Sport: Soccer - Paul Wade OAM


Interviewee: Paul Wade, OAM, born 1962

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for The Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 2 Feb 2010

Transcription: Glenys Murray, Feb 2010

This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee

When did you start playing Soccer, then?

My Mum dragged me to my first club because my life was looking for these big spiders and enjoying the warm rain, if it ever rained. I wasn’t that keen anymore on football just for that short period. Then my Mum said “you are not going to sit here wasting your time” and dragged me to a club. Thank goodness she did cause I earn a living out of it now.

Which soccer team did you try?

Club called Dandenong City who were no bigger than any local club in Australia, nothing special. From there I followed my mates to another club. They just happened to follow into a more elite club. But it’s not as if I had more talent to get me to a rep. side. I just sort of went with the flow. I was taken on that path because teams I was playing in went that way.

Now this is strictly in an amateur capacity isn’t it still?

Oh yeah.

Is this still just recreational soccer you were playing?

It was, it was for a long, long time. It took me until my third year of playing seniors. I would have been about eighteen years of age. I made it into a senior team only because the first team went on strike for more money, which meant the reserve team had to go and play in the first team. This meant that the under sixteen’s had to go and play in the reserves. That’s how I got my start. I didn’t become professional until I went another two years into another club and they gave me a hundred dollars. Wow a hundred dollars, this was in 1980 something I think by that stage. That’s a lot of money.

Now you were still working weren’t you at that stage as a draftsman?

I was I used to train two nights a week, play on the weekend, work forty hours. Guys today are bludging thirty eight. Rostered days off weren’t known in those days. I’m sounding really old now aren’t I? I used to get paid once a fortnight and because I didn’t have a girlfriend. I didn’t have much of a life outside, which I didn’t mind, outside of football. I used to just pop my cheques in my wallet and get the train in and life carried on. I lived at home so I didn’t have to spend any money. Life was simple and I had the time to be able to do football and draft.

So what sort of dreams did you have as a young player? Where did you want to get to?

I had no intention of being a Socceroo because I didn’t know who the Socceroos were. It’s not as if the profile was that big in those days. All I wanted to do was be the best player I could for this club today. I didn’t worry about tomorrow. It was all short term goals with me. I think back about my life generally and it’s all about pounds and pennies. If you collect enough pounds they’ll become pennies. If you don’t collect the pennies you’ll never get the pounds. My life was simple and compact. There was no pressure to be in an elite group. I think that is why I was still playing for so many years. I just played for the love of it.

Were there any players that you admired?

There was always a hero and he was always playing for Liverpool (UK) and it didn’t matter what his name was. If he had a red shirt on, he was a champion. As I say I didn’t know any Socceroos, I didn’t know any senior players even for the local club. I used to just want to play for Liverpool. It was just a dream, I never put myself under any sort of pressure it was just a dream. Wow imagine playing in front of forty thousand people that would be great. But that was where it ended.

Now you were selected at the age of twenty three for the national soccer team in Australia, tell me how that occurred?

As I say I think I’ve been dragged along way through my life. I make my own decisions but I make them based on my surroundings if I like them. I went from junior football as I’ve described because the senior team, they quit. Then I went from senior team football to the national team. Only because they had this massive camp, and when I say camp, a bit of a get together with all the players from Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra. We were just there and I was doing just what I always do. I was selected in the squad a big squad. We played Czechoslovakia in the game that I was sitting on the bench for. It just happened to be that the guy who played in my position got hurt and didn’t play again. I’m sitting on the bench so the coach has looked down the bench and goes “oh gee I’ve only got Paul Wade” and that was my start. Its funny isn’t it, we’ve all got those stories where we come to crossroads and we just pick the right one. Some of them you don’t have a choice you’re just thrown in there. There’s two getting from juniors to seniors, getting from seniors to the national team.

It’s also being in the right spot at the right time isn’t it?

Yeah but you have to work hard to be in the right spot at the right time.

Paul Wade as a Socceroo

How did your family feel about you being selected in the national team?

Shocked I think. I was still living at home then. I didn’t leave home until I was twenty five. My Mum said “I’m kicking you out when you’re twenty five so you’d better hurry up and find something to do”. My Mum and Dad followed my career everywhere. I think they were proud of what I was doing. They did it because they were my Mum and Dad and wherever we played sport they took us. I had two brothers and a sister and that’s a lot of sport to take on.

So what position did you play in, in the team?

Maybe it was the way I was brought up, maybe it was where I was brought up that honest hard work is what I’ve always known. I couldn’t juggle a ball to save my life. So they weren’t going to put me in a key goal scoring position. My job was to be passionate to organize people around me and to work hard. So when you come off you’ve got no petrol in the tank, so to speak. You’ve got nothing left physically because you’ve spent all that energy in ninety minutes. That’s what allowed me to play for so long in the end. That’s just what I did.

How fast could you run?

I was as slow as a wet week, as my Mum used to say. I was I don’t know. Players could run a hundred in whatever thirteen seconds. They would have to get their breath back by the time I was coming across the line. I was an endurance man and that’s what I think you need in the middle of the park when they have to do all the hard work. You don’t have to be quick, you do today. Thank goodness I played when I did cause I’d never get a game now.

Were they called the Socceroos then, the team you played in?

Yes they were. They’ve always been the Socceroos. Today if somebody calls it soccer I’m not offended. They call if football “oh you’ve got to call it football, it’s real football”. But you know what I don’t care cause I’ve always grown up with it as soccer.

Now you travelled quite a bit didn’t you in that team? Tell me the sort of places that you went to, to play?

The first one was China which was 1986. They were all still dressed in khaki. There was no fancy coloured clothes there. It was a communist country. To get a coke was very difficult. Coca Cola all that western stuff coming in. Yeah I’m thinking “what is the world like here? Australia’s not that bad “.

Other countries that you went to?

The only continent that I didn’t play on was Africa. We went to England, we played practice games in Germany and France. A lot in Asia because it was closer and it cost less. There wasn’t a lot of money in football. South America, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina. The Middle East played Israel. That was a scary game. To go to Israel, it was quite volatile in those days so you… I don’t think we lived in fear of our lives. We were certainly wary of what was happening in those countries. Yeah I’ve got a few stamps in my passport that say I’ve been lucky to go to a few countries.

Are there any games that particularly stand out for you that you played in those years?

I would have to say the highlight great times were playing against Argentina. One at the Sydney Football Stadium in front of what is still the biggest crowd ever to be jammed into that ground. People were sitting on the concrete steps. You couldn’t do that today OH&S but they got in there. The next one was playing in Argentina. They were world cup qualifiers and a bloke called Diego Maradona was playing. I was dropped in the previous game and I was told by the coach that because we qualified to the next stage and we had to play Argentina. Diego Maradona is such an influential player if he plays up front it means the coach said we’ll get somebody else to mark him. If he plays in mid field he’s going to need somebody like me. The hard work and a bit of discipline and organisation. Well guess where he played, in the middle of the park. I remember standing next to him going wow this is arguably the greatest player ever to play the game. I’m at the River Plate Stadium in Argentina and there’s eighty thousand people here. I’m going pinch me, just tell me that this is real. People say that all the time but I think back going this is incredible. They beat us one nil over there we drew one all in Sydney. When they scored the goal the noise was deafening. If you’ve ever watched South American football, soccer they tear Sydney Morning Herald’s up and when they score they throw them off the top of the stands. So you had all this paper cascading down from the sky. I’m thinking the noise is deafening, this is what world football is about. Argentina against Maradona would have to be the most exciting thing I did.

Who won the game?

It was a one-all draw. The one in Argentina they won one nil. We drew in Sydney and we scored the goal for them. One of their players had a shot at goal and it hit our defenders foot and went over the top of the goal keeper and into the back of the net. We lost one nil. Afterwards we were on the TV it was live on the TV. Maradona phoned the TV show and said I’d like to make a comment. So everybody just went “oh Maradona has phoned up this TV show, put him on quick straight away”. They had a discussion which I really couldn’t understand but his message was “your tears of sorrow today will be tears of joy sometime soon”. That was the big compliment but then the host said “lets find out how different these two countries are as far as profile goes and standing”? They asked me “How much I get a week”. We used to get three hundred dollars a win for the national team. Two hundred dollars a draw. This is in 1993 and a hundred dollars if we lost. Then the tax man went thank you I’ll have half of that. Then they said “that’s amazing you’ve been playing against a team that are multi millionaires, they play in Italy and England and they’re earning a fortune, playing against guys who earn three hundred dollars”. They just put it in that perspective on the back of what Maradona said. So people in Argentina went “that wasn’t bad we got out of gaol there beating them one nil and they scored the goal for us”.

Now were you still single all that time or had you got married?

No got married in 1987. Started with the Socceroos in 1986, was going out with her for five years so she has been a part of everything that I have done.

Your father-in-law was actually a soccer team manager as well wasn’t he? How did that impact on the relationship with your wife?

Everything I did was scrutinized. Some of the language used in the dressing room you wouldn’t say at the dinner table. He was a pretty straight bloke so if you swore, you always looked across and thought “oh gee Frank’s there and look at the look he’s giving me”. It was good, he is a Man United supporter, I hate Man U, he hates Liverpool so you know from that point of view we had nothing in common. But we did have football in common and he was happy to let me go out with his daughter. In fact my wife says “that he loved me more than he loved her”, which is really sad. No it’s not true but we got on famously because of that common interest, football.

How understanding was your wife about your soccer career because you did so much travelling as well?

Well without her understanding there’s no way I could fly around the world for ten years. She came to a lot of the games. I had an understanding boss as well so I was surrounded by people who were very understanding. My wife had, had to look after the kids. All the finances, the money. You know you don’t realise how much work… all the single Mums out there I tell you what you deserve a medal. It is hard work and I really didn’t appreciate it until my wife goes away and I have to fend you know do all the things. An amazing job to allow me to go around the world like that. We were away a long time. A month and then there were training camps back here. I was training three nights a week by this stage and playing on the weekend and travelling interstate. How we’re still married I’ll never know.

How many children do you have?

Three gorgeous girls.

Were you ready for the challenge of becoming Socceroo captain in 1990?

No, not at all. I was just playing and I wasn’t the best, I was just a worker. I’d been there for four years in the national team. The reason I got picked was because all the other players went overseas. It was a time where players were becoming good enough that they could get contracts overseas. They all left and I wasn’t good enough to get a game but I’d been there the longest and I had what the coach needed at that time. A great deal of enthusiasm. He announced it at a training camp before we left. I think it was for Indonesia or somewhere like that. “Paul Wade will be the captain for this tour”. I went “what”? We hadn’t discussed it at all. He never came up to me and said “I’d like you to be captain”. God bless him he’s dead now, Eddie Thompson. It was like wow you’re the captain, which to me meant you better not lose that toss, because we want to kick that way in the first half. That’s all captaincy meant to me and maybe doing a couple of interviews as well which I fortunately had a bit of confidence in doing. But I had no idea that was coming. It is one of those steps isn’t it from juniors to seniors, from seniors to the national team to being the captain of the players left.

Did your relationship with the team change once you became captain?

I tried to make it not so. I used to do things like if kids wanted a soccer ball signed or a poster signed. I made a point of going round to the different rooms and asking them to do so. I didn’t put myself above anybody and it was a good chance to chat even if it’s just a joke. A lot of the time you’ve got mates that you like to hang around with. You can’t be mates with twenty two people, you’ve got to get on with some better than others. I tried to get on with everybody for no reason other than I had a captain’s armband on.

So how would you describe your captaincy style?

Lead by example because that’s all I knew how to do. I could organize people, I must admit I grew up with a couple of coaches that a) got me to talk, in fact the whole team to talk and b) organize everybody. Communication was very big. We weren’t playing in front of forty thousand people where you can’t hear each other. You could hear each other so verbal communication was important. So I took that onto the park and I organized people. I was always enthusiastic when I was at training or not. That was really the only way. I had no negotiating skills. In those days there was no professional footballers association. If you wanted more money you had to go in there yourself. Being the captain of the Socceroos they pushed me into the Soccer Federation and said “go and get us more money”. So I blindly went in there and said “we want more money”? They said “we aint got any”. I went back to the boys and said “they aint got any”. They said to me “well tell them we’re not playing”. So I went back to the Soccer Federation “they’re not playing”. They said to me “tell us who’s not playing and they can go home”. So I’ve gone back and said “they’re not paying you and you can go home if you don’t want to play for your country”. I was a mule taking messages backwards and forwards. That’s how naïve I was and eventually I thought “I’m going to make a stand here”. Saying “boys I’d play for nothing, I’m playing for my national team I’m going to play so you be there as well. I dare you to walk away from playing for your country”. We played the next game and it was over. I never forgot it after that I got the more high profile players in from overseas who we desperately needed, to go and do the negotiating.

Go To Part Two