In the third of our six-part series on Peterhead’s 20 years in the Scottish football league, Blue Toon goalscoring hero Martin Bavidge, ex-boss Steve “Pele” Paterson and chairman Rodger Morrison discuss fresh efforts to get the club into the First Division after the near-miss of 2006.
Great ambition was shown and, for Martin Bavidge, it was frustrating Peterhead couldn’t make those dreams a reality.
Iain Stewart and Paul Mathers were surprisingly sacked in October 2006 and the Blue Toon brought in former Aberdeen and Inverness Caley Thistle manager Steve Paterson and Gothenburg Great, the late Neale Cooper, as his assistant.
The hope was the Buchan side could push on into the First Division and there was talk of moving towards having some of the squad on full-time contracts.
It didn’t quite pan out like that, they finished eighth in 2007 and Paterson was sacked in January 2008 with Peterhead in the race for a promotion play-off place.
Bavidge believed Paterson could take Peterhead to the next level and was disappointed with how things turned out.
The striker who, played for the Blue Toon from 2003-2013, said: “Steve had managed me at Inverness and I knew him well, his style was unique really.
“He had huge success at Inverness, unfortunately it didn’t work out for him at Aberdeen but I was really pleased when him and Neale Cooper came to Peterhead.
“It was unfortunate for Steve that it didn’t quite pan out for him at Peterhead and nobody was more disappointed about that than me.
“I’ve got a huge amount of time for him, he was great for me and I really like his management style, it was just disappointing the way it panned out for him at Peterhead.
“The club had huge ambition and it was quite a big statement to bring in Steve.
“I remember there was talk of following an Inverness model with some of the squad being full-time.
“I remember there were a couple of Polish players came across Konrad Kozminski and Michal Kula.
“At that point we looked like we were destined to take off. The one problem was that up to that point we’d had a great team of players with Premier League experience.
“But some of them were coming towards the end of their careers and time was catching up and it was difficult to replace them at part-time level.
“For it all to happen at once really, which was what happened, meant it became a transitional period as the club tried to build another team to match the one before.”
With Paterson departed Cooper was named caretaker manager until the end of the 2007-08 season before being appointed permanently after a fifth placed finish.
The following campaign Peterhead did make the play-offs, but were defeated in the semi-finals to Airdrieonians before ending season 2009-10 in fifth.
Bavidge enjoyed working under Cooper and had hoped he could be man to help Peterhead break through the glass ceiling and reach the second tier of Scottish football – something they still haven’t managed to achieve.
Cooper had freshened up the Blue Toon squad during his time in charge, after the side which came closest to reaching the First Division under Stewart and Mathers, had been broken up.
Bavidge: “There was a big focus on youth with Neale. We’d a lot of guys who had maybe been full-time with Aberdeen coming in, players like David Donald, David Ross, Neil McVitie and Stuart Smith.
“I loved Neale and thought he was brilliant. He had the right balance, he enjoyed having a good time and was good around the players.
“But equally he knew when to get into you if you weren’t performing. I had a huge amount of time for Neale, him and Andy Dornan (assistant manager) were a good duo.
“It was an enjoyable time at the club, although we maybe didn’t see the success we might have hoped for. We got into the Second Division play-offs, but couldn’t get over the line.
“But I thought Neale was brilliant and it was shame when he moved on.
“I think trying to get to the second tier maybe has been the glass ceiling for the club and the location of Peterhead makes it tough.”
Pele: Level of support has held Peterhead back from hitting Caley Thistle and Ross County heights
Steve Paterson believes he was brought to Peterhead to take them up the leagues.
He replaced Iain Stewart as Blue Toon boss in October 2006 with the expectation he could break through the glass ceiling and lead the Buchan club into the First Division.
Paterson was appointed as manager on a full-time basis, but after a while in the hotseat it became apparent to him it would be a struggle to make the First Division dream reality.
Peterhead finished eighth in 2006-07 and were fifth in the Second Division when Paterson left in January 2008.
The 62-year-old said: “I think the idea at that time and part of the reason I ended up in the post was that the club had the ambition to try to replicate what Inverness Caley Thistle and Ross County had achieved who had gone all the way to the Premier League.
“It was good to have that ambition, but after a year or so it seemed to me it was unlikely that would happen.
“Peterhead is an excellently run club by Rodger Morrison and the directors and that’s the same to this day.
“But I do think the level of support they get is in issue. Their average always seems to be between 600 or 700 whatever league they’ve been in.
“For Peterhead, the ambition was there, but it maybe just wasn’t to be.
“After my first season, I felt it was going to be hard to make the progress we had hoped for.
“I enjoyed my time at Peterhead, I had a lot of time and respect for the people I worked with. Rodger Morrison and the board were good to work with and the fans were really good as well.
“It wasn’t acrimonious when I left we both just agreed that was it.”
When Paterson left Balmoor his assistant manager, the late Neale Cooper, was appointed as his successor.
He enjoyed working with the Gothenburg Great and added: “I had no grudge with Neale about it and I understood why he wanted to take the job and he was good enough to ask for my approval as well, so I appreciated that.
“It never affected my relationship with Neale and he’s one of the favourite people I’ve met, a cracking lad and it’s so sad he’s no longer with us. He passed far too soon.”
One regret Paterson does have from his spell with Peterhead is the souring of his relationship with predecessor Stewart, who he had worked with at Inverness Caley Thistle.
Paterson said: “Iain Stewart was manager before me and did a great job and I don’t want to dig up old ground, but the regret I do have is that I was sounded out while he was still in the job.
“Then when the club and Iain parted company he was annoyed by the circumstances of his departure and angry at me and I do understand why and that’s a regret I have when I reflect.
“I do genuinely wish things had happened in a different way at Peterhead.
“Iain Stewart had done a great job at Peterhead and before that he’d been a great player for me at Inverness Caley Thistle, so the way it happened sticks on my conscience, but that’s unfortunately what sometimes happens in football.”
Failure to reach second tier hasn’t blunted chairman Rodger Morrison’s ambition
Rodger Morrison reflects on the eras of Steve Paterson and Neale Cooper at Peterhead with a sense of disappointment.
Paterson – who had enjoyed major managerial success with Elgin, Huntly and Inverness Caley Thistle – arrived at Balmoor in October 2006 with Gothenburg Great Cooper as his assistant.
The pair were tasked with trying to take the Blue Toon into the First Division following the near miss under Iain Stewart the previous season.
There was even thoughts of moving towards a hybrid squad of full and part-time players, that didn’t happen and neither did the hoped for promotion.
Paterson’s side finished eighth in the Second Division in 2007 and he departed midway through the following season.
Chairman Morrison, who has been involved with the club for 35 years, said: “With Steve he was such a likeable guy, we thought he had sorted out his problems but maybe he hadn’t quite reached that stage.
“He had tremendous success with Huntly and with Inverness Caley Thistle but the period he was at Peterhead he wasn’t quite the same manager we felt.
“Steve was appointed with the aim of promotion having been so close the previous season but unfortunately it didn’t happen.
“I still have that level of ambition today and I expect that from the managers I appoint.
“I don’t think you ever lose that desire for success, most people running football clubs are the same – you always want to improve or you wouldn’t take on the job”.
The late Cooper took over as manager from Paterson and after fifth, fourth and fifth-placed finishes things went wrong in his final season and when he was sacked in March 2011 Peterhead were rooted to the foot of Second Division and were eventually relegated.
Morrison added: “Neale as well was a hugely likeable person but I think what let Neale down was that he had all these great contacts in the footballing world but he perhaps didn’t make best use of them when it came to bringing in players.
“We had a frustrating period where we didn’t achieve what we’d hoped to and ultimately the relegation set the club back quite significantly.”