The big interview: Tim Cahill – “When I said I was leaving Everton, Phil Jagielka turned around and half-slapped me”

Tim Cahill

Photography: Will Douglas

FourFourTwo have handed Tim Cahill a pair of boxing gloves – but we’ve unwittingly committed a faux pas.

“Red? That’s Liverpool!” wails the former Everton man. Despite the colour – and no corner flag to victimise – he dons the gloves and starts punching away in front of the FFT cameras, recreating the goal celebration that’s been his trademark.

It’s something we’ve seen at three World Cups. Australia’s greatest ever player scored five goals at the tournament and made the Socceroos’ squad for Russia 2018 aged 38, aiming to emulate Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose as the only players to to have scored in four editions.

There, the world was sadly denied his shadow-boxing – Cahill was reduced to one 37-minute cameo off the bench – but it was another chapter to a notable career; one he’s happy to recall with FFT...

Growing up in a family with so many links to rugby, how difficult was the decision to play football instead?

Junior Leoes, via Facebook

It was easy for me because I didn’t have the physique. I’d play in the back garden with my brothers and cousins, and I was always the one coming in crying because they were too big. But I’m a big fan of rugby – both union and league.

Did your parents really take out a $10,000 loan so that you could move to England as a teenager?

Robbie Payne, via Facebook

It wasn’t exactly $10,000 but yeah, they got a loan to buy my flight to trial for Millwall. They made a huge sacrifice for me and it’s something I’ll never forget. Millwall offered me a deal in the Second Division [third tier] and I jumped at the chance.

Tim Cahill, photo: Will Douglas

Neighbours or Home and Away?

Ryan Dyer, via Twitter

Oh, wow... Neighbours. I’ve had a few crushes in Neighbours, that’s why – too many to mention! I tended to watch Neighbours and Home and Away more because I was living away from Australia, actually.

Playing with Sean Dyche at Millwall, did you ever see him eat a worm?

Bradley Glover, Birkenhead

Let me tell you a thing about Dychey: if he ate a worm, it would have been for a good cause – a selfless act on behalf of the team... not to say that I think he would eat a worm! Even as a player, he left no stone unturned. I’m lucky that I had the time playing with him and learning from him. We got promoted from the Second Division with an amazing squad with a lot of heart.



1998-2004 Millwall

2004-12 Everton

2012-15 New York Red Bulls

2015-16 Shanghai Shenhua

2016 Hangzhou Greentown

2016-17 Melbourne City

2018 Millwall

2018- Jamshedpur

Is it true that Mick McCarthy gave you the chance to play for the Republic of Ireland at the 2002 World Cup, due to your Irish grandparent?

Stuart Steelyard, via Facebook

There was an enquiry, but I was born in Australia. I know the national anthem and I really believe that if you play for a country, then you have to know the national anthem. I was really pleased to be asked, but I’m Australian. I have an English passport, too, but back then I wasn’t good enough – I was learning my trade at Millwall. I didn’t play for Australia until I was 24 because I had played in a competition for Samoa when I was younger and couldn’t get cleared to play. But common sense prevailed and I finally got cleared.

You did the ‘twirling the shirt around the head a la Ryan Giggs’ celebration when you scored Millwall’s FA Cup semi-final winner against Sunderland in 2004. Was there any reason for it?

Nathan Brady, London

That just happened by chance – it was elation. I ran the length of the pitch like Forrest Gump! It was amazing to score that goal, and it’s a big part of Millwall’s history – Dennis Wise and Ray Wilkins drove us to do something special. We played Manchester United in the final and they were unbelievable – they had Roy Keane, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy in their side. I was so blessed to have that part of my career as a Millwall player, as who knew what was going to be next for me after that?

How did the move to Everton happen?

Jess Miller, via Facebook

There was a lot of interest. I remember that when I met David Moyes and Bill Kenwright, they said: “We can’t guarantee you’ll be playing, but we know you can score goals, we know you are dangerous and we know you’ve got an engine.” I said: “Look, all I need you to tell me is that you’re going to give me a chance, and after that, I will prove myself to you.” That was it – simple. I’m thankful to Everton. I still speak to David and Bill often.

Tim Cahill, photo: Will Douglas

You got your first Everton goal away at Manchester City, only to be sent off for putting your shirt over your head to celebrate. What did you think when Sepp Blatter publicly stuck up for you?

Michael Gilbert, via Facebook

I didn’t know that he stuck up for me. Cheers, Sepp! If I’d known that, I’d have asked him to rescind it. But it was an important goal, so I wouldn’t take that away for the world. It was pure emotion – my first goal in the Premier League and first of many.

How important was David Moyes to your career? As a Millwall player, did you want his West Ham team to fail?

Pete Holland, Essex

Let’s not talk about West Ham... but I always want him to do well. He was a massive influence on my career. He’s like a father figure to me in the football world – someone I always call on for all of the big decisions. He believed in me from day one, and I felt indebted to work for him. What he did for Everton goes beyond being a great coach: they miss his authenticity and how much he really loved the club. I always say that you’ve got to be careful what you wish for when you want money and change, as you lose a little bit of the authenticity. And I love him just as much for the way he took care of his players off the park.

Have you forgiven Pierluigi Collina yet for disallowing Everton’s would-be equaliser against Villarreal in 2005 Champions League qualifying?

Rob Hyde, Liverpool

It wasn’t meant to be. We were hard done by, but it was such a great experience. When you look back on it now, you think, ‘Wow – to reach the Champions League qualifying stages was a big achievement’. We sold Wayne Rooney, signed Tim Cahill and Marcus Bent, and finished in the top four.



1994 Samoa U20

2004- Australia (108 caps, 50 goals)

Duncan Ferguson vs Kevin Muscat: who wins?

James Fredericks, via Facebook

I love them both, but Fergie’s on a different level! You’d want Kevin in your team, but Duncan was a player who I looked at and thought, ‘I will go to war with you any day of the week’. He helped me to get a lot of goals because he took a lot of attention on the pitch. I saw a few headlocks he had with players and I was always there to back him up... but just back him up – he was always front line! Against Liverpool he would try to create havoc. His victim? Probably Sami Hyypia, but who wasn’t his victim? They knew to keep their distance. He never really started anything – he just finished it.

What are your favourite Merseyside derby memories?

Izzy Booth, via Facebook

Winning 3-0, and Lee Carsley scoring a winner and me piling on top! I loved the derbies and passion of the fans. I was lucky enough to score five goals against Liverpool. I love the big games.

QUIZ! Can you name the missing sponsors from these 15 Premier League shirts? (opens in new tab)

Tim, can you explain your ‘punching the corner flag’ goal celebration?

YousefTweetzz, via Twitter

It started with a kung-fu celebration that I helped to choreograph for one of my Australia team-mates, Archie Thompson, because we played those games on the computer. He had his baby boy and scored, I had my baby boy and scored – my celebration was only a bit of fun and it just seemed to grow and grow. Kids love it and it’s stuck, and I’m proud of it. [FFT: In one game against Central Coast Mariners in Australia, a ball boy moved the corner flag so you couldn’t punch it…] It was awesome! The club knew I was going to score, so before the game they told all of their ball boys to move the corner flag away. That’s a huge compliment, and I thank them for preparing for me to bang a goal in against them.

Tim Cahill, photo: Will Douglas

How did it feel to score Australia’s first ever World Cup goal, against Japan in 2006, and then follow it up with the Socceroos’ first World Cup winner five minutes later?

Morgan Wright, via Facebook

I came off the bench in that game and it’s something that will be with me and Australians forever. At the time I didn’t know I was the first, but afterwards, and now, I know how big it was and what it meant to everyone.

How did you feel after going out to a stoppage-time penalty against Italy at the 2006 World Cup? Was it unfair?

Ronney Dellamare Jr, via Facebook

I felt fine, because it wasn’t meant to be. You’re upset, but you’re also proud of what you have achieved. The icing on the cake was that Italy went on to win the World Cup, and we had come close to taking them to the wire. It was pretty soft – it looked like [Fabio] Grosso went down really easily – but we just had to suffer it.

In 2006 you were nominated for the Ballon d’Or – did you think you had a chance of winning it?

Mason George, Perth

No, no chance at all, but it was great to be an Aussie and nominated. It’s a big honour to be recognised as a footballer with the elite. [FFT: Did you get interest from other clubs around that time?] Oh, every year. If you’re banging in 10 goals a season and doing well in World Cups, there are always clubs interested. But I was always very focused on Everton. Sure, you will always look over your shoulder, but you’ve got to ask yourself what you want from your career. You can sign for bigger clubs, but are you going to play and how is it going to affect your overall career?

Did you think Everton were going to win the FA Cup in 2009, when Louis Saha scored after 25 seconds?

Adam Ferguson, via Twitter

I felt we had a huge opportunity. It was something the club needed. We died at the final hurdle – Chelsea made some subs, and the subs were probably worth about £50 million. We faded a little bit, but it was an amazing run to the final.

Was being sent off for fouling Bastian Schweinsteiger at the 2010 World Cup the hardest moment of your career?

Amelia Denning, via Facebook

No – if anything now it’s up there with the highlights. The important thing for me was reacting in the right manner. Kids are watching – take it on the chin, whether or not you think it’s a red card. I missed the game against Ghana but then came back to score against Serbia. After the Germany game I went over to Schweinsteiger and he shook my hand. I look at that World Cup as: I scored for my country and had a very good time.

Tim Cahill, photo: Will Douglas

How have you always been so good in the air when you’re only 5ft 10in?

Rob McGrath, via Twitter

It’s about training – explosive work in the gym – but also desire. They do tests in the gym to see how high you can jump, but if there’s no ball there and nothing at the end of it, I won’t jump as high. I’ve been fortunate to have the knack for my whole career. It’s still one of my strongest points.

BETWEEN THE LINES Michael Owen: “After France '98, I’d get home at 1pm every day and sit there until 11pm replying to mail" (opens in new tab)

Was leaving Everton the toughest thing you have ever had to do?

Sally Burns, Widnes

Yes and no, because I was 32 at the time and made a big decision to join MLS, play in New York and join a team with some unbelievable players such as Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez. It was the right move because it allowed me to continue playing international football, which was important to me. Regardless of whether Everton wanted to sell me to another Premier League club instead of MLS, as they would’ve got more money, I told them I wasn’t going to another Premier League club – I wanted to play elsewhere. But the gaffer was good about it, Bill Kenwright was a gentleman and the fans were good. A few players were shocked as I hadn’t told anyone – it was done so quickly and quietly, because that’s the way I like to do business.

I remember going into the treatment room and Joleon Lescott, Tony Hibbert and Leon Osman were there. I told them: “I’m off.” They said: “What? Where are you going?” I said: “New York – it’s being announced in an hour.” They were like, “What?!” I think Jags [Phil Jagielka] turned around and half-slapped me. He said: “Nothing ceases to amaze me about decisions with you”, because one week I was playing and the next week I was off to play in MLS. But I wanted to go and experience a new adventure.

Exactly how showbiz was it playing for New York Red Bulls?

Alex Headley, via Facebook

There were always things going on. We launched FIFA with Drake on stage and Snoop Dogg – you go through some of the photos and have to pinch yourself. When they throw an event, they go big. That’s why they get all the star players such as Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic; they get the big dogs because they can back it up. You’re willing to go out there and take a pay cut because the lifestyle is so good. I loved my time with them, and New Jersey is still our family base.

Was the brilliant volley against the Netherlands at the 2014 World Cup the best goal of your career?

Owen Walker, via Facebook

Yeah, that one’s up there, for difficulty and also for the way it went in. I’ve always been a strong believer in just taking a chance. I know that I’m either going to hit the back of the net or Row Z, and mentally it doesn’t really bother me if it hits Row Z as I will do it again – I’ll look for another moment to make somebody say, ‘Wow’. I can’t explain how it felt to score that goal – it was like an out-of-body experience. All you can do to understand how much it meant to me is watch it and see me going crazy during the celebrations!

Tim Cahill, photo: Will Douglas

People like to suggest that there’s a financial element at play when footballers move to clubs in China. Was that a factor for you?

John Buley, Tasmania

It didn’t matter what they said about me going to China – I was 35, I’d just won the Asian Cup with Australia and I signed for one of the biggest clubs in China. It wasn’t as if I was going there at 30, like some players do. It was the perfect move for me and my family – it was an amazing offer and we had an amazing time. I scored goals and played with some top players: Momo Sissoko, Demba Ba, Gio Moreno, Fredy Guarin, Obafemi Martins and Avraam Papadopoulos. It kept me fit through World Cup qualifying with Australia. It was an incredible experience, living in Shanghai, living in Hangzhou. China is full-on – another level. When I signed, there were a couple of thousand fans at the airport with a lot of security and the army there. They’re so passionate.

How keen were you to play for a club in Australia before you retired?

Austin Frazer, via Twitter

I had an opportunity to play for the City Group with Melbourne City, which was probably the biggest thing for me. It was a success, because in the first match in the A-League I scored a bomb that was a defining moment, as there was a lot of pressure on me in going back there. I played pretty much every game in the first season and we won the club’s first ever trophy, which was what they wanted.

Your 50th goal for Australia came against Syria. Did you feel bad about crushing their World Cup dream?

Oscar Campbell, Leicester

You don’t look at it like that. You have to win for your country, or you won’t be going to the World Cup. When you score 50 goals for your country, you’re going to crush someone else’s dream.



With all the travelling involved in playing for Australia, have you ever played while jetlagged?

Jake Hynes, London

Yeah, one hundred per cent. When you choose to play for Australia and in the Premier League, that’s a recipe for disaster. You’ll finish a game on a Saturday, fly Sunday, get there Monday night and train Tuesday, play on Wednesday, then fly back as you’ve got a game on the Sunday. I did that so many times with Everton – that’s why you have to make better decisions later in your career so you can keep playing. It’s a big reason why I left Everton.

How much have you enjoyed being back at Millwall? We love having you back!

Jamie Bartlett, Tonbridge

It was a massive decision to come back, because of the expectation that I was coming back just for the sake of coming back. When I had discussions with the gaffer [Neil Harris], it was about making an impact on and off the park. It’s been one of the best decisions I made. I haven’t played much football but I’m driving the boys on, and we went on a long unbeaten run that was just ridiculous. I couldn’t be prouder. Millwall helped make me who I am today. Millwall and Everton are two clubs who’ll always be a part my life. [Shows FFT the tattoos on his arm] You can see there: ‘MFC’ and ‘EFC’.

Was wanting to go to the World Cup a factor in the move back to Millwall?

Holly Yates, via Twitter

The biggest thing was competitiveness and the level of training in England. At my last training camp with the national team my stats were up, so coming back here was the best thing that I could do.

I heard that you were due to move into coaching with Melbourne City. Is managing still on your agenda?

Nick Flynn, via Facebook

Not as quickly now. That transition was most obvious if I’d seen out my career at Melbourne, but it didn’t work out. As a footballer, when you find a new gear there are always opportunities, because so many different leagues are starting up and developing all around the world. I’ll be getting my badges in the future, but I’m still enjoying playing right now.

How does it feel when people call you the best Australian player of all time?

Kian Hutchinson, via Facebook

For me, you can only be judged on what you’ve done for your country. I’ve always put my country first, even over my club. [FFT: You broke the scoring record in a friendly at The Den…] That was meant to be, wasn’t it? If I get the appearance record, awesome. But if I don’t, it’s not a big deal. To me, the big deal was reaching 50 goals. I’ve played in three World Cups and also scored five World Cup goals, so I’m proud to have had those moments for my country.

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Chris Flanagan FFT
Staff Writer

Chris joined FourFourTwo in 2015 and has reported from 20 countries, in places as varied as Jerusalem and the Arctic Circle. He's interviewed Pele, Zlatan and Santa Claus (it's a long story), as well as covering Euro 2020 and the Clasico. He previously spent 10 years as a newspaper journalist, and completed the 92 in 2017.