5 May 2021

Archie Thompson's Pacific Mission

From Champions of the Pacific, 6:08 am on 5 May 2021

Archie Thompson used to terrorise Pacific Island football teams. Now he wants to help them.

It's been 20 years since the retired Socceroos striker bagged a world record 13 goals as Australia thrashed American Samoa 31-0 in a World Cup qualifier at Coffs Harbour. 

The result made headlines around the world and, two decades on, remains an inescapable part of Thompson's footballing story.

"It's a trivia question here in Australia. I always see (on) Sale of the Century or something like that the question pops up who scores that," he recalled.

"Something I was really buzzing about was that I was on the bottle lid of a VB. A mate of mine sent one of the trivia questions on the lid of a VB so I thought, "yes I've made it", even though I hate VB (laughing)."

Thompson had scored on his international debut a few days earlier, in an equally lopsided 22-0 win over Tonga.

But nothing could have prepared him for the next game against an American Samoa side missing 19 first choice players, and how it would change his life.

"The conversation does come up because maybe there's a big country that's playing a minnow I might think, "oh shit here goes a record", but I don't think anyone's ever really come close to it. I mean it's going to be difficult, scoring 13 goals in an international.

"I know the level keeps getting a little bit better every year and those Oceania qualifiers aren't what they used to be - especially here in Australia where we go through Asia, which is difficult, so I think that will be around for a long time."

The fallout from American Samoa's humiliating defeat led to an award-winning 2014 documentary detailing the team's journey to redemption.

Players huddle in 'Next Goal Wins'

Players huddle in 'Next Goal Wins' Photo: nextgoalwinsmovie.com

Thompson watched the film with interest and said said he would love to talk with the players involved to understand what they went through at the time.

"I've never spoken to anyone of their players. I don't even know their own experiences - what they had to kind of go through to get here - so that would have (been) something nice, especially on the 20 years (anniversary).

"I know they did a documentary "Next Goal Wins"...about getting some Dutch coach in, because they were the worst-ranked country in the world, so they were trying to climb the rankings or at least win one game." 

More on that later...

Fast forward to the present day and it's been five years since Archie Thompson played his last game for his beloved Melbourne Victory.

Former Australian football striker Archie Thompson playing for Melbourne Victory in 2014.

Former Australian football striker Archie Thompson playing for Melbourne Victory in 2014. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

He remains involved with football as a commentator for Fox Sports and also runs a junior academy, teaching the next generation of players how to put the goal in the back of the net.

But the former frontman is also keen to give back to the game he loves in a different setting - Papua New Guinea.

Thompson was born in New Zealand to a Pakeha father and Papua New Guinean mother, before arriving in Australia at just three weeks old.

It was in PNG where dad Archie Senior, who was working in the mines, and mum Esther first got together before leaving to start a new life

Archie Junior said his Melanesian heritage probably explained where he got most of his talent.

Archie Thompson's mum Esther was a skillful striker in her own right.

Archie Thompson's mum Esther was a skillful striker in her own right. Photo: Instagram/10archie

"My mum played up until she was in her 40s and she was quick, she was nimble and she had a lot of skill and I was always in the backyard with her," he said.

"That was our thing every sort of Sunday: jump in the old Ford Falcon and I had three brothers and two sisters and we all played soccer, even mum and dad played soccer.

"Yeah I got to see her run about a little bit and if it wasn't for her knees and having a few issues with that I'm sure she would have been splaying a lot longer than she did."

But after settling in Australia and raising a family, Esther Thompson lost contact with her family in PNG.

"When he came to New Zealand and Australia she lost all contact (with her family) because it is a remote place in PNG, especially back then," Archie explained.

"But through football and seeing my name through the media and through papers of what I was doing here in Australia she got that opportunity to have that reunion again with her family."

Three decades in the making, the reunion proved to be timely.

"After she went back after 30 years she's seen her family again and sadly enough six months after that her mum passed away.

"It was almost like she was kind of waiting, knowing she'd get that opportunity again, and it was through sport and through football and through what I was doing that she was able to do that."

Archie Thompson.

Archie Thompson. Photo: Screenshot

Football commitments have so far prevented Archie Thompson from visiting Papua New Guinea but, now that his boots have been hung up for good, the 42 year old is keen to learn more about where his mum was born.

"It would be great to go back and visit my mum's country, visit her village, but also too to be able to have some involvement in their football...and to be honest I probably don't ask mum enough about her story.

"I know that it was pretty tough and it's probably something that she doesn't like to talk too much about but, still, to be able to go there and see family and her sisters, my aunties, would be great."

Thompson is aware of how popular football is in PNG, who finished runners-up to New Zealand at the last OFC Nations Cup, and said he would love to help run some coaching clinics or academy sessions for local players. 

"I actually reach out last year to the PNG Federation to see if maybe there was something I can do at that level to be involved with the Association. They did reach back but then obviously Covid made that a lot tougher and I probably have to reignite that conversation again."

Meanwhile, a film adaptation of the Next Goal Wins documentary is set for release later this year, starring Michael Fassbender as the Dutch-American coach Thomas Rongen who - spoiler alert - leads American Samoa to their first ever international win.

20 years and 13 goals later, Thompson reckons he knows a guy who could be cast as the Australian goal-scoring villian.

"I'd play it (laughing)...well funny, no one really said anything. Are there copyrights? I've got to get something out of it."