Saturday, 5 July 2014


In October 2010 a sewage pipe burst in the away dressing room at The Stadium of Light. Manchester United were the visitors.

The burst sewage pipe in the away dressing room at the Stadium of Light was the cause of some merriment for the man from the newsagent's. "They said the whole place was filled with liquid excrement," he said. "And we weren't even playing the Boro."

He let out a noise that sounded like an asthmatic hyena playing the kazoo and added: "I said: 'And we weren't even playing the Boro,'" in case the only Middlesbrough fan in the shop (me) missed it the first time. And then he said: "Are you not wanting a Kit Kat today?"

You might think this an example of customer care straight from the Ryan Air Manual, but we have to make allowances for the man in the newsagent's.  Half a lifetime as a Sunderland fan in a Newcastle-supporting area has left him all bitter and twisted. As a Middlesbrough fan the same thing might have happened to me. Luckily, when I arrived here 20 years ago I was already so bitter and twisted from supporting the Boro for three decades that if anything the added sourness and torque have gentled my disposition.

The start Steve Bruce's team have made to this Premier League season has at least got the bloke from the newsagent's off his twin favourite topics: Len Shackleton and Kevin Keegan, two footballers who represent the yin and yang of his life. As other men have had "love" and "hate" tattooed on their fists, so might he have had "Shack" and "Keegan" etched on his. Although, obviously to do so he'd have to have five fingers on one hand and six on the other, which as the barber pointed out is an unlikely configuration "even for someone who was born in Murton, like he was".

I should say that, in my view, this is a slight on Murton, though I have visited the Durham village only once, admittedly. That was back in the days when they still had a team in the Northern League. My friends and I had got off the bus from Durham City and were struggling to locate a pub, The International. It was raining. The afternoon was so dark that even if the workers' flag were flying you wouldn't have been able to see it from a distance of more than six feet.

The streets of Murton were deserted. The chip shop on the corner with the sign in the window proclaiming the availability of something called a "Dona Kebab" (whether a misspelling or an unfortunate fate for some poor woman, I cannot say) was shut.

As we began to despair, and consider suicide, or a trip to Spennymoor, a bloke lurched into view from a side street. He was walking in the classic manner of the daytime drunk, with his feet planted far apart as if to brace himself against the swell of the pavement, a grin on his face proclaiming: "I'm blattered, but I'm getting away with it."

We stopped him and asked the way. He gave us directions and as we walked off bawled after us: "The beer's piss, mind, lads." Kirstie Allsopp would doubtless get all prissy about the lack of dado rails, but I find it impossible not to warm to a place like that.

Any road, the barber said that he had heard something about the sewage pipes in the Manchester United dressing room. Looking around as if suspecting an eavesdropper, he lowered his voice so that only the entire shop could hear, and said: "Cut deliberately. By person, or persons unknown." He raised his eyebrow: "So you know who that means, don't you?"

It was plain from the way he told us this that the barber believes showering Rio Ferdinand with shit on purpose is somehow morally more repugnant than doing it by accident. Personally, I am not so sure. Because, to be honest, I still haven't forgiven the England centre-back for that World Cup prank programme.

Still, it must be stated clearly that there is nothing whatsoever to suggest that anything the barber has said on the subject of the Stadium of Light burst sewage pipe (or indeed on "that business" with three Newcastle players involved – a tale for which the world is not yet ready. And won't be until all three are dead and therefore beyond the protection of our libel laws) is in anyway correct. Nothing except historical precedent, anyway.

Because football dressing rooms have been sabotaged in some pretty vile ways over the years. Showers have been cold, salt has been supplied instead of sugar with the half-time tea and there have been accusations of rotten fish being placed in the heating ducts.

Perhaps the weirdest example was that of the Alnwick Town chairman John Common, who made a habit of leaving a dead animal ("The smallest a mole, the largest a sheep" according to the official history of the Northern League) in the visitors' changing area. Mr Common claimed that this was done in a spirit of impish fun – a practical joke of Ferdinand-esque proportions.

"Pity it didn't happen when your lot were playing there, isn't it?" the barber said. "Being surrounded by evil-smelling filth – it would have made the Boro feel like they were at home, wouldn't it?"

It's water off a duck's back, like I say.

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