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Anna Senjuschenko: A career that was cut short far too soon

The story of a promising young female player from Australia

When we talk about the most popular sports in Australia, soccer struggles to even make it to the top5. Cricket, Rugby (league and union), Australian rules football, tennis seem to be more appealing to Aussie fans. However, sports fans in Australia also have showed a great support to their soccer national team, the ”socceroos”, the last two decades. Their four consecutive appearances in the World Cup (2006-2018) increased the popularity of the sport down under. But, what about women’s soccer?

Well, international soccer speaking the ”matildas” (the nickname for the Australia national team) have been far more successful than their male counterparts. They have not missed a World Cup tournament since 1995 and they have won 4 major continental trophies (1994, 1998, 2003, 2010), featuring legendary players like Cheryl Salisbury, Lisa DeVanna and Heather Garriock. Anna Senjuschenko could have had a similar status. But sometimes fate is cruel.

The Australian Women’s Soccer Association (AWSA) was founded in 1974
Born in a soccer family

Anna Senjuschenko was born in Perth, the capital of Western Australia state, in 1961. Her parents had migrated from Russia to Australia in the early 1950s, having previously spent some years in West Germany. Her older brother Alexander was born there in 1950 and he was the one who taught Anna soccer skills. With her dad being also a soccer player in his youth was not difficult for Anna to love the sport.

Alexander started his career from Kiev Eagles (renamed as Inglewood Kiev later) playing as a center half, the same position Anna would play during her short career. She joined the women’s team of Kiev Eagles in the 1973, aged 12 and she soon stood out among the other players. Kiev Eagles was founded in Perth in 1951 by Alexander Minko and Igor Schorsch, migrants from Ukraine who named the club after Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. The colours of the club, yellow and blue, were adopted from the Ukrainian national flag and the squads mainly consisted of players with Ukrainian or Russian ethnic background.

The 1970s Western Australia state league

While Western Australia league for men had been established since 1896, the inaugural official women’s competition started in 1972. Swan Athletic were the first champions. A high-profile friendly between the Western Australia Men’s State team and Russian powerhouse Dynamo Moscow a year earlier had attracted thousands of spectators and gave local soccer a major boost.

Sandra Brentnall, Teresa Varadi, Maxine Sullivan, Judy Pettitt and Sharon Loveless were some of the best players in the league in the 1970s. Swan Athletic, Ascot and Perth Azzuri dominated the women’s league during its early seasons. And Inglewood Kiev were rather a mid-table team. But, Senjushenko’s talent was impressive and she was probably the most promising youngster in the league.

Her soccer skills and hard work at the Walter Road Reserve (now Perth Plasterboard Centre Stadium) in Inglewood had paid off. She was a blonde, tall, beautiful and athletic player with elegant style and a leading presence at the center of the defence. The Russian-Australian defender would often help her teammates in the build-up of the attack and score goals from 30-metres with apparent ease.

Western Australia State team

The sportsmen who established the women’s game in Western Australia are Oscar Mate, Barbara Gibson and Peter Dimopoulos. The latter who was born in Greece had played and coached juniors and men’s teams before accepting the position of Women’s State team coach in 1975. The same year he guided his side to that national title. And Dimopoulos would call up Anna to his champion squad in 1976, at the age of 15. A year later she would receive another invitation. This time was from Jim Selby, the coach of the Australian national team!

Jim Selby (left) was the first coach of the Australia women’s national team
1978 World Women’s Invitational Tournament

The Australian Women’s Soccer Association (AWSA) was founded just in 1974 and a representative Australian team competed at the 1975 Asian Women’s Championship. In 1978 the ”matildas” took part in the inaugural World Women’s Invitational Tournament, in Taipei. Australia was the only national team in the tournament with the other 11 countries represented by club or district teams.

Jim Selby, the first Australian women’s team coach selected a squad consisted of players mainly from South Wales and Western Australia. 17-year old Senjushenko was a squad member, playing in 4 games. The Australians finished eighth in the tournament. Anna Senjuschenko impressed and was voted the best young player of the tournament by the media. She was in even voted in the best XI of the tournament. Julie Dolan, also from Western Australia was the youngest player of the Australian team, being just 14!

For the record, French Stade Reims beat Helsinki in the final and won the first World Women’s Invitational Tournament, while Dallas Sting finished fourth!

Death

Future looked bright for Senjuschenko but her career and life were abruptly terminated. In 1979 she lost her life in a fatal traffic accident, while travelling as a passenger in a car, in central Perth. She was 17 years old.

They next year in 1980, her club Inglewood Kiev would finally win its first title in the league. Unfortunately without Senjuschenko in the squad. But, the 1980 title was dedicated to Anna by her teammates and coaching staff. The soccer world was at her feet, but it was not just meant to be.

Senjuschenko in training with the Kiev Eagles in the 1970s
Hall of Fame for Anna and Alex

Anna Senjuschenko was the first player to be inducted to the Western Australia Hall of Fame in 1996. Her brother Alex was also inducted in 2008. Alex was highly tipped to be part of the Australian squad in the 1974 World Cup, but he never received a call from coach Rale Rasic. Anna’s older brother Alex Senjuschenko died in April 2012, at the age of 62 after a long battle with cancer.

The Western Australia state federation honored Anna’s memory by renaming its women’s cup as ”Anna Senjuschenko Memorial Shield”.