The following is an extract from Paul John Dykes’ interview with Bernie Slaven:
MOVING TO ENGLAND
When I left for England in 1985, I didn’t want to leave Glasgow because, although I was 24, I was immature.
My mother went to the church in Fernhill, where she used to talk to Bobby Murdoch’s mother. They were talking about me going to England to join Middlesbrough, then my mother came home one Sunday and told me, “Listen, you’ve to phone Bobby Murdoch. I’ve got his number off his mother.” I’m thinking, “Bobby Murdoch: Celtic legend, European Cup winner.” He was my late father’s idol; he used to rave about Bobby Murdoch. I plucked up the courage to phone him and ask for a wee bit of advice. Bobby was very complimentary of Middlesbrough and said, “It’s a good place and the people are great. It’s a good club. They’ll look after you.” So I did go to England on a wee bit of advice from Bobby Murdoch.
When I was joining Middlesbrough, I was coming from Albion Rovers who were probably the worst team in Britain at the time. Although I had scored a few goals in Scotland, coming to England was a big transition for me. I had never sampled full-time football and I came here with the idea and the mentality that I wanted to sample that. I went on to play top flight and international football, so I did achieve what I set out to when I came to Middlesbrough.
Coming from north of the border, it took me a wee bit of time to adapt and, to be honest, after about three of four weeks I was on the phone to my father. Although I had trebled my wages at the time, I said to my father, “Listen, I’m coming back.” His reply was, “What are you on about? You’re not getting effing in here. Man up; you’ve been there for three weeks. Give yourself a season and then take it from there.” If it wasn’t for him I would have gone back to Scotland. That was the best bit of advice I got from my father.Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind with ACE CITY RACERS
My father knew everything about Celtic; he was a die hard. He went everywhere to see them play, and was in Lisbon to see them lift the European Cup in 1967.
I was aware of Neilly Mochan’s career because my father told me about him. I used to see him in the dugout for Celtic as the trainer, and I’d ask, “Who’s that, da’?” So, when I went to Middlesbrough, I knew that both Neilly Mochan and Bobby Murdoch had played down here.
When Neilly came to Teesside, it would have been darker down here with the industry, which would have been well up-and-running at that time. When I came down, things were teetering out and factories were shutting down on Teesside. Neilly would need to have worn a gas mask down here with the smog and all that. They call us ‘The Smoggies’ down here. I remember coming down on the train for the first time and looking out the window to see these big cone towers with smoke and chemicals billowing out. I thought I had landed on the moon when I arrived.
I think guys like Neilly Mochan are invaluable to clubs. I don’t think they get the respect that they should, but that’s because there is no loyalty in the modern game. Players kiss the badge and then they’re off. If Celtic players of old, like Mochan or Murdoch or Jimmy Johnstone, kissed the badge you would know that it was real.
IRELAND OVER SCOTLAND
People ask me why I opted to play for the Republic. I did have a choice; I spoke to Andy Roxburgh before I made a decision. Roxburgh came to see me against Everton. It was a cup tie and it turned out that there were three games we had to play. Bruce Rioch came into the dressing room after one of the games and told me there was someone there to see me. I wrapped the towel around me after the shower, went outside, and there he was – Andy Roxburgh. He told me that he knew I had been giving him a bit of stick, saying he didn’t know that I was Scottish. He then explained that he had other people watching me and that he would definitely cap me for Scotland. This appeared in the papers, which led to the Borough fans singing, “Bernie for Scotland”.
I then went up to see Blackburn Rovers playing Newcastle United at St James’ Park. I was standing in the ticket office with Gary Pallister and we were standing a few bodies behind big Jack Charlton. Once he got his tickets, Jack turned around and said, “I hear you’ve got Irish grandparents, son. You just hang fire and I’ll cap you against Wales.” True to his word, Jack gave me my debut against Wales in March 1990.
NOT SIGNING FOR CELTIC
I remember there being talk in The Daily Record and Sunday Mail that Billy McNeill was going to make a £750,000 move for me. That was when I was banging in the goals for Middlesbrough. Then the rumour was that Liam Brady was going to come in for me, but both of them denied that they were interested.
A journalist called Andrew Gold, who used to work for the Weekly News, played a major part in getting me to Middlesbrough, as he came up with the idea of writing letters to clubs north and south of the border. Later on, when I was having a bit of a ding-dong with Lenny Lawrence, Andrew Gold phoned me out of the blue and said, “I know there is a bit of turmoil at Middlesbrough. Do you want to pose outside Parkhead and try and get Celtic interested?” I ended up posing outside Celtic Park with the scarf above my head. I did it as a favour to him because he had done me favours in the past. I didn’t give a damn at that time with Middlesbrough or the manager as I was starting to lose a bit of patience, but nothing came of it.
I’ve played with guys who went on to play for Celtic but I never got the chance. Tony Mowbray was a great captain and a great leader, but Andy Payton never done it at Middlesbrough. When Andy moved to Celtic, I had scored a hundred goals at Middlesbrough, but Celtic overlooked me.
Looking back, maybe managers though I wasn’t a good lad because I was vocal, but I wasn’t bad off the pitch. I was very seldom injured, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, didn’t gamble, didn’t take drugs, and scored plenty of goals. I was a great professional in training, but if I thought that a manager was doing something that I didn’t agree with then I would defend myself or my team-mates, but managers don’t like that confrontation.
I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet, but I finished third top scorer in the top flight behind Liverpool’s John Aldridge and Arsenal’s Alan Smith, so I like to think that I proved myself in England.Watch Kevin McKenna with A Celtic State of Mind