The moment of kindness that set Socceroo Awer Mabil on his path to 2023 Young Australian Of The Year

When Awer Mabil was a boy, growing up in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, he got word that a grassroots football clinic was being organised by a couple of Adelaide United players at a community club about 20 minutes’ drive from his house in Hillbank.

Mabil had never met a professional player before, but had been kicking a ball around for as long as he could remember, including in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya where he lived until he was 10. He knew this could be his chance to impress them.

The problem? Nobody in his family was around to drive him there. His mum, Agot, was at work and his older siblings were elsewhere. 

However, Mabil would not give up. Undeterred, and burning with ambition, Mabil grabbed his scooter and rode the 45 minutes along suburban streets to the clinic by himself.

Josh Rose takes on Awer Mabil
Awer Mabil made his debut for Adelaide United at 17 years old, paving the way for more representation of African-Australians in football.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

“I was like, ‘Man, this is my opportunity to impress and get recognition by these professional guys,'” he laughs over Zoom from his hotel room in Prague.

“[I thought], if I train hard, then they will be like, ‘Hey, we should sign this guy!’ I thought that’s how it worked.

“When I went there, I saw Travis Dodd and Scott Jamieson taking the clinic. And Travis realised that I didn’t have a jacket. So he gave me his Adelaide United jacket. I still have a photo of it on my old computer.

“From that day on, that was a big motivator for me. At that time, I was playing for [Dodd’s] former club, St Augustine, which is an amateur team. That motivated me to also become a footballer.”

There are a number of formative moments like this that Mabil, now 27, is looking back on after being named the 2023 Young Australian Of The Year: the red Kakuma dirt where he first kicked around a “ball” made from rolled-up socks or plastic bags, the two-hour walk he’d make regularly to the nearest television to watch games, moving to Australia in 2006 and seeing the Socceroos first compete in the World Cup.

However, it’s that act of kindness from Dodd that stands out. Not only did it provide inspiration for Mabil to pursue professional football, debuting with Adelaide United in 2013, but it also laid the foundation of charity and “giving back” that has motivated his life off the field.

Leave a Comment