Harry Souttar.
The abuse the Socceroos have taken after their Asian Cup exit has gone too far, Harry Souttar says. Image by AP PHOTO
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Personal targeting of Socceroos went too far: Souttar

Anna Harrington February 4, 2024

The targeted criticism and abuse of players during Australia’s failed Asian Cup tilt went too far, Socceroos defender Harry Souttar says.

Graham Arnold’s side saw a golden opportunity pass them by when they let a 1-0 lead slip in their quarter-final against South Korea, succumbing to a 2-1 loss in extra-time.

Australia were also heavily criticised earlier in the tournament for a series of scratchy group-stage performances.

Souttar stressed players and coaches could handle criticism of tactics, poor play or mistakes – but took umbrage with personal targeting and abuse.

“Maybe I’ll regret saying this a little bit later on, but as a whole we can just get behind the team better,” Souttar said.

“We were heavily criticised in the group stages and rightly so, because sometimes you can play better.

“But there’s a lot of negativity around it that’s uncalled for. Reading something from people still back home – it just doesn’t sit right.”

Defender Gethin Jones was heavily criticised during the group stage, while Mitch Duke’s missed chances and Lewis Miller’s costly mistakes against South Korea also attracted vitriol on social media.

It was reminiscent of the abuse Matildas star Ellie Carpenter received during last year’s Women’s World Cup, and that suffered by then-Socceroo Robbie Kruse during the men’s tournament in 2018.

Socceroos striker Mitch Duke in Asian Cup action v South Korea.
 Mitch Duke said he had received social media messages from people wishing he would die. Image by AP PHOTO 

“We’re a close group and when someone gets targeted … it puts your back up a little,” Souttar said.

“We are trying to do something good. It doesn’t come off all the time, but we can get behind the boys a lot better in certain situations.

“That’s just my opinion. I know a lot of what’s written and what’s said by the fans is really good (but) sometimes, you’ve got to know where you’re at.

“We’re at a major tournament, we’ve topped the group, (had) a good result in the round of 16.”

Duke posted on Instagram he had “let down the team and the nation” by missing some big chances, but said he would be taking a break from social media due to some of the abuse he had received.

“I hold my hand up taking full responsibility and accept some of the heated messages I am receiving as it comes with the territory of being a footballer and my position as a striker (although people need to control some of the things they say.. wanting me to die etc just a tad extreme),” Duke wrote.

The players’ union called for better protection for its members.

“Despite proactive steps being taken in the A-Leagues, effective responses remain rare, leaving athletes exposed to abhorrent abuse,” PFA chief executive Beau Busch said in a statement.

“Our national team players make immeasurable personal and professional sacrifices to represent Australia and deserve much better than toxic social media abuse and should be able to count on better protection from those who administer competitions.”