Steve Paterson: From Manchester Utd to Dufftown via Aberdeen car boot escape

Steve Paterson in the dugout during his time at Formartine United
Steve Paterson in the dugout during his time at Formartine United

Forty years ago, a tall, wiry 18-year-old defender, with a hairstyle that was an unruly mass of black curls, ran out at Old Trafford to make his Manchester United debut against Ajax.

It was a notable moment for Steve Paterson, part of a story that began with a £10,000 cash inducement before he fell into gambling, a drinking problem and now, a sense of having come out the other side to a place of serenity.

"I've been at the highest level and now it's almost like I've returned to my roots," Paterson says. "That makes me happy."

Mostodloch and the Merc

The arrival of Tommy Docherty in an expensive car in the small Moray village of Mostodloch in 1974 would have caught the attention of locals, although Paterson was already well known at home and beyond. He made his Scotland Under-18 debut while only 15 and after playing against England at Old Trafford his signature was widely chased.

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Mental heath was a taboo before - Steve Paterson

Paterson was drawn to the history and romanticism of Manchester United, although he insisted on completing his education before moving south. By that time, he was already an enthusiastic gambler.

"[It] began about a year before, when I got money from Man United," he says.

"It was laid out in £10 notes in the middle of my living room and my mother and father - pretty working class, just managed to pay the rent and get a couple of screw tops on a Saturday and fags - couldn't cope with the sum of money and left it to me.

"It was £10,000, a huge amount. I stuffed it in a big Bisto tin and kept it in my mother's wardrobe. I started to dip into it.

Steve Paterson during his Manchester United days
Paterson stayed with Manchester United for five seasons, making just six appearances

"The club should have put it into a trust to get at the end of your contract, but it was a long time ago. And it would have been illegal. Back then, the top schoolboys were getting bunged, that was the norm, but I was naive and I'd have signed for nothing."

The game's culture at the time offered no protection from his personal demons. At Old Trafford, the youth players spent their afternoons playing snooker or gambling. Attending the Wednesday afternoon drinking club was expected.

"I fell into the bookie and racing gang," Paterson says ruefully. "If I had to change anything, it would be that."

He left Old Trafford in 1980, with a move to Sheffield United eventually falling through because of an injury, followed by spells in Hong Kong, Australia and Japan, before a return to Moray, his "comfort blanket". Back home, Paterson ended up as player-manager of Elgin, embarking on the next chapter of his football career.

Super Caley to Dons Despair

Steve Paterson celebrates guiding Inverness CT to a 3-1 win over Celtic in the Scottish Cup
Steve Paterson celebrates guiding Inverness CT to a 3-1 win over Celtic in the 1999-2000 Scottish Cup

"I couldn't do anything but win for the first 10 years of my [management] career, yet off the park I wasn't putting in anything," Paterson says. "I wasn't into the theory and science of the game. I had a good eye for a player."

His finest hour and a half came at Celtic Park in February 2000, when he steered Inverness Caledonian Thistle to a 3-1 Scottish Cup victory over Celtic.

At the time, Paterson was considered one of the most promising managers operating outside the top-flight, but the success was in spite of an increasingly chaotic personal life.

"I got away with an awful lot of things at Inverness," Paterson says. "Some of my behaviour was shocking. I let a lot of people down, none more so than myself.

"I was very much into gambling. I was very much into drinking. But I pulled off the football because you can put on a mask and function when inside you're in turmoil.

"I was a runaway train, an accident waiting to happen and unfortunately it happened when I got the biggest job of my life."

Steve Paterson with the Third Division trophy
Paterson spent seven years at Caley Thistle, taking them from the Third Division to the First Division

Paterson joined Aberdeen in December 2002, but within three months the addictions in his personal life finally spilled over into his professional one, and he failed to turn up for a game against Dundee following a night of heavy drinking.

Aberdeen stood by him, but he was eventually sacked at the end of the 2003-04 season, and left Pittodrie in the boot of a car to avoid the waiting press.

"I had a drink problem whereby I never knew when to stop," he says. "It's the biggest regret of my life and I firmly believe I should have been sacked right away. I've never been back to Pittodrie because I feel ashamed.

"If [Aberdeen] had done a bit more research they would maybe have had second thoughts, but I was so successful and in days gone by, it was fairly common that a lot of managers would have a drink or gambling problem.

"For the next five years I lost the plot, my behaviours escalated in terms of irresponsible drinking and gambling. I hit a few years of clinical depression."

Dufftown and redemption

Paterson spent two months at the Sporting Chance clinic in 2008 and wrote a book about his life that was in many ways a confession.

Even then, it took longer to fully cope with his addictions. Football, though, was a constant, with Paterson managing Forres Mechanics, Peterhead, Huntly, Formartine United and now Dufftown since leaving Aberdeen, combined with his job as a social worker.

"I was very much into self-pity and I had loads of really bad character defects," he says. "It's only the last few years that I've grown a bit. When you're in the grip of an addiction, your emotional growth is stunted.

"My life has been really good [now] and I feel at peace. I've changed a lot for the better. My ambitions and aims now all revolve around my family and friends and my partner. I'm in a good place.

"I played for a wee village team called Fochabers and I'm now managing Dufftown, which is a lovely wee club. I've come a full circle."

Listen to the full interview with Steve Paterson on BBC Radio Scotland's Sportsound on Thursday evening, from 18:30 BST.