Paul Wade: The Enduring Memories of a Socceroo Captain

In his 15 years as a professional footballer in the NSL and 113 appearances in the green and gold of his country ( 66 as captain), former Socceroo captain, Paul Wade, experienced it all.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Wade recalls his first impressions of the NSL , his elevation to Socceroo selection, experiences in the green and gold and ultimate pinnacle of recognition when he became captain of his country.

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ROGER SLEEMAN: As an eleven year old boy arriving in Melbourne from St.Helens in Lancashire during 1973, did you ever believe in your wildest dreams you would one day play for Australia and eventually become Captain Socceroo?

PAUL WADE: Frankly no, and when I started to play competitive football in my early teens, I only thought about my next training session and the next game.

The same applied when I graduated to senior football in the Victorian State League for Doveton and Dandenong.

Honestly, I had no notion of who the Socceroos were until their appearance at the 1974 World Cup Finals in West Germany.

RS: When did it become apparent you had a future in professional football?

PW: I never believed I would due to my average skill level.

Significantly, I was never selected for Victorian age squads, the A.I.S. passed me by and I never played representative football until the age of 23 when I was selected to play for the Socceroos against Czechoslovakia in 1986 while playing for Brunswick Juventus in the N.S.L. .

Also, I was never a  true, full professional because my main job was as a draftsmen for 13 years, although I subsequently became a  part time development officer for Football Victoria.

Funnily enough, I remember asking the boss if I could have Thursday  off  because we were playing Brazil on Friday in the Gold Cup of 1988.

Paul Wade lines up for the anthem in 1992
Paul Wade stands up for the anthem in Melbourne in 1992

RS: Was the NSL a perfect platform in your development as a footballer?

PW: I think it was because hard work was respected in those times and I was I able to express that in the NSL.

Not for a moment, did I ever think  I’d become a leader because throughout my career, I just wanted to make a difference.

Years before at Dandenong City in the Victorian State League, the coach picked me up and said,” He’s covered in mud and that’s the commitment I want”. 

That was the quality I also brought to the NSL clubs I played for.

I was never under an illusion, I could pass a ball like Oscar Crino or Micky Petersen or display the skill of a Paul Trimboli or Con Boutsianis, because quality for me was workrate.

RS: Did you ever have the desire to play overseas and were there any offers tabled?

PW: The closest I came to playing overseas  was at the age of 16 when I travelled to Barnsley, the home town of my parents.

I hooked up with the youth team for six weeks and trained in the freezing conditions.

Two days before I was due to return home to Melbourne, I said thank you to the coaching staff who included Bobby Collins, the former Leeds and Scottish international star and Jackie Charlton, the former Leeds and England  legend who was the first team manager.

Collins said you’re not going home because he wanted me to play in the reserve team on the Thursday night against Chesterfield .

I decided to play and as a centre back, I didn’t miss a tackle all night.

In the local paper the next day appeared the headline,” Paul Wade shines for Barnsley”.

However, I still went home a couple of days later celebrating a fine debut in front of 100 people at a temperature of one degree.

Coached by the legendary Ferenc Puskás, Paul Wade (middle row, second from the right) played over 200 matches with South Melbourne in the National Soccer League. Source: Neos Kosmos.
Coached by the legendary Ferenc Puskás, Paul Wade (middle row, second from the right) played over 200 matches with South Melbourne in the National Soccer League. Source: Neos Kosmos, Football Victoria website.

RS: When you were chosen for your first international  at Olympic Park against Czechoslovakia in 1986, what was your mindset?

PW: When the match started, I was on the bench but after Kenny Murphy was injured in the second half, Frank Arok signalled me onto the pitch . There was no time to be nervous.

The Czechs were physically imposing and quick so this was my welcome to international football.

My first pass was to Marshall Soper who wanted the ball on a particular angle which I failed to provide and copped a serving for it.

In the next game in Sydney, a Czech opponent went over the ball and I rolled my ankle.

I thought after these events, I’d never be invited to play for the Socceroos again but history records otherwise.

Paul Wade tells stories behind Socceroos playing memorabilia

RS: What were the main highlights of your international career?

PW: There were many, but to name a few.

My clash with Mikhailichenko from the USSR in the 1988 Seoul Olympics was an example of how you could be toyed with by a superior opponent when he scored one and set up two in their 3-0 win.

After the match, I stood outside his dressing room to get his red game shirt but was only successful in getting a white replica.

From the four team Gold Cup tournament in 1988, featuring Brazil, Argentina, Saudi Arabia and the Socceroos, there were many highlights.

Frank Arok was determined the squad would be in perfect physical shape before the first match in Melbourne against Brazil.

I would do fitness training in the morning from 6-7, go to work and return at 5 in the afternoon to do ball work.

Our fitness regime started with six by 1500 metre runs, 20 by 400 metre runs, 100 by 50 metre runs and 50 by 100 metre runs over a period of 4 weeks.

Before the Brazil match which we lost 1-0, we went to see them train and they juggled tennis balls like there was no tomorrow.

The 4-1 win against Argentina in Sydney was a magnificent feat as every player performed on the night, especially Charlie Yankos with that long range free kick and Frank Farina who led their defence a merry chase that night which led to him being fouled in the penalty area for our fourth goal.

I’ll never forget when referee, Gary Power, was chased round the pitch when the penalty was awarded and somehow escaped in one piece.

We were told by Frank Arok to celebrate that night, “Because you may never experience a victory like this again”.

In June 1993, AC Milan played in Sydney and Melbourne and to watch Donadoni and Baresi in action was something else.

On a lighter note, in Melbourne, the referee blew for full time ten minutes early because they had to catch a flight back to Rome.

Paul Wade reflects on 4-1 win over Argentina in 1988

RS: Can you relate your experiences marking Maradona in the 1993 World Cup qualifier against Argentina?

PW: Socceroo coach, Eddie Thomson, told me to watch the tapes of Maradona’s previous two games and I learned three things. He was small, relied on his left foot and didn’t move too far away from the ball.

As we left the tunnel at the start of the match, I actually wished him happy birthday

My sole responsibility that day was to mark Maradona and everywhere he went, I was to go.

I was instructed to prevent him playing those first time passes forward, rather restrict them to backward or square efforts.

I kept close to him all the match and actually denied him possession with a sliding tackle in the 35th minute before playing the ball back to Milan Ivanovic.

Unfortunately, on receiving the ball, Ivanovic tried to pass Maradona but the Argentinian dispossessed him and played an early ball to Balbo on the far post who was able to head the ball between Mark Bosnich and his near  post to bring the score to 1-1.

By the end of ninety minutes, I had restricted Maradona’s role as a playmaker by applying maximum pressure to limit him to minimum damage.

Paul Wade on marking Maradona

RS: What was your reaction when you were first appointed as captain of the Socceroos against Indonesia in 1990?

PW: Before we went to the tournament in Indonesia , we were based at the A.I.S.

While we were there, Eddie Thomson announced I was to be captain for the trip.

Eddie stated,” He’s so enthusiastic and that’s why he should be captain”.

Naturally, no player can receive a greater honor and in the 66 matches I wore the captain’s armband, the singing of the national anthem before the game was my whole world.

RS: Can you express your disappointment not playing in a World Cup Final series?

PW: The 1989 elimination against Israel was hard to accept because I was taken off at half time when I felt  I had more to contribute.

However, in spiritual terms our elimination by Argentina in 1993 was far more significant.

Here we were, a squad with a mix of part time footballers and overseas players taking on the might of Argentina who were one of the favourites to win the 1994 World Cup and we had managed a 1-1 draw at home and a 1-0 loss away .

I attended a press conference with Raoul Blanco after the away leg and the floor manager informed us Maradona had called in to say, “ Your tears of sorrow today will be tears of joy in the future”.

This humility displayed by a football genius somehow was compensation for our elimination at that final hurdle.

Paul Wade's special Maradona surprise

RS: What is life after football like and explain your feelings after Australia’s win against Peru?

PW: It’s a different world but I am involved with a lot of motivational speaking in schools and businesses where I emphasise the benefits of effective leadership based on my football career.

The Socceroo’s victory was a fine example of determination and grit displayed by the players and the coaching staff which silenced all the knockers and doomsayers.

I firmly believe, the Socceroos can progress to the second round in Qatar and who knows where self- belief can take them from there.

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