Middlesbrough's Ayresome Park 25th anniversary of the stadium lockout

02 August 2011 09:31
It is 25 years ago today since the gates at Ayresome Park were padlocked.

The Teesside club may be facing the harsh financial realities of a third season in the Championship now, but back then, the ?2million debts left them on the verge of extinction.

Manager Bruce Rioch, assistant Colin Todd and the majority of the players decided to stay on and fight for a team who, the previous season, had been relegated to the old third division.

Old and the new: Ayresome Park as it was and the Riverside Stadium with the old gates from the original stadium

Saved with minutes to spare, the previous day, Middlesbrough kicked off the 1986-87 season at Hartlepool's Victoria Ground, playing Port Vale after their hosts had played their first game of the new season.

Led by the energetic Rioch, a young, largely homegrown side eventually gained promotion (sound familiar?), while a young local businessman called Steve Gibson led a new consortium's fightback.

Here, the leading protagonists recall that memorable fight for survival.

 THE CHAIRMAN - Steve Gibson

'I had to ensure the club fulfilled its fixtures and got into a position of running the club without interference.

'You had third-generation shareholders, great-grandchildren of original shareholders dating back to 1876.

'You would go to a board meeting and they would be talking about what they were having for lunch, not the debt, because Middlesbrough FC had always just trundled on.

Just rewards: Gibson celebrates after Boro's Carling Cup win over Bolton

'I remember going in and saying 'to sort this club out there's got to be clear lines of authorisation and the first thing I want is full executive power to run the club'. They went ''rhubarb, rhubarb,' and the cigars came out.

'Eventually they gave it to me and they said: 'What are you going to do now?' I said: 'None of your business, you're all sacked.'

'It was up and down, all kinds of things went on, some of it very unpleasant, but at the end the club was saved.'

 THE DIRECTOR - Graham Fordy

'We had a meeting at the Football League the day before the season started and they were insistent the funds were in place to cover the debts.

'Although Steve Gibson takes a lot of the credit, it would not have been possible without Colin Henderson, who was chairman and somehow managed to convince Harvey Jones from ICI to deposit ?1.9million in the bank.

'Without them Middlesbrough Football Club would not be here today and it is rather ironic that now ICI is no longer on Teesside. A job at ICI was a job for life.

'It was a very very long day. The League sat in one office, we sat in another and conversations went backwards and forwards through solicitors, not face to face.

'We were saved with 37 minutes to spare. The joy and the elation coming back on that flight to Teesside from Heathrow was tremendous.

'We felt we had achieved something that would change the history of Middlesbrough Football Club and so it proved.'

 THE MANAGER - Bruce Rioch

'My time at Middlesbrough is still the most enjoyable of my career because the circumstances were so special.

'You had to laugh at times, or you'd cry, but out of that adversity came the biggest bonus, which was the players' attitude.

'We went from strength to strength, even though we had next to nothing and the club's very existence was in doubt.

'It just showed what can be done when everyone pulls together and talent is allied to hard work, whatever the odds. It was like a band of brothers.

Boro boy: Rioch went on to manage north London giants Arsenal

'We got by with just 14 players because of cutbacks and relied upon young, mainly home-grown players. It's no secret that I was a disciplinarian but I firmly believed it was required to be successful.

'I didn't take that approach because I thought they were a bunch of good-for-nothing rascals, far from it.

'They were a fine bunch of lads who were a credit to their profession and themselves, their families and the club. No player made headlines for the wrong reasons. That says it all.'


'It was a rude awakening when the padlocks went on at Ayresome Park and we had to scratch around for training facilities around Teesside.

'One of the funniest episodes I remember is a cross-country run. It should have taken 25 minutes but Gary Pallister and Bernie Slaven went AWOL.

We were about to send out a search party when they turned up with their legs ravaged by nettles. They'd been looking for a short-cut.'

 THE PLAYERS - Tony Mowbray (now manager)

'When Bruce took a team of young lads and moulded them into a very good football side but also into a group of very good characters who've generally enjoyed really good careers.

'When we meet up the events of 1986 feel like they happened a week ago. There is a bond there, a genuine affinity caused by sticking together during those troubled times.

Mowbray featured for Boro as a player before taking the reigns as boss

'Bruce is a great man. He never thought that football was purely about ability. The basis of his success was discipline.

'I learned a lot from him. His attitude was that if you are disciplined off the pitch you will be disciplined on it and I share that ethic.

'We were fined if we turned up unshaven, so obviously designer stubble was out. And Bruce practised what he preached.

'He was always punctual, smartly turned out, said and did the right things and was always very polite.

'It meant he could trust his players to do the jobs they were supposed to do and meet the demands he laid down.

'The night we won promotion, it was chaos but the atmosphere and adrenaline was unforgettable. Happy times.

'There were two minutes left and the crowd were by the edge of the pitch ready to invade. The referee said 'get over by the tunnel and get ready to run because I'm going to blow the next time it goes out.'

 Stuart Ripley

'Bruce was brought up in a military family and he was very strict. He wanted everyone to conform but I was a bit of a rebel in those days so I grew a bit of stubble.

'He ordered me to shave it off but I refused so there was a bit of a stand-off. He threatened to fine me for every day that I had a beard.

'I was only a young lad so my beard wasn't growing that fast but by the time he hauled me into his office I had a full-on beard.

'He said he liked a man who stuck by his principles and he didn't actually fine me. I agreed to shave the beard off so it all ended amicably.'

 Gary Pallister

'I was away on holiday in Tenerife and I rang home. My mam said it had been on the news. She said ''you're out of a job''. I said ''wha?''.

'We were training at clubs like Billingham Synthonia, down the beaches, in parks; anywhere we could find a piece of ground to prepare.

Pallister (left) returned to Boro for a second spell after his Old Trafford stay

'When we trained on pitches with no lines or goalposts, it was literally jumpers on the floor. It was quite laughable at times, we were like Raggy-arse Rovers.

'But Ayresome Park was a great ground to play in in that division. The players were young and had the courage to go out and play the football we did.

'We got on a roll and went to places we couldn't have imagined at the start of it all.'

 Colin Cooper

'I thought my career was up following liquidation because it would have been a matter of going out on trial everywhere. I felt it was disappearing.

'I joined as a YT at 16, there was none of the new sparkling kit and conditions the kids get now.

'We had to get down early to get the best stuff for the pros we looked after and we got the rags leftover to train in.

'It seems very old school but it grounded me as a person and made me appreciate everything as a footballer. All we got was a pair of boots.

'We had to roll up our sleeves and graft with the groundsman. That makes you appreciate things when it turns in your favour and you become a successful professional.'

 Alan Kernaghan

'There was the disappointment of relegation and the shock of going into administration but that was easily outweighed by the happy times.

'Who could forget that 'home' game at Hartlepool? It was on and off, on and off, when it finally came we started like a house on fire.

'I was playing up front and even though I didn't score I was as pleased as punch that Archie Stevens got two cracking goals.

'We ran out of steam and drew 2-2 but it was just a relief to play and get the season up and running.'

 Brian Laws

'I had no idea exactly how depressing the financial problems were when I agreed to join. If I'd known how severe things were I wouldn't have moved there.

'Footballers of our standard were only paid average wages, so when we stopped getting paid it was very difficult for everyone concerned. Lots of us had families to support and mortgages to pay.

'But we were a close group and we were prepared to play for nothing for the good of the team. My three years at Boro taught me to appreciate every moment I have had in football.

'We trained here, there and anywhere. It wasn't unusual for us to play on parks which, put it this way, were popular with irresponsible dog owners.'

 THE JOURNALIST - Alistair Brownlee, BBC Tees

'The football club is the fabric and soul of the town and the threat it would disappear was felt by everybody. The club could have died, and that would have been a tragedy.

'Without the events of 86 there would not be a Riverside Stadium or football played in the town.

'There wouldn't have been the Carling Cup win in 2004 and the journey all the way to Eindhoven and the UEFA Cup Final two years later if, off the pitch, and indeed on it, the club had not come together.'

 AND FINALLY.  Steve Gibson, again.

'I have known Tony since he was a teenager, and I keep reminding him of that. He is a Middlesbrough lad and has Middlesbrough at his heart.

'We are Middlesbrough people and I think that is important. We had the right skipper in 86 and we have the right manager now.'

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Source: Daily_Mail