Apples and Boro

This interview with Teesside author, Richard Milward was originally published in fmttm’s Boxing Day issue v Blackburn Rovers.

We are very proud here at Fly Me to have made friends with one of the rising stars of the national book scene and even prouder that exciting young novelist Richard Milward is very definitely one of our own.

Richard and myself have chatted briefly before a couple of Boro games this season and I thought you would be as interested as me to get some idea of the fan background of this young Boro lad, born just 2 years before the seminal MFC date, 1986.

Richard cut his teeth and rose to prominence with two novels Apple and Ten Storey Love Song that were dripping in Teesside location, spirit and emotion. They were penned with such powerful sentiment that Richard has become a national hit and his newly published third work, Kimberley’s Capital Punishment is again receiving high praise all over the shop.

I asked Richard to give us a few words about his new book and then posed some Boro questions for him to chew over.

“Kimberly’s Capital Punishment is my third novel, a surrealistic story about a girl from Teesside who moves to the Capital and tries to enforce ‘unadulterated altruism’ upon everybody after feeling responsible for her boyfriend’s death. The novel has six different endings, and features cameos from such settings as Seal Sands, a graveyard in Guisborough, Marton, Bramall Lane, Heaven and Hell. It is published by Faber and Faber.”

Q: Can you remember anything about your first live Boro experience?

RM: Yeah, of all the initiations it was a 4-0 demolition at the hands of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. I think I was about eight at the time – my folks took me and my brothers down to London for the weekend. I remember being searched thoroughly by security on the way in. They probably found very little.

Q: How did you get to the match? And did it all make a big impression on you?

RM: Yeah, it’s a bit gutting my first experience was a drubbing, and having to sit in the Chelsea end on top of that. I remember being surrounded by cockneys chanting ‘going dahhhn going dahhhn going dahhhn’ and their sick chant turned out to be right. Didn’t put me off the Boro though.

Q: Were you someone that talked about Boro with your mates at school etc? Or was it a non Boro school?

RM: There was a real mix of different allegiances within my mates and, disgracefully, I tuned out of football a bit during secondary school. Not sure why, though it could be that I’d started writing, getting into music and all sorts else at that time, acting a bit reclusive. I guess teenagers juggle a ton of different interests, but football got sidelined for a few years, before coming back with a vengeance.

Q: Teesside and growing up on Teesside are so important to your writing – do you think of The Boro as playing a part in that cultural make up?

RM: Definitely. I mean it’s mostly down to the pride people have for the town. I think a football team helps bring that into focus. As a fan you’re not just striving for goals, points and trophies – you’re striving for the bragging rights, to say your town is unique, better than other peoples’ towns. I definitely try to milk that uniqueness of the Boro, especially in my first two books.

Q: Do you think you would have enjoyed the Ayresome Park and Holgate terrace culture?

RM: Yeah, I’m gutted I only made it there once, when we played Piacenza in the Anglo-Italian Cup. If I remember right, there was a scuffle in the second half and Wilkinson was sent for an early shower. I’m sure I’d feel even closer to the club if I was more aware of the events of 1986 – I was only two at the time. It’s inspiring to look back at what we went through.

Q: Who were the players that stood out for you as a kid? Who did everyone want to be when they were playing football?

RM: Paul Wilkinson definitely stood out – a class act. That whole era I hold dear – John Hendrie, Jamie Pollock, Kernaghan, Mustoe. That kit in particular, the ICI number, that conjures up a lot of fond memories.

Q: What games do you remember in particular?

RM: After that initial mishap at Chelsea in the early 90s, I’ve seen our boys do the business in London plenty of times – a few that stand out are the 1-1 against Arsenal a few years back where we got to exit the Emirates singing ‘four points from the Arsenal’, the recent-ish 5-1 against QPR, and most recently, 4-1 against Charlton. Back home, I loved the result against Southampton towards the end of last season – to send the Saints fans back to the wrong side of England without their automatic promotion was dead entertaining, even if our own promotion hopes were pretty much dashed by then.

Q: I know it must be frustrating missing games for your work but are you enjoying what you are seeing this season?

RM: Without a doubt. There’s always going to be calamities, missed opportunities etc, but it’s a joy to watch the football Mowbray has us playing when we’re in our element. It’s interesting what Leadbitter pointed out earlier this season, in that we have a handful of captain-like figures across the field –it feels like the most cohesive team we’ve had in a long time.

Q: I am doing this interview for the Xmas issue so can I ask you what you are hoping to get for Xmas – this could be a Boro answer or non Boro answer?

RM: ‘Momentum’ would be hard to wrap, but yeah, if the Boro carry on this spirit and approach well into next year I’ll be happy.

Q: What films/tv do you look forward to or even hide from at Xmas?

RM: There’s bound to be some Hitchcock on – I can’t get enough of Alf. I’ll be steering clear of the soap specials – it’s pretty depressing watching folk act out a synthetic Christmas that was probably filmed months ago.

Q: Do you think we can go up this season – perhaps a wish for New Year?

RM: I hope so. It’s the old adage of this league: anyone’s beatable. In any league the top two spots are so difficult to get into, but if we can string together more runs to rival what we did in October, there’s no reason why we can’t find ourselves there by May. Hopefully we won’t limp out of the playoff spots like the last couple of seasons – I’m hopeful we’ll make the playoffs at least, but I’m always blindly optimistic.

Q: Finally do you think that promotion to the Premier League could make a big difference for Teesside as well as Boro?

RM: Definitely. Aside from the obvious financial gains, I think it comes back to that pride we have up here again. In a way being in the Premier brings the town in the public eye more. It can only be a good thing, but then the Championship has its charm too, with its unpredictability.

Good luck with the book, Richard.




Aimee Willmott: Teesside Pride

Teenage swimmer Aimee Willmott proudly represented GB, Teesside and the Boro in the London Olympics before going on to medal at the very recent European Short Course Swimming Championships in Chartres, France. Aimee’s bronze medal in 800m freestyle is all the more a local achievement because the 19 year old lives, works and trains on Teesside.
Just after picking up her bronze medal Aimee stopped off at Marton Pharmacy to promote the NHS Tees Healthy Living Pharmacy launch, focusing on the dangers of alcohol excess in the build-up to Christmas. This launch featured Aimee, former Boro keeper Jim Platt and pharmacy staff all attempting to play skittles and hit a dart board wearing “Beer Goggles.”
Fly: Last time we spoke you were just about to step down your training going into the Olympics but how do you step it up again so soon for another major tournament?
AW: I had about five weeks out after the Olympics to chill out and not do very much..
Fly: And do the Middlesbrough 10k.
AW: Yes do the 10k that was probably one of my first weeks back in training when I ran that. So that was a good start to the season and then obviously I got back in and have been training since then. Its not too difficult to get up for something if you are really looking forward to it. And because this was the first meet of the season that was international I just wanted to give myself the chance of racing as well as I could.
Fly: And win a medal.
AW: Yes I was really happy to come away with the medal. I wasn’t really expecting it in that event. My aim was to maybe try to sneak a medal in the 400 individual medley, which is my main event but I am really happy that I managed to come away with a medal and that time in the 800.
Fly: I saw your Olympic swim on the big screen in Hyde Park and everyone was cheering you on.
AW: The atmosphere in the Olympics was brilliant. Obviously everyone was cheering for the GB athletes no matter what sport you were in or even if people didn’t know you they were just cheering for you. It was brilliant to be part of the Olympics. I will probably remember that for a long time.
Fly: I remember you saying how you were lucky to be around at the time of the London Olympics.
AW: Yes, if I had been born maybe two years earlier or later I probably wouldn’t have fit in because obviously the Olympics are every four years. To have an Olympic games in London when I was the right age and right time in my career is something special as well as lucky I guess.
Fly: What was it like going up to get a medal?
AW: It was brilliant at the weekend. It was my first medal and to stand on the block and hear even someone else’s national anthem, I haven’t done that for a long time probably since I was at junior level and won a medal. So just to experience that again was great and all the team in the stands were cheering for me and Hannah (Miley) who won a medal in the same event. So it was brilliant for both of us to be on there and I just really, really enjoyed the ceremony and the whole week.
Fly: A great reward for all the hard work and you obviously cannot go out binge drinking as we have seen demonstrated here.
AW: No. I am rarely ever out drinking to be honest because there is not much time. And even when I have some time off you are either too tired and it affects the next week’s training. So I would normally rather stay in with my friends and maybe watch a movie or eat some rubbish instead of drinking alcohol. So for that sacrifice to pay off when I’m competing is something else nice to know.
Fly: Can I ask you about your training because I was knocked out by how many hours you put in a week when I was talking to you before the Olympics.
AW: Since I got back from the Olympics I had my time off but when I got back in I’ve upped my training this year. I am still doing ten sessions a week but I’m doing 2 pilates and a gym session as well a week as well as Uni. So it has been a little bit difficult trying to get back into doing everything at once but obviously the work has paid off so far so I will probably just keep doing what I am doing and maybe try and increase the training load a little bit more later in the season.
Fly: Do you still train at the Neptune Centre?
AW: Yes I still train at Middlesbrough Swimming Club and don’t have any intentions to move away any time soon. So, I’m just training and living in Middlesbrough and at the Uni.
Fly: Talk me through a normal day then, how about today.
AW: Wednesday is the day I have a morning off, so I stay in bed, so it is lucky for me that I get to sleep in. Monday I get up for training, have some breakfast and go to the pool. Then go straight from there to pilates, which I do in Wynyard.
Fly: How long are you in the pool?
AW: Two hours in the pool. I get in about quarter to six and I get out about eight o’clock, so it is just over two hours. Then I’m at physio or pilates from quarter to nine to about ten. From there I come straight home. If I have got time I have a bit of a power nap. But I have to get up, have something to eat at about 12. Then I’m at Uni from 1 o’clock to 3 o’clock then I’m straight back to the pool. Then I’m 2 hours in the pool, then home for tea and I’m in bed. So that’s just one typical day.
Fly: What are you studying at University?
AW: I’m doing Sport Coaching. It is an exercise science so it fits in really nicely and I’m really enjoying it so far. At Teesside.
The course is really good I am on an elite athlete programme, with about ten to twelve other athletes at Uni, so it is really nice when I’m in the gym and sometimes they are in there. It is brilliant to be part of a little community away from swim training that are all doing different sports. I’m really enjoying the course, it is something different but it is something I am going to benefit from in 3 or 4 years, so I’m really enjoying it.
Fly: What is your next goal? Your next major championships?
AW: The World Championships are in July/August so I am training for them now back in the pool. The trials for them are in June this year so hopefully I can qualify then and the World are in July and so I’ll see what I can do when I get there.
Fly: And it is the 400m medley that you are targeting.
AW: Yes I will probably try for the 400m medley still because that is my main event but I might see if I can dabble in the freestyle now as I have come on a lot in that.
Fly: Aimee you are obviously a fantastic advert for healthy living and what can be achieved because of the way you go about life as well as training.
AW: Yes, if I didn’t have a good lifestyle and didn’t eat well and drink well and keep the weight off, obviously my competing wouldn’t be the same. So I think it is great that places like this are giving advice to help people lead a healthier lifestyle. They will feel better about it and be able to do more things than sit on the sofa and just watch telly.
Fly: And you are a bit of an inspiration to everyone, the fact that you live here, train at the Neptune Centre, attend Teesside University and have got no intention of changing that. And you can achieve all you are achieving using local facilities on Teesside.
AW: Yes the facilities in Middlesbrough are the same as any other. I don’t think it’s where you, I think it is the people you’ve got and the coaches you’ve got. The facilities at the Uni are good. I think everything just fits in really nicely for me being in Middlesbrough and I don’t see why there’s any need to move away while its all going so well. So I just think, stay here, train hard and just enjoy living at home.

(Photos – Tracy Hyman)

Aimee with Jim Platt wearing Beer Goggles

Bridget Christie – War Donkey

No blockbuster Spielberg War Horse but the wartime weapon that Col Gaddafi most came to abhor the War Donkey, was the title of this performance by surely the most likeable comic on earth, Bridget Christie. In the intimate setting of the Waiting Room restaurant in genteel Eaglescliffe the diners were charmed, rocked with laughter but also sent home with a few mule like kicks to the conscience.

Bridget Christie, regular panellist on radio 4s News Quiz and The Broadcasting House Show is the consummate performer and writer of lively, entertaining, thought provoking and most of all funny shows. She gently kicks back for women in comedy and women everywhere, even in vegetarian restaurants. This material has wooed audiences around the country, since Edinburgh Festival, although she did receive some stick from a Neanderthal reviewer in Bromsgrove. I would call him Bromsgrove man, a reference to an ancient skeletal relic once unearthed in Boxgrove, that would be a less funny and hardly as wonderfully contrived as Bridget’s often surreal approach.

Bridget is very contemporary but never predictable. She somehow gets from Louise Mensch to flatulence in Waterstones. It is not a direct link. But it all adds up in the end. In short the set-ups to her pay off lines are wonderful. You are left laughing as she somehow squares the circle.

When the low tech finale came crashing down due to CD player error it would have spelled disaster for many a performer but Bridget Christie rose to the challenge and turned adversity into a triumph. The winner of Funny Women Best Show Fringe Award 2007 and Chortle Best Breakthrough Act 2009 and no doubt many more awards to come. Bridget Christie, note down the name. You missed a memorable night at the Waiting Room but I’m sure you will not be left waiting too long for a return.

Robert Nichols


Boro Backing James Arthur – Bongo to X Factor Glory

James Arthur, from King of the Bongo to X Factor Final in eight months.

With the backing of the Boro squad and Boro manager he now faces his X factor final frontier and who knows where that path to glory might take him. At the start of the year he was bidding to win a battle of the bands and quite literally singing for his supper, this weekend the whole of Teesside is backing him. A win for Boro at Peterborough and James on the X Factor would make for an incredible double.

In a week where he made a glorious homecoming with mentor, Nicole Sherzinger, James Arthur is poised for superstardom, fame and fortune. He was blown away by an incredible homecoming in Saltburn and Middlesbrough. A packed out Town Hall roared the Saltburn singer through a short set building up to Homecoming Glory by Adele. How apt that song was. But eight months ago it was in an altogether different, more infamous venue where he was putting his music on the breadline.

James Arthur BongoJames was first on the bill in an epic Battle of the Bands at Middlesbrough most famed and infamous Club Bongo International. The competition had taken in two venues and it seemed like the best part of a year to complete. But not even a late, late cancellation of the final and a re-run several months later could prevent the talents of James Arthur rising to the top and scooping the top prize. Eight months later and the King of the Bongo is in the X Factor final and on the verge of being crowned King of the Pop world. It all goes to prove there is nothing so surreal as life itself.

Fans queued for hours in the sleet and rain to get tickets for the Town Hall show, they then queued for hours again to get to the front near the stage or just to cheer as his car drew up outside. The fans were joined by Boro players headed up by former England international Jonathan Woodgate presenting Boro fan James with a Boro shirt. And to everyone’s astonishment Nicole Sherzinger appeared on stage wearing her own replica Boro shirt, mini skirt combo to give James Arthur glamorous backing.

James Arthur has paid his dues singing in many bands, taking in many back rooms of pubs and clubs over the years. His friend Weam contacted a couple of their mutual friends and former musical mates to give us a few comments about James Arthur rise from the Bongo to X Factor Final. Oh and we also asked the Boro manager Tony Mowbray for good measure, thanks to the very kind Scott Wilson of the Northern Echo for that.

Former band mate Jamie Graham has been jamming with James since the age of 15. He was there at James first recording session in Hartlepool and has played by his side at weddings and christenings. Jamie has been knocked out by the response of the whole town this week.

“All of Boro have participated massively! There were banners and posters all over the place. There was constant backing from Radio Tfm! The Boro squad was there! Town Hall offering free tickets!

Everyone I know has supported him, Facebook, twitter going mental, everyone voting! Even making cakes with his face on! Sharing his music via YouTube!”

Has James changed at all I wondered in his performances or as a person. “There were no differences in his performances for me he has always been this good and I’ve always thought he was going to make it somehow.”

Best friend Michael Dawson said, “I couldn’t be prouder. I’ve seen him struggle with music for the best part of 10 years so to see it paying off now is amazing.”

But Michael was not at all surprised with James Arthur’s progress through X Factor, “I could believe it actually I’m like his biggest fan so I knew as soon as the judges heard him at Newcastle it was onwards and upwards. I’ve always believed he could achieve anything if he set his mind to it.”

But about that incredible homecoming on Tuesday, Michael revealed, “James has been gigging the local area for years sometimes to one or two people in a dingy club so to see the full town out in support blew him away.”

But what about that Sunday, eight months ago in the Club Bongo where James Arthur scooped a Battle of the Bands award. Michael Dawson recalled “I was there, he was panicking all day cos he was proper skint so all he was worried about was winning so he could literally eat, thankfully he did.”

What an incredible story from Bongo on the breadline to X Factor final all within the same year. And finally as I promised you some words of support from the Middlesbrough manager, Tony Mowbray.

“I think it is great for the area, we had Amelia Lily last year and this year James Arthur. I think we should just all be proud of someone from Teesside trying to achieve and do something and showing their talent and their quality.

I think from very early on he had almost a rawness about the way he sings and he is a bit different from the norm and I think there’s a potential niche there for him to bring that to the market place. Let’s hope he does well on Saturday/Sunday as he has done well for the last few months and we just wish him well. I know he is a Boro fan, a few of the boys have exchanged tweets with him. Hopefully he does well and we do well.”

Words Rob Nichols/David “Weam” Mohan

Photos Tracy Hyman

James Arthur Bongo

James and Nicole