Mackenzie Thorpe: Art Is What I Do

Just before Christmas I drove over to Mackenzie Thorpe’s gallery in Richmond to chat with the artist. He was about to sign copies of his new book at the Dorman Museum and was clearly looking forward to this hugely. It was a real honour to be asked by the Dorman Museum, he told me.

We followed this up by chatting about his life and his artwork. What followed was a conversation with Teesside’s most famous artist that I felt hugely privileged to share in. I was so surprised to find this most successful and very commercial artist Mackenzie Thorpe to be some modest, humble even and still filed with fears and doubts about his work.

I hope you find this interview as enthralling as I do.

My opening question was to ask Mackenzie whether nostalgia is the starting point for his work.

I am not purposely drawing nostalgia I am trying to work out who I am. And where do I fit in. So looking at myself in situ and then whatever idea happens or event happens in the world how to I draw that in a Mackenzie Thorpe way. Not the way of somebody else or to draw it in a way that it might fit in with fashion or through somebody else eyes. It is always my biggest challenge.

So it is almost like I have got to reduce it and then build it again in a Mackenzie Thorpe way. And when I say a Mackenzie Thorpe way I think that it hasn’t just got to have my perspective no but it has to have my full life perspective. So as the kid, the teenager…

Look at this picture. It is called The Champ, so it is obviously taken from the movie, The Champ. If I put a pair of boxing gloves on now I would be as useless as this kid. I don’t know how to fight. I have had about two fights in my life and got beaten in both of them. I am the person who will do anything to avoid conflict. I would let someone stab me a hundred times and say alright mate, it is like a wrong fit. It does not fit with me. So the violence of the world doesn’t fit, there is blood spilt but it doesn’t fit with me. So I’ve got to find a way of expressing that and drawing that the Mackenzie Thorpe way. So, I have to live it. By living it I am taking my nostalgia and then putting these words and phrases in my head to do with the thing that has happened into the Mackenzie Thorpe world and that’s how they come out.

So, I can draw like a photograph if I want to but that is not Mackenzie Thorpe. That is a skill. But how does Mackenzie Thorpe? But that is what makes me in a sense, successful, my niche because nobody can draw Mackenzie Thorpe. People draw Peter Bloggs or Mary Smith and I shouldn’t try and draw them. So, it is really hard sometimes to stick to your core.

You see a Mark Rothko, a stunning abstract that picks you up and throws you round the world twice and brings you back to earth and I go I should be doing that then. That’s why I shouldn’t be painting like this, so I go to work and I doubt it because it’s not like, I mean look what he did.. Is this really art? And then this voice says to me it is Mackenzie Thorpe. Be true to yourself.

It is really hard sometimes you turn the news on and this artist is really successful and getting all this praise. I could do that. I drew like this years ago, like this. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with that. To be the artist that I am and the man that I am. To be satisfied with the Dormans not the Guggenheim. I don’t need a phone call from the Guggenheim, the fact that I got a phone call from the Dormans is IT. So, it has taken me a long time to be happy with who I am. And it has been drawing who I am and learning from it that I can be happy with it. And my role is to do this. So, that is where I am in life. I look back only in a way where it is hard to look forward because I haven’t got much life left. I am not 27, I am 57. So, when I was 27 I knew I had 35 years at least. I can’t say I have got 35 years now, I can’t say I have got 20. I will be lucky if I get 15 and I will glad if I get 15 the way the situation is in life, So, I am looking backwards to draw on the truth. To keep it real. To bring it to now. So, I am not drawing the future. I am drawing the lessons that I have learned so that people can look and try and see if we carry on like this sometimes it is going to end up bad, The struggle might have changed, the shipyards might have gone but it doesn’t mean we don’t have the struggle because the other industries might go as well and then what comes back for that and what builds that up and how does the nest person get employed? And the next family live and grow? And the way society is developing. I see changes in the art world that.. wow look at that. But I have never turned a computer on and I have no interest in it. Not that I am a Luddite but I just like to use my hands. So all the drawings in here (Mackenzie’s Richmond gallery) are all done with my fingers..

Q: You are presenting people who did use their hands in shipbuilding etc.

MT: Yes, it is all about the labour and that is my heritage. So, I didn’t grow up to be a scientist.

I left school with no qualifications. I am dyslexic. I was severely dyslexic as a kid.

Q: At that time was dyslexia recognised?

MT: Not at all so you were beaten for it. So emotionally, physically and mentally it was really hard. Then the total expectations were you would leave school on Friday and start work on Monday. Breaking down boxes, that is what I did at Timothy Whites.

I couldn’t get in the army because I couldn’t spell. In a test they asked me for a Vertical Take Off Aircraft, so I wrote helicopter. He said, look at this… So he said you can’t come in the army. I was destroyed. I was sat around the Army Recruiting office on Borough Road crying my eyes out, what am I going to do then? Who is going to give me a job. And I just got these labouring jobs really but didn’t stop drawing.

Q: So would you say you found your language through art?

MT: The language to myself not to anybody else. It wasn’t a language of encouragement it was like a scratch, an itch. You have just got to keep on doing it. You don’t question why, you just keep on doing it and you hide it keep that to yourself a bit. So when I was in the shipyards I remember saying Oh look at that, look at that, isn’t it beautiful and just getting the mickey taken out of me. So then you stop using that language and I don’t know how I did it. I went through a mental part, of depression.

I was at night school at Bertram Ramsay school. A friend of mine, Adrian who I went to school with said why don’t you go to night school. I was on the dole. I got made redundant from Smiths. And he said go to night school, so I did. And I was drawing away and the teacher said you should go to Art School. I said I can’t go to Art School. Everyone else was drawing like postcards of Scarborough or photographs of lions and I thought that is not art. This is not an art class. I knew it was different to this, I didn’t know there was a different world out there but I knew it was different to this.

At the same time I was going through all this mental torment at, 19/20 years old. I saw Lust for Life, which I had seen as a kid. Vincente Minnelli movie about Van Gogh. But then when I watched it I recognised myself. So this nutcase who is getting stones thrown at him.

I made an easel out of an old chalk board that used to belong to my sister. I took the legs off that. I screwed a chopping board to it and then put two straps on from a haversack and I put that on my back. And my pencils and paints and stuff in a little carrier bag. I would walk up Marton Road to Stewart Park when everyone is going to work. And they would bib their horns and wind their windows down. And shout out “Oi Goya.” They were taking the mickey and I just kept on doing it. And then this movie came on (Lust For Life) and the same thing was happening it was dawning on me. Ah I’m one of them. This is why it is driving me batty because I am batty. And so I just kept on doing it.

This teacher said if you are not going to go to Art School then you should go to Kirby College. When I was on the dole they said I could go there for 11 hours a week and so I did. And he said, Richard Lazelle the teacher there said you should go to Art School. But I didn’t have the guts just to go. It had all been a negative, no you can’t.  I have said this story a million times all round the planet but I don’t remember walking from Kirby College to Green Lane Art School. Honestly, I have no recollection of it. I don’t know why or how. I don’t know. I don’t remember going to the front door. All I remember is going to a glass panel in the wall. It was totally empty, the foyer. I knocked on the panel. A women opened the window and she said, “Can I help you?” and I said “Can I be an artist?” Like can I be an electrician, give me a job. And she gave me an application form. And I sat on the cornfield at Saltersgill and filled it in.

And they were asking me questions and I couldn’t write the answers but I did my best.

Why do you want to come to the college? Because I want to be an artist. I was desperate. I had to be. And I got an interview. Which is the wackiest thing. I didn’t tell anybody. But then I got into the room and I must have taken about 500 drawings at least, I could hardly carry them.

And he said well you can’t come to art school. I said oh that’s alright mate because that is when you go down for an interview for a job and they say you haven’t got it. You say alright. I was used to that. I didn’t expect to get the job.

So he said, hang on. Didn’t you want to know why you can’t? Because you can’t spell. Everyone else in your class is 16, they have all got O Levels and they are doing A Levels. You haven’t got any qualifications. And he said you have to study art history and you have to write essays. He said I am going to get a cup of tea and he said get your work out. And I will never forget it and he said I will give you a critique. What’s that, like a blow on the head and it really frightened me.

He went out of the room. I was 20 years old and should have been more savvy but I wasn’t. I hadn’t lived. He came back with this plastic cup in his hand and I had just filled up the whole office, the floor, desk everything with all my work out. I had all my album covers too, Bob Dylan, Bryan Ferry, all that stuff. I had painted outside at Stewart Park at dawn and midnight. Hundreds and hundreds of drawings. And he said hang on and he turned and walked out.

He came back with another guy, Tom. Tom says I don’t care if he is from Mars he is in. And that is how I got into art college. And it all started from there.

Q: The quality of your work.

MT: It was the work. And the craziest thing is there are only two colleges in the country where you can do a BA and you don’t have to have any qualifications. So no matter how good I was a drawer, draughtsman, artist I could never go to the Royal College, I could never go to The Slade. I could never go to Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle. Nowhere could I go because I didn’t have an O Level English or Art.

And there was one college in London called the Byam Shaw. Tom wrote them a letter, got an application form. He took me out of all the group classes. I went in with the cleaners on a morning. Worked on my own stuff, worked in the college during the day stayed until the caretaker locked up at night time and I was drawing like crazy. And I got in in London. And it was Tom supported me to do that.

That was in my second year and I was even refused a place in Middlesbrough Art College 3rd and 4th year because I didn’t have qualifications. So, there were guys that I did the first and second year with went to Burlam Road because they had O Levels and I couldn’t go. I could draw like them. Tom said to me they are all good drawers but they won’t be an artist like you because they don’t have your imagination. And they don’t have your graft. I left school at 15 and started college at 20. I went at Christmas, I went in right through the summer. What do I want a day off for? It was 3 months off. I hated it. I went to college every single day in the summer, the cleaners were making me a cup of tea.

That is the Middlesbrough thing where you communicate with the cleaners and they will communicate with you. And they help you out and they did. Ken the caretaker he opened the door and locked the door for me. They were a massive help to me. And I was the first person in ten years to get into this college from the north east.

And then I had no money because I was on the dole and I was refused a grant because it is a private school. The only school in the country I could get in but it is private. So I get accepted and now this. The principal of Middlesbrough Art College took the grant people out for a dinner, more or less for a pint and said you have got to give this kid a grant. I got a grant. Without the support from this town and from these people it wouldn’t have happened. People go on about wealthy towns and be educated and the rest of it. My uncle spent £17.52 to buy the materials to start college. I didn’t have 72p. He took me down Linthorpe Road, bought me the materials. My mam and dad bought me a briefcase. I was the first person to go to college in our family. When I got into the Byam Shaw it was in The Gazette and everybody supported me along the way. You are not aware of it but they were all doing their little bit.

When I came back from London after the interview I was doing a night class with part timers, pensioners or just older people doing a hobby but that was an extra class for me. Tom wanted me to do all the classes I could do to get the training. So every night I was doing this night class with these people. I walked in and they clapped. Tom said you might not be patting yourself on the back but we are.

And I went away to college and did it.

And then years and years afterwards Tom watched me have a show in London and then shortly after that he died. Then a few years ago I was doing a documentary on the BBC and they said where would you like to go in Middlesbrough, we can get you anywhere. I said I would like to go to Middlesbrough Art College because I haven’t walked in there since 1979. Everyone had left and there was no reason for me to go. I had been to see Tom down Burlam Road a couple of times, that was it.

I went in and that guy who interviewed me and said I couldn’t spell came out of retirement to see me. Called Ken Young. He stood in front of the cameras and said he had never seen a student so happy then when he had a piece of paper or board under his arm. He always wanted to work, work, work. And the biggest accolade I have received from the academia, and I have been made a doctor etc he said if I have been one minute part of this then I have done my job. And that is a teacher talking. Off camera I cried my eyes out. It was the biggest accolade. This man, when I came into the room and he said Mackenzie Thorpe and calls me into the room with his monkey boots on, loons, a maroon art top and this and a beard down to his chest. A real art teacher and he said that about me. It was a bigger accolade than getting a doctorate, bigger than meeting the Queen. Because he was acknowledging who I was when I was 5 because I ran around with a piece of paper under my arm when I was 5 and I was only happy when I was doing it when I was 5.

Somebody asked me last night at an exhibition, you must be very happy, happy when you are doing your art.

I said when I am doing it there is no such thing as happy, or sad, there are no legs or arms, there is no gas bill, there is no sky, nothing exists just that and that is being a human being. So no I don’t think of anything, just do it. I stop thinking. But to create you don’t think. You just create.

Q: So where does it come from?

MT: I don’t know. A professor at the British Museum said to me that I am like a radio with an antenna. And he said God knows what you pick up, Japanese one minute and Russian the next. And he said it just goes through your body. That is one way of looking at it.

I have a need. It comes from a need. Just to do it. And what I realised and what I am starting to say when I do lectures is without art I have got nothing. It is who I am.

Q: But on the other hand your art means an awful lot to an awful lot of people, doesn’t it?

MT: Yes I know that but that doesn’t get past my skin. This person who gets told no. This person who was told how thick and stupid he is, hasn’t gone. So when I start to draw. I doubt myself so much and think the work is crap.

Q: Still?

MT: Yes but I go ahead and finish it and that’s why I question sometimes maybe I am not a good artist because that is better than mine. I draw something in seconds and I think well it would have taken him two years, so if it is not taking me two years does that mean I am no good at it. So I doubt myself all the time…

Q: You were talking about Vincent Van Gogh. He could do something in seconds.

MT: Yes, yes but then you don’t think it is real. It happened last night even. It happens all the time, people come up to me and say profound things. And it is not mine. Alright, my picture might have given them a springboard or reminded them. But it is not mine.

“You saved my kids life.” “No I didn’t put the nappies on your kid, missus. You were there at 3 am when he had the brain haemorrhage.” She said, “yes but I saw this in your work and.” Well fine. The word genius etc that is sh*te. I don’t accept it. But what I do accept is it motivates me because I find out that it exists and I find out I can do my job like a plasterer.

What, you want another wall doing, brilliant I will do it. I go to a show and it is sold out and there are 1000 people there. I go alright, so do you want to do another show next year? Yes, please. Job on and I go to work. It gives me a reason to go to work again. So I am not just drawing to stick it in the bank like I did most of my life. So that is the big change. As long as I am truthful and honest about it I have got a ticket to do anything I want. Don’t tell lies. Don’t rip anybody off. Don’t try and put something over on the public.

I’ve done my job. I’ve built the best wall I am a master brick layer. I made the best loaf of bread I am the best baker. It is my profession. It is not a gift. It is not for glory. It is a job. A job I do 9-5pm 6 or 7 days a week.  It is what I do.


Stephen McKenna, Wilf Mannion, Mima and the John McKenna Mystery

Ireland based artist Stephen McKenna is presenting his largest solo museum exhibition in over a decade at mima, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, an institution and town close to his heart. In the final gallery of the exhibition there is a small grainy black and white photo of Stephen’s relative John McKenna taken alongside Boro legend, Wilf Mannion. It seems to be a mysterious object amongst all the sweeping landscapes and townscape paintings. There is an amazing story behind it.

First back to artist Stephen McKenna his exhibition and links to Middlesbrough and Teesside. Stephen has strong family ties with the town after his grandfather moved to South Bank early in the twentieth century, shortly before the birth of Stephen’s father, James.

Stephen said: “I was a frequent visitor to the region as a child and young man. It’s a privilege to present my work in a place where I have such close connections. I still have living family in the area, two aunts a number of cousins, who’ll be coming along to visit the exhibition.”

Perspectives of Europe 1980 – 2014 features works from this period including paintings, drawings and watercolours of landscapes, cities and trees.

The exhibition which opened earlier this month charts McKenna’s response to living and travelling in a number of European countries. The resultant paintings, drawings and watercolours, made between 1980 and the present, reflect not only the cities, the landscapes, the people and the artefacts of the various countries, but also their history and the contents of their museums.

McKenna has had a base in Ireland since 1973 and is described by the Irish Arts Review as having a “classical approach to still life”, using timeless varieties of landscape, still life and interiors to comment on present issues. He has family connections with the Middlesbrough area. Members of his father’s family have lived in Middlesbrough since the early 20th century and he remembers first visiting the town as a child during the Second World War.

Specifically for mima, he has curated a selection of his drawings. For him drawing is an inherent part of his work – a way to order his responses and senses, like a diary. Although these may begin as sketches for much larger paintings, within the context of this exhibition they represent another side to the artist’s practice. They are his immediate response to a view, an experience.

At the exhibition I chatted with Stephen’s cousin, Daz Mendoza, a fellow Swift-tee runner, we often lap Hemlington Lake together on a Sunday night, although to be truthful I am usually a half lap behind Daz at least.

Daz told me the intriguing story behind the Wilf Mannion photo. A photo that I thought might possibly be taken at South Bank’s old Normaby Road ground. Possibly, maybe.

“John McKenna is Stephen McKenna’s and my father’s uncle. John went to St Peters School in South Bank with Wilf Mannion and they were mates. Mannion was playing for South Bank when the picture was taken in the mid 30’s.”

So that was before he signed for Boro, where he began playing first team football before the outbreak of World War II.

“John McKenna was on a Russian convoy ship that was sunk during the 2nd World War. He was picked up by a Canadian ship and stayed and lived in Canada. He was presumed dead. Two years later in the Canadian Merchant Navy he turned up at his sister’s house (my gran) in South Bank, which was a bit of a shock as his insurance had been cashed in by his family.”

Visitors can see the photo as well as the paintings and drawings in the exhibition which is organised thematically into four separate galleries, with gallery one containing portraits of cities; Berlin, London, Dublin, Derry, Porto and Selinunte, in differing states of splendour or decay. Galleries two and three will show interiors, studios, buildings and still life as well as landscapes, trees, rivers, the sea and ports respectively. Finally the fourth gallery is devoted to drawings and watercolours and the photo of Wilf and the lost and found Uncle John. There are also here some paintings; including portraits of people and animals, narrative figure compositions, and some quotations from art history and mythology.

Curator of the show, Alix Collingwood, said: “In our selection of drawings for this exhibition we have been careful to introduce new subject matter not seen in the paintings, presenting a unique insight into this less familiar part of McKenna’s practice.”

A partnership with Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, the exhibition features both national and international loans and will be open to the public until 7 June 2015 before then travelling to Hugh Lane in July 2015.

So do go down to see an amazing exhibition and pause for a little longer to look at a small picture of Golden Boy, Wilf Mannion next to a man that seemingly came back from the dead. Funnily enough the same thing almost happened to Wilf a few years later where it was wrongly reported in the press that he had died.


Local History: The Death of Captain Cook

236 years ago this Valentine’s Day, Captain Cook was killed at Kealakekua Bay in Hawai’i.

In January 1778, the crew of Resolution, captained by James Cook, and Discovery, captained by Charles Clerke probably became the first Europeans to visit the Hawaiian Islands, arriving to a warm welcome to the island of Kauai.

Later in the year, Cook visited Kealakekua Bay, on the island of Hawai’i, when the Hawaiians were engaged in a festival dedicated to Lono, their fertility god.

The circumstances of Cook’s arrival led the Hawaiians to attach important cultural and perhaps even religious significance to the visit. Cook was given presents such as highly valued capes and helmets, and was honoured by priests at an important holy site.

The Europeans were certainly given a celebratory welcome, with the Hawaiians providing the crew with gifts and willingness to trade. George Gilbert, aboard the Resolution, described how the crew were ‘supplied by the Natives with provisions, in the most plentifull and hospitable manner imaginable’. Cook himself wrote that King Terreeoboo ‘made me a present of two or three small pigs and we got by barter from the other people some little fruit.’

On February 4, 1779, the British ships set sail for the North West coast of America, on the next leg of their search for the Northwest Passage. However, they were forced to return to Kealakekua Bay a week later after a storm damaged the foremast of the Resolution. Their return was not welcomed in the same way by the Hawaiians. Their stay was tense and, according to accounts, characterised by thefts and mischief. This culminated in the theft of the cutter from Discovery. Cook decided to take King Terreeoboo on board his ship and keep him there as a hostage until the cutter was returned. During his attempts to take the king aboard his ship, tensions rose and a large crowd gathered as the islanders suspected that Cook would kill him, despite the king reportedly willingly joining Cook.

As reports came in that a chief had been killed on the other side of the bay, the crowd became anxious and restless. Upon being threatened by a warrior, Cook fired two shots, and killed him. Fighting broke out. Cook turned his back to communicate to the boats, and Gilbert writes in his account: ‘One of the Chiefs more daring than the rest steep’d behind and stab’d him betwixt the sholders with an Iron Dagger, another at that Instant gave him a blow with a club on the head by which he fell into the water; they immediately leapd in after and keept Him under for a few minutes then hauld him out upon the rocks and beat his head against them several times; so that there is no doubt but that he quickly expired.’

Four of Cook’s crew and around twenty Hawaiians were also killed in the skirmish. These were Corporal James Thomas, Private Theophilus Hinks, Private John Allen, Priavte Thomas Fachett.

Following Cook’s death, Clerke took charge and completed the repairs to the ships. In accordance with Hawaiian culture, the islanders treated Cook’s body with great respect, in a ritual usually reserved for the highest elders and chiefs, including cleaning his bones and removal of the flesh, and kept at an important holy site by the Hawaiians. Those that were returned to the crew were given a formal burial at sea on the 21st February 1779, complete with full Royal Navy honours, flags flown at half mast, and a salute of cannons fired.

Image: Bartolozzi’s engraving Death of Cook based on drawing by John Webber ©


Boro on The One Show

A couple of weeks ago I received an email with an invite attached. Well, it was a kind of invite..  There was some good news and there was some bad news. The gist of the email was you are invited on The One Show next Monday as a fan rep of Middlesbrough to take part in the 5th Round FA Cup draw, the bad news was that the invitation would be binned if Boro failed to win the 4th Round FA Cup game at ManchesterCity. It was very short notice, the Thursday before the game but would I be interested? Yeah why not, it should be fun but and it was a very big but, I didn’t really believe I would be travelling to London. It was an easy decision to make as ManchesterCity away, come on…  that is not going to happen. Is it?

I told a few people about the possibility and like me everyone of them laughed. A fleeting chance of fame that would surely be snatched away in the blink of an eye at the Etihad. Of course ManCity had made hard work of seeing off our fellow Championship side, Sheffield Wednesday in the last round. But like seemingly every other Premier/Football League tie in the 3rd Round the top tier team triumphed in the end, class and fitness counted in the end, all coming good in the second half.

On the morning of the City game I was in Henry’s café at Stewart Park and overhead a sports journalist graduate sounding off about how the FA Cup was now a joke. It was like seniors versus juniors. A total mismatch. The Premier League was now poles apart. He best go back to lectures then..

The 4th round of the FA Cup contained some of the biggest upsets in the whole long and glorious history of the oldest football competition. Boro were only gazumped by Andy Halliday and Bradford’s heroics. What a sensational day. Boro’s amazing victory at ManchesterCity brought back incredible memories of Schwarzer’s last minute penalty save to clinch European football.

What a season. What a manager. What a team. How could I have ever not believed?

And so suddenly I was bound for London and The One Show. All travel expenses met, though I would have to pay up first because I hadn’t done any pre-booking. The One Show: no chance.

First get your hair cut from Adrian at the top end of Borough Road, tell him on no account must he carve LUFC into the back of my head. Then jump onto a train. But what is this a request from The One Show to bring down a Boro pennant to exchange, like captains. I haven’t got a pennant and if I go to get one I will miss my train. I email them and by the afternoon it seems the pennant idea has been sacked off.

I arrive at New Broadcasting House as requested for 4pm. Where I find out I am a Super Fan. This stands me apart from any other fans that might be turning up to lend support at the draw.

I am seated in a Super Fan green room where I meet supporters from all the other clubs involved in the draw as they gradually filter through the door. Two club reps are missing however, Man United and the star turns, BradfordCity. Oh dear.

At 5pm we were moved outside and the rehearsing started in earnest. We stand in line for our number at the draw. I learn that Boro are 16 so I have to go right to the end next to West Ham. Still no sign of Manchester United but eventually Bradford shows up. I am surprised to see Super Fans from Stoke and Rochdale. Surely no “Super Fan” would be on The One Show rather than actually watching their teams go head to head in the cup replay happening that very night. The lady from Stoke, actually appears to live in London and is waiting for a replica shirt to arrive from her club. She doesn’t own one herself. It all seems a bit less than “Super” to me but then she does know Anthony Emmerson and has great things to say about their new fan liaison officer since his transfer from Boro.

I am very surprised when the Stoke fan is singled out for an interview on camera. The Blackburn fan looks every inch a character and probably a long serving guy. Maybe I am misjudging, she might have a very good story to tell but she actually talks so long to camera live to Matt Baker that there is no time to come to the third prospective interviewee, the Cambridge supporter.

For a couple of hours we are shuffled about, practicing shaking hands as the balls are drawn out of the bag by Gary Lineker and Alex Jones. We then have to move off to special spots designated by a red cross. A cross we move several times at the insistence of the production team. Who admits he is not a football fan and doesn’t totally grasp the concept of cup ties. One of the tv team is asked by the cheeky chappy Liverpool fan that when we shake hands can we kiss any lady fans on the cheek. Oh trying to build your part, he laughs in reply. Gary and Alex are sitting inside in a nice warm studio next to the shining cup. We are standing outside in the perishing cold but we are allowed cups of tea and we can keep our coats on most of the time.

There aren’t many minutes to go now and assistants come round and stick team name tags on the Super Fan shirts, telling us that should anyone interview us on camera to be brief and clear. We have to take our coats off now. The Fulham fan isn’t cold. I am. I am from the north we are not used to this London Winter weather.

We now have to practise cheering for the start of the show. The start that suddenly comes round and there we are cheering to the cameras. Hello mam etc.

We watch the show on monitors and watch the pointers of the giant church clock slowly turn around towards 7.20pm. Our big moment. Will Gary drop any balls again as he did in rehearsal? Will the Man Utd fan show up? Who will Boro get? A home draw please.

Of course the Man United fan turns out to be none other than Christopher Ecclestone. Boro got them in the rehearsal. Same again and the tv star would be consolation perhaps for a rotten draw. I immediately get lots of texts, get Dr Who’s autograph. But my phone is turned off. I am a professional Super Fan after all. Then we are standing for the draw and a naughty CrystalPalace fan, not a Super Fan has moved out of position and is standing almost in front of me. He better not try and take my place in the draw.

Then of course we get the draw Arsenal v no.16 Middlesbrough. Nightmare. Unbelievable. Oh think about the cameras. Take your hands down from your face. Stop shaking your head and shake hands and then walk to the mark.

Before you know it the draw is over. The show is over and straight away everyone has gone. And I am in a taxi. And I never did meet Matt or Alex or Dr Who. There was no time to speak on tv. Just a long journey home to reflect on an exciting experience and a woeful draw. And yes many people have recognised me since. “You went all that way to shake a hand?” Yes. But I was representing my club.

Come On Boro

P.S. I haven’t been invited down again for the 6th Round Draw but fingers crossed Boro make it through v Arsenal this weekend.


Local History: Tees-side Battalion at Marton Hall

Today marks one hundred years since the first batch of soldiers from the Teesside Battalion arrived at Marton Hall.

By the end of 1914, it was suggested that Middlesbrough had many advantages that would make raising a local battalion successful. It was believed that a ‘Tees-side Battalion’, although not strictly a Pal’s Battalion, would be met with enthusiasm, as those who joined would still do so amongst family, friends and colleagues.

The battalion would consist of 1200-1300 men, billeted at Marton Hall, leased from Carl Ferdinand Bolckow.

Marton Hall had been built in 1853, and was the home of Henry Bolckow. It stood in what is now Stewart Park, and was recommended as the ideal location for billeting based on its location and size. Alterations such as the provision of heating meant that it would comfortably hold over 1,000 men.

The hall proved to be the perfect choice, with the soldiers finding their time in the training unit to be both comfortable and enjoyable. 550 men and officers would sleep inside the hall, whilst the rest, ordinary soldiers, would stay in the specially-altered stables. They were allocated four blankets each and given beds, rather than sleeping on floorboards. Each evening, the men would attend a thirty-minute lecture, and would afterwards enjoy free time. Saturday afternoons and Sundays were also free after church parade.

Anxious to ensure the soldiers were comfortable, The North-Eastern Daily Gazette reported on the conditions of the hall. The newspaper described how the battalion had ‘made an excellent start’ with ‘good officers, fine quarters, healthy surroundings …splendid equipment, plain well cooked food and every provision for the comfort of the troops.’ They noted how the location of the hall was also beneficial, providing ‘a gratifying change for the soldiers, as most come from industrial areas.’

The battalion saw out their time at the Hall with very few issues. However, one trainee from South Bank died, following a short illness, with a Coroner ruling no negligence or fault in the medical care available to the soldiers.

The battalion was scheduled to leave the hall in April 1915, although this was pushed back until the conclusion of a recruitment rally at the end of the month, meaning the 1,040 soldiers remained in the training unit until their move to Gosforth on 10 May. Having completed their training by the middle of May 1916, they set off from Southampton for the Western Front on 1 June. In 1958, after much deliberation, it was decided that the hall would be demolished. However, in 1960 the hall was burned down, and Captain Cook Birthplace Museum now stands on the site.

This and other stories about wartime Middlesbrough can be found in the ‘Middlesbrough and The Great War’ exhibition until 6 April 2015, Dorman Museum. Admission is free. Also in Middlesbrough: Remembering 1914-18, by Paul Menzies, published by The History Press and available from the Museum Shop, £12.99.