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Last Updated: Monday, 8 May 2006, 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK
Uefa final caps Boro fairytale
By Lewis Wiltshire

Ayresome Park
Boro were at one stage locked out of Ayresome Park by baliffs
When Middlesbrough take to the field for the Uefa Cup final against Sevilla on Wednesday, some supporters might see it as the completion of a 20-year journey back from the brink.

Two decades ago even the most optimistic Boro fan could not have foreseen the current era of a modern new stadium, multi-million pound foreign imports, a European final and a manager poached for the England job.

Back in the summer of 1986 the Teessiders were forced into liquidation by massive debts and were even locked out of their then home at Ayresome Park by bailiffs.

The then manager Bruce Rioch, who had taken over midway through the previous season and been unable to prevent the club slipping into the old Division Three, was told to get rid of 20 members of his first-team squad.

Steve Gibson is as good a chairman as you will get in football
Bruce Rioch

The 14 players that were left could not take part in any pre-season friendlies because the club did not have insurance for them and had to train on local pitches, with borrowed equipment.

When the season did start, Boro used Hartlepool United's ground, kicking off at 5.30 in the evening after Pools had played there in a 3pm match.

Enter current chairman Steve Gibson, then a 20-something ambitious director.

He put together a consortium - which included his own firm, Bulkhaul - to save the club and formed Middlesbrough Football and Athletic Company (1986) Ltd. The club was, in other words, starting all over again.

For Rioch, it was the start not just of a new club but of a fairytale.

"We had a group of players who were homegrown - of the 14, I think, 11 were born and bred in Middlesbrough. They were Middlesbrough through and through and were determined to stay with the club," Rioch told BBC Sport.

"We had a good spirit, we came through tremendous adversity and we got promotion in that first season with 14 players who had an average age of 19, which was quite remarkable really."

In that side were local lads Gary Pallister, Tony Mowbray, Colin Cooper and Stuart Ripley. Three of those four would go on to play for England; Pallister would be transferred for a then-British record 2.3m; Mowbray would begin a promising managerial career of his own.

Stuart Ripley
Stuart Ripley was one of the young players who earned the club two successive promotions

"I guess the club were fortunate that at that particular moment they just had a good crop of talented young players who would go on to have exceptional careers on and off the pitch," said Rioch.

"None of the players I was working with back in 1986 had ever been involved in anything as eventful on or off the pitch - but they were a fantastic group.

"Of course, we had a promotion the second season, which took us into the old First Division, and it was just a step too far too quickly because we were working with 15 players and the squad just wasn't big enough.

"It caught up with us in the second half of the season when we lost players to injuries and suspension. We got relegated from the First Division."

The following year Rioch was sacked - to be succeeded by his assistant Colin Todd, who in turn gave way to Lennie Lawrence before Bryan Robson arrived to revolutionise the club.

Now 16 years have passed since Rioch had any involvement with Middlesbrough but the 58-year-old, now manager of Odense in the Danish Superliga, will be cheering on McClaren's side on Wednesday.

"You can't look back at that period without seeing how difficult it was but how great it was," added Rioch.

"It was a new club - Middlesbrough 1986 - and this year is the 20th anniversary. I understand they will be having a reunion. Wouldn't it be great if by then they have won the Uefa Cup?"

Rioch also has no hesitation in naming the man most responsible for taking Middlesbrough from the point of extinction to a Uefa Cup final.

"Everybody has played a part but we have to take our hat off to Steve Gibson. He was a board member at 27 or 29 years of age when I was there and he had a vision for the club.

"He didn't have the finance at that particular time when the club went into liquidation to take it on himself but he always had the intention of taking Middlesbrough Football Club, which is his great love, into the higher echelons - and I think he has done that.

"He is a great man to work with and work for and he is as good a chairman as you will get in football."


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