A couple of weeks back I was watching the Old Firm derby, lounging on the sofa and drinking a cold one.
I still felt the need to jump out of half a dozen tackles! It really is the most ferocious of local derbies steeped in a rather unsavory history with absolutely no quarter given. The winning side is acclaimed heroes, the losing side keeps their heads down for a week away from the eyes of their supporters. That’s not my opinion, it’s a statement that was relayed to me by one of Forest Green’s former players, one of the best players I’ve managed, who played for Celtic and had a tough time acclimatising in Scotland after having made a brilliant start to his career at the top level of English football. Gloucester City losing 9-0 at the weekend also made me think of the same player. Stuart Slater.
“Slates’ started out at West Ham making his debut as a seventeen-year-old and went on to make 141 appearances for the club. He was 23 when he made the move from his comfort zone in East London to Glasgow and took with him the label of being Celtic’s record signing. He was taken to Celtic by his former West Ham teammate Liam Brady who had taken over the hot seat at Parkhead.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I remember talking to Slates about his life prior to moving to Scotland and a greater case of a square peg in a round hole I can’t recall.
It had nothing to do with footballing ability, he was a prestigious talent and able to hold his own at any level but he is not the type of personality that could embrace the explosive environment that is life for a footballer at either of the two Scottish giants.
He had never lived away from home before and being a quiet lad who wanted as normal a life as possible he chose to move in with a pal of his in Scotland who had been an apprentice with him at West Ham. His friend was recently married, I’m sure you can work out how that was going to end. He then stayed at a hotel before moving in with his new girlfriend who he had met in Glasgow and who later became his wife.
She lived in a heartland of Celtic support and the kids would come every day knocking on the door asking for his autograph. Again, they had to uproot and move on just to find some peace.
Another factor that must have added pressure was that Liam Brady gave him the iconic number seven shirt.
The record signing was expected to follow in the footsteps of the previous number sevens, namely Jimmy Johnstone and Kenny Dalglish, no pressure there then. By his own admission, he had a really difficult time at Celtic despite making 43 appearances and scoring three goals during his one year North of the border.
He returned to England and joined Premiership side Ipswich Town and was s member of the Ipswich team that was beaten 9-0 at Old Trafford, which is why Gloucester’s battering last Saturday rang a bell in the old grey matter.
What is often forgotten though is that Ipswich had beaten Man Utd 3-2 earlier on in the season and therefore shared the six points with the Reds that year despite a hefty inferior goal difference.
Slates had spells at Watford and in Australia before we managed to sign him at Rovers. It seems incredible that we were able to recruit a player who still hadn’t had his 30th birthday with so much experience and ability. An England Under 21 international (we signed a few of those back in the day) who had played in the Old Firm derby and graced the Premier League for seasons made the commute from his home in Essex to Nailsworth three times a week for games and training. I really can’t see that being repeated in the near future.
In a regular column, iconic former Forest Green manager Frank Gregan has teamed up with Stroud Times to look back on his time at the New Lawn.
Now living in Spain and a published author, the former sergeant major joined Rovers in 1994 – leading his side to back-to-back promotions and Wembley final. Frank transformed the club from non-league minnows, charting the way for what they have gone on to achieve under the late Trevor Horsley’s successor Dale Vince.
Follow Frank on Twitter: @Greegers