Tom Hateley had a successful career in Scotland before seeking pastures new in Poland, where he had two spells, before moving to Cyprus. With a young family in tow, leaving Blighty has provided its challenges, but as he and wife Hannah told Professional Player, they have no regrets…
You had a successful career at Motherwell, playing almost 180 games, so why move abroad at a relatively early stage of your career?
I always wanted to play abroad at some stage. I didn’t know if or when, but it was definitely something I was keen on doing. I’d had four very successful years with Motherwell; I’d played in the Scottish Cup final and experienced Champions League and Europa League football, but my dream at that stage was to play in the Premier League and return to England [Tom started out as a young pro at Reading]. I was at the end of my contract but, unfortunately, as the days and weeks passed, the phone remained quiet. In the end, I had to re-adjust my sights; I actually joined Tranmere for a spell, to help them through an injury crisis, before my agent asked me if I’d be interested in going to Poland.
You put pen to paper in January 2014, but did you have any initial concerns?
You have those thoughts, but the positives still outweighed the negatives. Saying that it was a shock, to begin with; the language was completely alien to us, none of my teammates spoke English, and the style of football was different to what I’d experienced in Scotland. I was out of my comfort zone, but it was a good test of character. I regard the technical and tactical aspects of football as the best part of my game and playing in Poland helped so much in that respect.
The club in question was Slask Wroclaw, so what happened next?
Having done a bit of online research, I discovered it was a progressive club that had recently appeared in the Europa League. Hannah and I decided to go and check it out – for a much-needed break if nothing else – but we were pleasantly surprised with what we discovered. The stadium, with a 45,000 capacity, had been built for the Euros in 2012, the facilities were first class, and the financial package was good. It was also a nice city, full of history, so it ticked all the boxes.
‘We came home to the UK as our first child had been born and wanted to be closer to family – but I didn’t play as much as I would have liked’
Tell us about the food then – was it all soups and dumplings?
Trips to the supermarket were certainly a challenge for Hannah and me. Naturally, the supermarkets are full of traditional Polish food, lots of pickled dishes, and in the hotel, with the team, we would often have beetroot soup! You really have to search hard for places that sell more ‘western’ style food and even then, you have to cook everything from scratch. There were times when we really could have died for a traybake from Waitrose!
You joined Dundee in September 2016 before returning to Poland the following season. Couldn’t you stay away?
We came home to the UK as our first child had been born and wanted to be closer to family – but I didn’t play as much as I would have liked and came to an agreement with [manager] Neil McCann that if I could find another club, he’d let me go. Then Poland came calling [Piast Gliwice] and we had no hesitation going back. It was more difficult taking a little one abroad for the first time, but we were in living in the suburbs of a quiet city, adjacent to woodlands, and were very happy there as we are outdoor people. We could walk our daughter to pre-school, and she ended up speaking better Polish than us!
It proved to be a successful time on the pitch, didn’t it?
I had two very good seasons and we won the league in my first year. A top-eight finish was our target, but we just kept winning – and became known as the Leicester City of Polish football! We had a great group of players, a great coach and I played Champions League and Europa League football. It’s been the most successful period of my career to date and created memories that I’ll never forget.
‘Every decision we make as a family is based on my career and having discussed the move, we agreed Cyprus was the best option’
You then headed to Cyprus, joining AEK Larnaca last summer. Now with two children didn’t you fancy coming home for good?
Every decision we make as a family is based on my career and having discussed the move, we agreed Cyprus was the best option. The league here is ranked 15th in Europe [Poland is 30] and I was joining an ambitious club that had played in Europe six times in seven seasons. The football is again suited to my style; we have a lot of Spanish players, who have a wealth of experience playing in La Liga, and we get the ball down and play. When I looked at my stats in Scotland, I was making 30 passes in midfield per game, whereas here it’s between 90 and 110. The standard is also competitive; I’d say the top six sides could definitely compete in the Championship in England.
And you’ve got the sun and the sea – that must be hard to contend with!
[laughs] There are worse places to play football but that wasn’t the reason I came. Saying that, Cyprus ticks all the boxes off the pitch; English is the second language, they drive on the same side and even have the same plug sockets as back home. We live just a stone’s throw from the beach, so it’s nice to be able to spend some downtime there with my children and Hannah – even in January, it was 20c. It’s a lovely island and although longer-term we said we wanted to return home, after a couple of months here we spoke about staying forever!
Did you know? Tom’s dad Mark played abroad for AC Milan and Monaco.
‘Like a Game of Charades!’
Hannah Hateley gives Professional Player her views on moving abroad from a wife’s perspective…
When Tom informed me that a team from Poland were interested in signing him, we initially went over in curiosity, to have a little look and a little break after what had been a testing period in his career. He then came back from his first day looking around the stadium and facilities and was really excited. The prospect of moving there all of a sudden became more real.
At the time I remember thinking, ‘Oh God, are we really moving to Poland?’ but I’d had chats with Tom’s mum in the past about moving abroad and she told me all about the positives – as well as a few negatives! Obviously, it was a big decision for us, especially at quite a young age, but it really worked. We got to do some really nice things in what was a very picturesque city [Wroclaw] and immersed ourselves in Polish life.
‘Another time I booked a boxercise class at the local gym, but something had got lost in translation and when I turned up, it was an all-male, full-contact class’
That’s not to say it didn’t have its difficult moments; in fact, it was daunting initially. The language was always a barrier and trips to the supermarket became a bit like a game of charades! I also remember signing up to a website, just to make new friends and turned up at a bar knowing who I was looking for. I remember standing there for 15 minutes and thinking, ‘What am I doing?!’
Another time I booked a boxercise class at the local gym, but something had got lost in translation and when I turned up, it was an all-male, full-contact class. I did stay for the session but didn’t go back! There were tears at the start but in football, there are usually other families at a club in exactly the same circumstances and unlikely friendships form as a result. I remember on one occasion Tom was on an away trip, and I’m getting my car towed at 10pm in the pitch black. I’m there with a glamorous Spanish girl and neither of us spoke any Polish. It was like something out of a film!
When we moved back to Poland a second time, it was a lot easier to adapt. We had a great time football-wise and made some really good friends. We had a very good social group; we went on weekends away, our kids were roughly the same age [the Hateleys’ second child had by now been born] and we made some really good memories. While we missed our family and friends, it was only an hour-and-a-half flight, so I could head home to see them whenever the opportunity arose, so I didn’t miss out on key events such as weddings or milestone birthdays. I was actually really sad to leave, but having won the league, Tom struggled to see what else he could achieve there and was ready for the next chapter in his career.
‘The sun, of course, is a big, big bonus and when we first arrived, I did give myself a few weeks just lying on the beach. The kids also love it’
And here we are – Cyprus. It’s a new challenge for Tom and as long as he’s got that fulfilment, we’re happy to roll with it and see what happens. So far, it’s been a really easy transition because everyone speaks English; our daughter is in the local international school and when I’m searching baby groups, there’s no need for Google translation!
The sun, of course, is a big, big bonus and when we first arrived, I did give myself a few weeks just lying on the beach. The kids also love it; they can be outdoors all the time and it makes life a lot easier in that respect. The toughest part of living away is not seeing family and friends and the pandemic has made things even tougher in that respect. We have not seen our family in the flesh since last August, which has been so hard, but Facetime has been an absolute blessing. My dad reads bedtime stories to our kids every other night that way and we’re counting the days till we can see them again. They’ve missed seeing our children grow up these past few months so much – but we’re hopoing to see plenty of visitors this summer!