(Editor’s note: This is the final installment in a series of interview pieces excerpted from an interview Dan Conover conducted with Charleston Battery midfielder Nicki Paterson on Sept. 2, 2013. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here, Part 3 is here and Part 4 is here.)
Nicki Paterson’s third year in Charleston ended with the young Scot at yet another crossroads. Though he further established himself as one of the most memorable players in franchise history, 2013 still felt like a regression from his stellar 2013. He ended the year with none of the MLS buzz that he’d attracted the previous fall, and returned to Scotland in mid-September to begin preparations for wedding this winter.
For Paterson and the Charleston Battery, that creates an awkward form of tension. The Scot says he has a year remaining on his contract with the club, and clearly loves the team, the fans, and the area.
But as he begins to think ahead to married life, it’s also clear that making plans for next season will be likely be a bit more complex than just booking two tickets to Charleston International Airport. Much of the advice he’ll get in working out those next steps will likely come from his agent, Joshua Stone, but Paterson’s parents, Stephen and Margot, are sure to have some input, too. After all, Stephen Paterson is the man Nicki credits with shaping his game. And of course his fiance, Cheryl McSeveny, is going to have a big say.
All of which raises the question: Has Charleston seen the last of Nicki Paterson?
(No matter whatever else happens to you in your playing career, you already own this piece of U.S. Open Cup history. You’ve scored in five consecutive Open Cups. As a Scottish player.)
The other guy that has the same record, J.T. Noone, was my roommate. We played indoor together in Baltimore (for the Blast). So we have the same record.
(Does that mean anything to you?)
Yeah. Who doesn’t want to have a record?
Again, something like that is really small in the grand scheme of things, but all it takes is one coach to see something like that and take an interest in you. You know what I mean? It’s something you can tell your kids one day. Another reason why your parents are proud of you.
I went into those games thinking to myself, if I can manage to grab a goal, this is going to be pretty cool. I actually scored three free kicks three years in a row against Reading United to put them out of the Open Cup. Three years in a row. And that coach hates me, you know what I mean? With the utmost respect. And I was like “I would love to play them every year and do the same thing,” because it was like there’s something about it. I go to Orlando, I think “I’ve scored there two years in a row. I’ll probably score again.” Or we’re at home. “I always score at home.”
I’m probably one of the most superstitious people you’ll ever meet, apart from Auggie (Charleston Coach Mike Anhaeuser). I still dress the same way, I wear the same things. I still ice-bath the day before a game. I set me my skins on the day of a game. I eat the same way. I eat at the same time. And it’s not something I need to do, it’s more of a “If I’m prepared, nothing can go wrong.”
(I’m also told that you don’t forget anything.)
Not a lot. I remember quite a lot.
Auggie remembers everything. I remember most things. Auggie could tell you about a pass three years ago. It’s absurd. But he’s put his time in, and that’s how he remembers stuff.
(Tell me about your brother, Jonathan Paterson.)
Best person I know. My brother was born two months premature. About a 5 percent chance he’d be walking or talking. Just a little bit more of even living in the first place. With a hole in his heart. Basically he was in one of those little units for the first six months. My mom never seen him for the first month.
I remember my third birthday, him being with tubes everywhere, and me asking “Am I not having a birthday party this year?” Because our birthdays are only four days apart, and the day of my birthday his life-support machine finally got turned off and he was allowed to breathe on his own for the first time. I get goosebumps thinking about it every time.
But watching him grow, he had a different upbringing to anybody I know. He was bullied as a kid from people in school. I was fighting against those people more than anybody, because I was always looking after him. Would never let anybody go near him, or make fun of him.
Whereas he looks to me as his inspiration, he’s my inspiration. He looks at me, and everything I’ve got, he wants. But his attitude has brought (me to where)I am because my brother has the best knowledge of the game of anybody I know. He ought to be a coach. He coaches right now. He’s the captain of the Scottish cerebral palsy team, been in the Paralympics in London, Beijing.
He was the leading scorer in a tournament for Scotland just three weeks ago in Barcalona, Spain. He would tackle a brick wall. He could come in here to a Charleston practice and not necessarily look out of place physically in tackling. But he just doesn’t have the same endurance and the same strength to get through a 90 minute game.
Played for a year and a half on a broken leg just so he could go the paralympics. Who does that? Took him six months of recovery, and he was in the gym or the pool every single day. He’s the most dedicated person I know.
(Tell me about your fiance, Cheryl McSeveny)
She’s been here for two years now. We’ve spent almost every day together for two years, you know what I mean? My mindset changes, because when I first came to Charleston, it was just me. What I made I made was for me. I could just play soccer, I could go golfing.
(How did you meet her?)
She was the secretary for Hamilton when I first turned professional at 17. So she worked there for like a season. We never really spoke all that much. She was in the office, I was in the team. But then nine years passed and I met her in a bar. At a club in Glasgow.
One of her friends was talking to one of my friends, and we both looked at each other. And we’ve been inseparably from that moment on.
But then I was going back to the States two weeks later and she decided to come with me. After a couple of weeks. Two weeks together and we both knew straight away. I don’t think anyone else could believe it, but when they seen us together, they knew it was the real deal. She made me happier than I ever thought she could be, and last year she was my good-luck charm. Because I was so happy ever single day.
I mean, every goal, I celebrate with her, you know what I mean? She felt like my good luck charm.
I can’t wait to get married. I can’t wait to put the ring on my finger. I always thought that I’d get married to someone from home… and it couldn’t have worked out any better for me that she came with me. But I can’t be selfish.
(How does starting a family affect your thinking?)
My responsibilities over the last three years have changed. I can’t think about just me anymore. Every decision has got to be with a family mentality. And I’m 28. Cheryl’s going to be 30 in a month, two months. So we’re at that age where we’re thinking about property and kids potentially in the next couple of years.
I mean, does that change my soccer mindset? It just has to. Simple as that. I can’t be selfish and say “Cheryl, I want to be in Charleston for the next seven years earning a six-month wage.” Because at the moment she can’t work here.
If she was working here? And I played six and maybe hopefully we stretched the season out to seven or eight months, and have a good coaching job in the off-season? Yeah, it could work. We could do everything we want to do. We’re not quite there yet.
If those opportunities become available, I could see me being here. If they don’t, then maybe I have to look for something else. I don’t know what will happen in the near future.
I’m under contract for next year. I signed a new contract at the beginning of last season. I don’t know if that was in view of me potentially going to MLS at the time.
(Because the club can make money off a transfer fee.)
Yeah. At this point in my career, I don’t see an MLS paying money for me, at this moment in time. So at this point, I don’t see Charleston making any money off me. I’m just probably going to cost them money from this point, almost (laughs). But I don’t know what’s going to happen. I mean, USL contracts and MLS contracts are very, very different. It’s all down to what the coach really wants.
If, for example, I got offered a 12-month contract in Europe, or something like that, then right off the top of my head, then I’d have to look at “What do I get from this, what do I get from that, what’s the best family decision?” And I think at the USL level, it’s a developmental step. If you get the opportunity, you go higher.
I don’t personally think a USL club should stand in your way. I mean, I get they want to make money, and stuff like that, and if I left it would maybe be a loss to the team. But at some point there’s got to be some sort of heart in it, you know what I mean? Where what’s best for the player, what’s best for the club… I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen.
(Does it change anything with her work status if she’s married to you?)
I mean, she can live here year round. Right now she’s on the six months. She can’t work.
(Driving back from Orlando, that’s what I talked about: If they’re somewhere Cheryl can work, that’s probably what’s best for them.)
I mean, for me, I don’t want to leave Charleston. I love the place, I love golfing, I love the climate, even though it rained a bit much this year. There’s a beach, there’s a pool. What is there not in Charleston that you would really want? Nothing. I’ve lived in Vegas. I’ve lived all over the country. This is my favorite place of everywhere. Do I want to leave here? Absolutely not.
But for the future of my family? Maybe. And it will be a sad day, the day I do leave.
(I have this picture I took of you coming off the field in Orlando, and I just had this feeling that was the last time I was going to see you in that uniform.)
Did I think about it, leaving out of the semi-final? Am I going to be here next year? I felt the same last year. I thought I was going to be in MLS. So I treated that final like it was my last. I treat most games like it’s my last game. You could have an injury. Anything could happen.
I treat every game in the playoffs like it’s my last game. I don’t even really feel like I got the chance to enjoy the game in Orlando. It’s the way it all worked out. The final last year, I came off, if I left, I could leave n a high note. Do I feel like if I left right now it would be a high note? I’d feel like there’s a missed opportunity somewhere along the line, and we’d have won two championships in a row…
We’d have beat Charlotte at home. I have no doubt about that. Leaving with two championships in two years would have been awesome.
Put it this way: If I’m back here in Charleston next year, I won’t have my head down. I may not look at it as “I’m going to be in MLS at the end of the season,” because I’m realistic. Chances every year go down and down and down. I’m a realist as well. But I learned from this year not to get disheartened at the certain stuff. But I think that a lot of your on-field success comes from your on-field peace as well. And when I first came to Charleston, I was finally coming to some place that I knew wasn’t going out of business. I could enjoy myself.
(How does United Kingdom’s perception of North American soccer affect your chances of finding a spot on a team if you look for opportunities back home?)
At this moment in time, for me going home is almost starting fresh. And as a 28-year-old, that’s not a great situation to be in.
For me, from Harrisburg to here, I’ve had a few stints back home, because obviously I go back home. It’s such a long off-season, you need to make money some way or another. That’s obviously the biggest downside of USL PRO, and that would be the only reason I would ever leave USL PRO is because, realistically, you look at the big picture, and I’m getting married soon, wanna have kids soon. You can’t do that on a six-month budget. Very difficult to do so without having any sort of outside work or employment.
For me I had the chance, when I go home, I played for Clyde. Had a pretty successful spell at Clyde when I was home two years ago, and that door is open for me whenever I go back. I actually just had a conversation with that coach yesterday, who would with open arms welcome me back next week when I go home, you know (Editor’s note: I asked Paterson whether there was any news on that front this week, and he said there was nothing to report. dc.)
I go home Sept. 13, Friday the 13th, unfortunately. But I’m home until preseason next year. For me, personally, as a soccer player, it’s all I ever know. I can’t imagine not playing between now and then. I cannot imagine it. Last year I was lucky in the respect that I had an extra month in New York at the beginning and the end, so it was really only a two-month off-season. A two-month off-season, any professional will take that, all-year-round. If you get paid 10 months of the year, fine, no problem. You can make it work. Six months, five months, it’s very, very difficult, no matter how much they pay you for those five or six months.
I love it here in Charleston. I think the club is as good as you can get for a USL team.
(Is it a good thing for you to come back, professionally?)
It’s a tough question.
(At some point you’re going to stop playing, wherever you are. Do you want to coach?)
I’d like to. I’ve a couple of badges from home. I’ve coached almost everywhere I’ve went, whether it be on an individual or a team basis, or academy or whatever. Everybody likes the way I’m enthusiastic about it.
(You heard the guys from the Off The Bench podcast go on about that.)
And the way they spoke about me was the way I want people to think about me. I think the experience I’ve learned from soccer, and another 10 years of that, I’ll be ready for that. Am I ready right now? No. Still too much wanting to be a player. In 10 years can I see myself doing it? Absolutely.
TOP IMAGE: Nicki Paterson at the Charleston Dragonboat Festival in May, with his friends Colin Flavey (left) and Kevin Klasila (right). Dan Conover photos.