Saturday, 9 August 2014

M**K FUCKING B*****Y


A trip to see Carlisle v Luton today. Going to Brunton Park in August brings back more memories of Boro’s pre-season friendlies in The Great Border City. Including this one from 2005 enjoyed in the company of Robert Nichols and others.



A couple of weeks ago we took our daughter to see Middlesbrough play for the first time. It was a pre-season friendly at Carlisle. The sun beat down, the scent of fabric conditioner wafted from a thousand freshly laundered replica tops, the crowd were languid and happy. In fact, it wasn't a bit like a football match at all.

Then five minutes before kick-off a man came and stood behind us. Having surveyed the scene, he began bellowing in a voice that sounded like an explosion in a gravel pit. My partner, Catherine, groaned. I knew why. Years ago at Ayresome Park we had stood near a bloke like this. Every time he yelled it made Catherine's glasses vibrate. By the final whistle she had blisters on the bridge of her nose.

It was not the same man, I should add. There are lots of men on Teesside who sound as if they've just come off shift from modelling in a foghorn factory. I had an uncle who was the same. People said it was from the effort of shouting over the roar of heavy machinery, though after a while of listening to him you started to think maybe his co-workers had invented heavy machinery expressly to drown out his shouting. When he came in my Granny's house and began talking, the windows rattled and the tea tray shuddered. Sometimes by the time he'd finished an anecdote the milk in the jug would have turned to butter.

"Now, here's a thing," my uncle would boom. "The other day I was sat in the Commercial having a quiet pint. I've just finished saying to our lass how these steel workers who're out on strike are a bunch of lazy, workshy shirkers, when suddenly this barstool comes flying out of nowhere and hits me on the head."

"Were you hurt?" we'd ask. "No," he'd roar back, "luckily for me it glanced off our lass on the way through and that drew the sting out of it."

The bloke behind me at Brunton Park had been cast from the same bell brass. "February 9th 1985 v Notts County. Three thousand, three hundred and sixty-four in Ayresome. The lowest ebb in the club's history," he shouted, apparently to somebody standing nearby, possibly in Dumfries. "I was there. In the Chicken Run. Where were this lot, eh?"

It would have been fruitless to point out to the man that at least half of them weren't born. He'd have swotted it aside it with an angry wave of his fist and a bellowed, "What's that got to do with owt? I started going to Ayresome Park in 1937. And I'm only 44 now."

Boro's relative affluence these days has produced resentment in older supporters. The man was irritated by the crowd the same way old club comedians get upset about Cambridge Footlight types who are given their own TV show without ever having to face a second house at the Glasgow Empire.

In truth, though, he'd probably been moaning long before that. The clue was in the fact he had been standing in the Chicken Run. The men in the Chicken Run were complaining long and loudly decades before Middlesbrough had an all-seater stadium and Uefa Cup football. Before the War, when the Boro and England captain George Hardwick trapped the ball and looked up, somebody from the Chicken Run would invariably bark, "Stop showing off, bighead."

At one time every ground in Britain had a Chicken Run, an area of standing that ran along the touchline beneath the posh seats of the grandstand. In a lot of grounds it's called the Paddock. The denizens of the Chicken Run section are victims of a particularly vicious strain of the natural law known as My Dad's Sports Car Theorem. My Dad's Sports Car Theorem is named in honour of the man who invented it (my Dad). It runs thus: "When you are young you cannot afford a sports car. When you are middle-aged you can afford a sports car but you can't buy one because the kids won't fit in it and there's no place for a roof box. When you are old, the kids have left home, you can afford a sports car, but there's no point getting one because your eyesight and reactions are shot to buggery."

The men in the Chicken Run are too old to stand behind the goal because of all the pushing and shoving but they can't afford a seat. They have surrendered the vibrancy of youth without compensatory affluence of middle age. No wonder they are bitter and angry. At Brunton Park the Chicken Run man bellowed out a question: "I tell you what, right, in that game against Notts County a former England youth international made his last start in a Boro shirt. Who was it, eh? Eh?"

And, like the answering call of a howler monkey, from far across the terrace a bloke boomed back, "Mick Fucking Buckley*."

"Aye, that's it," the Chicken Run man said, his immense voice trailing pitifully away. The disappointment of not being able to pour scornful and noisy retribution upon our feckless, fair-weather heads was too much for him. He never said another word.

 

*Mick Buckley played for England at Youth and U-23 level and scored the winning goal against West Germany in the final of the 1972 ‘Mini-World Cup’. He was a skilful and abrasive midfielder for Everton and Sunderland, before pitching up at Ayresome Park toward the end of his career. He also played for Hartlepool and Carlisle. He died in 2013 aged 59 after a long struggle with alcoholism.

 

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