It is very nearly 20 years now since John Hendrie scored the final league goal at AyresomePark. It would be a goal that would ultimately clinch promotion to the top flight. A promotion that would be celebrated in a brand spanking new gleaming white state of the art ground. The Riverside was like our own mini Wembley. The great Gillandi described the scene on our first game v Chelsea as everyone swan necking, hardly able to believe the view. It was a brave new age we were embarking upon. Yet football and following a club is based upon tradition and collective memories and 20 years on those memories of Ayresome Park absolutely refuse to fade away.
A whole generation never experienced standing on The Holgate, after perhaps peeing in the open top bogs and queuing for half an hour right down Addison Road, barking at the club for being tight and not opening all the turnstiles again. Of course the decision to have that last pint in the Yella or the Red Rose was neither here nor there.
There were some incredible, heady times. The devastation of a few relegations, the ecstasy of promotions. Great players, Mannion, Hardwick, Camsell and Clough. There was Fenton, Williamson, Spuhler and Ugolini. And then from my generation Charlton’s Champions and later Bruce’s babes, rising from the Ashes of liquidation. Big stories. Our stories.
Ayresome Park was of course a World Cup venue, hosting one of the greatest shocks ever to ripple the status quo of international football, North Korea defeating the mighty Italy. It was famed for its fantastic pitch. And woe betide anyone who tried to tread on the turf between matches, groundsman Wilf Atkinson would have your card marked.
So many Ayresome Park Memories are contained within this volume. The times and testimony of players and of course the supporters. Many of the great games over the years are recreated in words and pictures. There is even an update about life after football and the sculpture trail that commemorates past Ayresome glories.
If you haven’t got this book in your collection already you really do need it. If you bought the first version then it must be very nearly worn out now after 20 years of furious thumbing. You need a replacement. There are some new features in any case with a foreword by the final scorer, Johnny Hendrie.
To many eyes this is THE definitive book for Boro fans. The story of old Ayresome, our home for nearly a century. Rightly described as “a peerless book that takes Boro fans on a fascinating and nostalgic journey back through the history of their club in the 20th century.”
Backed by The Gazette and lovingly compiled by Mr Memorabilia himself Long John Wilson the old Boro scribe Eric Paylor – a mere £14.99 – has to be top of everyone’s list for Christmas.
I joined the queues in WH Smiths, Middlesbrough as Ayresome Park Memories 20th Anniversary edition was launched. Queues that snaked around and outside the shop. At the head of the queue sat John Wilson, Eric Paylor and mine and I’ll bet nearly everyone from my generation’s favourite player, Big John Hickton.
John had just celebrated his 70th birthday and as he tells us in the interview that entailed a family gathering with some golf thrown in. John is still playing off a handicap of 10. This is so typical of a quiet, humble, family man off the pitch but a fierce competitor on it. Just pause for a moment to look at John Hickton’s vital Boro statistics.
Third highest appearances for Boro – 458 (24 sub) in total and 395 starts in the league. Loyalty.
Fourth highest goalscorer in our history 159 in the League and 185 in all competitions – consistency. He scored 6 hat tricks for us. He was top scorer for an amazing 6 seasons in a row. He then topped the charts again for us in the top flight in 1975-76 with 13 goals. No wonder every schoolboy wanted to be John Hickton in playground games. No wonder they were still queuing up round the block over 35 years after he left the club. Truly a Boro legend. And chock full of Ayresome Park Memories.
Fly: You celebrated your 70th birthday recently I believe.
JH: Yes, it was very nice. I had a long birthday, 3 days golfing at Slaley Hall, Northumberland with about 20 others. I went out with daughter and son for the actual day. Also I had a game of golf down near Derby which we won; we came first in a competition. So it was quite a nice birthday.
Fly: It must be nice to come back and meet so many people here who remember you well.
JH: It is like my home, Middlesbrough, I actually love it. My daughter was born here. There is a reason to come back. The fans treat me fantastic when I do come back. I have got some very happy memories of AyresomePark. That is why we are here Ayresome Park Memories book launch and it is appropriate because I had great time there, 13 great years.
Fly: It is amazing to think it is 20 years now since AyresomePark was the home of the Boro.
JH: Yes it has gone pretty quick. They picked a new ground, the Riverside it is a good stadium. But for me you will never beat AyresomePark. The pitch was fantastic and the atmosphere you used to get there was brilliant.
Fly: What sort of memories to people have of you at Ayresome?
JH: They remember certain goals. When I scored in the FA Cup against Man United. They say it was the best goal you ever scored. And people say you were one of the best players that ever played for Middlesbrough. Which is nice to hear all those years later. It is a long time since I have been away and people still remember which is nice.
Fly: People must recall with you the two penalties…
JH: Against Sunderland? They all remember penalties I get that a lot.
Fly: You took an incredibly long run up but you told me that you actually kicked it with your instep when you reached the ball. Is that right?
JH: Oh yes. What I tried to do was to build up tension by taking a long run. It did work. There was nothing wrong with it. I basically tried to intimidate the goalkeeper. Make him think about it.
Fly: He had a lot of time to think about it as you were on that long run in. But for a lot of forwards they can suffer with too much time to think about it when on a one on one with the keeper. You were turning the tables there, then and putting the pressure on the goalkeeper.
JH: Oh yes I would like the goalkeeper to think about and wonder where I was going to put it. I picked a corner. It could be either side and I just side footed into that corner.
Fly: Is that the important thing not changing your mind.
JH: Yes, sticking with it. Even if he went the right way he never really stopped it. I put it really in the corner with power.
Fly: You were strong in the air as well and brave.
JH: I could do most things. I wasn’t intimidated. I had a good header and I have got two good feet as well, left and right.
Fly: It must have been a great feeling for you having played all those games and scored so many goals in the old Second Division to finally get promotion under Jack Charlton into the top flight.
JH: When I was at Sheffield Wednesday we were in the First Division when I came here they were in the old Third Division. It took me eight years to get back in the old First Division but it was worth it in the end. I think the supporters appreciated as well.
Fly: It was a very good team that went up.
JH: It was, yes. Excellent.
JH: But it was a hotbed of football in the north east and that is the reason I came to Middlesbrough. For me they were the best club in the world, still are and always will be and that is really why I came.