“Can we play you every week?”
The words of a song (usually trotted out when we play that lot) but also a genuine plea from the Ed because interviewees like Mr Paul Armstrong are ‘two a penny’. Not only does he happen to be ex-editor of Match of the Day and a football/Boro aficionado but, in MFW terms, he also happens to be an honorary Canary.
So, when City v Middlesbrough pops up in the fixture list the choice of preview guest is a no-brainer. Kathy, in a moment of weakness, offered to ‘do Paul’ and here’s the entertaining result…
Kathy: Have you forgiven us for the play-off final yet? Both of our teams have been up and down since then so it’s pretty much water under the bridge this end, but I did meet some pretty grumpy Boro fans on the tube after the game. Will you be bringing any grudges with you on Saturday?
Paul: You ran into the wrong Boro fans! I was with quite a lot of my family at that game – my uncle and auntie have had season tickets for the whole history of the Riverside. We ended up in a cafe near Marylebone Station congratulating several City fans on a well-deserved win.
The grumpiness probably came from putting on probably our worst display of that season on the biggest stage and extending our streak of failing ever to win at Wembley. We’d beaten you home and away in the regular season, but we just didn’t show up on the day, so no complaints from me.
On the subject of the Riverside, does it feel like home? If you’ve had season tickets there for it’s entire lifetime I’m guessing the answer is yes. I often wonder if Norwich moved how I’d take to a new stadium. I have a feeling I’d hanker after the old Carrow Rd. I never visited Ayresome Park so I’m not sure how dated it was. I have however visited The Riverside on a couple of occasions. I found it and the surrounding area very surreal; an unusual mixture of modern art and industrial decay. Is the Auf Wiedersehen Pet bridge still there?
Yes, I’d say the Riverside does feel like home. Ayresome Park was the first ground I ever went to – Feb 6th 1971, 5-0 v none other than Norwich City – so I loved the place, but it was very out of date and with no real scope for expansion, so the move was supported by pretty much everyone. It helped that we got promoted in the last season at Ayresome and started buying people like Nick Barmby, then Juninho for the new era in the Premier League.
There were all sorts of grand plans for the surrounding area, the club did what it was supposed to do, but much of the rest of it never happened. I quite like the poetic bleakness of the walk from the station near the river with just a few university buildings and some Anish Kapoor sculptures for company, but I guess it’s very different to your busy surroundings.
The Transporter Bridge is definitely there for keeps! The last episode of that Auf Wiedersehen series ended with a disclaimer reassuring everyone that the bridge wasn’t really going to Arizona. It was erected in 1911 when Teesside was booming with a steel industry based on the local coal and iron ore. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was shipped out in a kit of parts from Dorman Long in Middlesbrough a few years later.
More ridiculously, in the 1970s Terry Scott the old comedy actor was travelling between his hotel in Middlesbrough and a performance at the Billingham Forum, mistook the bridge for a regular toll crossing and drove his Jag off the end of the roadway, and landed in the safety netting beneath. It made the front page of the Evening Gazette and was the talk of our junior school next day. There’s a great photo in this article:
What do Boro fans think about Johnny Howson? He was very popular at Norwich. During the last two seasons he was here we had to suffer some pretty dire matches, but Johnny always managed to put in a good shift and was probably our most consistent performer. At one time we even heard the word ‘England’ mentioned and there was much hand wrenching among supporters when he left. He did rather blot his copy book a bit at the end by fashioning a move by some alleged training ground shenanigans, but I think he’ll still get a pretty good reception Saturday. Is he held in the same esteem at the Riverside?
Well, I’ve always liked Jonny Howson and I was pleased when we signed him. He started well enough, then suffered a bit from being associated with having been bought by Garry Monk, who rapidly lost the Boro supporters by appearing to have no idea what his best team was, and by giving some of the most brain-numbingly dismal post-match interviews in human history after a succession of awful defeats at Leeds, Bristol City and Millwall. Jonny and most of the others were in and out of the side and we were going nowhere fast. For the first time in two decades or more of running the club, Steve Gibson pulled the plug after a few months and went for an old head instead. There were very few complaints from the fans, and seemingly none at all from the dressing room.
Tony Pulis, is old-school and not associated with wildly entertainingly football. As a man of a certain age myself, I’d also advise him not to wear quite so much of the contents of the club shop when patrolling the touchline. He and Donald Trump jointly show why the over-60s should never wear baseball caps. But he fields well-organised teams with a disciplined shape and he duly put Jonny straight back in the side, importantly with a holding midfielder alongside him. Karanka pretty much always played two holding midfielders in this league – generally Adam Clayton and Grant Leadbitter. Monk recklessly ditched both of them and often left poor Jonny outnumbered on his own in the middle of the pitch while an array of Boro wide men and forwards misfired around him.
Pulls has gone back to two in the middle – Jonny’s started pretty much every game alongside Leadbitter with Clayton also now back in the picture – and we’ve looked much more solid again as a result. A bit drab at home when visitors often park the bus, but actually quite good lately on our travels where the mercurial Adama Traore has blossomed under the new management. Traore’s an ex-Barcelona youth system product, but for a year mostly came off the bench for us and looked like a cross between a rugby league player and an Olympic sprinter with no sense of direction. Most of us thought he’d be booted straight out of the door under Pulis, but instead he seems to have been given an arm round the shoulder, a place in the starting X1 and a new lease of life.
I’d almost forgotten until this week that Bruce Rioch managed Middlesboro in the eighties. He was also here in the nineties and did a reasonably job here but suffered by association with Bryan Hamilton who was his assistant at the time. Hamilton was very unpopular for a variety of reasons (some best left well alone here!) and this rubbed off on Rioch unfortunately. What are your thoughts about that time? Did he really save the club?
When we went bankrupt in 1986, a very young Steve Gibson was part of the consortium which bailed the club out. But they were skint, relegated to the third tier had only 15 players, all local kids except Bernie Slaven who’d cost £10K from Albion Rovers the previous season.
During the summer, manager Rioch used to park his car over the water main outside the ground so they could shower after training because they hadn’t paid the bills and the water company were trying to disconnect them. They ended up training in a park and the rescue deal was so late that we opened the season borrowing Hartlepool’s ground to play our first game. Boro fans filled Hartlepool’s ground two weeks ago when they had a “Save our Club” day as a gesture of repayment.
Somehow, Bruce Rioch got us back into the top flight within two seasons with two promotions, so in a football sense, he’s one of the most important figures in our history and still much-loved. It helped that the bunch of kids he had included three future England players in Gary Pallister, Colin Cooper and Stuart Ripley and that he had a natural captain in a young Tony Mowbray. I know Mowbray has Ipswich connections, but he was magnificent for us. Our fanzine is still called “Fly Me to the Moon” after Rioch said back then that he’d want Mowbray alongside him if he had to go the moon.
I loved the later Juninho era, winning a Cup and travelling round Europe watching us, but those two consecutive promotion seasons under Rioch with a team full of players who were basically young fans in red shirts was my favourite-ever period as a fan.
Both of our teams are probably lower in the table than we expected at the start of the season. I run a prediction competition for the Canaries Trust every season, and it’s no exaggeration to say at least 50% of the entries had Middlesboro in the top two and even more in the playoffs. Although it’s not too late to grab second you must be disappointed. What’s gone wrong do you think?
I’ve just found what I said in September before Norwich’s Dick Turpin-like highway robbery visit to the Riverside: “For what it’s worth, I think Wolves will win this league. That weird combination of Chinese ownership and a Portuguese agency tie-up has landed Porto first-teamers the rest of us can only dream of us. And I really hope this won’t happen, but Dirty Leeds seem best-placed for second. Hope that puts the mockers on them. The rest are much of a muchness: I’ll be disappointed if Boro don’t finish in the top six, and you might well do, too. So, enjoy Tuesday (though not too much) and see you on February 4th in Norfolk as a dress rehearsal for late May at Wembley. Oh God, no – what am I saying?”
I take quiet satisfaction from how right I was about Wolves, and even more from (I hope) having put the mockers on Dirty Leeds. I’m not sure Boro and Norwich can both finish in the play-off places now – there’s usually room for one team to squeeze in with a late run, and quite often that team then goes up, so there’s still plenty at stake. And your prediction competition came to a reasonable conclusion – Boro’s squad should still finish in the top six at the very least, and probably should have been in the top two, behind Wolves. Rearrange the following words for an explanation: “Monk” and “Garry”. The lesson being, never appoint a manager who looks like Stewie from Family Guy.
Oh and I need a score prediction to finish off with!
Based on my last visit to Carrow Road, it’ll probably be a draw that does neither team any good. And Boro will probably throw away a three-goal lead again, causing Tony Pulis to burn his baseball cap and tracksuit, before storming off in his club shop boxer shorts. Maybe 3-3 instead of 4-4 this time…
Cheers to Kathy and Paul. Obviously, I’m biased but that was a bloody good read – Ed.