Continuing his theme of recalling players who are less discussed these days but left stories worth recounting, Pat Nevin this week turns his attention to a fellow Scot who also took the path from Glasgow to Stamford Bridge, and made his mark on those who encountered him in the short time he was there…
Last week I wrote about a player I hoped none of us would forget, the fabulous Ricardo Carvalho. This week I want to remind Chelsea fans of a player most will not remember. He was however a very memorable character…eventually.
It was 1986 and we had just signed a new player from Hamilton Accies in Scotland called John McNaught. Any Scot arriving down at the Bridge had plenty of Caledonians ready to help out a fellow ‘Jock’, as the local Londoners called us. I had already been at Chelsea for three years, so by this time I had become just a little more refined. My accent had mellowed a bit, allowing me to be understood a bit better. This mad looking lad McNaught, who appeared to have been hauled out of the back of a boozer in Easterhouse late the night before and brought down south in the back of a van, he certainly wasn’t going to soften his accent for anyone.
I said ‘Hi there I am Pat, you must be John, How are you. Have you just arrived?’His reply in authentic, impenetrable-to-most, Glaswegian slang was ‘Yaw rite wee man, great tae see ye, s’bin years.’
‘I am sorry have we met before?’ I said.‘Smee, John, John McNaught. Fur Godsake Y’no remembir mae?’‘I can’t say I can.’At this point, in comparison to John, I felt more like Bertie Wooster, the posh PG Wodehouse character, than a Scottish footballer from the schemes. But I just couldn’t place this guy. ‘Did I play against him once in my Clyde days and I forgotten him? If so, is he just about to punch me for something I’ve done to him? He looks like he might.’‘Cannae believe you have furgoaten the auld days, it’s me, Mad Nugget McNaught.’
Seconds later the scales fell from my eyes, my local boys club team Blue Star Under 12s a decade before, and suddenly totally unchanged apart from being a bit taller, there he is standing right in front of me, Nugget.He was a few teeth short, with unwashed unkempt hair and swaggering like he had just come out of that Glasgow pub, but it was him to a tee. He wasn’t even good enough to get in Blue Star’s first team back then and if I had to pick one player who had no chance of making it to Stamford Bridge from that group, then it would have been Nugget. Even the name Nugget translates roughly as ‘You big dafty’.
John is no longer with us now, but one of his few games for Chelsea will be long remembered by anyone who saw it. It was freezing cold (it was New Year’s Day), we were playing QPR and I still didn’t think John would be good enough to survive at this rarefied level. As we stood in the home dressing room queuing up, waiting for the referee’s whistle and all ready to go out, our Scottish assistant manager Ian McNeill piped up, ‘Does anyone want a wee swig of whisky to warm ye up before ye go oot?’
I did my usual eye-raising at the unprofessionalism of the idea, as did most of the others, but John wearing number 8 was standing directly behind me, as I was wearing my usual 7 (how sweet that we used to run out in numerical order). Mad Nugget took a huge slug from the bottle and as I saw him do it, I grabbed it from him. ‘Come on big man, us Scots have to show these people we are not amateurs, we have to act professionally and for goodness sake it’s the top division of English football. Behave yourself!’
‘Sorry wee man,’ he replied but as I turned away, he took another long slug of whisky from the bottle before I had the chance to grab it off him. This guy had no chance, he was out of his depth.
The score after 25 minutes was Chelsea 2 QPR 0 (scorer McNaught 12, 24)
There was more talent there than I thought and maybe I should have had a whisky!
There was a delicious moment at Chelsea the week after John had received a red card playing for the reserve team. The notification arrived from the FA with the referee’s comments on the sending off. It read:‘Mr McNaught committed another foul in midfield. My stand-side assistant drew my attention to the infringement. When I proceeded toward him, he turned to me in an aggressive manner and said, ‘Ma ****in’ missus could dae better than that **** on the line.’ I took the above player’s name and sent him from the field of play.’John had no idea what he had done or said wrong. In 34 games for the first team and the reserves he got two red and 11 yellow cards, and that was when it was hard to get booked!The big man was a bit green for this big city and the big time but in a disarming way. He challenged Kerry Dixon to a race over 100 yards, not a good idea generally because Kerry was lightning quick, easily the quickest at the club over short distances. John was probably quite fast for Scottish football, in a bombing up and down the midfield sort of way. The bet was laid, John looked confident, Kerry finished the last 30 yards of the race running backwards he was that far ahead.John only played 10 league games for the club, but considering his background that was an incredible feat. He died when only 32, having gone back north to play for Partick Thistle as well as working as the doorman/muscle at a local night club. In the professional game he was nicknamed Wurzel, after a famous TV character who was essentially an incredibly scruffy scarecrow. Others would have been offended, but he loved it because it was a fairly accurate description and like Wurzel he had no airs and graces.
After the end of my career and some years after John died, I heard that his wife and children had no evidence of his career at Chelsea. Few of the games were televised and there would have been no footage kept, except for the fact that after every game I used to take home the single-camera match video that the manager had made for his own tactical use. I copied it for myself, then edited it down by mating two video machines, how quaint. I loved learning about and analysing the game even as a player. None of the other players would have known about or considered doing that sort of thing themselves. It was early days of video recorders, so they didn’t figure out its uses for quite some time. I thought it was obvious how it should be utilised. On this occasion it came in handy for another reason.
So I poured through those ancient edited videos I still had and was able to put together a highlights package of John, including those two goals against QPR. I found out his family’s address and drove up one night uninvited to deliver it personally. The tenement was about 200 yards away from where I was brought up in Easterhouse in Glasgow’s East End and it was a lovely to see the look on Mrs McNaught’s face when I explained what was on the video that she could now show her children.He might not have been one of the great players in Chelsea’s history, but he was certainly one of the many great characters.