by Guy Bailey
It was 1983, I was ten years old, David Bowie was number one with “Let’s Dance”, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray were bustin’ Ghosts at the Stockton Classic, The Minipops were blissfully entertaining dodgy middle-aged men on the fledgling Channel 4, and while ostensibly a Boro (Middlesbrough) fan, my trips to the old Ayresome Park were sporadic at best.
I mainly used to spend Saturday afternoons at my nanas in Meath Street watching Big Daddy on World of Sport while waiting for my own big daddy and medium-sized grandad to return, usually as miserable as sin.
I had been threatened by my Uncle on occasions, “If your naughty, your dad will take you to see the Boro” and working on the premise that a problem shared is a misery halved, my dad informed me that not only were we going, but that I was going to be the mascot in two weeks time! At home to a struggling Derby County on Saturday April 9th.
My first difficulty was when the club wanted some information about me for the programme. What were my interests? This was a problem. I couldn’t honestly admit in print that my interests solely consisted of eating mars bars, watching cartoons and playing Manic Miner so in a desperate attempt to please my dad I said Golf and Fishing.
A bigger problem was that I was crap at football. Not totally hopeless, I could kick a ball properly but being the owner of a robust Rochembackesque physique, not as fit as I might have been. It wasn’t critical, I wasn’t playing but I still didn’t want to make an arse of myself in the kick in when I’d have a chance to score in front of the Holgate. I had appeared as a sub in a school match earlier that year, the games teacher taking pity on me and bringing me on when we were 4-0 up with quarter of an hour to go so I could also accurately tell the programme that I played for the school team. This talent for stretching l’actualité would serve me well in my adult career as a spin doctor.
My biography submitted, we now had to get me a kit. This was before your chain sport stores so off to Jack Hatfield’s. It was the year after McLean Homes had pulled the plug so we had a pristine, sponsorless silky red home shirt, with authentic Addidas stripes down the sleeves. Like a footballing Starsky and Hutch design. We also wore white shorts and socks that season. It looked as distinctive as a Ford Cortina and would probably be worth a few bob if you had one now (the kit, not the Cortina).
I wasn’t allowed to wear the kit to school but still told the few Boro fans that were there that I was going to be leading the lads out on Saturday. Out of a school of 200 in Stockton, there must have been about five of us who owned up to supporting the Boro. Liverpool and Man Utd claimed the rest, even though I now run into a good proportion of these turncoats at the Riverside.
The big day dawned and I even had a shower, so important was this event. I didn’t really want to but I was assured that Heine Otto showered so that swung the deal. We got to the ground just after dinnertime and after wishing me luck my folks went off to their seats. Leaving me in the capable hands of a PR guy.
Looking back, you could see the writing was on the wall for the club because they were cutting corners everywhere. The programme was a six page newspaper that season called Boro News. It had a picture of Paul Daniels on the front proclaiming that the “Boro Bonanza was magic“. They were also scrimping on the mascots. I wasn’t the only one. I met the other lad, Vince Potter from Eston, an hour before kick off. While both disappointed we wouldn’t be the centres of attention, we decided that if we scored four or six goals, we would share the credit for them equally. You can tell we weren’t regulars in the Chicken Run.
We sat in an ante room and said hello to a frazzled-looking Mike McCullough as he was passing through. Looking back, he should have called his company Atlas because he had the world on his shoulders. We had a mini tour of the North Stand including the ill-fated Sports Centre where we were told that it would soon open to the public. 24 years and counting Charlie.
The time came for us to get ready. We changed out of our tracksuits, walked up the steps and through the tunnel and stood on the side of the threadbare pitch. It was not in the best of condition. We had our photo taken with the latest in a long line of saviours with sellotape knees – in this case, Kevin Beattie. We also got to meet Radio Tees’ rising star – a young Me Mark Page.
For reasons I still don’t fully understand, Mark was dressed as a high court judge with a black cape and white wig. We had to pose with him holding our ears. The headline in the next home programme, and I am not making this up, said “Ear, Ear says the Judge! – he gives mascots a good wigging (but it’s all in good fun)”. I still don’t get it.
We went back into the tunnel and awaited the teams. We met the ref, the wonderfully named Trelford Mills from Barnsley who resembled a young Brian Blessed. Derby came up led by a grizzled Archie Gemmell and then the Boro. I think Mick Baxter was captain that day. Trelford told us it was time to go and despite having already being out on the pitch, the nerves hit home. The empty South Stand was now full, the South East corner had a smattering of Derby fans making a noise and the Holgate, my god the Holgate, looked like a human pyramid. The noise was as loud as a jet engine and I got as far as the touchline and froze. I knew other mascots went to the goal and had a kickabout with Steve Pears but I couldn’t move. I was literally scared stiff.
I have never been able to boo Titus Bramble with any degree of conviction for precisely this reason. I’ve been there, to his world, you want your legs to move and your head to meet the ball but your body won’t do what you tell it to. It’s not nice.
I eventually regained some composure when I realised that most of the crowd hadn’t come to see me, (Uriah still hasn’t worked that out). I took a deep cleansing breath, looked towards the Holgate and thought “This is it Guy, your big moment, your big chance. You’re the Boro captain, and you’re leading us out at home. This is destiny. Let’s roll!”. I could see there was an unattended ball 20 yards away. I could run on and take it on, easily go by two uninterested defenders, draw Pearsy and slip it inside the right hand post. I could already see myself wheeling away in front of the crowd with a couple of ironic cheers reserved for when the tapped lad scored from three yards during the half-time draw.
I put one foot on the pitch about to break off to the right and fulfil the dream when a large, heavy hand clamped down on my shoulder. It was the PR guy. “Come on son, photo’s now”. I was frogmarched to the centre circle where I met Vince and posed for photos with the captains and the officials. We shook everybody’s hand and we turned to go back to the tunnel. I still harboured thoughts of a quick breakaway to score when Darren Wood I believe, ran up to it and wellied it back to the dugouts. My chance gone, I slouched back up the tunnel. I could never bring myself to warm to Darren Wood after that.
My dad met me, camera in hand, and we walked up the steps to our seats. “Why didn’t you have a shot?” he asked. I couldn’t answer him then and I can’t answer him now. If I had told him that I was scared shitless I’d have got a backhand. Where’s the justice?
We sat down just in time to see the Boro go 2-0 down fairly quickly but in the second half we pulled it back to 2-2. We put the pressure on the Derby goal and I made a mental deal with the almighty. I’d trade my goal, my moment of Ayresome glory for the greater good. A Boro winner. A draw wasn’t bad but what was the point of being a mascot if you couldn’t inspire your team to victory? We pushed forward in numbers for a corner. I could sense that this was the moment. This was the turning point, when my very presence in the ground and leading the team out was going to bring the lads victory as certain as if I headed the ball into the net myself.
The ball drifted in from the right hand side, Otto rose powerfully and directed his header downwards. The ball bounced up and against the shin of a Derby defender. He swung his boot and cleared the ball towards halfway. It was now three against three as the whites shirts swung forward, moving the ball to the other side of the pitch. Red reinforcements were still arriving as the ball was delivered into the box onto the head of the diving, Derby forward. Pearsy was a bystander as it bulleted into the East Stand net and the Derby fans roared their approval. Five minutes later, my mate Trelford blew the whistle and we had lost. 3-2.
Despite the result, we still went and had fish and chips at Rooneys on Newport Road like we usually did when we won. We weren’t going to let a little thing like losing spoil our day. I got slaughtered at school on the Monday. I thought I’d get away with it but oh no, the plastic scousers and mancs sought me out to give me the full treatment. “Loser Mascot! Loser Mascot!”. Oh that still smarts.
The season petered out, we were safe, and despite their win, Derby went down at the end of the season and celebrated their centenary in the third Division. By the time I got the boro bug full-time, three years later, we had emulated them.
I hope to be a father myself one day, and whether they like it or not, my son or daughter will join me in the East Stand to watch us huff and puff against a mid-ranking midlands team and hopefully one day, they will walk out alongside Roary, pigbag blaring in their ears as they shake hands with Lee Cattermole and as they look around quizzically afterwards I hope they will remember my soft words of fatherly advice.
BREAK THE BLOODY NET OR YOUR WALKING HOME!