As a kid I was brought up in Castlemilk, a huge council estate, about ten minutes drive from the city of Glasgow. As an only child I lived with my Mother and Father in one of the many high rise tenement buildings.
It was in Castlemilk that I took my first steps on the way to a professional football career. I remember my Da trying to encourage me to play football, probably when I was as young as four or five, kicking the ball up and down the hallway in the tenement.
From then on football was all I was interested in, my Da tried to encourage me to stick in at my homework, there is no doubting that school was important, but deep down he wanted me to play football, almost as much as I did.But neither of us were alone, half the boys in Glasgow dreamed of one day becoming a professional footballer.
As part of my football education, he took me on a regular basis to Celtic Park, to watch players like, Jimmy Johnstone,Lennox, McNeil, Dalglish and his boyhood hero Bobby Murdoch.Those were terrific days and memories.
One of my greatest memories watching Celtic, was when my Da took me to see The Hoops take on the great Leeds United in the European Cup semi final, second leg at Hamden Park, 140,000 people witnessed the game that night and I was one of them. Not only was I excited by the occasion, but I was on a promise, my Da had told me that if Celtic beat Leeds he would take me to Millan for the final against Feyenoord at the San Siro. Unfortunately Celtic lost 2-1, but what an experience for an eleven year old.
Like most Da’s he was my biggest critic, in fact I nicknamed him Jock Stein, after Celtic’s great manager.
Every week he would tell me what I was doing right and more likely what I was doing wrong. At times I was thinking that I couldn’t do anything right, and would hit back at him ” You think your Jock Stein. ” To be fair he had a look of big Jock, with his chubby features and dark wavy hair, but that’s where the similarities ended.
The biggest lesson he taught me was to use the inside of my foot. If you throw a ball at most youngsters, they will automatically hit the ball with the top of their foot, as using the inside is uncomfortable.
As the years progressed and the goals were flying in the majority were from the inside of my foot, I used to caress and stroke the ball as apposed to blasting it, that technique was down to my old man.
I arrived in England in 84/85 season, I had gone from part time football to full time, trebled my wages and signed a three year contract. But within two weeks I was on the phone to my Da saying that I wasn’t enjoying it, I was home sick and that I was returning home.
His reply as he balled down the phone was ” You won’t be getting back in here, give yourself time to settle and be a man for once I your life.” Then he banged the phone down.
Needless to say I didn’t return to Glasgow.Without my Da’s persuasion, influence and guidance, I would have packed my bags and headed back north, and no doubt would have been signing on the dole.
My 380 odd appearances and 147 goals for Middlesbrough would have only been a dream.
Away from the football my Da was the perfect role model,he didn’t drink, smoke, gamble or abuse people, thankfully I have inherited those traits.
Sadly on Sunday 18th August 2013, Hugh Slaven passed away, peacefully in his sleep after a two year battle with illness, aged 79.
He was everything to me, he was blessed with charm and charisma, he was charitable, kind and caring.
He was my best friend, my idol, hero, advisor, psychologist, coach, manager, but most of all he was my Da. Rest in peace.