Mark Hateley's surprising Celtic revelation, dementia risk and the end of his 20-year Rangers relationship

During a discussion on the likelihood of succumbing to dementia, a subject he tackles in the opening chapter of his new book, Mark Hateley tells me something genuinely surprising.

Former Rangers player Mark Hateley is releasing his latest book, Hitting the Mark, this month. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
Former Rangers player Mark Hateley is releasing his latest book, Hitting the Mark, this month. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

He never scored a header against Celtic. It’s a quirky detail since he seemed to score headers against everyone else, including a winner in the Milan derby for AC Milan and against Brazil in the Maracana for England, and he certainly hit the net in several Old Firm meetings.

Indeed, his aerial prowess is one reason why he chooses to cover the topic of brain disease in footballers so early on in Hitting the Mark, his third book. It’s not the sexiest subject but it is an important one. Hateley reveals he is set to become an ambassador for Alzheimer Scotland.

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Now 60, and having never knowingly shirked an aerial challenge, he is aware he is viewed as being at particular risk. His father, Tony, died of Alzheimer’s at the age of 72 and was exhibiting worrying signs such as confusion and forgetfulness by the time he had even reached 60.

Hitting the Mark, the latest book by former Rangers player Mark Hateley, is released on November 25.

Hateley senior was renowned for his aerial ability at the likes of Aston Villa and Liverpool, although it’s Jeff Astle, his strike partner earlier in his career at Notts County, whose death – at the age of 59 – really prompted investigation into the link between heading a football and brain disease.

Hateley still does not believe enough is being done. At the same time, he’s not fearing the worst each time he forgets where he has put his car keys. Life goes on.

“It is what it is,” he says. He points out that his grandfather, Tom, on his father’s side also suffered from dementia. “They called you mad back then,” he says. “And he never headed a ball in his life.”

The distinguished line of footballing Hateleys began with Tony, continued through Mark, and is being upheld by Tom junior, currently back in Poland at Piast Gliwice after stints in Scotland, with Motherwell and Dundee, and Cyprus. A versatile midfielder who is also at home at full back, Tom is perhaps fortunate to be a very different player to his father. Mark admits he found it tough stepping out of the shadow of his own father.

“He wanted to model me into a mini-him, basically,” he says. “I made myself quite ill when I was younger, worrying about all sorts of stuff. I was anxious. I had a blood pressure at 28 when I was joining Rangers, all that kind of stuff. Been on blood pressure tablets ever since.

“I got to this stage of my life, by the time I was 22 or 23 I had made enough money to enjoy everything going on around me. But with me, I was always pushing myself on, that continued throughout Italy …until now really. I still push myself. I can’t sit down, I can’t sit still."

He has remained in his seat for long enough to cast an eye back on a storied career. We are speaking in the restaurant area of a garden centre near Cumbernauld, near where Hateley lives with Victoria, his second wife. It’s also not far from where he headed his last ball in earnest. That was at Recreation Park, Alloa. He was subbed after 51 minutes of a 2-0 defeat while playing for Ross County.

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It was a world away from Milan and Monaco, where he was neighbours with Ayrton Senna. Indeed, an abiding memory from when he made history by becoming the first Englishman to win the Scottish Football Writers’ player of the year award in 1993-94, after scoring 30 goals, was being in a car on the way to the dinner and hearing a radio report that the Brazilian Formula 1 driver had been killed at Imola in Italy. Our meeting, on the eve of Walter Smith’s memorial service, is similarly tainted by sadness.

I mention that Smith played a huge part in Hateley’s career. “And I played a huge part in his,” says Hateley, not unreasonably.

A scenario where Smith is denied the chance to deliver the success he did at Ibrox were it not for Hateley’s title-winning brace against Aberdeen on the final day of the 1990-91 league season is described as “probably accurate”.

Even now, Hateley extends little sympathy to Michael Watt, the novice ‘keeper brought in to deputise for the injured Theo Snelders. “I never looked at the teamsheet,” says Hateley. “I caught a glance, I thought it was a mascot. It was such a young face.

“I told Gary Stevens to just hang the ball up, first attack. I am pretty sure he came for it…I just wanted a reaction from Alex McLeish and Brian Irvine for clobbering him. Normally centre halves are really protective of their ‘keeper. I knocked every bit of air out of the boy. I did hit him hard. Alex and Brian never even looked at the goalkeeper. They didn’t come to me. No idea why not. To me that meant today was going to be our day.”

Hateley scored twice, the first a trademark towering header, the second after a spooked Watt spilled the ball. Three-in-a-row became nine.

The last time he spoke to Smith was for the book, with his former manager providing a typically insightful testimonial. There are numerous contributions from those Hateley crossed paths with, including Paolo Maldini and Glenn Hoddle. Notably, there is also one from Ally McCoist. The relationship between the well-matched strike partners was reported to have cooled considerably after McCoist’s departure as Rangers manager seven years ago. Hateley, a Rangers ambassador at the time and particularly close to the then Ibrox regime, was accused of spying on training sessions.

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He admits he was “baffled” when McCoist did not sign his out-of-contact son Tom from Motherwell in the summer of 2012, as well as teammates Darren Randolph, Shaun Hutchison and “Rangers daft” Jamie Murphy. But it was a newspaper report suggesting Hateley was in cahoots with the board in a plot to oust him that really riled McCoist. They are now back on first-name terms – which, in Hateley’s case, always means “Alistair” rather than Ally.

“Always late! It was the last one,” says Hateley of McCoist’s warm contribution to the book. “Alistair was busy with the Euros, I could appreciate that. I knew he would not let me down.”

The Rangers family is a strong one, as was illustrated at Glasgow Cathedral on Friday as hundreds gathered to pay tribute to Smith. It makes it more surprising that Hateley was cut adrift from the current Ibrox regime last year after nearly 20 years as a club ambassador.

“I don’t think there is a relationship there right now,” he says, in response to a question about the current state of play between him and the club, at least at boardroom level. “Plain matter of fact. I did a bit of Rangers TV, that was to cushion the blow, I think. That was it. Listen, I know what football's all about. I just get on with it.”

Mark Hateley Hitting The Mark, published by Reach Sport, is on sale November 25th. Mark will be signing books in Waterstones Glasgow Sauchiehall on Friday November 26th at 1pm and Waterstones Silverburn on Saturday December 4th at 12pm.

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