Bernie Slaven was promoting his new book November Spawned a Monster in the Hill Street Centre. I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the book and about Boro. I couldn’t resist asking about his opinion on tonight’s Boro v Everton cup quarter final. Bernie is never short of opinions and don’t expect any fence sitting in this interview either. You can buy the book on Bernie’s website www.bernieslaven.co.uk
Q: Bernie, tell me about your book, please.
BS: Obviously I have had books out in the past, I have had autobiographies etc but this is thirty years in Teesside. It is about my private life. We live in a goldfish bowl in Middlesbrough and over the years there have been people saying this and that, I just put the record straight. I am critical of myself, things that I have done wrong in my life, problems that I have had, it is all in the book. People that I have had clashes with, the club is mentioned, not been told in any previous books. It is all new material and things I have kept under my cap for so long. So, I have just got it out there.
Thirty years is a long time. If you had told me when I was a kid, you will be thirty years in Teesside, away from Glasgow, I would have thought you were off your head. But I have done it, I have come down and thirty years on, a lot has happened since then, radio jobs, getting sacks, confrontations with people and it is all in there. I personally believe it is a good read and it is me. In the past my books have been about my football period, about how I scored the goal, it is none of that. It is definitely more had hitting than that and it is me. People didn’t know me when I was a player but when I was on the radio for 15 years doing the Legends Show people began to get my personality and what I was about and my opinions are fairly strong. And that is what it is and what it is about.
Q: How did you go about putting the book together?
BS: Over the years I have a habit of jotting things down in books. As things happen I jot them down in books as I don’t have a great memory, I can’t remember yesterday. So there is a lot of factual stuff because I mark dates. I don’t mark everything down, I don’t have a diary. I walked in The Mall today and I went swimming, not that. But things that stick in the mind. So I can always go back to it and think that is what happened and he said that or I did that.
Q: Did it take you a long while to put the book together?
BS: Yes. Obviously thirty years is a long time, so it is packed in there. Coming to Teesside, losing the commentary at Middlesbrough after 500 games, when you have just won an award. Clashes with chief execs. My own personal things about flying phobia. Things that people don’t know. Depression, I mention depression. A lot of money problems I had as an individual. I just tell the lot, I think why not. If I can help people with similar things that I went through then and I am not ashamed of them, these things happen in life.
Q: Incredible to think that the entire thirty years in this book comes as a result of that letter you wrote to English football clubs to give you a trial.
BS: It is astonishing but when you read the book, I have a chapter dedicated to my late father because you talk about the letter, that is what got me to Middlesbrough with a trial and got me signed. But if it wasn’t for my late father, I would have been back home in Glasgow. I remember I was near the Linthorpe pub, facing that there was a double phone box, there were no mobiles in those days. About three weeks into my Middlesbrough career, I had trebled my wages, I went on my phone to my father and said listen, I am not enjoying it, I don’t like Middlesbrough, I am not particularly keen on the club and what’s happening and the way we are training. I am coming back.
And he says to me, there is no ***ing way you are getting back in here. So those words from my father, who I knew was serious because he was the kind of guy who would say, hey get off you are not getting in here. His words were, be a man for once in your life. Give it a bit of time. Give it a year. Or a season. I did that and it is probably the best bit of advice that I ever got told.
So, thirty years on, I am still here, which is incredible. But it was down to him. If he had said you’re not enjoying it, come back, then I would have been back like a shot, no ifs or buts.
Q: So, you are passing on the advice to other people?
BS: I am passing it on. There are loads of things that I went through, that if I can help people… my financial situation I was in, there will be other people going through that. You don’t need to be extremely rich to go through what I went through and if I can help anybody telling them how I went about it, they might have a better idea of what they are getting into.
Q: You were brought up in Scotland, played football, worked in the parks and obviously were very much part of your home community. But thirty years means you have a home from home here and you must consider yourself very much part of things here, too.
SB: People say you are an adopted Teessider, well thirty years here I am longer here than I was in Glasgow. And I think I have got a good connection with the public. Selling the book here, I meet loads of people on a daily basis. It is amazing the different age groups. There are young lads that come up and say “you are Bernie Slaven,” and then their dads will come and their granddads and their grannies. There was a woman today; she must have been about 86. Bernie, I saw you last year, can I have a picture and it’s incredible. That’s fantastic that people whether they are young or in their 80s they know who I am and they know a bit about me, I think it is incredible. So I must have done something right or something wrong.
Q: It is maybe something particularly special about goalscorers.
SB: When I came to Middlesbrough Tony Mowbray said if you score goals you will be an absolute hero, a legend of Teesside and they will never forget you. When you run polls and ask who was the best player, they are all individual choices. The elite group I am in at Middlesbrough is factual, its not who likes who. The goal stats say there are only ten that have scored 100 goals. I’m in there, Hickton. I know John personally, he is a gentleman and great goal scorer. Cloughie, Fenton, Camsell, to be in that elite group, for me coming from Glasgow… I cast my mind back and the first write up I got said I had a shot, wow, had a shot! and all these years on you scored X amount of goals and it is great. But Tony Mowbray did tell me that.
Some of the modern players will not be remembered, in ten years time no one will have a clue who they are. Because there is no loyalty in today’s game, I am not knocking the player, I am just saying every two or three years they head off to pastures new. I know that I was loyal, I was successful. League successes under Rioch was wild, Wembley first occasion, obviously scoring against the local rivals, Newcastle and, Sunderland was always a pleasure. Big key games like Chelsea jumps out when we got promotion and relegating them. Beating Aston Villa to get to Wembley. Yes there were some great memories there.
But the book is not to stroke my ego and I am not looking for pity, or self pity, I don’t want any of that. I am not into that. It is just a bit of honesty. That people don’t give you these days.
Q: When you left Middlesbrough some of us came down to see you play for Port Vale at Wembley. You had given us a lot of satisfaction over the years and we wanted to support you and Paul Kerr.
BS: I remember that day being told there is a bus load coming to see the ex Boro lads. That says a lot about us that they knew our loyalty and we gave a bit to the club. They enjoyed certain times and they came to back us.
I remember Boro fans coming to Hull City and presenting me with a clock. I have still got it. As you say, some of the modern players, there is no way on this planet that they would walk up the road to see them.
Q: That is what they don’t get.
BS: No, they don’t get that. I think it is a shame that the game is like that now. When you look back at the players I have mentioned. Players like Fenton were at the club12, 14 or 16 years and they were genuinely loyal. There is no loyalty today. They kiss the badge but I don’t know why as there is no loyalty. There is only a money sign on the modern day badge.
Q: In the end they won’t be remembered in the same way. They won’t have a room named after them at the stadium or be able to walk around talking to people in the street .
BS: No they won’t. And some of them won’t give a damn about that because they have their bank accounts, I’m loaded, I have got a yacht, floating about in the Mediterranean. No selling books in the Hill Street Centre. (laughs)
Listen I’m all for people if they are doing the business getting the money, I will never knock you but I would rather the players get it than the Chief Exec or Chairman. I am not talking about our chairman I mean any chairman across the board. I don’t mind them getting the money but there are too many getting it that don’t do the business.
Q: Let me ask you now about Middlesbrough this season.
BS: I think we have had a very good start. We are still a wee bit cautious and a wee bit laboured at times.
Q: Going back to the very start, it could have gone one of two ways having lost the play off final, couldn’t it?
BS: I honestly thought when we lost the play off final that is us knackered. We will have no money to invest. Then the chairman came up with this money and he has backed the manager and brought up some decent players. He knows that we needed guys to score goals. We still need more goals or somebody prolific, I think. So, yes I thought last year that is us, had it, but we freshened up and we are still sitting nicely and I still think we will be in that top six for the majority of the season. But we need to finish top two in my opinion. We don’t want the lottery of going in there again, going to Wembley. I remember going there with the likes of Pallister and saying if we score first we will win it, if they score first they will win it and sure as it was they scored twice in succession and there was no way back.
Again I admire the manager’s stubbornness, one track mind. If I was in his position I would be exactly the same. I don’t care who says what, I would shut the curtains and say yes you are a fan and you are a commentator, whatever, I’m doing it my way and he will live and die with that. But I do not like continuously one up front, one up front, one up front. They never change it. It is becoming very obvious now what we’re about and we need something different. People say a Plan B. We changed the clientele but we’ve never seen two up front it is something we don’t do and I would like to see that changed.
And I went on the record over the year or two and have said that I like to see a settled team. Ranieri was the Tinker Man, he doesn’t tinker so much now he is more experienced and advanced now but he has settled it down at Leicester now and it is paying dividends. If Vardy was with us he would probably be rested. Going with our philosophy, that is what we do. I look now at Kike, he scored three at the start of the season and was in form and then was rested, he has never recovered. Down the pecking order. I don’t think he has scored since then.
Then you have got Nugent who has scored a few. Then he was on the bench with a hamstring problem. I have no doubt he had a hamstring but for me you shouldn’t be on the bench if you have a hamstring problem you should be out of the team. But he was scoring and then he has not scored again. So when you’re scoring you look at the old saying, it is a simple game played by simple people, complicated by fools. I am not saying Karanka is a fool. But there are too many managers, when the players are on form keep them in. The fans want to see them. Their team mates want them to be in. If I was scoring goals under Rioch I would be in, definitely. If I didn’t score goals for a lot of games which sometimes I didn’t then if you are left out I cannot argue. Some players, mentally don’t know where they are. You play well, you are out. It is a sort of punishment. They use the modern terminology, the player is rested. Come on. We live on Teesside, there’s unemployment all over the shop. Using the word rested, there are guys working 50 hour shifts and are fortunate to have a job, they don’t get a rest. Using the word rested is an insult to the intelligence of the public of Teesside and I hate that word. I would never use it.
Q: On an up side we got a fantastic result at Man United.
BS: Wow it was fantastic.
Q: You yourself once played and scored in a League Cup semi final at Old Trafford that we narrowly lost in.
BS: I did. Man United was terrific, I was there. I was hobnobbing it with Pally, I was in the prawn sandwich brigade, so I apologise. But it was great. There were 10 000 Boro fans. Beat Man United in their own back yard. Wow. Fantastic. Great.
Q: And for once a good reward a home tie.
BS: Yes and we have got Everton at home and I personally think don’t abuse it. I did a bit for Man U TV with Pally and I remember saying both teams are abusing the competition, we had five changes and they had nine. Now, if Man U had played every player and we make five and got beat then you have to question why. They abused it; we abused it to a degree. I don’t think we should abuse it, it is not going to have any bearing on whether we get promotion or not. It is nonsense.
Q: It can help can’t it?
BS: If course it can. We have won one trophy in 140 years. Why not win another one? Or these lads won’t be remembered. Michael Ricketts is even remembered because he won the Carling Cup. He won more than me. There is no justice in the game (laughs). But these guys can be household names; if they win their names will be known for ever.
Q: As you say you are in the record books and they will be too.
BS: Yes, they would be in the record books. So don’t abuse it. Everton, if they put Barkley in, Lukaku up front, we need to have a full side. It is a great opportunity. A couple of games and you are in the final, we could get in Europe. We all know the outcome. But why would you abuse it?
Q: And at Man U there were thousands of kids there, some maybe in their first match.
BS: And it sews the seed. Hey we are going to watch them, they beat Man United. Everybody is talking about it. Everyone that has been coming here for my book, I would say to them, “what do you think of the Boro,” “Oh they are doing well. “Did you go to Man United?” “Yes, I went to Man United.” “What time did you get home at?” “Half three.” I went, “We got back at half four you must have had quicker car,” but they are all talking about it. Everybody was buzzing on the back of that. And then we won the two home games, they weren’t great on the eye but were won. And then obviously Hull, we got a set back so it is how we react.
But we have had a good start, we are doing well. I am a big fan of the manager but I have still got an opinion on certain things like we all have. And he is doing it his way, as I say his stubbornness I admire to a degree because I would do the same, I don’t care who is saying what. I would do the same. But you need to let people have an opinion. You cannot stifle it or mute them because it will back fire.
Buy Bernie’s book at www.bernieslaven.co.uk