For our second Boro ‘Who are You?’ – or would it be more accurate to say the second and third? – we turn to a great stalwart of amateur football, John Atkinson*, president of Shildon FC and a former player in the area, and his pal Eddie Airey**, Shildon to the core, both of whom also share a passion for Middlesbrough FC. John – who has great personal memories of the Clough family – sees a replica of last season in the FA Cup, Eddie is less sure …
Salut! Sunderland: What is a lifelong Boro fan doing as president of Shildon and, hand on heart, where would would allegiance lie if the two clubs were ever drawn together on a cup match?
John: I finished my National Service in 1954 and my family had moved from Middlesbrough to Newton Aycliffe where there was no football. So I went to play for Shildon All Saints (Laurie ‘Lol’ Brown’s 1st Club) in the Auckland & District League. Met a girl at the local Palais De Dance (Spennymoor Rink), married her and have lived in Shildon ever since. Played football all around the area until I was 43, all the time supporting both Middlesbrough & Shildon. Shildon’s chairman asked me to become president when I finished football. I accepted on the promise of two annual Cup Final tickets, have been there ever since but still retaining my Boro season tickets. As for a game between the two, it would have to be Shildon because of the pride and publicity.
Not so long ago, Boro seemed a force in the Premier, scored eight past Man City and attracted top players from overseas. What went wrong?
JA: We spent too much money (transfer fees & contracts) on too many under-performing players. But Mr Gibson, wonderful chairman, built the best training facility at Hurworth, also Rockliffe Hall, Park & Gold course.
Eddie Airey: A lot of money must have been paid out to some of the foreign players we attracted, some of whom did not do us the service we required from them. The money has now obviously run out.
And I asked Harry Pearson, Boro-supporting author, the same last season: are we on the brink of a Boro revival or are they not quite yet good enough to gain promotion?
JA: A recent surge but I don’t think we have enough quality yet! If anyone can do it we have the right manager in Tony Mowbray.
EA: I don’t think the team will make promotion this season, but who knows. I remember Leicester City going up some years ago with a team that cost nothing. However I think Mowbray is on the right track after the Strachan disaster.
Some North-eastern football fans thrive on passionate rivalry, even hatred, while others always want to win but are happy for the others to be competing at the top. What is your view and where does SAFC/Boro fit into your assessment?
JA: Love to win and be competitive. Make love not war – so hatred is not in my vocabulary. The ideal, of course, is all 3 teams in the top division.
EA: I would wish to see all 3 North East sides competing in the same division (at the top.)
What have been your own highs and lows of supporting Boro?
JA: The Carling Cup Final (high) The loss against Chelsea (low) The McLaren era so low I gave up my tickets to follow Shildon full time.
Lows: in the early eighties with some poor players and little money leading up to 1986 administration.
Highs: from the mid-nineties under Brian Robson & Steve McLaren – 3 cup finals in one year and the Uefa final in 2006. Exciting years!!
Who are the finest players you have seen in the club’s colours, or wish you’d seen, and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
JA: In the early days – Wilf Mannion & then Juninho. As for the worst, all of the modern day mercenaries.
EA: Many fine years (and players) during my years as a supporter – Maddren, Boam, Mills, Murdoch, Juninho, Ravanelli to name but a few. However my favourites have to be Wilf Mannion and Juninho, both magical entertainers. Eat your heart out Beckham.
What’s your view of Julio Arca? And among many players and managers who have been associated with both clubs, Brian Clough, George Hardwick, Stan Anderson, Johnny Crossan and, of course, Alf Common – from before our time – perhaps stand out. Any special thoughts on any of those names?
JA: Julio Arca – always promised but rarely came good if we got him for nothing we were robbed. Brian Clough – I attended Marton Grove School with several of the Clough boys and Brian’s next oldest brother Billy was my best pal at Allam Hall Grammar School. I spent many teatimes, during the last years of the 2nd world war, having bread & jam (no butter) with the Clough boys. Billy & I went onto play football in the Middlesbrough & District 16-20 Youth League, a very young Brian played an odd game for us. We all played football and cricket on the old Clairville Common almost every single night where Brian was better at cricket than football. Another huge “low”: I was at Roker Park on the Boxing Day when Brian suffered that terrible injury.
EA: Julio Arca is obviously talented but for me has been somewhat of a disappointment at Boro. Clough’s goals speak for themselves. George Hardwick, a fine player & captain of Boro. England & Great Britain – this record may never be repeated. Stan Anderson did well & almost got us promoted, and played some good football. Other ex-Sunderland players to be forgotten – Joe Bolton, Garry Rowell, “Boots” Kinnell Johnny Crossan & Alan Johnstone. One player who, in my opinion we should have signed was Kevin Philips, who, I understand wished to stay in the North East, his goals could have kept us in the Premiership.
For another Boro view on Julio, try the first ‘Who are You?’ – https://safc.blog/2012/10/safc-v-middlesbrough-who-are-you-hailing-cloughie-juninho-and-julio/
Cup games can have little to do with respective league positions as you showed in our two games last season. How do you see this going?
JA: Much the same with Boro unlucky to lose.
EA: The game will I think be tight, we being the underdogs, so who knows the end result?
I am sure – unless you surprised me with our last answer – you feel Boro can keep going. But who will win the League Cup, who will be promoted from the Championship?
JA: Boro keep going??? What a silly question league cup don’t know. Promotion: Leicester/Crystal Pal.
EA: The Championship: Leicester City & anyone from the next 10 or so clubs – hopefully Boro. League Cup – Not sure – hopefully not Chelsea.
And the Premier top four on order, plus the three clubs doomed to relegation?
JA: Chelsea/Man City/Man U/Spurs
EA: (Yawn!) Inevitably Man Utd, Chelsea Man City & Arsenal. How unpredictable!
Both: Relegation – Wigan, Reading & QPR.
What form of cheating most annoys you and what would you do about it?
Feigning injury in the penalty area. Red card.
EA: Pet hate – a player trying to get another sent off.
Club vs country. Who wins for you and why?
JA: Eddie & myself both served in the Royal Artillery & thereafter were great believers in King/Queen & Country but when it comes to watching football, club will always win particularly if you have a personal involvement. As for playing, I was never good enough for country but if I had been, I think it is a tremendous honour & I would have loved to have won 100 caps (even one cap)
EA: Club, who I identify with more
Will you be at the Stadium of Light for this game? If not how will you keep tabs and what – unless answered above – will be the score?
JA: No! – Eddie will constantly have his earphones in listening to the radio commentary & I will ask him. Sunderland 3 – Boro 1 (reverse psychology)
* John Atkinson on John Atkinson: President/match secretary Shildon AFC. Still working in the family business manufacturing staircases. Supported Boro from 11 years old. Brian/Billy Clough’s father was manager of Garnetts Sweet & pop Factory adjacent to the main entrance of Ayresome Park. Pre-match we would call at the factory, fill our pockets with toffees and collect our complimentary tickets (left by the Boro players who had also received their goodies in exchange for the comps: sweets, of course were on ration in those days). Throughout my playing days continued to support Boro whenever and wherever possible. Became friends with Harold Shepherdson when he was caretaker/manager – would meet him in his little office under the main stand, give him a couple of bob (two shillings/10p) to put on the horses & receive a couple of away tickets – even got in the directors’ box at West Brom. During the last few years I took over some administration & match day duties at Shildon AFC which along with Mr McLaren’s 5 at the back policy led me to relinquish my season tickets but still a Boro boy at heart.
** Edwin Airey on Edwin Airey: I am 79, ex King James I Grammar Scool (Bp Auckland) and a retired building surveyor. My first Boro match was on Boxing Day 1946, beating Leeds Utd 3-0. Season Ticket holder from mid seventies. Also follow Shildon in the Northern League. Remember your (Colin Randall’s) dad in the 50s & 60s & when he was secretary at Shildon FC.
Interview: Colin Randall