How A-Leagues captain missed his own 21st birthday to swap shirts with Van Persie

Western United take on high-flying Wellington Phoenix in round 6 of the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Josh Risdon is a foundation signing, and the heart and soul of Western United. He’s also worked with Ange Postecoglou and starred at a World Cup after his parents sacrificed so much. This is his story.

Life is about sacrifices and football is no different. Just ask Western United captain Josh Risdon.

He has represented the Socceroos, played at a World Cup and won an A-Leagues Championship. None of that would have been possible without the sacrifices of his parents.

Picture the almost three-hour one-way trip from Bunbury to Perth for training as a youngster. Now picture doing that five times a week… that’s around 1,700km of travel.

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“It was huge,” Risdon, who played junior football for Perth RedStar (formerly ECU Joondalup) before joining Perth Glory in 2008, told “Mum and dad kept saying if it’s what you want to do, then they were happy to do it. They wanted to give me every chance to achieve my dream.

“I’m very grateful they did it. It was huge, not only on them, but to take away the time from my other siblings. I did feel guilty but they said they’d do it for any of their kids.

“Looking back, they say they get a lot of joy watching me play given what we all went through to get where I am which helps a bit with my guilt.”

Incredibly, Risdon would leave school at lunchtime to make the gruelling trek to Perth with his parents. They wouldn’t get home until around 10pm at night.

He’d also “smash out any homework” during the drive up.

“We’d have to leave early and once you got to Perth, you’d cop the peak-hour traffic,” he remembered, having aspired to be like Socceroos legend Harry Kewell.

“Mum and dad would always give me the option sometimes (to stay home from school the next day) if I was tired.

“Four times a week and then going up on the weekend for a game too. It was pretty full on.”

The 31-year-old has made a career for himself as a full-back, but that was not his preferred position in his earlier days.

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Growing up in Bunbury, a smaller town more into its AFL and cricket, Risdon said: “I was a striker until about 12 and then when I started going up to Perth, dropped back into midfield for a bit and playing centre midfield.

“I was trialling for the state team Under-14s and we had a lot of midfielders. Very good midfielders, all of them ended up playing professionally, one’s name is (Socceroos defender) Trent Sainsbury, who is a centre-back now.

“The coach put me at right-back because he had too many midfielders. I did really well and haven’t looked back since.

“Being a striker and midfielder has helped my game. Sort of got put in a position. It’s kind of a blessing maybe because I might not have made that state team if I was trialling as a centre midfielder.”


Missing his 21st for a date with a world juggernaut

Back in 2013, Risdon had big plans for his 21st birthday.

But Risdon, who was still playing for Perth Glory at the time, had to scrap those celebrations after receiving a call from Ange Postecoglou.

Postecoglou was head coach of the A-Leagues All Star team set to face Premier League champions Manchester United in Sydney a decade ago.

“I had my 21st planned. I had to cancel it,” Risdon laughed. “Actually, I don’t know if I cancelled it because everyone was still coming up from Bunbury so I think they still went but just had it without me. All went to the venue and had a drink without me.

“I ended up missing my 21st. It was an unreal opportunity. One you wouldn’t really want to give up.

“Even going into camp and being with the best players in the league too, working with Ange.

“Ended up swapping shirts with (Robin) Van Persie too. It was a good alternative (to 21st birthday party) that’s for sure.”


Making his Socceroos debut and being stuck in a lift with Ange

Risdon has 14 international caps to his name, having made his Socceroos debut against Bangladesh in a FIFA Men’s World Cup qualifier in November 2015.

Postecoglou was in charge at the time having plucked him from Perth in the Isuzu UTE A-League after the Aussie trailblazer had guided Australia to an unprecedented AFC Asian Cup triumph at the beginning of the year.

It gave Risdon the opportunity to work with a man who has gone on to win trophies in Japan and Scotland before making history with Tottenham in the Premier League this season.

“You didn’t have many one-on-one conversations with him,” he recalled. “I did get stuck in a lift with him at a hotel once. I feel he had no excuse but to say something (laughing).

“It was in between our last session and the game, and I knew from training I was starting. He was just reinforcing to be positive. At the time I was in pre-season at the Wanderers, and he was just backing me and giving me confidence.

“Really grateful to Ange. He gave me my chance for the Socceroos. A great coach and you could see it when I was there. Tactically he was very good. It goes to show where he is at the moment. He copped a lot of stick for the national team job and he’s just gone on to bigger and better things.”

Much has also been made of Postecoglou’s emotional team talks after Jackson Irvine provided an insight in October.

Risdon gave his own take.

“Yeah they were (that good),” Risdon said. “Definitely he’d get you up for a game. He’d just talk about what the country means to you and how grateful you should be (for playing for your country).

“Just the way he would say it. He’s quite a big presence in the room too.

“I remember leaving some of the meetings, some of the boys would be fired up going to their rooms. It would be pretty funny. He’s definitely one of the best motivators I’ve worked with it.”

Leaving his wife a day after their wedding and the World Cup

There is a theme with Risdon when it comes to major life events. First his 21st birthday and the A-Leagues All Stars match. Then there was his wedding and the 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup.

A day after marrying his wife in Perth, Risdon flew out for a pre-World Cup camp in Turkey. He wouldn’t see his wife for three weeks until she met up with him in Russia.

“We’d planned the wedding and we were living in Sydney but going back to Perth for the wedding,” Risdon said. “I had my bucks on the weekend before that. I didn’t know if I was going to camp with the Socceroos, which I would’ve had to leave a day after the wedding.

“I got the message the night before my bucks. So it was kind of a double celebration. I enjoyed my bucks. I was always going to enjoy my wedding, I wasn’t thinking about flying out with the Socceroos.”

The World Cup in Russia was a memorable experience for Risdon, who was playing for Western Sydney Wanderers at the time.

Part of the Socceroos team that secured their World Cup spot under Postecoglou via the play-offs against Syria and Honduras, he made the full-back position his own with Bert van Marwijk at the helm for the showpiece event.

Risdon started all three matches against eventual champions France, Denmark and Peru.


“It was unreal. I think going into it, I knew how big of a moment in my career it would be. I tried to soak it all up,” he said. “To be honest, I didn’t get too overawed by it. Being in camp with the team, I felt like I earned my spot. I had a lot of confidence.

“It was still a pinch-yourself moment. When we sang the national anthem for the first game against France, it was the loudest I’d heard the national anthem. That was spine-tingling.

“Growing up with Trent Sainsbury in the juniors. I remember sitting with him in the change room before the game. He’s from a pretty rough area in Perth and he goes, ‘who would’ve thought a boy from Bunbury and a boy from Kelmscott would be playing at a World Cup together?’. We had a good chuckle about that.”

Having gone up against the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele, Risdon did attract interest from abroad.

He came pretty close to moving to either Russia, Turkey or Saudi Arabia but ultimately a move didn’t materialise.

“To be honest, I did think I might snag something,” he recalled. “But it was hard for me that I didn’t have a European passport at the time and to go into one of the leagues I wanted to like England, maybe the Championship or Holland, it required me to have a European passport.

“With these other countries, I thought yeah maybe I could get something but it never eventuated. I’ve come to terms with that. I probably won’t play overseas now. I live a good life in the A-League and playing in Australia. I’m settled with my family in Melbourne.”

Risdon has been a star and consistent performer throughout his time in the A-Leagues.

He won the Isuzu UTE A-League Championship with Western in 2022, while he was named the club’s Player of the Season last term.

However, Risdon has not played for the Socceroos since 2019.

“I’m not thinking about it too much. I don’t even know if I’m being looked at, I feel like I’m content with the international career I had,” he insisted.

“If something was to come back up, I would love to be part of the Socceroos again. But it’s not something I’m waiting or pushing for. Just really focused on playing for Western United, being captain.”


Risdon still has big ambitions with Western in the A-Leagues, having already conquered the competition once before.

But the experienced full-back is already planning for life post-football.

“I’m studying at the moment. It takes up a bit of my time. Plan to be a PE teacher when I stop playing,” he said.

“I left school at the start of year 11. I was never good at school. I didn’t know what I would do if I wasn’t a footballer. As I got older, I realised I had to do something so I was 23 when I started studying.

“Both my parents are teachers, so I guess I’m carrying the baton for them because they’re pretty much retired now.

“I love sport. I like working with kids. It’s a pretty cruisy job being a teacher. You get good holidays too. That was one thing we always had – mum and dad were always off on holidays. I’d be able to spend time with my boys on holidays.”