Cinema injuries, Chris Waddle and life back home: Sheffield Wednesday cult hero Adem Poric

The sun on his back and the sound of kids kicking a football back and forth in the background, Adem Poric answers the phone with a thick Aussie drawl.

Monday, 16th March 2020, 5:00 pm
Updated Monday, 16th March 2020, 8:54 pm

It’s late evening on the Gold Coast and the former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder has finished his work as a soccer coach for the day, the country slowly grinding to a halt in the midst of the globe-ravaging coronavirus crisis that has little regard for geography or time zones.

But that’s not why The Star has arranged to speak with the now 46-year-old. Poric’s story is one rarely heard by Wednesdayites, his six-year Hillsborough stint yielding just 16 senior appearances at the apex of a career that ended at the age of 26.

Born in London to Eastern European parentage and having moved to Australia when he was six months old, an 18-year-old Poric arrived in Sheffield with little more than the clothes on his back.

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A star of the Youth World Cup for his adopted nation months earlier, he’d turned down the offer of a contract from George Graham at Arsenal, deciding that Wednesday was a better fit.

This is in October 1993, just months after the Owls had played in two domestic cup finals. Poric was thrown into a changing room full of world-class talent.

“I can still remember the first time I ever saw who Chrissy Waddle really was,” he says, the sound of his grin widening clear even over the phone. “I was driving up to Middlewood Road training ground with him.

“There was a couple on the corner with a young family and a pram. The husband saw him and let go of the pram and bowed down to him, doing the praising to god sign.

Former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Adem Poric is now a successful coach back in his home country of Australia.

“The pram started rolling down the road! We had to shout to make sure they got it in time! That was when I first thought ‘these people are insane!’, the passion was incredible.

“But Waddle was an absolute gentleman, such a good guy. I got a lot of advice from him and obviously it was a pleasure to play with him.”

Waddle wasn’t the only one of course; Carlton Palmer, Nigel Pearson, Roland Nilsson, Mark Bright, John Sheridan, David Hirst. The list goes on.

Big personalities he had prepared himself to deal with – months of trialling at the likes of West Ham, Tottenham Hotspur and even Sheffield United had hardened him up to that – but overawed by the big-name internationals he was shaking hands with? Poric, incredibly, was none the wiser.

Adem Poric made only 166 appearances for the Owls across six injury-devastated years.

“I was lucky really,” he said. “Social media wasn’t around and at the time Australia didn’t have a lot of English football on the television.

“I came in and I was pretty unaware of the fact that Chris Waddle was the superstar that he was. At the start, he was just another guy and I was trying to take his spot. Des Walker, these were just other guys, not legends. That naivety worked well for me because I wasn’t overawed.

“You look at the players that we had at that time and it was phenomenal. It was an honour to even be able to train with these guys.

“A lot of people say ‘you didn’t play many games’, but you know what? It was great even be around them. We had 17 internationals in the side at one time.”

Young and full of ambition, Poric set about his assault on English football under then player-manager Trevor Francis, who he describes as one of the best people he has worked with in football and whose sacking he pinpoints as a key moment in Wednesday’s departure from football’s top table.

Indeed, Francis thought highly enough of the youngster to hand him the number seven shirt at the outset of his Owls career.

But injuries destroyed any hope of him a grabbing foothold in the club. Serious issues with both knees saw him sit out the vast majority of his first two seasons in England.

Poric’s jovial tone drops several decibels as he explains the extent of the problems that cost him a career millions dream of.

“I lost two years of my career straight away to injury,” he said. “It was a killer, I was only 20 years of age at that time and I’d already lost those years.

“I was sat at the cinema one night and got pins and needles. It didn’t go away. I basically had pins and needles in my right foot for 12 months.

“I was at Wednesday for six years in total and I was injured for three. It was a killer.”

A short spell at Notts County proved fleeting and after a brief stint in what is now the A-League, a mid-twenties Poric turned his attention to coaching, a love affair that goes on to this day.

He is proud to have played a part in the development of Australian internationals Tommy Oar, Brett Emerton, Jason Culina and Jacob Burns and a few years ago, together with former Wednesday academy boss Sean McAuley, he opened up a link with his old club, who he still follows religiously.

He sends elite prospects over from time to time for experience and former Owls player and youth coach Max Wragg is now on his books as a coach with the Gold Coast Knights – Poric is the club’s CEO.

“A lot of people in Australia learn I’m in soccer and talk about watching Man United at Old Trafford on the TV,” he says warmly towards the end of our conversation.

“I always have a little laugh and think to myself, ‘I played there a few times!’ I’m a lucky man.”