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Tim Cahill: The best piece of advice my dad gave me

By Tim Cahill 3 min read

“Becoming a dad was a shock. Before that I was just eat, sleep and focus on football.”

My dad, Tim Cahill Senior, was a character. He was from London—a Dagenham boy—and he liked to have a joke. But discipline was a big thing for him, too. He would take me and my two brothers to the park and then make us take off our right boots so we could only kick the ball with our left foot.

"A great footballer has two good feet"—that’s what my dad used to say.

As a boy, I used to see the lights flickering in the hallway in the early hours and know my dad was watching the football on TV. I’d sneak out of my bedroom and hide behind the settee to watch too. Dad would let me watch for a while—Serie A or Premier League highlights. And then he’d send me back to bed.

But what I really loved was watching the World Cup on TV with my dad. Watching Schillaci play in Italia ’90, that’s what got me hooked. And then watching USA ’94, and seeing Hagi play for Romania and Bebeto for Brazil! As a kid, it was my dream to play in the World Cup.

Dad worked on fishing trawlers and then went into rigging. But he had a serious injury at work that damaged his hip, and after that he spent a lot of time at home. Dad used to do most of the cooking and was pretty good, too. Chicken schnitzel and pasta with cheese sauce were his specialties.

He made sure my brothers and I became domesticated, too. I’d wash up, one of my brothers would do the drying, we’d do all the vacuuming, make the beds . . . We learned how to work together as a family.

Tim Cahill promoting the Sanitarium Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon to students at the Auburn Seventh-day Adventist School in November, ahead of his last-ever game for Australia. 

Now that I’m a dad, I’ve become like that with my kids, too. If they want to go to the movies, they have to make sure their room is clean and they’ve taken out the rubbish. They have to know the value of work.

The best piece of advice my dad gave me was, "You can’t live in a car."

I was signing my first contract at Millwall and I wanted to buy myself a nice new car. But instead, after talking it over, I invested that signing-on fee with my family. My parents and one of my brothers saved up with me, and together we bought our first family home in the outer west of Sydney.

My parents had taken out a loan to pay for my plane ticket to England for that Millwall trial. And my brother left school to get a job so he could help, too. We’ve always supported each other because that’s what families do.

I was 24 when my first son, Kyah, was born. My career was just kicking on and I was about to make my big move to Everton. Becoming a dad was a shock. Before that, I was just eat, sleep and focus on football. Suddenly we had this little man, this little king! I now had serious responsibilities and football started to come second.

Becoming a dad changed my whole life and was the best thing that ever happened to me, but it was also my biggest learning curve. Kyah had non-stop colic for the first year, so we didn’t get much sleep.

What I find hardest about being a dad is disciplining the kids. You want to be their best mate and you don’t want to be the disciplinarian, but you have to sit down with them and have those conversations. I try to relate things back to what it was like for me at their age.

One of my sons wants to be a singer, and one of them wants to a footballer. But my six-year-old told us the other day that he wants to be a landscape gardener—I think it’s because he likes riding with my dad on his lawnmower.

When Shae, my 13-year-old, told me he wants to be a footballer, I asked him, "How seriously do you want it?"

He said, "It’s all I want to do."

So I said, "Okay, then let’s chase this dream together. But we’ll keep some other options open, too."

What advice would I give another dad when it comes to sport and kids? You have to let them be free. When I’m on the sidelines watching my son play football, I say nothing. I don’t get involved.

Maybe afterwards I’ll give him some advice about positioning or something. But you’ve got to let them learn for themselves.

One thing I do tell my son though is if he wants to be a footballer, he has to earn it over years and years. It’s all about consistency. I tell him: "If you make sure you’re always a seven out of 10 in every session, in every game, then you’re on the pathway to being a footballer."


Text from The Father Hood by Luke Benedictus, Andrew McUtchen and Jeremy Macvean. Interviews with Mark Wahlberg, Ben Stiller, Hugh Jackman, John Krasinski, Guy Pearce, Kurt Russell and Damian Lewis courtesy Jenny Cooney of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Murdoch Books RRP $32.99.

Tim Cahill is an Australian former professional footballer who played for the Socceroos, Australia's national team. He has four children, Kyah, Shae, Sienna and Cruz.