Riverside Reflections0

Posted on November 18th, 2011 in General, slider

Riverside Reflections

I lived the dream for 17 years. I joined the Boro in 1994 soon after Bryan Robson’s arrival had ignited the ambition of thousands of lifelong cynics that maybe, just maybe, ‘typical Boro’ might finally change. And change they did.

My first season was Ayresome Park’s last. The club signed off with promotion. When we held the pre-season photo-call the following August, it was on the Ayresome pitch. The Riverside Stadium was still a building site and would remain so until literally hours before kick-off of our opening home game with Chelsea.

I recall nervously ordering the likes of Nigel Pearson, John Hendrie, Craig Hignett and Phil Whelan into place, ensuring they were all smiling, that the logo of new sponsors Cellnet could be seen clearly emblazoned across the club’s Errea shirts and that each player had his hands on his knees, rather than the team-mate alongside him (just their little joke, you understand). I nodded approval of my own work. “Okay, photographer, I think we’re ready.”

Then Clayton Blackmore, signed from Manchester United a year earlier and the veteran of many Old Trafford glories, piped up: “Erm, haven’t you forgotten something?” Seeing the blank look on my face, he put me out of my misery, to the amusement of his team-mates. “It’s a shiny, silver thing about so high,” he explained, a withering look aimed in my direction.

The trophy! The Football League Championship trophy Boro had won for the first time in the club’s history three months earlier! I consoled myself that it was easy enough to forget. After all, Boro weren’t exactly trophy regulars. And that’s why at that very moment when it should have had pride of place at the feet of Bryan Robson our shiny, silver thing was on display in the Ayresome Park boardroom. There had never been much call for a trophy cabinet.

I made no such mistake nearly a decade later after Boro had broken the habit of a lifetime and finally won major silverware in the shape of the Carling Cup. By then, the Robson era was long gone. Instead, I was offering advice to Steve McClaren in a way that Robbo had never wanted. The most successful manager in Boro’s history brought us not only that magical day at the Millennium Stadium but those two memorable seasons of European football. A demanding man to work with, Steve was not easy to get close to but there was real job satisfaction to be taken from briefing a man who made it clear he wanted to know in advance every potential question, no matter how harmless, that might come up in the press conference he was preparing for. Steve was meticulous on and off the pitch. But no, it wasn’t me who suggested it was a remotely good idea to describe Boro’s football as “breathtaking” and “magnificent”, when it was often not!

Then came Gareth Southgate. A gentleman in the true sense of the word. A pleasure to work with. Perhaps he’d have gone on to match his ability as a player with managerial success had he appointed a tough character as his sidekick. He was replaced by Gordon Strachan, undoubtedly the most difficult character I ever had to deal with in my 17 years with Boro. Gordon was the architect of his own downfall. The results weren’t good enough, of course, but his main failing was that he never understood or believed that old but oh-so-true adage that the customer is always right. Nor did he believe that the media deserved respect. I’ll save the story behind his “drink and drugs” outburst for another time!

Finally, Tony Mowbray. A dream to work with. Another true gentleman. An open book, there is no edge to Tony. He is a wonderful man-manager and a great tactician. He was, and no doubt remains, a joy for staff, players and media to work with. He cares passionately about Middlesbrough FC and he deserves success. Unfortunately, financially his hands are tied, so the task is a tough one, but I wish him well.

Working for the Boro was amazing and I have so many special memories. I’d like to think I played my part too. The reputation the club built, and to some extent still retains, as perhaps football’s ultimate community club didn’t happen by accident. Players needed cajoling and the media, especially the national reporters, sometimes needed to be convinced about the strengths of covering visits to local community centres or charities by players they usually chatted to in the press room at Rockliffe Park.

Then there was Boro TV, the first TV channel dedicated to a football club, long before the arrival of the much-lauded MUTV. Red Roar (or Riverside Roar, as it became), one of the first club-dedicated monthly magazines, and matchday programme Redsquare, a national award winner on three occasions. And it was great to sign off by driving the look, feel and content to the redesigned official Boro website – undoubtedly as good, if not better, than most in the Premier League, let alone the Football League.

I look back with pride on the small part I played in the most successful period in Middlesbrough FC’s history. We might never see anything like it again.

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