A History Of Football In The North East; Middlesbrough

In this series of articles, we will look at the modern history of football in the north-east of England. We will cover the most important events in the recent history of Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Newcastle United. In this first article, the focus will be on Middlesbrough from the 1980s up until today.

At the start of the 1980s, all three clubs were struggling in their own way. Newcastle United were drifting about in the second division, while Middlesbrough experienced relegation to that same division at the start of the 1980s. Sunderland on the other hand were relegated in the ’70s, and were struggling at the bottom of Division One at this time.

‘Boro in the ’80s:

Manager John Neal left the club in 1981, after failing to take the club into the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time. Instead they were beaten by Second Division side Leyton Orient. Although the club was sitting safe in mid table in the First Division, Neal clearly felt he was not getting enough out of the team. The task of replacing Neal was given to Bobby Murduch. The same year three of the clubs most important players left. David Armstrong, Craig Johnston and Mark Proctor. All three were academy grown players. Although a dutch midfielder by the name of Heini Otto was signed from FC Twente, Murdochs first season in charge was a disaster as the club was relegated after finishing in the very last place.

‘Boro’s time in the Second Divison would be quite short lived, but not in a good way. The Chairman was replaced twice, Murdoch was asked to resign, and new manager Malcolm Allison led the club to a disappointing 16th place. Around this time Boro started facing serious financial problems as well. Allison was forced to sell the clubs best players, and remarks about the clubs finances also forced Allison out of the club.

The club was steadily declining. With new manager Willie Maddren, ‘Boro finished 19th in 1984/85. Maddren gave a certain Gary Pallister his debut the following season, but the season would still be another disaster. Poor form meant Maddren also had to leave the club. Another Chairman was replaced and the club had to borrow 30.000 pounds from the PFA to pay wages. On the last day of the 1985/86 season ‘Boro were relegated to the Third Division.

The club actually came very close to being shut down permanently. There was 350.000 pounds required to register for Third Divison. The club did not have the funds, and were only saved 10 minutes before the deadline by a consortium of businessmen. The change in ownership also lead to a change in club crest, to the well known circular crest with a lion in the middle.

The clubs new manager Bruce Rioch managed to pull the club back together, and two successive promotions were achieved. The joy was short lived however, as the club were relegated in their first season back in the top division. The following season looked like ending in the same fashion, so Rioch was asked to resign. His replacement Colin Todd saved ‘Boro from a successive drop and followed up next season by bringing the club into the promotion playoffs. Eventually ‘Boro was then knocked out by Notts County, and Colin Todd chose to depart.

He was succeeded by Lennie Lawrence, who lead ‘Boro to second place in the league. Thus, making the club a part of the very first Premier League. Another relegation was to follow, and Lawrence resigned after failing to bring promotion the following season.

‘Boro in the ’90s:

Enter Bryan Robson, the former England and Manchester United star. The club started aiming big and signed players such as Jan Aage Fjørtoft, Nigel Pearson and record signing Neil Cox. Promotion was achieved in Robson’s first season, and the return to the Premier League also meant leaving Ayresome Park. ‘Boro were to play in the new and modern stadium Riverside. More money was spent as Juninho and Nick Barmby were brought in for big sums. They finished the season in 12th, and were willing to push on for next season.

Fabrizio Ravanelli and Emerson were brought in the following season, and things were looking bright. However, most of the season was spent battling relegation. Middlesbrough reached both the FA cup final, and the League Cup final that season, but were beaten in both. Also, a three point deduction that same season, saw them relegated on the final day of the season.

‘Boro in the 2000s:

The board kept faith in Robson, and ‘Boro was promoted back up on the first attempt. ‘Boro also reached another cup final, but were once again beaten in the final. A couple more mid table seasons followed, before Robson was succeeded by up and coming coach Steve McClaren.

With McClaren, ‘Boro would go into what could be called a new era. In his first season several promising players were brought in, such as Gareth Southgate. In McClarens first season ‘Boro finished 12th, but also reached the FA cup semi final. The following season was expected to be an even bigger one, when Juninho was brought back for his third spell at the club. Unfortunately the Brazilian was injured for most of the season, and Boro only finished in 11th.

The following season saw Middlesbrough secure their first major trophy after beating Bolton Wanderers in the League Cup Final. Players like Boudewijn Zenden and Gaizka Mendieta were brought in on loan the same season, and played an important role in the team. The cup win also meant Boro would be able to play european football. The league campaign would be a disappointing one though. Boro finished 11th but were quite unstable through the season.

The following season Middlesbrough would show some early promise in the UEFA Cup, before being knocked out by Sporting Club in the fourth round. In the league everything started really well, and Boro were top six as late as November. However, several injuries hit hard, and Boro tumbled down the table. Still, qualification for the UEFA Cup was achieved on the last day of the season.

The 2005-06 season would be a season of ups and downs. In the league Boro would show flashes of greatness, beating Arsenal and Manchester United. But then their form would drop, spending a considerable portion some time in the bottom half. Eventually a 14th place was secured. The big upside was Boros form in Europe. Incredibly Boro reached the UEFA cup final that same season, but were thrashed 4-0 in the final by Sevilla FC.

That would be McClarens last season in charge of Boro, before captain Gareth Southgate took over in 2006. Southgate decided to retire to focus on his new job. Southgate was expected to take the club to even bigger heights, but perhaps too much pressure was put on the young manager. There was certainly not a lack of investment, as players like Jonathan Woodgate, Robert Huth and Jason Euell were brought in.

In his first season, Boro was placed securely in 12th place. The following season was spent in the lower side of the table. Southgate was not able to fulfill the clubs hopes, and Middlesbrough was eventually relegated in the 2008-09 season. The closest Boro has been to promotion came in the newly finished season, where Boro were beaten by Norwich City in the Playoff-final.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this series of articles, which will cover the modern history of Sunderland.

Main Photo:
MIDDLESBROUGH, UNITED KINGDOM – OCTOBER 29: A general view of the front gates to the Riverside Stadium before the Barclays Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Manchester City at the Riverside Stadium on October 29, 2008 in Middlesbrough, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)