia debut as a precocious teenager at the age of 15, she’s had to cope with attention and scrutiny on and off the pitch. She appears, largely, to do both with equal ease.
A leader and role model
Though perhaps not always the most naturally effusive, the 29-year-old is clearly the leader of this Australia squad. Her honest approach to the press and social media has only increased her popularity.
“As I’ve found myself more and more in the spotlight, I have become more conscious of the impact that the things I post and the things I say, can have on people. But the one thing that I’ve always been really proud of is that I’ve always been myself, and hopefully people find comfort in that,” she told the Matildas’ website earlier this year.
“I also think all of my role models have been people who have really impacted me off the pitch, more so than on the pitch. I’ve found that when someone’s really powerful off the pitch, they bring people with them, they bring the team, they bring a country with them.”
The Chelsea striker has also played in the US, as well as two stints at Perth Glory, based in western Australia, where Kerr and her three siblings were born and raised.
She comes from rock solid sporting stock. Her 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 a further uncle was a Melbourne Cup champion jockey.
“That feeling of being home again, nothing beats it,” she once told the Sydney Morning Herald about western Australia. “Especially a family like mine. At any one time, there’s eight, nine, 10 people here. You’re never alone. I love it.”
AFL’s loss is football’s gain
Kerr’s sporting aptitude was obvious from the start. She initially excelled at AFL before finding pathways to the top blocked for girls.
“One hundred per cent I would have stayed with [Aussie Rules] football if I could,” she added. “I was all AFL. I didn’t really like soccer that much. It’s actually a completely different skill. I think anyone can pick up an AFL ball and have a go: you throw the ball down and kick it. A soccer ball, though, it takes a lot more skill.”
Where Kerr’s route to the top in AFL was blocked, older brother Daniel had 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 sibling relationship strained. After a quieter time, Daniel retired in 2013 but his troubles continued, culminating in a jail sentence for arson in 2021.
Kerr has had few such issues, with a rise to prominence that has seemed smooth, from the outside at least. Across three different leagues, she’s scored 240 goals in 346 games and has 63 in 120 caps for her country.
Kerr: ‘Football is 5% of my life’
Despite the challenges of a career that is often transient, she’s also maintained a largely long-distance relationship, forged in 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 Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and the pair confirmed rumors of their relationship soon after. But the Australia captain wrote on Instagram that although she was “proud” of Mewis getting picked for the squad, the post in June would be the “last time I’ll cheer for you.”
Kerr and Mewis are one of the most high-profile couples in the women’s game, and both are proud of being together as publicly as they are.
“I think just being out and being two girls in love, I think if we can change one or two people’s lives and the way that they feel about each other and how comfortable they feel, then that means a lot to me,” said Mewis. “I love to share my relationship on social media.”
Kerr agreed. “We’re not private people. I like sharing my story. I like sharing who I am outside of football. Football is 5% of my life.”
It may only be a small portion of her life. But though she may be less fussed than those who cast the noise around her, it is this football, and this World Cup, which is most likely to define her international legacy.
Edited by: James Thorogood