Rob Barron (Spikelangelo) - is mining nostalgia to unearth the days before the internet. If you can take yourself back to the world before we were serously dereailed on the 24/7 information supet highway.
Rob is the author of the superb and brutal break down of humanity at an academy/school - Xero Tolerance under the name Old Grey Owl - which is a highly recommended read. His blog is
Please do read this investigation of analogue Boro days.

For today’s digital savvy youngsters, the idea that you can find out about things you’re interested in virtually immediately is unremarkable. The slightest hint that things used to be different, leads them into a world as remote as Elizabethan England, a world that old people (anyone over 40) used to live in. It starts with expressions of disbelief, moves through horror and ends up at patronising fascination, like a kid in a Dinosaur museum. “What was it like?” is the wide-eyed unspoken question. “It must have been ****” is the unspoken, assumed answer.

Getting news from the paper, radio or telly. Using a library to look stuff up. Subscribing to magazines for specialist interests. All of these things were every day, normal activities for most of us back then. And it was especially so for our enduring passion, the mighty Boro. Nowadays, even schoolkid teams have their own website. Back then, news about the Boro outside of the Northeast was as rare as snow on Christmas day. And as eagerly looked for.

Looking back, it seems now like the realisation that nobody else in the country gave a toss about the North East was a part of that essential rite of passage for an embryonic Boro fan back in the Sixties, along with buying the Sports Gazette and going to your first solo game. In societies across the globe, such rites of passage exist to mark the progress of the child into manhood. The Masai warrior ventures into the desert to kill their first lion, and marked by blood, returns, fully inducted into the ranks of adult masculinity. (They also endure un-anaesthetised circumcision, with any cry of pain being a sign of dishonour, but here the analogy falls down. It might be different for Sunderland supporters, but not much research has been done on them as yet. No-one is brave enough to do the necessary fieldwork.)

My introduction to the mighty Boro was via my Dad’s cynical insistence that they were crap, beat the good teams and always lost to the others, and were none of them a patch on Wilf Mannion and George Hardwick. These names meant nothing to me, and his damning verdict on my new found passion was just another way of signalling my rebellion against the older generation (later followed up by embracing Led Zeppelin, The Clash, and then, in the ultimate act of betrayal, moving to London). He might have thought they were crap, but in my eyes that just cemented them as being worthy of devotion. And every trip to the Cathedral of Ayresome Park, with its emerald green altar, and the smell of Bovril and pipe smoke, reinforced my passion.

But the first seeds of doubt were also planted. Although the papers were full of reports and news about Boro (and, less interestingly, Newcastle and Sunderland et al), and Sunday afternoons on Tyne Tees TV held the promise of Shoot, with regular film of Boro games, the sneaky suspicion that Boro weren’t quite like other teams, began to grow. Firstly, it became increasingly clear to me that there was a hierarchy of power and esteem in the North East, and Boro were obviously thought of as the poor relations, the third of the big three. This was particularly true on Look North, where I got the distinct feeling that Mike Neville had never been to Middlesbrough and that he probably had people to do that sort of thing for him. (The whole regional thing was deeply confusing anyway. I never, ever, got why the North East, according to Look North, did that weird dog-leg west and included Carlisle. Was there some kind of Berlin Wall situation north of The Lake District, an obscure part of the Cold War settlement, a hidden clause of the Potsdam agreement?)

So, although it was exciting to watch the games on Shoot on Sunday afternoons, (and I can still remember the thrill of seeing my twelve- year-old self, in flickering black and white, in the Holgate at the West Ham, third round cup game, going absolutely mental when (Derrick) Downing scored his diving header), it didn’t, in the cold light of day, look like proper football, the sort that you saw, if you were allowed to stay up, on Match of the Day. It looked a little primitive, a little…agricultural. It was the camera angle. It was just too low, so even the most thrilling, one touch passage of play looked like kick and rush in the playground. This fed into my growing suspicion that, despite my devotion, we were strictly second division, second class, inferior. Perhaps my dad had been right all along – we were crap. This, I realised later, was also part of the Masai-like ritual of growing up in the North east, the development of an inferiority complex accompanied by a massive chip on the shoulder. It’s alive and well today, and one can often see it in the contributions to FMTTM.

Fast forward now to the glory days of Jack Charlton’s team. I won’t rehearse here the wonders of being alive to witness that adventure first hand. It has been well-documented elsewhere, and Erimus has kept that flame well and truly alive through his contributions to the board. Suffice it to say, that it’s all true, and there has never been a side to rival it, even during the first ten years of the Riverside experiment. Again, it’s hard for today’s youngsters to appreciate this, but part of the excitement of that promotion season, was the prospect (and it was only a prospect) of seeing them on Match of the Day. Back then there were only highlights of two games (not even the goals from the rest). Typical Boro – when we were finally scheduled to appear, it was in the dullest 0-0 draw with Newcastle, and the highlights managed to make even the legendary Graeme Souness look ordinary. Even our iconic strips (red and white chest band, blue and black stripes ala Inter Milan) were replaced, for some reason, with a ghastly washed-too-many times off-white top and black shorts. The players were probably also forced to wear Timpson Top Dogs as well, instead of flash Adidas, just to ensure that on our debut on national TV, we looked Strictly Social Security.

There was also the sense that Boro were being pigeon-holed as a dour, defensive team, in Big Jack’s own image. The national media either ignored us, patronised us or damned us with faint praise. This was the beginning of my much-developed Metropolitan bias theory. It comes from the same stable as the “Liberal Metropolitan Elite” conspiracy theory beloved of Brexiters, but with one crucial difference. Their theory is crap, without a single piece of evidence to back it up, whereas mine is true. So there. Far from being dull, the Charlton team was frequently thrilling in the first couple of years. The first twenty-five minutes of the legendary Leicester floodlights game, or at least until the meter ran out, remain the most dominant performance I’ve ever seen. Unless of course, nostalgia has lent my memory rose-tinted spectacles.

Fast forward again to 1980 and Boro had been a Division One team for several years. We could reasonably be regarded as established (I didn’t know it at the time, but that was not to last for too much longer). That Summer, I did inter-rail around Europe and found myself in Italy at the start of the season. My girlfriend and I had done the Grand Tour, and gawped at Art in Florence and Rome, gasped at the palio in Siena, and gobbled up the wonders of the ancient world at Pompei. But man cannot live by culture alone, and there was an even bigger itch I needed to scratch.

By mid-August the season was about to kick off and we had made it as far South as the Amalfi coast, after spending a hairy night sleeping on the concrete platforms of the station at Naples, fending off assorted prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, muggers and general low-life. It was a relief to escape that and flee to the world’s most glamorous and beautiful campsite on the cliffs overlooking the Med in Amalfi. Immediately after setting up our tent, my girlfriend finally succumbed to Montezuma’s revenge, and spent the entire day (and a couple more) confined to the tent, while I went in search of medication, like the dutiful boyfriend should. Except that, the second I was out of her improving orbit, I reverted to my baser instincts and did what every self-respecting Boro fan would do in that situation, I went to find out the result of our opening game of the season. Away at Man United. I reasoned that I had shown unparalleled restraint, given the fact that the game had been two days earlier and I still did not know the result. So, obviously, I used my inter-rail card and did a round trip of 130 miles to go to Naples and back, which was where I had seen, temptingly, rows of English Newspapers in the station. What a delightful trip it was! A scenic railway journey, a few ice-cold beers and quality coffees at a variety of cafes, with a Pizza slice or two thrown in, and a hugely expensive Sunday Telegraph to read. When I returned several hours later, my girlfriend did not seem at all interested in the Boro result. Or our relationship, which seemed to take a downward turn after that, for some reason. For the record, Boro lost 1-0. And I forgot to buy the paracetamol and dioralyte.
Part Two - will be released next week.

Rob Barron's blog is and is about culture, politics and education. Here are the links to buy the book Xero Tolerance. It's also available from Amazon and from Troubador on the links below: