The Pride of the North East
Pride of the North East is a richly deserved title given Middlesbrough Football Club’s recent results, sharing the spoils away to title contenders Arsenal and Manchester City.
Few people outside the north east expected Boro to make a fist of it amongst the big boys feasting at the top table of English football this season. Although the club might lack a glut of star players and expensive signings, what they do possess is one of the brightest young coaches in the game, having honed his coaching skills under the watchful eye of Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, at a time when his star burnt brightly in the firmament. As you’ll discover later, Mourinho was linked with another famous Middlesbrough coach as he took his first tentative steps in his coaching career.
When Aitor Karanka was appointed as Boro’s first foreign manager in November 2013, the club may have appeared to be taking a gamble on raw talent, rather than playing it safe with a trustworthy pair of hands with extensive experience of the British game. A lack of success at the hands of Gordon Strachan and Tony Mowbray, may well have influenced their thinking.
This leads me to reflect on a period in Boro’s history, when the club’s hierarchy in their wisdom decided to turn towards Malcolm Allison, who at one time just like Karanka was considered to be one of the brightest young coaches of his generation. The difference being, that when Big Mal turned up at the old Ayresome Park stadium in October 1982, his star as a visionary coach was very much on the wane.
Ironically when Malcolm Allison was manager of Portuguese side Vitoria Setubal just before his dramatic arrival on Teesside, he was aided by former Boro conditioning coach Roger Spray and an ambitious young coach by the name of Jose Mourinho. While the special one’s stock might be currently on the decline, as was the case with Big Mal during his fateful spell with Boro, few would argue that in their heyday, they were the brightest coaches of their era. As a fitting tribute to Big Mal, who sadly departed from this world in October 2010, Roger Spray holds him in such high esteem as to consider him as influential as Mourinho and Arsene Venger!
The club being in dire financial straits further compounded the depression enveloping the Boro faithful. While neighbours Sunderland were given the tag of ‘Bank of England’ in the late 1950s due to their abundance of cash, the early 1980s was a time for drastic financial measures at Ayresome Park.
When you consider that the club is today valued at around £87 million and that the incumbent English manager by the name of Southgate opened the floodgates and splashed a whopping £13.6 million on the record breaking signing of Brazilian Afonso Alves during the 2007-08 season, Allison’s antics seems to belong in a long forgotten distant past!
When Big Mal was lured to Teesside by ambitious chairman Mike McCullagh, the club was bottom of the old second division, attracting gates of only 5,000, half a million pounds in debt and losing £12,000 a week!
Today the average attendance at the Riverside is an impressive 30,000 in stark contrast with the poorest crowd since the Second World War of only 5,435 that witnessed their home game against Fulham in March 1984. Almost inevitably this led to Allison being relieved of his managerial duties. With Middlesbrough having finished in sixteenth position in the old second division during his first season, the club’s heroic effort in holding Arsenal to a 1-1 draw in their F A Cup fifth round home tie, represented the zenith of his short stint with the club. Unfortunately time was not of the essence and Big Mal failed in his quest to revive the sleeping giant of the North East!
The manager’s antics and double standards were reminiscent of scenes familiar to viewers of the Carry On films of that period. In keeping with his reputation for an insatiable appetite for stunning birds and the high life, Allison was in his seventh heaven, entertaining his female companions courtesy of the finest champagne at the Baltimore Hotel, while running up a hefty bill of £3,500. In comical fashion, his answer to the required harsh financial measures was to sack the club’s tea man on £18 per week! Fortunately the man capable of a fine brew was reinstated following assurances that the players would pay his princely wage!
Big Mal, always one for the limelight, embarked on his mission to bring stars to the Teesside gloom, with ambitious efforts to sign George Best from San Jose Earthquakes and the Liverpool duo David Johnson and David Fairclough! He succeeded only in signing the ex- Ipswich Town star Kevin Beattie to bolster his defence, although by this time he was crocked by knee injuries! Indeed some would say that his best capture came off the field in the form of local beauty, 28 year old school teacher Lynn Salten, by far the classiest act on show!
Today the footballing landscape has changed beyond recognition with Middlesbrough plying their trade at the wonderful Riverside Stadium and recipients of the huge sums of money assured by entry to the top table of English football.
Whether Karanka and his charges can preserve their premier league status remains to be seen, but the Boro faithful will be encouraged by recent accomplished performances. Some would say that football has come a long way since the 1980s, but it seems that today’s global nature and rich trappings of the premier league, seems to have left our beautiful game void of true characters like Malcolm Allison, who despite failure on the field, certainly lit up the North East with rich experiences that will forever be a part of Middlesbrough Football Club’s folklore!