Even now, when time has inevitably softened some of the vigour, there is a fierce presence to Mark Hateley. It is a manner, a kind of relentless authority, so that as he walked through the crowded street outside Ibrox's main stand before the final Old Firm game of last season, a passing Rangers supporter said: "I wish you were out there today, big man." Without breaking stride, Hateley responded: "Me, too." And his voice, wistful but sharp in the damp air, told you that nothing was more true at that moment.
How could it be? He was a player whose validity was emphasised, whose very purpose was most nakedly revealed, by the conflict of a football match. It was in the act of encounter that Hateley asserted his stature, and so when he came to live in Glasgow 19 years ago and play for Rangers, one of the two teams that so divide this city, he rose to his fullest heights. Here, you are for one Old Firm team or another, or against them both, and Hateley found a sense of worth in this constant stir of rivalries.
It remains the same now, another season on, another set of imperatives arranged around the old fixture. At Ibrox today, Hateley will watch in a state of tension, helplessly involved in the intensity of an Old Firm game, then afterwards sit with the Rangers coaching staff – his former manager Walter Smith, his former strike partner Ally McCoist, and his former team-mate Iain Durrant – as he always does, running through the game again, reassessing it.
"I'll be nervous," Hateley says, "because I know what they'll be going through and how much is expected of them. I kick every ball and hold my breath for half the game. It's exhausting, because you're in it."
We are sitting in an Italian café in Glasgow early on Thursday morning, and although it is three days before the fixture, which is only the first of at least four Old Firm meetings this season, there is already a heavy sense of anticipation, of something meaningful about to occur.
During seven years at Ibrox – interrupted by a brief, ill-judged spell at Queens Park Rangers – Hateley scored decisive goals in Old Firm games, was sent off in Old Firm games, and came to understand how they represent something deeply embedded in the soul of the city, something occasionally dark, but vital.
These collisions either compel players to deliver the very best of themselves or reduce them to nothing but their point of weakness. As Hateley looks at his old team, who still employ him as an ambassador – a presence – he sees a side in the midst of one of those crises of identity that occasionally grip clubs, having endured three successive 0-0 draws in the league, for the first time since 1994, and lost heavily to Seville in the Champions' League last Tuesday night. Celtic, too, under a new manager in Tony Mowbray, are still trying find themselves but come to the game relieved by a four-point advantage.
"The pressure is on Rangers not to lose," says Hateley. "But this is a difficult game for Tony. He's played in an Old Firm game but he's not managed one. Coming from West Brom, where it's about survival, not winning things, demands a totally different mentality and brings different pressures. It's about individuals standing up. I used to get myself into a zone where it didn't matter what was happening on the outside."
Hateley was 28 when he came to Ibrox, although it was a journey that had always seemed inevitable. Rangers were first interested in him when he was a 17-year-old at Coventry, then Alex Ferguson wanted to take him to Aberdeen. When in 1986 Graeme Souness so abruptly and viciously set about restoring the sense of entitlement and ambition at Ibrox, he twice tried to sign Hateley before finally seeing the deal through in 1990. The player who arrived brought an appreciation of himself and his place in the game that was established on the training grounds of Milan and Monaco.
Fabio Capello was a youth coach at the San Siro when he suggested that Milan might benefit from the smooth, graceful assurance of Ray Wilkins and the brutish intent of a young centre-forward who caught the eye during England's 2-0 win over Brazil at the Maracana in 1984. Hateley scored the other goal in the game during which John Barnes so brilliantly declared the great scope of his talent. Aged 21, and with a wife and young family, Hateley went to Milan and under the guidance of the manager Nils Liedholm and coach Capello, developed a broader understanding of how the game might be played.
"It completely shaped me," he says. "They used to work with me every afternoon for three years, on my technique, showing me where I should be, where not to run – 'we have other players to run there' – which you're never taught in England. Once they finished with me, they worked with [Marco] Simone for an hour, who was just 12. Capello was a great guy, he knows what he wants, and he lived in the same development as us, so we spent a bit of time going back and forth. He just loved the British mentality."
At Monaco, Hateley worked under Arsène Wenger, another intense, single-minded coach who valued his might and sought only to refine its influence. "Arsène brought a different sort of discipline to my career," Hateley recalls. "He said timing is everything, on and off the pitch. That was the first bit of French that I learned, about not being late."
Then at Rangers, under Souness then Smith, and in tandem with McCoist, Hateley applied himself so emphatically, so impeccably, that for two seasons he raged through defences with a profound conviction.
The two goals he scored against Aberdeen at Ibrox in 1991, effectively winning the title, remain towering examples of a player exploiting the physical and mental reaches of his talent. Yet with Graham Taylor in charge of England, Hateley was unable to add to his 32 caps, which remains an enduring source of frustration. "I missed out on probably 40 games for England, two World Cups and a European Championship due to injury but I was disappointed Graham Taylor didn't pick me. Maybe I'd have kept him in a job, though, so... "
Hateley returned to Glasgow nine years ago, after enduring a managerial career under David Lloyd at Hull City that ended sourly, then dealing with the painful distresses of a divorce. He is 47 now, his hair is paler and thinner than it once was, but there is still a vitality to his narrow, attentive features and sturdy frame. Now remarried and combining his part-time role at Rangers with media work, although with ambitions to return to football in a sporting director or general manager's role, Hateley finds the city, again, reaffirming.
Perhaps everything turns in circles. Where once he sought to establish a separate identity from his father – Tony Hateley was a centre-forward who played for Chelsea, Liverpool and England during his career – now Hateley's son, Tom, is seeking a similar self-regard. He has not yet taken to piercing his own ear, as his father did when he was aged 10 (and who indeed still wears a diamond stud), but Tom Hateley has started the season with impressive poise in the holding midfield role at Motherwell. "At least he's at the other end of the pitch, so he can be judged on his own merits," Hateley says of his 20-year-old son.
"Like me, he had an education, of being in dressing rooms, of hitting balls at The Goalie [Andy Goram] before games at Ibrox to warm him up. Growing up, you observe, you see your dad dealing with it all, and it's an education. For my first season it as always 'son of', 'coming out of the shadows of'. It's hard, you grow up pretty quickly."
Despite vividly determining the boundaries of his own career, and claiming his own glories, one recollection still returns to Hateley of those youthful days when he was defined by his father. He spent two summers taking part in pre-season training with Nottingham Forest, but when he left school, Brian Clough's advice was harshly succinct.
"Young man, go and get yourself a job," Clough said. "Because you will never be a footballer."
Like father, like son: Five football families
Mark of a man
'At least he's at the other end of the pitch, so he can be judged on his own merits,' says Mark Hateley of his son Tom who is doing well at Motherwell.
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