Irish League Lives: Alan Paterson on his off-the-pitch meeting with legend Marco van Basten
In a rewarding and distinguished career, former Glentoran goalkeeper Alan Paterson came face-to-face with some of the game's top names, but he couldn't believe it when he got up close and personal with one of THE greats - the irrepressible Marco van Basten.
It was perhaps inevitable their paths would cross at some stage because both featured regularly in high-profile European games.
Affectionately known as 'Paddy', Alan can reflect on many memorable occasions, lining out against the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, CSKA Sofia, Lokomotive Leipzig and Standard Liege.
But it was on a Rome golf course back in 2000 when he finally eye-balled the Dutch master - and by that stage, both had already hung up the boots!
"I couldn't believe it," recalls Alan.
"I was captain of Shandon Park Golf Club, the year we won the Barton Shield and Senior Cup.
"That earned us qualification to the European Championships in Italy. It was a three-man team, we had Michael Hoey and Philip Purdy, while Roy Archibald was team captain.
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"We finished up winning the title, beating Holland in the final and Marco was their team captain. When he walked into the room, I thought, 'I know that guy's face'.
"Of course, we had a chat about our football days. It was amazing the way it happened."
That meeting with van Basten was the launch pad to Alan's radio activities as his analytical views have made him a favourite with BBC Sportsound listeners.
He smiles: "On our return, the producer, Brian Johnston, asked me to do a piece with Adam Coates. After that, I was asked would I be interested in watching a game on a Saturday.
"There were only a few of us - Lindsay McKeown, Bobby Carlisle and myself, so I was involved every two or three weeks.
"The team is a lot bigger now, so I'm not used as often. I try to be honest in my assessment, that is what the person on the other end of the radio wants to hear."
Alan is originally from the Sydenham area so when he was snapped up by Glentoran from Boys' Brigade football, it was a dream come true. He served his time in the third team and reserves before receiving an unexpected call to the senior side.
"I got lucky," he recalls.
"The regular goalkeepers, Albert Finlay and Trevor McCullough, both sustained injuries at work. Subsequently, I was called into the team for my debut against Derry City at the Coleraine Showgrounds. The game was played there due to the Troubles.
"Linfield were scheduled to visit The Oval the following Saturday. It was a bit of an ordeal, going from a ground with only a few spectators to a stadium packed to the rafters.
"I think that injury more-or-less ended Albert's career, so the following season I became established, but I was well protected by the likes of Billy McCullough, Billy McKeag, Jim Weatherup, Roy Stewart, Johnny Jamison and Warren Feeney."
Alan's season ended in dramatic circumstances - and an Irish Cup Final appearance against the Blues at Windsor Park. He adds: "It was a fantastic occasion. Unfortunately, I sustained a shoulder injury in a collision with Billy Millen after about half-an-hour. I received a bad cut, I still have the scar.
"My shoulder was numb and I struggled to lift my arm. Our physio, Bobby McGregor, insisted we couldn't take a chance, so I had to go off. Roy Stewart took over, but we still won the game. Linfield never took advantage of us having a makeshift goalkeeper."
After only 44 games, another of Alan's dream came true, resulting in a transfer to Sheffield Wednesday.
He adds: "It came through Jim Emery, who was the local scout for Wednesday. They tabled an offer and it was accepted.
"It was great to be involved a full-time environment. I played in one first team game, a friendly match, but the managers changed a lot.
"I was due to make my debut in a League game against West Ham United. Regular goalkeeper Peter Springett, brother of England's Ron, was injured. Our boss Steve Burtenshaw thought I was too inexperienced. Instead he borrowed a player from another club. That was a bit of a kick in the teeth."
Alan wasn't lonely in his time at Hillsborough because he was joined by Roy Coyle, who also arrived from the Glens, and ex-Glenavon defender Hugh Dowd.
"When the manager changed again, the writing was on the wall for me," he adds. "Len Ashurst was appointed and my contract wasn't renewed."
Alan turned down offers to remain in England, preferring to take up an invitation from Billy Sinclair to join Sligo Rovers.
"It was also a full-time post," he goes on.
"Billy put together a great squad and in my second year we won the League title for the first time in 40 years. The following year we reached the Final of the FAI Cup, but lost narrowly to Shamrock Rovers.
"For what Billy achieved, he should have been made mayor of Sligo. After our title win, we probably had one of the best and longest parties I've ever been at."
Alan was named in the League of Ireland squad for a tour of Argentina in 1980 and recalls: "We played against the full Argentina side in front of 90,000 spectators at the River Plate - it was a hair-raising experience.
"Ronnie Whelan, who was with Home Farm, was in the squad. After the tour, he returned home to join Liverpool and what a career he had.
During the off season, I was fortunate enough to play in Canada and America."
After five years in the League of Ireland, Alan returned to The Oval .
"It was always a case of how long I was prepared to stay down south because my home was always in Belfast," adds the Dundonald man.
"But I couldn't say a bad word about Sligo or the people because they were fantastic.
"Ronnie McFall was in the process of rebuilding Glentoran. It was a bit of an ordeal reverting from full-time football, I had to find a job for a start. Fortunately, I began working for Glentoran director John Crossan.
"It meant after working all day, I was rushing home, not having any dinner and going straight to training. I suppose it was a lot easier than having to go through Billy Sinclair's pre-season training!
"We won the League title in my first year back, but we did it with a relatively small squad of players."
The Glens faced Luxembourg club Progres Niederkorn in the European Cup and a 5-1 aggregate score earned them a second-round meeting with CSKA Sofia.
The October 1981 tie was plunged into tragedy by the shock death of Bobby McGregor in Bulgaria.
"I'll never forget it," admits Alan. "Bobby came on to treat a player and he just fell over.
"It was a traumatic experience. We didn't know he had actually passed away. We thought he had taken a turn and was taken to hospital.
"We were not aware of what had happened until after the game. Apparently, Bobby was wearing a pulse watch and it showed the time he actually passed away - it was when he was on the pitch. We were all devastated."
As he experienced playing on both sides of the border, Alan is in a fair position to give an opinion on the controversial proposals of an All-Ireland League.
"The standard has improved dramatically in the Irish League," he adds.
"Look at what is happening at Larne; Glentoran are talking about going down the full-time road, just like Crusaders. And, of course Linfield are not far away from it. Teams are benefiting from lucrative European money.
"We now have a much better product. Players are becoming better, their fitness and their touch is better and they have a better understanding of the guys around them.
"But for me, before an All-Ireland League is even discussed, every club must be full-time. Look what happened in the Champions Cup final when Dundalk knocked six goals against Linfield.
"There are a lot of things to take on board. The knock-out tournaments have been a relative success, but there are a lot of implications, so I can't see it happening on a League basis in the near future."
DID YOU KNOW?
Alan played 517 games for Glentoran over two spells, winning the League title on three occasions and the Irish Cup five times.
He scored the winning goal when the Glens beat Linfield in the 1988 Roadferry League Cup Final.
Alan won four League of Ireland caps, represented the Irish League on one occasion and also has one Amateur cap.