Sam Kerr’s tone hardly changed. She hasn’t had time to think about it yet, she said. She kept it in the corner of her head. She had other things to pay attention to.
Her response was deadpan, and Kerr gave the clear impression that the offer was, for some, a once-in-a-lifetime offer, just a bullet point in a hectic schedule, another item on the to-do list: Barcelona on the road. Liverpool in the league. She was to be Australia’s flag bearer at Westminster Abbey, the coronation of Charles III. Everton away.
Of course, she said she was aware that being handpicked by the Australian Prime Minister to carry her country’s flag at the coronation was “an amazing, amazing honor”. That’s probably “I’ll be telling my kids in 10 or 15 years,” she admitted.
But the thought did not deter her. In fact, she was so nonchalant that when she was offered the role, she admitted, her first instinct was to turn it down. She thought she was too busy to attend her coronation. She thought she would have a training session that day. She didn’t want to miss her practice just to raise her flag.
But those who know her will give a supplementary explanation. Kerr has long been regarded as perhaps the greatest player in women’s football. At one point, she was the highest-paid female player on the planet.
Her teammates, co-workers and friends all agree that what the position brought – the profile, the money and the pressures that came with it – didn’t leave any mark on her. “She strikes me as really cold,” said Australian team-mate Mary Fowler. “Any pressure I feel is multiplied for her. So I just think: Kudos to her for seeming like she can handle it and it doesn’t affect her.”
That’s who Carr is, she said. She’s also exactly who Australia needs this month as it prepares to take her home country on the back of the Women’s World Cup again.
Kerr, 29, has been a superstar for some time. Four years ago, when Chelsea were preparing to sign her, her club management had to file a lawsuit against her investment. The fees and salaries for her services were considerable by the standards of women’s football at the time.
Their argument was that her marketability had dwarfed the money. By that stage, Kerr had become the face of Australian sportswear maker Nike. A potential deal with her was the driving force behind Australian broadcaster Optus Sport’s decision to acquire the rights to England’s Women’s Super League. Chelsea’s board has been told that instead of considering her idea that acquiring Kerr is expensive, she considers her deal a bargain.
This summer confirmed it. Kerr is not only the undisputed star, the main event and the biggest Women’s World Cup in history, but also a central figure in a World Cup that Australia desperately wants to win at home.
Her image spread across the country. She is the central figure in all of her tournament marketing campaigns. She’s pictured alongside Princess Leia and John Lennon in a mural in the fashionable Marrickville suburb of Sydney, and is even on the cover of the latest edition of the FIFA video game. She published her autobiography. As her former teammate Kate Gill puts it, she’s “the team’s front man.”
Every major news outlet seems to have covered her upbringing in Fremantle, a suburb of Perth, Western Australia, detailing her family’s rich sporting history (both her father and brother played professional Australian Rules Football) and her rise to fame in a sport that she and her family initially “hated”.
“She’s everywhere here,” said John Marquardt, the television and media executive who closed the deal with Optus. “If there is an icon for this World Cup, it is her. The position she is in is actually quite unusual. In terms of universal respect, I can’t think of anyone who can match her.”
Instead, her sporting circles in Australia are skewed towards people whose heritage has been honed over time, including runner Cathy Freeman, swimmer Ian Thorpe and tennis player Ashley Barty. Even cricket, the traditional national sport of both rugby and the AFL, is unmatched by her current peers.
In a country as active in sport as Australia, as essayist and thinker Donald Horn put it in 1964, “for many Australians sport is life and the rest is shadow”–a considerable honor. Marquard attributes her widespread popularity to her character as well as Carr’s achievements, especially outside Australia.
“We’ve historically had a bit of tall poppy syndrome,” he said, referring to situations where people’s successes make them resent or criticize. “Australia generally has a cultural ethos of not taking yourself too seriously.
“I admire what someone like Nick Kyrgios has done, but he can be very divisive. Sam, on the other hand, has no such arrogance.
Australia defender Steph Cutley made this more succinct in a commentary to the Sydney Morning Herald. “She is there,” she said. “She was just like, ‘Oh, oh. I’m Sam. This is me.’ She still is.”
So instead of being intimidated by his status and the expectations that fall on his shoulders, Kerr seems to not only welcome it, but encourage it. She semi-regularly talks about what the tournament will bring to her and to women’s football in Australia, calling it the ‘Kathy Freeman moment’, after her iconic 400m victory at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Carr suggested that leading Australia to a World Cup victory in the same stadium would have much of the same effect on later generations of Australians.
“Without the pressure, it wouldn’t be that big of a match, to be honest,” she said earlier this month. “Pressure is a privilege and I love pressure. I love being in moments where just one or two moments can change the course of my career and I think this World Cup is one of those moments.”
Carr admitted he was a little nervous when he began to ponder his role in Westminster Abbey in May. All she had to do was walk a few steps in front of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and she had to do so with the Australian flag on her shoulders and the world’s attention.
It was the first coronation she attended this year. Her hope is that there will be her next production, in which she will play a more prominent role. The difference is that this time she wasn’t nervous at all.