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It’s the first of a few long trips up North for The Bees .. and to catch a vibe prior to the trip to the Riverside, BillytheBee catches up with Robert Nichols (@rob_fmttm) – editor of Boro fanzine Fly Me To The Moon (started in 1988) and website fmttm.com (started in 2000) about his guided tour for the North Korean team, Skoda rides to Xanthi and what it was like to watch the No 1 Brazilian player at the time grace the Boro turf

Brentford haven’t been to Middlesborough since 1987. It must have changed a lot since the last time we were there

For starters it is Middlesbrough not Middlesborough. I know that our nickname Boro makes it easy to slip the extra O in but we are a bit stubborn up here. We like the fact our town is spelled a little different to the rest.

And what else – Oh yes I live in a house built on the old ground, Ayresome Park. Some of your readers might remember it. A traditional old ground like Griffin Park except with substantially less pubs in the corners.

Next time you are here, give me a shout and I will give your fans a guided tour of the old ground. From Holgate wall, the perimeter wall that still stands, to round a sculpture trail marking different parts of the old pitch.

I have guided the survivors of the North Korean team that beat Italy here in the 1966 World Cup around the site before now so you will be in good company. Interestingly enough, the Italian pre-World Cup favourites have never been quite so keen to return.

Amazingly you haven’t missed a game home and away in 15 seasons ….. you must’ve seen some games in that time. What was your ultimate favourite???

Yes my last game missed home or away was 15 years ago this month when my brother got married in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong!

There was no way I could fly back in time to see Middlesbrough beat Southampton 3-2 and Gary Pallister scoring from 25 yards out.

My favourite games in that run would probably be winning the Carling Cup final in Cardiff 2-1 over Bolton in 2004. After 128 years we finally won a trophy.

Then there were all those incredible adventures in Europe.

Beating Roma.

The Skoda expedition to Eastern Greece in which it took a car ride to London, 2 flights and finally a 3 hour train journey across Northern Greece to be one of only 100 fans to make it to Xanti – close to the Turkish border. They had one toilet for the away end. Good job we didn’t have any more supporters with us.

What grounds do you really look forward to going to and why??

I am looking forward to going to Griffin Park as it is a traditional ground and it is many years since our last visit. We face some long hauls from the North East. It was a 580 mile round journey to Cardiff just this midweek. That was a very long day in a bus!

Where do you hate???

I am never keen on Selhurst Park because it is always such a chore fighting your way through and across South London. Obviously I have in the past fallen for the old schoolboy error of turning up at Crystal Palace athletic stadium.

Oh no wrong stadium. Wrong sport. What do you mean Crystal Palace don’t play in Crystal Palace? It is in Croydon? A 3 mile walk away!


You must have one bonkers tale from those years of madness???

Last season I drove down for the Brighton game. A fair old trip. I parked in nearby Lewes from where your match ticket allows you to get free train travel. At the ground I bumped into comedian Bob Mortimer outside the turnstiles and we discussed recent Boro results, although I failed to flog him a fanzine.

It is a friendly place and The Seagulls hospitality extended to us taking away 3 points. After the game I joined a Norwegian Boro supporter friend Bjarte in Dick’s Bar at the ground, where we chatted with Brighton’s own bard Attila the Stockbroker about the result.

Bjarte and me got on the train back to Lewes but my friend was a little “tired and emotional” and we failed to note that our carriage doors did not open at Lewes. We ended up taking the train into the next county.

We quickly changed over for a return train but as we drew up into Lewes station spotted lots of black smoke. That smoke seemed to be billowing from a building close to where I was parked. In the time we had wasted going back and forth on the train the fire had caught hold and the theatre was engulfed with my car trapped in a no-go area.

Bjarte scrambled back to the station to get a train back to his Gatwick flight back to Norway. I had to further wait 3 hours before I could persuade the emergency services to allow me back to my car at my own risk to set off on the 6 hour journey back north to Teesside.

A long and eventful day.

Boro have had a decent start to the season. Beating Birmingham, Bolton, Wednesday, Huddersfield and Cardiff. Leeds and Reading beat you. Meanwhile you’re through to the 3rd round of the league cup. Happy with your start???

Yes but we stuttered badly with two home defeats in eight days to Sheff Wed and Reading. We needed the international break to regroup and send for reinforcements through the transfer window.

Now with 2 away wins in 2 games achieved since it is really important that we win at home today against The Bees. Home form will be vital this season.

We were speaking to ex Bee and now Birmingham striker Clayton Donaldson before our game with them a few weeks ago. He said your team was excellent against Birmingham and gave them a good battering. What’s your teams strengths … and there must be some weaknesses too. 

We have fortunately addressed our big weakness in replacing the injured Tomas Mejias in goal with the tried and tested Dimi Konstantopoulos a much safer pair of hands. Our dodgy keeper spread confusion and lack of confidence in the Boro fans and Boro defence alike. The change was so important to our prospects after a series of costly blunders from Tomas.

Our strengths can be from the strong pressing game of Leadbitter and new signing Clayton in midfield. We also have speed on the break from our wingers Adomah and Reach supported by over lapping full back, George Friend.

The right back Damia is now long term injured.

Our achilles heel has not been finishing off opponents. Failing to score the killer goal. Fingers crossed new signings Jelle Vossen and Patrick Bamford can address that when paired up with Kike up front.

Early days but you are probably considered better away from home than at home so far this season. Is there a ray of light the mighty Bees might nick a result???

The fact we have lost two successive home games means we will not be 100% confident at the Riverside. If Bees sting us early then we might struggle to overcome our nerves as well as your team.

You beat us to the signing of Bamford – having an advantage with Jose Mourhinio’s mate Karanka managing your team. Looks like he’s warming the bench at the moment. How’s he looking for you??

He is not match fit yet, having missed competitive football since last season. Vossen was signed from Belgium after Bamford’s arrival and has gone into the first team ahead of him so the Chelsea man might need to rely on an injury to Kike or Vossen or making his mark with a goal in a later substitute show. Looking forward to seeing more of him.

Don’t quite get it myself. Surely, a player like Bamford should be playing week in and week out if he is going to get experience he needs. He would have got that down at Griffin Park. This is where the loan system doesn’t work for me and you get players endlessly club-hopping

Yes I know what you mean. Bamford took several weeks to make his mind up. We had actually been chasing him since the end of last season. If he had agreed to join us earlier he would probably have established himself in the team by now and not let others make their mark ahead of him. But he will get opportunities and then he needs to seize them.

The word was on the street you were gonna sign our Chelsea loanee from last season that we couldn’t quite tie down, George Saville. But Kenny Jackett nipped in with a swift £1m and a decent wage to lure him away from you. Did you pick any other players up? 

We were linked with everyone and anyone from Chelsea, weren’t we? Personally I wouldn’t like to see us as Little Chelsea. We need to be developing our own players, such as winger Adam Reach and defender Ben Gibson, as well as developing players for Jose.

We had Nathaniel Chalobah on loan last season, a talented young player. Hopefully for him he sticks at Burnley for a while because he needs the experience and responsibility required from staying at one club and not chopping and changing.

We have brought in Belgian International forward Jelle Vossen on loan, a long time target, and he looks a cut above in terms of first touch, awareness, speed of thought and movement. We also signed a Dutch winger in Wildshut but he has yet to break through.

You have been in the Championship for 5 seasons now. Is this division now regarded as ‘home’ despite you spending 60 seasons in the top flight???

No, we need to get out of this home from home as soon as possible. That is why Aitor Karanka was brought and Tony Mowbray replaced. With Financial Fair Play we need bigger crowds and they demand Premier Football.

Getting back into the top flight would be massive for the club, the town and the area.

But you have the likes of Forest, Derby, Norwich, Watford .. and even Wolves and Charlton looking like decent bets for the top 2 spot at the moment. Do you really think you can take them on??

It will be exceptionally difficult but we have to believe we can take them on. We have two players for every position now. We have to hope that we have the resources and a young, thoughtful coach with fresh ideas to take on the best.

What were the Bryan Robson/Juniniho/Ravanelli days like??? Better than the Steve McClaren days???

The Robson days were golden and filled with optimism – that we could make dreams happen. Sign the best player in Brazil in Juninho. The European Cup final winner Ravanelli and we could truly break the mould.

It was a dream that ultimately became a nightmare but what football and what an experience. We had the best player in the world in our team for a season in Juninho.

Perhaps because of the messy way it all ended, the fans could never quite let themselves go with Steve McClaren.

We had all suffered too much after all the cup final defeats and relegation. But even without the crowd behind them the team achieved some momentous wins under Steve McClaren. Beating Chelsea 3-0. Man United 4-1. And those two incredible UEFA comebacks – having to score 4 goals against Basel and Steaua Bucharest.

Those nights will live with everyone that experienced them forever.

Boro have one of the highest proportion of women attending games of all football clubs .. 20% .. what is it that brings the ladies into The Riverside over and above all other teams in the league. 

Interesting this. By looking at early 20th century archive footage and conversations with historians, Boro has always had a high number of women fans. When I attended the “Boys End” in the 1970s at Ayresome Park there were as many girls from my class as boys paying 50p.

It shows you the north east stereotypes are all wrong. Women have always attended Middlesbrough games in big numbers, home and away. It is a club that reaches down to the whole community not just blokes.

Boro is also one of the strongest community-based clubs in the league. 80% of season tickets are from the local area and you are very busy in the community .. Is that something you are massively proud about? How does that work for you on the terraces?

Well most definitely very proud about this and not something anyone takes for granted. The chairman sees it as central to the club – being a community club. The community programme, a charity, MFC Foundation is very active working with all sectors of the community. It was formerly the leader in the Premier League and an example at the cutting edge of community work nationally.

The Academy is still Premier class and has a proven track record of developing young local lads into international players.

We must never lose this. Supporting The Boro is a key part of our identity as Teessiders. We travel away en masse. 4000 to Huddersfield last week.

It is who we are and in our blood.

Best ever Boro player?

John Hickton – fearless old school centre forward of the 60s and 70s. When I was at school every kid in the playground was Big John Hickton.

Later on it was Juninho, a dream maker who made the ball talk on the pitch.

Newcastle or Sunderland?

Neither if I can help it.

And now for our made in Middlesboro corner ….

Bob Mortimer or Roy Chubby Brown?

Bob Mortimer – he attends many away matches in the South East close to where he lives. He might well get to Griffin Park later in the season.

Brian Clough or Don Revie?

Good question. I live bang in between their houses. Valley Road and Bell Street. Cloughie was an incredible goal scorer by all accounts. Nearly a goal a game. Injury deprived England of one of the greatest ever post war scorers. He was also a phenomenal manager and a big, big personality.

But Don Revie deserves more recognition as the original deep lying centre forward and the man that took Leeds from nowhere to the most formidable team in the land.

There is a statue of the young Cloughie in the park opposite where I live, walking from home to work, at Ayresome Park. He is still revered here – 10 years after his death.

Chris Kamara or Peter Beagrie?

Beagrie is still called a Judas here, for walking away from the club in our darkest hour. 1986 when we went in liquidation. I think it is a little unfair as others were also on the brink of leaving a club that couldn’t pay them wages. But he has never returned to the fold.

Chris Kamara only played a handful of games for his home town club but he watched us on some of our European adventures and remains very much a Middlesbrough lad.

Head to head its even-stevens … 7 games won and lost each with 3 drawn .. do you think you can nip ahead?

I think we will do it

Give us a score prediction

Boro to win 2-0.

Where do you recommend away fans hang out out pre-match?

Sherlocks and Twisted Lip are the wild cards as they are brand new microbrewery pubs – only open a few months ago. But they will give you a good welcome.

O’Connells is in the same street as those two and there are food places there too. So best bet for away fans it to head for Baker Street in the town centre, off Linthorpe Road.

Make sure you look out for the iconic Transporter Bridge – a meccano like bridge near the Riverside Stadium. They are fitting a lift at the moment so when you return you will be able to go to the top and cross the 100 feet plus high structure and get a great view.

Enjoy your stay but I hope you leave disappointed and pointless.

Best wishes for the season Bees fans.

We would like to thank Rob for taking time out to chat to us about all things Boro. You can follow Rob on twitter (@rob_fmttm) or check out Fly Me To The Moon website by clicking here .. or you can pick up a copy of FMTTM fanzine outside the ground at the weekend