FOOTBALL hardman turned martial arts expert Mike Pejic can finally call himself a European champion.
Pejic, 69, was victorious at the Antalya 2019 European Poomsae Championships, winning in the Individual Over 65 Male category for Great Britain last week.
The Stoke and England legend's routine outshone Turkish favourite Galip Ziya Yalcinkaya, Spaniard Francisco Relaã‘o Ruiz and German Peter Johanns, a former European champion himself, to reign supreme.
And Pejic's success is even more remarkable considering he had to bounce back from a series of crippling injuries that almost had him quitting the sport.
Pejic, who won four caps for England, told SunSport: "It's been a long journey, big time.
"I began competing with Great Britain in 2012. I won five National Championships, and finished runner-up in the World Championship in 2017.
"But this is probably my greatest achievement and I couldn't be prouder."
INJURIES NEARLY COST PEJIC
Last April, Pejic had to nurse injuries that had him contemplating if his days as a master in Taekwondo were over.
"I snapped a tendon and broke a toe, which meant I was in plaster for months, and I missed a lot of training.
"And when I recovered from that, while I was completing my fifth dan masters, which I got, I tore a tendon in my heel.
"Then, at the world championships in Taipei I tore my hip flexor two days before the tournament. I still competed, but I came ninth.
"I was really struggling fitness-wise, and I completely shut down and thought this might be the end.
"I sat down, missed a load of training at the start of the year, as well as some events and started to reprogram myself.
"I got myself a fitness coach and took up Pilates, and that's what really started off my recovery."
Now revitalised, Pejic has his sights set on a world title.
I was really struggling fitness-wise, and I completely shut down and thought this might be the end."
He revealed: "Last year I was really close to giving up.
"If I'd have got gold in the World Championships, I probably would've retired. But I couldn't finish off my martial arts career coming ninth, I still had something more to prove.
"It's been a massive turn around, but I worked hard, got back to my best and this has been my best performance since getting silver in 2017.
"Now that I'm European champion, I've going to try to get that gold next year."
Pejic, who clocked up 344 appearances at the Potteries, began his Taekwondo journey in 1994.
He previously told SunSport how becoming a martial art expert was tougher than his football career.
"I would say my career in Taekwondo has been more exhausting than my football career was," he revealed.
"Sometimes I'm doing six hour sessions, that's how hard it can get. When I was footballer we'd train for an hour, maybe an hour and a half football. It wasn't nearly as strenuous."
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