The Malta Independent 24 October 2020, Saturday

50 Shades of Greats: Sports make you feel stronger and sharper - John Paris

Sunday, 18 October 2020, 11:00 Last update: about 5 days ago

The Malta Independent on Sunday meets JOHN PARIS, one of Malta’s all-time top waterpolo players. He speaks about his playing and coaching career, the national team, family and his recruitment agency and the way ahead.

John Paris was born in Sliema on 31 January 1967. He is the youngest of six siblings. “We are three boys and three girls and I am the youngest of the lot. We were lucky enough to have been brought up in a house that had a very large garden so I was very happy to spend most of my time playing in the garden with my family and friends.”

John attended De La Salle College and also for some years was in the class of yours truly.

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“Indeed those were wonderful years when from the age of five to 16, I, or to put it better we attended De La Salle College from where I did my O Levels. Studying was not something that I enjoyed doing and by the age of 17 I went to work in the family business.”

How did your interest in waterpolo begin? Did you have any interest in any other sport? What age did you start practising? “It all started thanks to my elder brothers since they both played waterpolo with Exiles. Therefore I was lucky to have the opportunity to participate with them in training. By the age of 10 I was a regular player playing in any role that was required by the team. This gave me the opportunity to play together with my brothers who were mainstay players within the team. I continued to further my career and at the age of 11, I also had the opportunity to travel abroad with the Club on their first ever training camp to Rome. There we also played some friendly matches and I had my first taste of international waterpolo. By the age of 13 I established myself in the first seven. At school I also played football, however, I wasn’t that talented with my feet and having realised that waterpolo was more appropriate for me, I became fully committed to the sport which gave me so much success and satisfaction in the years to come.”

But what do you need to reach certain heights in waterpolo? “A very simple answer; commitment, dedication, sacrifice and always willing to learn on past mistakes. My philosophy even today is No pain no gain.”

And what about waterpolo played at local pitches and that played nowadays at the National Pool Complex? Does this affect the sport negatively? When I started playing, we played in pitches which in a way was very enjoyable as the players were much closer to the spectators. I will always remember the time when the European Waterpolo Championships were held at the Valletta Pitch and I was captain of the Under 19’s Malta National Team.  This was way back in 1985. The support that we got during our matches made us play ten times better. Support encourages you to play better and the great support we got helped the national team to beat teams like Austria, England and Turkey. When in 1986 the National Pool was inaugurated and the first National Waterpolo league was held, it was a new experience. On one hand we lost the excitement of having supporters so close to us but on the other hand we were then in a more professional and organised environment. Attendances at the National Pool in Marsascala were still high but due to the difference in set-up numbers may have seemed lower. Having our own national pool made us more professional and this definitely helped our sport.”

John took time to mention all the honours that he grabbed during his career. “In 1984 I won my first honour which was the Division One League and Knock Out with Exiles. More was to follow especially with Neptunes when in 1986 was crowned Malta Champions, 1987 Malta Champions and KO Winners, 1988 once again Malta Champions and KO Winners, 1989 Malta Champions and in the same year was honoured with the Waterpolo Player of the Year award by the ASA and the Sportswriters Association Player of the Year, 1990 and 1992 KO winner with Neptunes and the year after, once again Malta Champion. After Neptunes I joined Sliema, winning the League in 1999 which was my first season and also 2001, 2002 where I won the double. In 2003 I was chosen as the Independent Player of the Year and in 2004 I won the Double once again with Sliema. In 2008 I ended my career winning the Second Division League with Exiles. It’s worth also mentioning that I won the Winter League on five occasions during my time with Neptunes and Sliema.”

John was also one of the mainstays in the National Waterpolo Team as he described his experiences. “As I mentioned earlier, when I played with the Youth National Team and in 1985 when we went to Germany to participate in the Youth Waterpolo Championships which was an unforgettable experience for all the players. I was fortunate enough to be also selected for the senior’s National Team and in 1986 we participated in the European Waterpolo Championships that was held in Bulgaria. It was my first experience with the big boys and I was still 18 years old but the experience I got on this trip was unforgettable. At that time the European Championships were not split in two groups as they are today so we had the privilege to see top national teams such as Yugoslavia (today Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro), Russia, Hungary, Spain and Italy to mention just a few. 

“During my time with the national team I also remember the time when we won the 8 Nations Tournament in Austria beating highly quoted teams. In 2004 I also had the honour to form part of the Team that won third place in the European Waterpolo Championships Goup B in Sweden. We beat Turkey for third place; this was Malta’s highest and still is the highest placing Malta has ever achieved.”

For John the opening of the National Pool was a memory which he still recalls vividly. “I still remember fondly the inaugural match at the New National Pool of Tal-Qroqq in 1993. It was a match against Belgium and the National Pool was packed with around 5,000 spectators. The match was televised live and this was a first time for Malta. We won the match 13-8 and I had scored seven goals, one of which was from mid pitch.”

For a short stint Paris was also into coaching but more as an assistant. “In 2008 I was given the opportunity to be the assistant coach of Neptunes. The coach for that season was world renowned coach Paolo Malara, who was successful with Italy’s national team – Sette Bello.  While I enjoyed this experience, I still felt the hunger to play rather than coach and in 2009 I went back into the water, this time playing for the only Gozitan Club, Otters. The year after I was also player/coach of the same Club but after a few matches I realised that I needed assistance from someone to lead the team from land so that I could concentrate on the team in the water. It was a great experience but in hindsight I would not recommend it to anyone.”

The national team has made great strides making it to European Championship finals on multiple occasions. What does this mean to a waterpolo player? “To clarify a point, when in my days we participated in the European Championships the number of teams in Group A was 12. Today the number of teams participating in Group A has been increased to 16, therefore the fact that we came third in Group B means that we classified as the 15th best team in Europe. For three years I was also the national team captain, however, due to an increase in work commitments I had to pull out from a number of commitments abroad and therefore gave up my captaincy. But yes these are the games that every waterpolo player looks at and dreams of participating in. The international stage is the highlight of everyone’s career.”

Paris was honoured the Player of the Year. What does this mean and were there any other particular honours?Yes in 1989 I won the ASA Player of the Year and in that same season I was also voted the Independent Player of the Year. During a pre-season international tournament in 1988 with Neptunes I was also voted Player of the Tournament. In 1987 during the swimming championships at the National Pool in Marsascala I achieved the following records: 50 metres Free Style; 100 metres Free Style; 50 metres Butterfly; 100 metres Breaststroke; 100 metres Backstroke and 200 metres Individual Medley.”

But apart from this there are also particular moments that are still encrypted in John’s mind.One particular moment which I will never forget was the Decider game in the 2001 season when I was playing with Sliema. This game was against Sirens who were favourites that year and they were led by another famous Italian coach, Paola DeCrescenzo. In the deciding match, with two minutes left, we were trailing by two goals, however, we managed to draw level and 25 seconds from the end we managed to go in the lead for the first time; however seven seconds from the end of the game Sirens managed to get the draw from a Man Up situation. We went into extra time and during that season there was the Golden Goal rule in place. This is no longer being used in today’s game. I was fortunate enough to be that player to score that all-important Golden goal and bring the League Championship back to Sliema.”

How does John see the future of waterpolo in Malta? “The future looks bright for Malta as long as we keep on with the investment that is required. More heated swimming pools will definitely lift our standards further. Promoting swimming and waterpolo must also be introduced in all schools. I always felt that as Malta is surrounded by water all Maltese should be thought how to swim. It’s also one of the best exercises one can do to remain healthy.”

Turning away from sport, how important is his family? “Having a supportive family is always important when one participates in sport. My wife and children were always supportive throughout the years and they too had to make sacrifices as whenever I travelled abroad with the national team this meant that they were losing out from a family holiday.”

And having now retired from competitive sport, what is John Paris doing nowadays?For the last three years I have been managing, together with my partners, our own Recruitment agency Broadwing. As the co-founder of the company it brings a lot of responsibilities and stressful moments however the satisfaction of managing to create something from nothing gives me a deep sense of satisfaction.”

Without hesitation John mentions the Indian kitchen as his favourite. And as regards travelling he also shared his opinion with the readers of The Malta Independent on Sunday. These days I’m not that enthusiastic about travelling abroad however my favourite destination would be Italy. As a food and wine lover I have always enjoyed the cuisine each area produces and even their wines seem to have the taste of their land.”

Though in this early 50s Paris is still an active person. “I still train whenever possible and every week I manage to play waterpolo, this time with what we call the ‘Masters’. Over the past two years we also travelled to Barcelona and Hungary to participate in Masters’ tournaments.”

“On the other hand free time is quite rare these days but being a Liverpool supporter I try to watch every match they play. I also enjoy cooking as I find it very relaxing.”

One final word from an experienced sportsman about waterpolo and sport as a whole. “In my opinion participating in sport is a must for every child. It has kept me away from trouble and it also instils discipline and commitment. Waterpolo is a sport that helps the whole body and mind and makes us understand the full meaning of teamwork. My advice to youngsters would be to give it a try for at least one month and I assure them that after that month they will feel stronger and sharper in their mind to take on more challenges in their lives.”

 

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