Tom Hateley knows he was there. What he struggles to do, however, is regain a clear picture of the blurred scene. When his father, Mark, was appearing up front for Rangers in the Champions League, his son will have been in attendance, but too young to take in what he was supposed to be watching. “I will have gone to some of my Dad’s games in Europe, but I would have been messing about in one of the executive boxes, just being stupid,” smiles Hateley.
What the Motherwell defender is in a position to do now, though, aged 22, is create some memories of his own. If all goes to plan for the remainder of this season, it could be his father’s turn as spectator for the qualifying rounds of the same competition. With Rangers unlikely to be permitted to play in Europe, even if they do beat Motherwell to second place, third in the Premier League will be enough for the Fir Park club. Hateley knows, though, that place is far from secured yet. Motherwell meet Hibernian at Easter Road today mindful that Dundee United, St Johnstone and even Hearts can all still overhaul them.
“If I get the opportunity to play in the Champions League it would be amazing,” admits Hateley. “It would be nice if my dad was the one watching me this time, but there are some massive SPL games to come before that.”
For Hateley, Champions League football would further vindicate his decision to join Motherwell three years ago, though, in truth, even without it, the move has gone remarkably to plan, at least in terms of statistics. His simple aim, having left Reading without starting for the first team, was just to get some games. He can put a tick next to that box, having appeared in every Motherwell match since his arrival with today set to be his 128th appearance in a row.
“I had a bad shoulder injury in my first season, but waited until the end of the campaign for the operation,” says Hateley. “I suppose at a bigger club there would have been more rotation so I’ve avoided that and haven’t been suspended either. The closest I’ve come to missing a game has probably been fearing being dropped. I had a really bad day against David Templeton of Hearts, but you learn from that.”
His one regret is that the majority of these matches have come at right-back rather than the central midfield position he still considers his own. “I’m not spitting the dummy out, I’m not that kind of person,” he reasons, “but I just feel you can do more in a game from central midfield. This season, though, I’ve played almost every game as a right-back, so I’m used to it.”
As a reserve player at Reading, Hateley was coached by the club’s current manager Brian McDermott. “He was a very calm and clever man so it’s great to see him doing well,” he says. “I had to go out to Basingstoke to get some football at Reading and that was a good reality check for me in the Conference South getting lumps kicked out of me every week. To go from Basingstoke to the prospect of a Champions League qualifier shows my decision to come to Motherwell wasn’t bad.”