Boro left back George Friend gave a phenomenal Man of the Match performance to rip Hull City apart at the seams. It had his boss, Tony Mowbray, christening him Robocop after a game in which Friend’s driving runs provided two assists and he also hit the cross bar with a header.
George of the Boro has become an instant hit, a real cult hero, since joining Boro in the summer from Doncaster. Last week I joined him as he tried out “street striker soccer” when he met youngsters from the Boro’s Kickz project at Hemlington Recreation Centre.
The defender joined the youngsters in a range of football-related activities to highlight what the Middlesbrough FC in the Community programme has to offer and to celebrate major improvements made over the last year.
Kickz is a football-based project that aims to reduce anti-social behaviour and crime rates in targeted areas by engaging young people aged 12-18 in constructive activities. The project also aims to break down barriers between young people and the police, encourage volunteering within projects and throughout the targeted areas, increase playing, coaching and officiating opportunities for participants and create routes into education, training and employment.
After his kick about I chatted to George about Kickz and his time at Boro.
Fly: Did you enjoy that?
GF: Yes it was really good. It was good to come down here and see what it is all about and its brilliant to see all these kids use up all this energy and having a good time.
Fly: It is a very worthwhile scheme I think.
GF: Definitely. It doesn’t take that much equipment which is good which means they can do this in a lot of places. The game kicking the ball through tyres is great. I quite enjoyed that; I might come down again for that. And then obviously all the football stuff as well. So it is really good. The work the guys are doing from Middlesbrough in the Community is really good too.
Fly: Have you enjoyed it since joining Middlesbrough.
GF: Yes I’ve loved it. I really like the north east and it’s a great club and I’ve been pleased that I’m playing so I can’t complain too much.
Fly: You are moving further and further north in your career aren’t you?
GF: Yes I know, I’ll be in Scotland next but hopefully not. Yes, what is it, Exeter, Wolves, Doncaster and now Middlesbrough. It wasn’t planned that way. I am very happy to be here. I had a chance to stay in the Midlands area (with Nottingham Forest) but it has been the right decision I think to come up here.
Fly: When you joined Middlesbrough in the summer you had two strings to your bow in centre back and left back. I don’t expect you imagined you would become first choice left back so soon.
GF: No. When I signed Joe was here and he was the no.1 left back but the manager said Joe is going to be injured so it’s you that will play and then of course he went to Villa. So I feel like I’ve taken my chance and I’ve really enjoyed it and hopefully I can continue to play well.
Fly: You and Joe have totally different styles.
GF: Really? I only played against Joe a couple of times last season.
Fly: You get into your stride and go galloping forward.
GF: I do enjoy going forward as well as the defending. I’ve played a lot at centre half in the last couple of seasons. So, it has been quite refreshing to get a bit of attacking in my game. I’m really enjoying it and of course I can go back to centre back. But I think at the moment the manager is seeing me more as a left back, yes.
Fly: And coming very close to scoring, maybe the closest yet away at Watford (he was to go closer still v Hull of course).
GF: Yes I know.
Fly: You could have gone down for a penalty when you were knocked in the box.
GF: Yes I know but I am not one to dive or stay down or all that gamesmanship to be honest. But I need to hopefully convert one of these chances because I am getting in the right areas. But I think I am joint top with Leads (Leadbitter) for the assists so I will take that at the moment. But I would like to score.
Fly: I’ve read that you enjoy playing a lot of sports and you certainly seem to have a lot of stamina.
GF: Yes I really enjoy all different sports; cricket, tennis, volleyball. I play quite a lot of volleyball in the summer, which is a bit odd but I really enjoy it.
Fly: We have obviously been introduced to a lot of different sports in the Olympics, a lot of hand sports.
GF: Yes. I like to try and keep fit generally. If I wasn’t a footballer I’m sure I’d be trying to play some other sport. So I really enjoy it.
Fly: And I heard you telling the kids that you were somebody that didn’t come through the Academy system so you are living proof that it is possible.
GF: Oh definitely. Just by playing locally. There are scouts everywhere, there are always people watching games whether it is at the top or in the Sunday Leagues where I started.
Fly In Devon, did you say?
GF: Yes, in Devon as well so not at all a football area. So I was very lucky as I was able to do A levels and things and then go into football after that. So it is possible to do your education and be a footballer. I think it is important for people to realise that as well. You don’t have to be coming through an Academy or start when you are 3 or whatever.
Fly: You are always the last off the pitch home and away going round applauding the fans.
GF: (Laughs) You notice a lot of things.
Fly: But that is obviously important to you. Everyone notices.
GF: Oh really. I want to show appreciation for the fans. Whether we’ve played well or not so well it is important to show appreciation as a player because they are there supporting you every week. And home or away as well, I don’t think it makes a difference. So, that’s all I’m doing. I’m not doing it for any kind of glory or anything. I’m just trying to show I appreciate them being there.
Fly: You were captain at Doncaster weren’t you?
Fly: As a captain you might have more of that kind of role as well.
GF: Yes. And I think it is actually through my parents because they come to a lot of the games and they meet a lot of fans and I end up meeting the fans through them and it gets you a bit closer to them and you realise actually what a fan has to go through to get to a game or anything like that and how devoted they are. So, having that insight has made me want to show my appreciation.
Fly: We have a very big cup game on the horizon v Sunderland. Are you becoming aware of all that means to everyone here?
GF: Yes I’ve been speaking to the lads because of course they played them in the cup last year and it is a massive derby game so I can’t wait. I love those kind of games. I think every player relishes them. So yes it should be good, I look forward to it.
Fly: When you played for Doncaster there were some good atmospheres generated when Boro fans came down there. We had better results of course
GF: Yes. They hadn’t been so good against Boro at the Keepmoat but the away fans for Middlesbrough are great. The first game of the season at Barnsley away there were loads of them there. And even before that at Hartlepool away in pre-season. And I saw all those fans there and I thought wow it’s a good club and they really do support their team. So it doesn’t go unnoticed.
Fly: I guess the thing for Boro and any team in this league really is to try and get some consistency.
GF: Yes I think for us we struggle because of injuries to get that consistent eleven or at least a consistent back four or front two, in their units but I think it still early days. Fly: With a lot of new players, like yourself.
GF: Yes we are going to take a while to gel. But I think we can get that consistency and like I say if we can just get a set team in. Of course the squad is really important. Then we should be alright.
Fly: Disappointing that Lukas Jutkiewicz should be injured again.
GF: Yes that is really upsetting. He is just scoring so many goals for us and important goals.
Fly: I was looking forward to Adam Reach being fit again and providing some extra width for him.
GF: Yes and I think Mustapha Carayol is going to be a bit of a miss as well because he is a real threat and I’m sure the fans were enjoying watching him. He is great to play next to as well because when I play left back it is great, you just give him the ball and let him do it. He is a good player.
Fly: And you yourself are you just relishing playing in the team?
GF: Yes and playing for what I consider a big club for this league. There are a few in this league and I really wanted to be part of that after Doncaster got relegated I really wanted to be in a Championship team with a good chance of going up and are a big club. I am loving it up here it is really good. Tony Mowbray is a great manager and the lads are really good as well.
Kickz runs four nights a week at three different venues:
Mondays – youth club and football at Acklam Green Centre from 6.30-8.30pm
Wednesdays – Football at Hemlington Recreation Centre from 6-8pm
Thursdays – youth club and football at Newport Settlement from 7-9pm
Fridays – football at Acklam Green Centre from 6-8pm
Kickz is funded by the Premier League Charitable Fund and Active Communities Network and supported by the Integrated Youth Support Services, Positive Futures, Cleveland Fire Brigade, Erimus Housing, Middlesbrough Council, Teesside University and the Army.
If you would like more information on Kickz, please contact Charlotte Dinsdale on 01642 757673 or email firstname.lastname@example.org