TRAVIS Dodd thought his soccer talent would pay the bills for life when he left school as a teenager.
Now the former Adelaide United captain is using lessons learnt from his 381-game professional career to inspire fellow indigenous players off the pitch as well as on it.
“I was 16 and thought I was going to be a millionaire from the game, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” Dodd, the first Aboriginal player to score a goal for the Socceroos, says.
“Fourteen years later in Perth I started studying again and realised how important it was.”
Football Federation Australia this month launched its inaugural Indigenous Football Week.
The initiative, which raises funds for the John Moriarty Football foundation, celebrates past achievements of indigenous players while encouraging the next generation to embrace the sport.
“It’s not just about getting (indigenous) kids to play soccer,” says Dodd, who studied a Bachelor of Business while playing in the A-League for Perth Glory.
“It’s about providing life opportunities to (indigenous) kids in remote communities to get an education.
“If football works out and they can excel at that as well, then that’s a bonus.
“Hopefully we’ll see a lot more (indigenous players) come through not only the NPL but to the A-League and international stage as well.
”The rich potential of indigenous soccer will be on display at Polonia Reserve tomorrow when Dodd, 36, lines up for MetroStars against Croydon’s Steven Pepper in the SA Premier League.
Kings midfielder Pepper, who traces his Aboriginal heritage through his mother Naomi, grew up playing both soccer and Australian rules football at Rostrevor College.
The 22-year-old hopes the work of SA-raised Moriarty – the first indigenous player selected for Australia in 1960 – can steer more youngsters towards the world game.
“Hopefully one day I can be like Travis and John and be an ambassador for the sport and go out to communities to promote the game to the young kids,” says Pepper, an Indigenous Studies student at the University of Adelaide.
“Our game is quick and needs agility, so it’s there for them (indigenous children) to learn.
“All the natural skills are there, they just need to be finetuned.”
Three-time SA champion MetroStars have endured a slow start to the season and sit second-bottom with just two wins from eight games.
Croydon, eighth, has also had an inconsistent campaign, but is just one point outside the top six.
“It’s always a good game between us and MetroStars,” says Pepper, who has played in Spain and Belgium.
“There’s a bit of history and a bit of a rivalry there.”
Indigenous players Travis Dodd and Steven Pepper, pictured together in 2009.