Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten – Ayresome Park

Ayresome Park is our venue this week as we join Middlebrough fan Andrew Glover writer of the Ayresome Gates blog for a look through the history books. You can follow him on Twitter @andrew_glover

Everyone remembers their first time. Nervous but excited, eager to tell your friends you had finally done it. To be finally there, up close and personal and after months of asking, I broke my cherry aged six when I was taken to see Lennie Lawrence’s Middlesbrough draw 0-0 with Blackburn Rovers.

It was getting towards the business end of the 1991-92 season and Boro had faltered after a strong start but would go on to clinch promotion to join the first season of the Premier League.

A proper ground

I remember little about the run-in if I’m honest, other than the panic of the last day when it seemed our game at Molineux against Wolves would be called off after a bomb scare. For those last few months, I was too busy falling in love with Ayresome Park.

On that first February afternoon my next-door neighbours had made sure we arrived early, they wanted me to get a decent perch on the crash barrier. And as we wandered onto the North East corner terracing at 1pm I remember naively saying something like: “Oh we’ll be alright, I can see easy.” I thought the handful of early birds in the corner was as busy as it was going to get.

Getting to the ground early became par for the course. I couldn’t get the player’s autographs often enough. Week in, week out I’d ask them to sign something different. One Saturday, I gave Stuart Ripley and Bernie Slaven an invite to my seventh birthday party, sadly neither of them came.

Along with my first time, two of the other earliest visits to awesome Ayresome that will live long in the memory came within the first few months of our fleeting relationship.

Tony Mowbray’s testimonial against Celtic (part of the reason I credit Mogga with saving my life) was the perfect soup of the day before the main course of Premier League football in 1992-93.

Being up with the big boys meant I had to start paying to get in and counting towards the attendance. In Division Two, turnstile operators turned a blind eye to squeezes for us young uns, but all that had to stop with the glitz and glamour of the Premier League. The first home game I went to that year was against champions Leeds United. Boro tore them apart and romped to a 4-1 win.

Ayresome Park, like so many others sadly razed, was a proper football ground in the same way that the Adelaide Oval is a proper cricket ground. Its floodlight pylons would guide you in for a night match, the goalposts were the traditional type rather than the stanchion-type efforts we have today and all four sides had something about them to love. Sadly for me, the romance was over all too quickly. As the Evening Gazette book, Ayresome Park Memories says, the ground was the "cultural home of a popular religion on Teesside throughout the 20th Century."

As a club, Boro benefited hugely from the post-Euro 96 boom of interest in football from people and families who until then had been indifferent to attending live games. Without the Riverside and its (then) modern facilities the club wouldn’t have been able to ride the wave. We would have also struggled to attract the big names that became synonymous with The Boro. It is hard to imagine the likes of Juninho, Ravenelli and Emerson strutting their stuff at Ayresome but I’d give my right arm to be back there now.

People who know me will tell you I love the town of Middlesbrough. I love the accent (even though I don’t have it myself, having grown up out in the sticks of East Cleveland), I love the cynicism and the genuine warmth of the town’s good souls. For those reasons and many others I love matchdays; the banter, the routine, the sights and the sounds.

En route to the Riverside I can call in decent boozers, glance at the beautiful old Middlehaven Clock by the Tees and give a thumbs-up at the Transporter Bridge.

Bird's eye view

I would have loved to have been a young man, rather than a young kid, in a long-term relationship with Ayresome Park when the club’s home was in the heart of the town it represented before, as with many clubs, it was displaced like retail parks to the edges of towns and cities.

Boro moved from Ayresome Park for the start of the 1995-96 season, I was ten years old and it was time to say goodbye to my first love. I’d been robbed of making the rite of passage from the Boys End to the Holgate. Robbed of the crowd surges and the authentic E-I-Oing.

Her framed photograph hangs in my hallway and even though she was only part of my life for three full seasons, I still miss Ayresome Park dearly and I’m so sad I didn’t get to grow up with her.

Last Gone But Not Forgotten: Belle Vue, Doncaster

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