A childhood memoryWith four older brothers, and a father who had “given up” ongoing to see Middlesbrough, but was an avid fannevertheless, football was a big part of my childhood. Onememory remains particularly vivid.Middlesbrough were struggling in the third tier of football, afall of grace, which shocked Dad. But one early summerevening, on May 16 to be exact, and in the last match of theseason, the Boro had a chance of redemption. They playedOxford United, captained that evening by Ron Atkinson -who went on to be the flamboyant manager of ManchesterUnited – and a win would ensure promotion.I left school at four. Home was only a brief walk away butthere was no time to lose and with kick off still three hoursaway, a couple of friends and I joined the queue for the BoysEnd, a section of the ground for those aged sixteen andunder(once a common feature at football but now longgone).We were in the ground by about five thirty. We waitedpatiently for the adult section in front to fill a little. Then itwas a matter of waiting until the policeman who patrolledthe boundary between the Boys End and the more expensiveadult paddock was distracted. A quick vault over the wall,and a scurry between hundreds of bodies was followed by ahalfheartedprotest from the police officer. Then it was amatter of squeezing down to the front and finding a seat onthe perimeter wall.The crowd swelled. The capacity of the ground had beenreduced the previous summer to about 35,000 to allowMiddlesbrough to be a World Cup host. To this day, legendsabound about how many were really there that balmy
summer evening. The record says 39,000. But there wereprobably many more.Anxiety increased as the match approached. Could we do it?Could we return to the second division? We need not havefeared. An idol of mine, a man called John O Rourke - thesubject of the first letter I ever had printed in a newspaper(the Middlesbrough Sports Gazette) in which I pleaded thatwe should buy him back from Ipswich Town - scored threeglorious goals. After the game, a rollicking 4-1 win, the pitchwas invaded and the players appeared in the main standfrom where they threw their shirts to the crowd. I lookedwith desperate envy as a man near me leapt and caught theshirt belonging to a player called David Chadwick.The nextmorning, and following press tradition, the crowd weredescribed as delirious. We were.A long time after the game had finished, by this time, wellafter ten, I walked the three or four hundred yards to myhome. My four older brothers, all at the game that night hadalready arrived. Minutes after my Dad – a steelworker formore than fifty years - returned home from his two till tenshift at Dorman Long.We lived the night again.I was eleven years old.No one thought it at all odd that an eleven year old should beout late; out at a football match; out in a crowd. My parentsweren’t negligent: quite the reverse. It was just whatchildren did. And very fortunate we were. I don’t knowanyone of my age whose favourite childhood memoriesdon’t involve events where supervisory adults weren’tpresent. I wonder whether children today will be so lucky.