Craig Paterson interview: Dad came to one game - to see George Best

Craig Paterson isn't on radio duty this weekend, his appearances limited due to his reluctance to take part in the open mics format. Picture: Scott Louden.
Craig Paterson isn't on radio duty this weekend, his appearances limited due to his reluctance to take part in the open mics format. Picture: Scott Louden.
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Typically helpful and with as much attention to detail as he employs when analysing football matches, Craig Paterson is being notably precise with his directions.

The house, he fears, might appear indistinct. However, there is not another like it in the street, town, or, indeed, country. It contains a full set of Scottish major honours earned at a perhaps unlikely trio of clubs: Hibernian, Rangers and Motherwell.

Like any centre-half worth his salt, Paterson is anticipating my arrival. The door is whipped open before a knock is even necessary.

Penicuik is an unsung footballing hotbed. The same estate was home to the dear departed Hearts and Everton legend Alex Young, who has featured previously in this slot. Andy Goram was once a regular in the bookies and pubs. Former Dundee United midfielder Billy Kirkwood, meanwhile, grew up in the town, and was best friends with Paterson as well as a boys’ club teammate.

“Billy claims he is ahead of me,” says Paterson. “One league championship and two League Cups trumps my Scottish Cup and two League Cups, which is maybe fair.”

What helps set the Paterson family apart are his father’s achievements – two league titles with Hibs. A beautiful, uniquely inscribed medal from the 1951-52 season, is soon in my hands, which John “Jock” Paterson thoughtfully had made into a broach for his wife. He was a hard act to follow. Still, by winning the League Cup twice with Rangers and then the Scottish Cup at Motherwell, Craig left his own tread of distinction on Scottish football’s footpath.

Not that you’d have known this from the tone of comment included at the end of a profile of Jock, in a Hibs v Rangers programme from the early 1980s. “That’s nice,” thought Craig, not unreasonably. “They’ve done a piece on dad to mark my coming back to Easter Road.” They had indeed thought to do a piece on his father, that much was true. But, as he read on, Craig discovered it was not to mark his homecoming, following his 1982 transfer from Hibs to Rangers.

Toward the end is a reference to Jock’s sons. “John Junior works for a large furniture store in Edinburgh,” informs the article. “His other son works in Glasgow.”

The catty remark was lost on Paterson’s own father, since he wasn’t at the game, strange though it might seem. Whether his son was playing or not, Jock knew he would have been waved into Easter Road on account of his achievements with the great Hibs side of the late 1940s and 50s.

But while Craig played more than 500 games, attended by hundreds of thousands of people, there was a pair of eyes that watched just one of those matches; his father’s. And even then Paterson Senior wasn’t there because of his son.

“I am not sure whether he just thought times had changed,” ponders Paterson now. It’s 17 years after his father’s death and since a funeral attended by Lawrie Reilly and Davie Mackay, among many other footballing luminaries. “He knew he would be tempted try to help me… he said ‘I know your managers, they know what they are doing’. Whether he thought he would put pressure on me, I don’t know.”

There was pressure enough simply being the son of Jock, who went three consecutive seasons without missing a league game, including the title-winning campaign of 1951-52.

“My first manager was Eddie Turnbull, my dad’s teammate. My second Willie Ormond played with my father, and the vice-chairman, Tommy Younger, was my dad’s teammate. Also Jimmy Kerr was on the board and he was from that team,” explains Paterson, illustrating the extent to which history weighed on the club as well as him at the time.

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean you are not always being judged against your father, who, possibly unhelpfully, was also a centre-half. Paterson once asked Turnbull, a hard enough taskmaster at the best of times, if there was anything he had over his dad. “Aye,” replied Turnbull. “You’re taller.”

This was said in the spirit of the times in which Turnbull and Paterson Senior came to the fore, when men were men and fathers tended not to over-emote about their children. But he was a far from distant presence. There’s a story, dismissed as myth by Paterson, where his father didn’t speak to him for a month after he joined Rangers. “Who do they think I was talking to for advice?” he asks. His dad gave him the green light to go to Ibrox. Not that he watched him there.

So why did Paterson Senior decide to watch the one game he did see son in? The answer attests once more to the allure of George Best.

“San Jose Earthquakes came across to play Hibs in a friendly with George,” explains Paterson, with Best having recently left Easter Road. “Our next door neighbours were like family and their son wanted to see George Best. My dad said he would take him – I got a note asking ‘can you leave your dad two tickets?’ I ripped it up and put it in the bin. I thought it must have been some chancer.

“Luckily my dad met [then chairman] Tom Hart coming in and got tickets. One out of around 500 games I played, that was the limit of my dad’s participation! There were Hibs player of the year awards, to which my dad got invited. But he would always say: ‘It is your night’ and did not come.

“He was a big golfer,” adds Paterson. “He’d be quite happy heading off there. I am not even sure if he watched live cup finals on TV. My mum was even less interested, even though she married a footballer and produced another.”

Winning two Hibs player-of-the-year trophies meant a lot to Paterson because they served to distinguish him from his father, who would have had to go some to win this award over the likes of Reilly, Turnbull and Gordon Smith. Hibs were denuded by then. But it was still quite an achievement for the younger Paterson.

“In my first season I got some games towards the end of the season, because the club was struggling,” he recalls. “And you end up being relegated – dear oh dear. Luckily we came straight back up and consolidated when Bertie Auld was manager.

“George Best appears too. You are 18 and just starting out in your career, and someone like George Best comes into your life, one of the best players that ever played the game.

“I became a George Best bore,” accepts Paterson. “I remember going for a pint on a Tuesday night with my mates. They don’t see me coming in…when I arrive they are each putting a pound on the table. What’s going on here? They are running a sweep to see how long it takes for me to mention what Bestie had done that day, or what he had been saying at training.”

The most talented players didn’t tend to hang around at Hibs in those days. Paterson was sold to Rangers. While he didn’t have a say, and was content to stay at Hibs for the rest of his career, he knew it made sense to leave.

At the time he could not see himself winning anything significant at Easter Road. Not that it was a glory era at Rangers either. However, he still managed to win the League Cup twice in the same year. The final was pushed back to March in the 1983-84 season and then returned the following season to its then traditional date of late Autumn.

This unique double made amends for Paterson having lost his first two finals at Rangers in the same season (against Celtic in the League Cup, Aberdeen in the Scottish), particularly since he had been made skipper by the time of the second triumph, over Dundee United.

Northern Ireland’s John McClelland played next to him but had been stripped of the captaincy after a contract dispute. Was that awkward? “Jock Wallace called me in. It was not a question would you like to be captain. He had decided. No one would turn it down anyway. But he was not discussing it with you.”

The next time a manager had reason to pull aside the hard-working, reliable Paterson it was to tell him he was no longer in the plans. His Ibrox career was over just when Rangers fans felt the fun was beginning.

“The biggest problem at Rangers for me was the arrival of money,” he says. “Graeme Souness came and all of a sudden Terry Butcher is playing, Chris Woods is in goal.” Paterson was with the reserves at Ibrox on the momentous day Souness was sent off at Easter Road on the first day of the 1986-87 season.

“Then Dave McPherson picked up an injury and I got a chance to play,” he recalls. “I played against Hearts at Ibrox, we won 3-0. The following weekend was back at Easter Road, where we drew 0-0. I was playing next to Terry Butcher, which was great. And I am like ‘if I can just hang on in there...’ After all we were not losing goals.”

But the following midweek Souness told him: ‘My philosophy is if my best XI are fit they will play. You are just the one who has lost out.’ Paterson thought: ‘Fair enough, my chance might come again’. “Then the following week they signed Graham Roberts,” he says.

Paterson’s move to Rangers meant doubling his wages. It also doubled his workload on the familiar dunes of Gullane beach, where Rangers, like Hibs, went for pre-season training on account of Jock Wallace’s Wallyford roots.

“It was better at Hibs, because Eddie Turnbull was a golfer. So we’d do the dunes, then go to Bissets hotel and then have a round of golf. With big Jock you went down, did the dunes, then you did the dunes again, and you went home. There was no high tea at Bissets and a game of golf!”

Sent off just twice in his career, Paterson seems remarkably well adjusted considering he played under such a procession of fierce, decorated characters. “Someone asked me about Ian Cathro, when he was struggling. Have you dealt with that? I said I really couldn’t tell you, because between Turnbull, Ormond, Auld, [John] Greig, Souness, [Tommy] McLean and [Tommy] Burns, every new manager that has come into my dressing room, I’m thinking: ‘Wow. Cups, leagues, championships, you name it’. They all had this massive pedigree.”

Burns provided Paterson with an Indian summer at Killie. He was a member of the ‘Dad’s Army’ of veterans who brought the club up to the top flight, where they have remained ever since. Not bad for the £50,000 Killie were required to pay following a tribunal, with Paterson having fallen out of the picture at Motherwell.

His last game for the Fir Park club was the epic Scottish Cup victory over Dundee United in 1991, at which point the conversation turns darker.

It’s hard to avoid the tragedy that has befallen so many former Motherwell teammates. “Five have gone if you count Cammy Duncan, who left before the Scottish Cup win,” says Paterson. “Coops [Davie Cooper], then Phil [O’Donnell], Jamie Dolan and then Paul McGrillen. Kirkie (Steve Kirk) had a real escape after a heart scare. And then I was diagnosed with cancer.”

Perhaps under-reported at the time because of the understandable mourning for Tommy Burns, who had just the died from the same form of skin cancer, it’s something of a shock to hear this.

“We were down in Manchester for the Uefa Cup final [between Rangers and Zenit St Petersburg] and I am waiting for the results to see how bad this is and Tommy Burns passes away from the same thing,” remembers Paterson, now 58. “No-one knew I had the problem at that time and Chic [Young] asked me to do a bit on the radio the next morning about Tommy.

“I think that was one of the hardest things I’ve done – to talk about someone I really admired but in the back of my mind I was petrified. What did the future hold for me?”

One of Burns’ last acts was to help save his old friend’s life. “When Tommy came out in the papers saying he had it my wife [Christine] said you’d better get that mole checked. I was like ‘Och it will be fine’. But I’m glad I went…”

Paterson had the lymph nodes under his armpits removed for precautionary reasons and was eventually told the cancer on his back had not spread. It had been caught early enough. But that wasn’t the end of the trauma.

“I got worse,” he said. “I started to feel guilty. Some people went in there the same day as me and were told they had three months left. I sunk into a kind of depression. Thankfully I suppose it was the close season. But it helped getting back among the [BBC Scotland] lads when the new season started.”

Even now, he says, anxiety can flare up for no reason at all. “You wonder, why is my heart racing? I now have tablets if it happens. The oncology nurse I dealt with said things happen to your body you just can’t understand and you have to cope with.”

Somewhat surprisingly, given his relevance, having played for three of the four clubs involved, Paterson isn’t on duty for this weekend’s League Cup semi-finals. His radio appearances have been limited recently, partly due to his reluctance to take part in the open all mics format, a way of covering games tending to provoke a love-it or hate-it reaction among listeners.

“I told them I’d be useless,” he says. “I’d be sitting there and they’d be wanting me to interject and go ‘wooah, it’s a chance for such-and-such ..’ It’s not me. It would sound really corny. I don’t mind listening to it. But I couldn’t do it.”

On those occasions he’s absent, it’s always Sportsound’s loss. Happily, he will be back in the press box for Hibs v Hearts on Tuesday night, which reminds him of a quirky fact. Despite making more than 120 appearances for Hibs, he never played in a senior Edinburgh derby.

It’s one of his chief regrets, along with the play-acting that cost Karl-Heinz Rummenigge a goal in San Siro, when Rangers went down 3-0 – “it should have been four” – to Inter Milan in 1984.

The legendary Germany striker scored with an overhead kick, but Paterson went down clutching his face, despite Rummenigge’s boot connecting only with the ball. “It’s the only time I cheated,” he says, a little shame-faced. If he were ever to spend a morning in Paterson’s company, even Karl-Heinz would find forgiveness easy to come by.