More than a game... with Jason Petkovic

If you swapped his sawdust-speckled sweatshirt for a goalkeeper’s top and slipped a pair of gloves onto his surprisingly delicate-looking hands, it wouldn’t be hard to picture Jason Petkovic lining up for Glory in next weeks’ friendly against Cockburn.

Time, it seems, has been kind to the man who made more than 170 appearances for the club while also representing the Socceroos on 15 occasions before retiring in 2009.

And the same can be said of his brother and fellow-former Socceroos ‘keeper, Michael, who currently works alongside him in their father’s cabinet-making business.

But when he’s not at the company's busy Bibra Lake workshop, Petkovic maintains his lifelong involvement in the game by coaching a number of Glory’s junior NPL goalkeepers.

And his enthusiasm for the role is clear to see.

“I really enjoy the coaching’” he said. “I started pretty soon after retiring from playing.

“Scott Miller was running Cockburn’s seniors and asked me to come down and I got involved there with them and their juniors. Eventually I started doing some work for Glory.

“I’m fortunate that I have kids who are there because they really want to be there and are keen to listen and learn. You can see that they are really trying hard and absorbing what I’m saying and showing them.

“There is definitely goalkeeping talent out there.

“For some reason, we used to produce a lot of tall ‘keepers in Australia, but now we don’t seem to be doing that so much. Now they tend to be 6’0 rather than 6’5 or 6’6, but that’s not to say they’re not any good.

“Technically, they are well trained and know how to play with their feet. I see lads with potential, like [Glory NPL goalkeeper] Jackson Lee. He’s a very good ‘keeper, but his success might come down to whether he has a pathway or not.

“And I’m also a big fan of Nick Feely who I coached at Cockburn.”

The mention of Scott Miller inevitably leads the conversation towards the great success the two men enjoyed with Glory in the National Soccer League and Petkovic, unsurprisingly, retains fond memories of that halcyon era.

“The whole journey was wonderful,” he said. “Glory just grew and grew and it really was a golden period. It felt like we had the whole state behind us, with so much media exposure and so much excitement surrounding soccer.

“After losing those first two Grand Finals, there was a period where we had doubts, but there was also a sense of determination in the group that we didn’t want it to end like this. We wanted to achieve the ultimate aim of the club and of us as individuals.

“And when we did win it in 2003, there was a real sense of relief. It was dealing with the expectations that got us over the line.”

Petka beckoning

Later in his career, however, the former Adelaide City man unfortunately experienced the darker side of the game in the form of an horrendous leg break that kept him out of action for almost two years.

And ironically, it was a collision with former Glory colleague Damian Mori that did the damage.

“The medical guys were a bit sketchy on if I would recover sufficiently to play again,” he recalled.

“The tibia and fibula both snapped and the surgeon had to put a rod down my bone to hold it all together. I had screws at the top and the bottom and eventually they had to take the rod out.

“It wasn’t a clean break either. I had little fractured bits all over the place. It had to mend with missing pieces that were floating around.

“The recovery was a constant grind. Going training every day, I was in constant pain.

“At one stage I didn’t walk on it for around six months and they said it wasn’t healing properly and that I needed to walk on it. So I walked on it until it hurt so much that I had to stop and rest and then I just had to repeat that to get the blood flowing round and keep the healing process going.”

The ever-modest shot-stopper allowed a note of personal pride to come into his voice when describing the joy he took from defying the doctors and battling his way back to full fitness.

And he also suggested that his enforced spell on the sidelines helped smooth his eventual transition into retirement.

“It did take a while to adjust mentally because you’re going from one very different from of employment to another,” he said.

“But the injury kept me out for between 18 months and two years and that kind of put the notion into my head that things were coming to an end and that I might not get back into playing. It sort of prepared me for the period immediately after I stopped playing.”

Petka with fans

But while he’s clearly not one for living in the past, the man universally known as ‘Petka’ clearly has a deep respect for it, whether that be in a football or family context.

“History is what makes the club, especially if it’s a winning history," he said. "It sets standards and expectations.

"For those Glory supporters who went through that journey with us, the highs and lows became lifelong memories in exactly the same way they did for us as players. They shared the same tears of pain we when we lost and the same tears of joy when we won.

“In terms of my dad’s business, he’s had it for 40-odd years. He’s 69 now, so he’s on the retirement path but can’t stop himself coming in.

“He started off with a workshop in the back yard, so we grew up in this cabinet-making environment and he used to get us to help out back then. It was engrained in us, this industry, from a young age.”

But surely Petkovic wasn’t handling saws and the like during the peak of his powers with Glory and the Socceroos?

“No,” he chuckled, “I never did anything when I was playing. My dad has lost two or three fingers and I couldn't imagine going in to see Bernd [Stange] or Mich [D’Avray] or any of the other coaches I had and trying to explain that away!”

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