For Boro fans who are missing the Riverside and their match-day rituals, there is a treat in store this Christmas. Rob Nichols, editor of the Fly Me To The Moon fanzine, has put together an amazing book of fan stories.
This stirring and nostalgic collection focuses on fans’ first ever Boro match experience, and includes memories from fans, old and young, as well as some famous faces from Middlesbrough and former fan-favourite players. Due to be released in paperback and eBook on Friday 20th November, these stories have one common theme, a love of Boro through rain and shine, and that shall never end…
We caught up with Rob to find out the story behind the book, My Boro Debut.
My Boro Debut features a lot of people telling the story of their first Boro match experience – how did you collect so many stories?
It was lockdown and I didn’t want to disturb anyone over the phone just in case they had far more important issues to deal with so I looked through all my Facebook contacts, Twitter and email and fired away. There are many familiar faces from Boro home and away that I only know from matches so I could not always connect with them but after having been a regular for nearly fifty years, you realise just how many people you know with Boro in their blood. They are the kinds of people who in normal times you would bump into the street and the first and last comments would be to talk about the last Boro game.
Like me, so many were missing their game fix and so welcomed the opportunity to reflect backwards to better Boro times. Now that we are in Lockdown II, I hope that the book is once again helpful in getting people through and perhaps keeping the dream alive of going to matches through these memories.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
I have had the germ of an idea for many years. In 2000 we brought out a Fly Me To The Moon fanzine annual, the Millannual we called it and asked a few fans to share their memories starting with their first game.
It is a simple fact that everyone has a first game and everyone’s experience is unique. That game may well be all important in getting someone hooked. And it is so often a lifelong thing and as this book shows it doesn’t even stop there as it can be passed down through families. I was touched by how many people would start by saying that a parent took them to their first game and they were now passing the baton to another generation. That is a very special thing I reckon.
There’s a brilliant mix of stories, some with great in depth detail from one match, some that are a vague amalgamation of several possible first games. What is it that stands out to you in this book?
You know I had to try very hard not to mould anyone’s memories. Many people were very young for their first match and their memories are hazy. Look around at kids today at the game and their minds can wander and sometimes their feet too so little wonder that memories can be vague. But once I asked people to think about the whole day as an event, there were some wonderful details.
Gillie, you asked me what the Trackless was that so many took from Grangetown, Eston or Normanby Top. These could be the days when buses had letters on the front and maybe it cost a tanner to get in and a penny to drink some dirty-looking brown gunge.
Unlike first days at school, the person telling their tale is in their own bubble on their first match day. I can imagine them in their own Ready Brek glow while all around them everyone is following their ingrained routines on the way to the match as normal.
I feel privileged to have opened a window on so many special occasions.
A lot of stories are from when people were six, seven, eight years old… Do you think there is still that element of passing on a love of football to our younger generations now?
Oh I am certain of it, especially so after reading many of the stories in this book. I didn’t put any restrictions on what people could write and some took the opportunity to almost make it a family history. You can see how much the Boro is weaved into their family and their sense of place.
I think so many of us are proud of our roots and in a way fortunate to come from somewhere with a football club at its heart. For those that are exiles it can be the one thing that binds them to the Tees and brings them back time and again. There are second generation fans in this book born to Boro-supporting families but born far away from Eston Hills and the Transporter Bridge. Yet there was something inescapable about being a Boro fan. No matter what ridicule they might have suffered in a school playground in a distant county they had a birthright to uphold. Ha ha…
As editor of the Fly Me To The Moon fanzine, how have you been affected by the lockdown this year?
Like so many people this year has stopped me in my tracks. Just about everything I took for granted I cannot do any more. I have managed to keep the fanzine going through the hard work of so many dedicated people. Am so thankful to them and we owe everything to all those that have supported us buying the fanzine from our website.
But things are very different now. For starters before this year I had never ever watched Boro play live on TV, let alone a stream. I had never listened to a radio commentary of Boro since the 1970s when we were beaten 4-0 in a cup semi final at Man City and the experience absolutely traumatised me.
In fact I had not missed a competitive Boro match this century, home or away. My brother got married in the Far East in 1999 so I had to miss Boro v Southampton. Gary Pallister scored a great goal but I don’t hold a grudge, honest. Mind you, I took the next flight back so as not to miss any further games.
I used to regularly have bad dreams about missing a game, I would wake up with a jolt and then slowly realise it was only a nightmare, the game was not until tomorrow. Phew! At least I sleep better now.
How do you think football, and the Boro, will bounce back from this?
I really believe that community will be so important going forward. We have all been tested and everything we counted on as the norm has been turned upside down. I really hope and pray that there will be a day soon where everyone is able to go back to the ground together and share the experience again. Neil Warnock often says the game is nothing without the fans. We are all trying to keep it going but the day we all can return to the Riverside will be like our VE Day.
One aspect that really stands out in these stories is the importance of the social gathering of a whole community with one common goal, one common flag to wave and flock to. Apart from reading this book, how can fans connect with the Boro and each other now, during lockdown, especially on match days?
It is very difficult, isn’t it? We won’t take our match day rituals for granted any more. We would savour that pint in the pub or bag of sweets from a corner shop and perhaps buying a programme or fanzine on the way to the ground and swapping stories with the seller (we live in hope… lol).
Message boards have been very important this year. Just this week some of those posting on fmttm have said how much it has meant to them to be able to connect, comment, swap info and even argue in these most disconnected of times. People have come together in zoom groups, with fans even chatting with manager Neil Warnock on that platform and supporters groups presenting awards online. Footballers have come into people’s front rooms.
I truly feel for people without the technical know-how or access to wifi and hope that the more fortunate can help them in whatever way is possible. I know Ageing Better Middlesbrough are trying to hard to keep opportunities and community groupings going for over 50s.
As a fanzine editor for half my life now I have followed a path of allowing people to find their own voice and make their own statements with as little interference from me or any other middleman. I have worked with other editors and even written for other fanzines and publications that have a house style and they alter the words to fit. Nothing wrong with that of course but it was very important to me that this book contained many different voices. Memories written in the fans’ own words and sent by email or messenger. So, the book consists of lots and lots of personal fan records, with a few former players standing beside them to tell of their own debut experiences out on the pitch.
When we go back to the Riverside, look around the people occupying the seats near you, this book could contain their Boro backstories.
My Boro Debut, edited by Rob Nichols, can be pre-ordered in paperback at £9.99 online at https://6e.net/product/my-boro-debut/ or in eBook format on Kindle.
Paperback, pocket-size, 306 pages, RRP £9.99
Kindle eBook £4.99
Published by Sixth Element Publishing, November 2020
Cover photo by Paul Thompson westyorkshireimages.photoshelter.com
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