Australia have produced many top-line female footballers over the past few decades as the Matildas' status grew on the world stage, but one stands above all others both figuratively and literally. By the time Cheryl Salisbury’s 15-year international career had concluded in 2009, the Newcastle-born central defender had notched countless milestone achievements.
Standing at six feet in her football boots and boasting a powerful athletic physique, Salisbury was a commanding and inspirational presence. But Salisbury was much more than simply athletic. Aside from her famed defensive prowess, Salisbury was skilled with both feet, could distribute possession from the back and boasted a considerable presence aerially.
On the world stage, Salisbury was a familiar figure at major women’s international tournaments for the best part of two decades. She played in four FIFA Women’s World Cups™ – a feat surpassed only by a handful of individuals – and two Women’s Olympic Football Tournaments. Up until her retirement Salisbury had been a part of the Matildas side in every tournament in which Australia had participated. Salisbury was also the only Australian to feature in the FIFA Women's All Star Team in 2004.
She was virtually first-choice on the Matildas teamsheet for almost her entire career. Little wonder then that Salisbury accrued 151 caps, comfortably an Australian record for any male or female footballer. Salisbury, despite playing much of her career in defence, also nabbed 38 international goals, which was also a national record until topped in 2014 by another Newcastle-raised player; Kate Gill.
Salisbury’s was a career of not just highs, but also firsts. She was the first Australian female to play senior men’s football in semi-professional ranks and unusually had stints in Japan during the 1990s, and then in USA.
Salisbury’s legend lives on in the shape of the medal awarded to the best player in Australia’s W-League, and in the title of an elite junior competition named in her honour. She even has a horse race named after her in her native Newcastle.
“The respect Cheryl’s got is worldwide,” said former Australia coach Tom Sermanni. “There’s not another Cheryl Salisbury, and there won’t be for some time to come.”