Welcome to issue 26 of FMTTM and may I take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year. It seems a long time since last year when Man Utd were our opponents, my how the mighty have fallen. Although we’re unable to sample the delights of our premier division, today at least, this New Year indeed this new decade dawns with high expectations. Stoke today, then Everton, Sunderland and Newcastle with the far glint of Wembley’s twin towers in our eyes.
Christmas has so far provided plenty of festive fun and frolics for the Boro, which makes a change, and that win over Bradford echoed the kind of hard fought games which won us promotion in 1987. If we can find the balance between the determination we showed at Valley Parade and the flair we revealed against Wednesday, who knows what the Boro are capable of achieving this season?
Don’t forget 6th place can still bring promotion under the present play-off system and a good consistent run now would certainly put us in the frame by Easter. What exactly has brought about this up turn in form is difficult to say, but 6 wins in our last 8 games seems to have brought the confidence flooding back and with Pears restored to his rightful place, Brennan recapturing his best form and Slaven, Kernaghan and Davenport working as an effective unit up front the Boro look capable of taking on and beating anyone in the Second Division.
Although it is a great pleasure to look with some confidence into the future on the field, off the field the clubs decision to make Ayresome all seater has blackened the horizon. It seems the club is once more willing to ignore it’s supporters in favour of some commercial ideal, that has no feeling or sympathy with the game. In an effort to allow the voice of the supporters to be heard, this issue of FMTTM is carrying a petition
against the proposed all-seater scheme.
Please collect as many signatures as you can and help us fight for our right to be heard.
Ten years ago in a London Wine Bar a group of hacks sat discussing what the 80′s may bring for British Football. The conclusion they reached became the epitaph of the perils of forecasting the ‘funny old game’, for the decided the Crystal Palace were to be the team of the decade.
Meanwhile 250 miles north, the honest, ambitious Boro board were discussing their plans for an era of prosperity at Ayresome Park. The North Easts only first Division side were going into the big time; a flashy Sports Centre, VIP boxes and attempts to lure overseas stars to Teesside were firmly on the agenda. This , without doubt was to be Boro’s decade.
Back in the Wine Bar, the hacks had it all worked out, Palace had the ambitious young manager, the raw talent of young players and with the glory days well and truly over for Spurs the London tide had turned.
Not quite so talked about but equally promising, the Boro had Teessiders drooling at their potential. Match of the Day showed Boro trouncing Norwich 6 – 1, Cummins was to be the first million pound player and Johnston, Hodgeson and Proctor were rare talents. There was even the obligatory up and coming foreign star Bosco Jancovic and of course Billy Ashcroft (surely some mistake?).
Remarkably, in one of those strange twists of fate, even before the hacks had finished their drinks, the team of the 80’s and booming Boro were to their original designs what Alan Kernaghan is to the Spud-U-Like and the Madison is to Nightclubs.
It seems that somewhere along the lines the wires at Selhurst and Ayresome became crossed and things went slightly wrong producing numerous embarrassing mistakes. Palace fans arrived at the ground one day shocked to find that half of it had been demolished and they were standing in the meat department at Sainsburys who had inconveniently built a new supermarket right behind the goal. When the Chairman talked of building for the future this is not quite what the fans had in mind. Not to be outdone Boro had a similar mix up, when in attempting to lure Michelle Platini to ~Ayresome they had a crossed line on the phone and instead found themselves negotiating with Scottish giants Morton for their revered star Bobby Thompson. After Bosco had buggered off to become a lawyer in Paris (Charlie never did like the club to be connected with anyone who understood the law) it was left to Wor Bobby to show off his unique skills.
Bobby always saved his best for the big occasion, crucial games against sides like Southampton who included a certain Kevin Keegan in the number. Boro at 0 – 1 down had been awarded a penalty with time running out and much to the consternation of his team mates Bobby decided to take the kick himself. Unfortunately and unknown to the Holgate, Bobby had suffered double vision moments earlier and was left with a difficult decision – which goal should he aim for? Tragically Bobby chose the wrong one and to everyone’s disbelief placed the ball no less than 10 yards wide. Bobby’s post match explanation was that he decided to guess and hope, what would have happened to Bobby’s career if he had chosen the wrong ball God only knows.
Back at the ranch, Mr Amer was still planning for the prosperous 80’s and his VIP boxes, the only problem: how to convert the spaces at the back of the North Stand into luxury boxes without spending any money, Charlie was perplexed. Besides he was too busy worrying about his super Sports Centre and though the roof leaked there is no question of a man of his integrity using anything but top quality materials, suggestions that papier-mâché was used is of course simply ludicrous.
So there you have it, after that the 80’s went just a little sour. The rest as they say is history, which brings me neatly to the moral of this story. Never make predictions and never take an ounce of notice of ambitious schemes directors come up with from time to time. Now, about this all seater stadium for the nineties…
The Teesside branch of the Football Supporters Association got off to a rather momentous start, to say the least. However, this was down to coincidence and luck rather than planning – the meeting was most certainly NOT arranged in the wake of the Middlesbrough vs. Leeds game to point the finger at the police and the club and generally stir up trouble. Indeed, letters advertising the inaugural meeting to existing members in the area went out on November 19.
Having said that, a discussion of the disturbing events at Ayresome Park on December 9 was bound to dominate the night – and so it proved. Ground safety is one of the major concerns of the FSA and everyone present at the Teesside branch’s birth was obviously concerned with what happened at the Leeds game. The FSA seeks to put itself forward as a mouthpiece for the opinions of fans on a local and national level. In this case, we wanted to make our feelings known because the club and police appeared to have absorbed themselves of blame for the incident. Again, the guilty party was said to be the fans, who had surged and caused the crush. Now there’s an interesting point – how many times has anyone stood on a crowded terrace when there HASN’T been a surge of some kind? We all know surges are regular occurrences, which can start with an innocuous even like someone stumbling whilst trying their shoe-lace. But how many times do these surges end in people being crushed. Very rarely. For Chief Supt. Terry Tasker to blame the crush on a fans’ surge and in the next breath admit 60 too many fans had been in the enclosure was a sheer farce.
Several other issues immediately leapt out from the disturbing incident – why had Leeds not been given more tickets, why were more fans pushed into an obviously overcrowded area, what possible use were the barbaric spikes on top of the fence serving? Why did the police and officials initially refuse calls for help, why did we have to wait so long for an indication of what had happened? The list goes on.
The FSA meeting decided to write to the club and police to ask them to talk to us about our concerns. They refused to even respond to our letter, again illustrating the level of contempt with which Boro treat their fans. The line of both club and police seemed to be ‘we don’t need the fans; we can manage our own affairs’. We have been told they called us ‘hooligans in suits’ and denounced our meeting as a set-up designed to cause trouble. This is completely untrue; the meeting was simply a gathering of true football supporters who want a chance to articulate their views on the way the game is run.
Another worrying aspect of recent developments was the attitude of Boro Chief Executive Keith Lamb, to a poll in the Evening Gazette asking if fans supported the idea of seats in the Holgate End. A staggering 83 per cent said no, but Lamb’s response was aloof and condescending. He said the decision had been made and there were no plans to consult the fans. Typical.
The attitude of both Middlesbrough FC and Cleveland Police has been very disappointing, but we must tread a fine line. Other FSA branches have extremely good relations with their local clubs and police forces. Tyne and Wear Branch, for example, have close contacts with Sunderland FC.
We must beware not to be seen as an organisation that simply puts across a negative view of the club and police. I think we can profit in the long term by holding regular dialogues and hopefully, getting police officers and club representatives along to our meetings. We must make them accept us an organisation that truly represents the views of Teesside football fans. In a short space of time, we have done well. Our pressure and the support given to us by the County Council played a part in getting the spikes down in time for the Leicester game, whilst we have gained a media profile very quickly. But we must maintain this momentum so that we can continue to fight for a better deal for football supporters. This means increasing our membership. In theory, our membership should be limitless, as we aim to give the fans what they want – safer grounds, better facilities and no ID cards. Thus the FSA urges you to fill in the application form enclosed and join the association.
With Lord Justice Taylors report on Hillsborough disaster coming up and the Football Membership Authority starting out on its journey to come up with a membership scheme, the early months of 1990 will be important for the FSA. To help us have a say on these important issues join the FSA and help us build our membership and influence.
December 9th dawned promisingly enough, a cool grey day heralding the Yorkshire Derby between Boro and Leeds United. It was an important match not only in its context as a derby game but because Leeds were challenging for top place in the Second Division. As such it was of course an all ticket affair, Leeds receiving an allocation of about 2,000 tickets for the away section in the Clive Road corner. The demand for tickets outweighed the allocation and in an effort to support their team Leeds supporters bought tickets for the home Holgate End. It is not an uncommon practise, though one that is discouraged by the police and club alike.
Before kick off these stray supporters were removed and placed in the North East Corner. However, once the game had begun some supporters were transferred into the Clive Road corner, already filled to its maximum allocation. At around 3:30 a surge in this section caused pressure at the front of this terrace and resulted in a number of supporters being crushed against the fence. Fortunately the alert action of the police, stewards and the fans themselves mean that no one was seriously injured.
In the days following the event the usual inquests took place in an attempt to apportion blame. The police admitted allowing “extra” supporters into the Clive Road corner and the emergency services commented on the danger of the spiked top fences. Middlesbrough Football Club refused to accept any responsibility for the events. In the end no conclusions were reached but the burden of the blame seemed to be lumped on the behaviour of the supporters. On December 14th the Football Club announced that by 1992 Ayresome Park would be an all-seater stadium.
“The decision will not be reconsidered” – Keith Lamb.
Quite how the club has come about making this decision I do not know, it certainly wasn’t in consultation with supporters, but then when has the club ever showed any concern for it’s devoted followers.
This is the club who cared so much about our safety that they felt no reason to pull down the fences or barbaric spikes after the Hillsborough disaster. This is the club that cares so much about our comfort that we are made to suffer the most appalling toilet facilities which amount to little more than open topped sewers. This is the club that wishing to attract a new generation of followers to the club is unable to improve the Soup Kitchen refreshment facilities. This is the club that has made no effort to cater for its disabled followers. This is the club that has doesn’t even have a voucher system to ensure its loyal supporters gain access to the big games. This is Middlesbrough Football Club, the club that doesn’t listen to it’s supporters, that rides roughshod over their feelings and still expects gate money, week in, week out.
The plan to make Ayresome Park an all-seater stadium is just another instance of this. It is time that we supporters made a stand, before the game is lost to the businessman and the hooligan.
It is not that we are traditionalists clinging to our terrace origins, we want the standards improved but we demand changes that are necessary, not ones that cut across our needs. The Holgate End and South Terrace are perfectly safe places, provided the numbers are controlled and there is no need to seat these areas. We have a right to stand just as much as those who prefer to sit.
We want to stand in the Holgate