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Socceroos star Thomas Deng has opened up about moving to Australia as a refugee from South Sudan, the racism he sometimes struggles with – and the pride he has wearing the green and gold.

The 26-year-old defender’s family fled war-torn South Sudan in the 1990s, spending years in a Nairobi refugee camp, before eventually settling in Adelaide.

Deng’s love of football, and the fact he could speak English, made his transition to the new way of life in Australia much easier than it is for some others.

Socceroos star Thomas Deng (pictured) has opened up about moving to Australia as a refugee from South Sudan, the racism he sometimes struggles with - and the pride he has wearing the green and gold

Socceroos star Thomas Deng (pictured) has opened up about moving to Australia as a refugee from South Sudan, the racism he sometimes struggles with – and the pride he has wearing the green and gold

The 26-year-old defender's family fled war-torn South Sudan in the 1990s, spending years in a Nairobi refugee camp, before eventually settling in Adelaide

The 26-year-old defender’s family fled war-torn South Sudan in the 1990s, spending years in a Nairobi refugee camp, before eventually settling in Adelaide

‘My older brother Peter plays football as well, so having that made it a lot easier to make friends at school,’ Deng told ABC.

‘The good thing was that with football, you don’t need a language. You can make friends just by playing, so that made the transition a lot easier for us and for the whole family coming over as well.’

Deng’s talent and obsession with football saw him climb through the junior ranks at Adelaide Blue Eagles and eventually end up playing for Melbourne Victory in 2015.

It was while he was living in Melbourne that Deng noticed that he was treated differently because of the way he looked.

‘There were times where I’d play for [Melbourne] Victory on the weekend, then I’d be walking through the shops and there will be security guards looking at me strangely or following me around, thinking that I’m going to steal something,’ he said.

Deng has tried to keep a connection with his African heritage by learning Swahili  and visiting family back home – but he’s only ever seen himself as an Australian.

While it feels empowering for Deng to make it big as a South Sudanese Aussie, he admits there’s also a responsibility he feels with it.

‘There’s definitely a high expectation for us and no room for error. Sometimes you feel like you have to do more than [others] in order to be seen and valued,’ he said.

‘It’s a bit difficult to deal with. But we always think about what that has done for the younger generations: it’s basically opened doors for other kids like us that have a dream, just as we did when we were that age.

Deng looks back at the moment in 2018 when he ran onto the field in a Socceroos jersey as an incredible experience. What made it even better was that he was playing alongside his friend – and fellow South Sudanese Australian – Awer Mabil.

Deng (pictured in Japan where he plays professionally) captained the Olyroos at the Olympics and won Player of the Match in their famous win over Agrentina. An impressive performance against New Zealand in September has prompted calls for his inclusion in Graham Arnold's 26 player squad headed to Qatar

Deng (pictured in Japan where he plays professionally) captained the Olyroos at the Olympics and won Player of the Match in their famous win over Agrentina. An impressive performance against New Zealand in September has prompted calls for his inclusion in Graham Arnold’s 26 player squad headed to Qatar

‘At that moment, me and Awer were thinking about what impact that was going to have on our family and our communities — not only in Adelaide or Melbourne, but the whole of Australia.

‘Awer scored as well, which just made it even more special. You can see the celebration we did together, that was our traditional dance that we do. It was amazing to do that on national TV.’

In 2021, Deng captained the Olyroos at the Olympics and won Player of the Match in their famous win over Agrentina. An impressive performance against New Zealand in September has prompted calls for his inclusion in Graham Arnold’s 26 player squad headed to Qatar.

The upcoming World Cup offers another opportunity for Deng (pictured) to show his quality, but also represent to the world who Australia is and what it means to wear the green and gold

The upcoming World Cup offers another opportunity for Deng (pictured) to show his quality, but also represent to the world who Australia is and what it means to wear the green and gold

The upcoming World Cup offers another opportunity for Deng to show his quality, but also represent to the world who Australia is and what it means to wear the green and gold.

‘Australia’s changing slowly … they’re starting to accept people from different backgrounds,’ he said.

‘It’s not about the colour of your skin anymore, it’s about who you are, what you represent, and how hard you work for your dream.’

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