At home games he can be seen in the crowd wearing a colourful horned hat that he bought in Mongolia. During away games he can seen crowding around a small television in the darts section of the Bankstown Sports Club.Paul Croft is one of Australia’s most decorated Paralympians competing in four games across Athletics, Table Tennis and Volleyball. He was the team captain and flag bearer for Australia at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and now coaches the next generation of runners at Bankstown Sports Athletics Club.
And importantly, he has been a die-hard Wanderers fan since the club’s inception in 2012.
A house-hold name in Australia’s Paralympic circles, you’ve probably come across Paul at Wanderers matches or away trips without realising you were conversing with an Australian legend.
Not that it bothers the well-traveled Australian record holder: he’s more worried about other important things such as encouraging fans to do the Poznan if they’re still sitting when the clock strikes 80:00.
Paul attended his first Wanderers game in the club’s foundation season when they took on the Newcastle Jets in 2012.
“By mistake I got in with the RBB and I had a Messi shirt on from Barcelona, which was Newcastle colours of course,” explained Paul.
“One of the group tapped me on the shoulder and jokingly said ‘What are you doing here mate?’ I couldn't buy a Wanderers home shirt because they were all sold out!
“One day, I was in Brazil and saw that the colours of Flamengo were the same so I bought that shirt and wore it for a couple of home games until I could get the real shirt. Even today, I see half a dozen Flamengo shirts in the crowd.”
Today, Paul owns five or six Wanderers jerseys as well as a bucket cap and his famous horned hat.
“When I was in Mongolia I saw a hat with orange, red, a little bit of black and a little bit of white and I thought I’ve got to have that. I sent it off to my mate Rob to get it embroidered and have the gold star on it. The kids at the ground seem to love it.”
The Wanderers have become well known for their multi-cultural set of fans and it’s something Paul is very proud of.
“When I saw a Croatian fan at a game with his arm around a Serbian and the two of them dancing together, I thought this is the team for me. Seeing many families and the fact that many women are in the RBB shows what an inclusive team it is.”
As for his own exploits with the round ball, Paul used to be an avid player but hasn’t run around a football pitch for 16 years. A lover of all sports, Paul excelled most notably in athletics where he narrowly missed out on medals in the 1500m, 5000m and 10000m.
In the 1988 Olympics, Paul remarkably finished the Men’s 10000m despite an achilles tendon injury.
“I had a very bad achilles problem. Before Seoul, I went to the physio three times a week for eight months. I’d planned to run the first lap of the 10000m in 84 seconds but I got too excited and ran it in 74 seconds. The achilles went but I soldiered on.
“I had the crowds doing Mexican waves for me and had girls wearing the local dress coming down to the ground to give me gifts upon finishing. I couldn’t walk for two days but still had to play table tennis.”
Paul gave up running in 1996 after he was not selected to run the Marathon at the Atlanta Paralympics despite being the Australian record holder.
“I hold the Marathon record, but that’s because no one else is stupid enough to do it.”
After competing in the Sydney 2000 Paralympics in volleyball, Paul has since become an athletics coach at Bankstown Sports Athletics Club. Close by at Bankstown Sports Club, he can regularly be seen on away days in a group of 20 or 30 crowded around a small screen watching the Wanderers game.
His devotion and admiration for the Wanderers is immense.
“I went to all the home games when we finished near the bottom because you follow your team whether they win or they lose. The rest of the supporters all did the same: it shows the character of this club.
The grand final loss against Adelaide was particularly hard for Paul to take, but he was proud of the fight the team showed.
“I caught the bus all the way to Adelaide but I didn’t have a ticket to the match so I ended up buying an expensive one over the internet.
“I couldn’t find the bay that I was supposed to be in and when I finally found it, it was with all the wives and girlfriends of the Adelaide players. So here I am at the grand final sitting next to the Adelaide ladies wearing my full Wanderers gear including the horned hat.
Regardless of where Paul ends up sitting, it can be guaranteed that he’s supporting the Wanderers with everything he has while getting the most out of everyone around him too.
You can join Paul in the stands by signing up for a Wanderers Membership which are on sale now (click here to browse packages). Just make sure you do the Poznan.
Tickets for the Sydney Derby are on sale from Thursday 11 August (Members) and Thursday 18 August (general public) or you can guarantee your seat by purchasing a Membership.