You may have seen Boro fan Nick Waites in the news recently, the car he was travelling in was involved in a big accident on the way back from the Derby away game. Thankfully all passengers and driver stepped from the wreck virtually unscathed. Nick had to pass the scene of the crash just one week later en route to Burton.
It was the first major accident the Chartered Accountant had been involved in watching Boro and DerbyCounty was his 953rd competitive Boro game in a row. For just like the Ayresome Angel song, super fan Nick never misses a match. The last Boro league match he missed was back in 1992. He hasn’t missed any competitive Boro game since 1997. His record puts mine firmly in the shade.
We are now celebrating 20 years at the Riverside and Nick has been there all the way through and far more besides. A great time then to ask him to share a few of his memories as a Boro fan.
Fly: What memories have you got of your first games?
NW: I actually cannot remember my first game which was some time during the 1966/67 promotion campaign aged 5, but the first game I can remember was the famous promotion wining final game of that season against Oxford with the fans sat around the outside of the pitch. I was sat in the South Stand at Ayresome with my dad who I went with until my university days when I migrated into the Holgate.
Fly: Who were the Boro heroes/favourite players for you when you were growing up?
NW: My favourite player from the 60s/70s was Graeme Souness followed by Big John Hickton. I still see John on his visits to the Riverside, a really nice guy.
Fly: Do you have many fond memories looking back at the AyresomePark days?
NW: I think everyone who grew up at AyresomePark will have fond memories of the place, although I am sure that our memories have chosen not to remember certain aspects. Who that experienced them will ever forget the smell of the Holgate toilets?! On the other hand, the Riverside will never have that welcoming smell of Bovril that was unique to AyresomePark.
As I said, I started off for the first 15 or so years in the South Stand and then spent the next 6 years or so in the Holgate before moving to the North Stand. Who that was there will ever forget that last game and the sea of red and all the players of years gone by walking round the pitch.
Fly: Your incredible run of not missing matches started way back in the 1990s. Was it deliberate and premeditated at the start ie did you decide not to miss any games for a season or did you just find yourself going every week?
NW: It is quite funny really as prior to 1992 I was far from an ever present and went to probably not many more than the majority of away games. I still however vividly remember standing in the Fairfield Pub in Stockton with a good friend of mine in the summer of 1992 when I said that I was going to try to do as many of the games as I could the following season. 23 years later … It became a drug a lot of years ago.
Fly: It was the 20th anniversary of the 1st game at Riverside recently. Were you saddened by leaving Ayresome or elated to be going into a brand new state of the art stadium? Or both?
NW: I must admit that I was initially against the move. Looking back however, I am not sure whether I was influenced by Colin Henderson, the chairman at the time, who I used to do some work for who obviously was against the move and ultimately lost the power struggle with Steve. Thankfully.
I wasn’t one for visiting the building of the stadium regularly, but I can remember being struck by the size of it when the stands started to go in. Was this really for us?
Fly: Can you recall the first day/game at the Riverside v Chelsea?
NW: I cannot remember much of the game other than the goals, but I can remember the iconic scene that was captured in that photograph which is often used of the teams coming out, like it was yesterday. I also remember arriving at the game, never having been inside the ground previously to be shown to the restaurant that I was in and being told that due to the sprinklers in the kitchens being activated during the night, no food would be served. The good news to compensate us was that it was a free bar all afternoon.
Fly: They were incredible days those first two seasons at the Riverside. Could you quite believe what was happening on that amazing emotional roller coaster?
NW: They certainly were. You still wonder how we managed to sign the Brazilian player of the year and the scorer of the previous season’s winner in the then European Cup Final. Incredible really, but sadly with the money in football, something I suspect future generations of Boro fans will never experience.
Those two years were however tinged with a lot of sadness as a result of my dad’s deteriorating health. I managed to get him to the Coca Cola Cup Final at Wembley, although it was a great struggle and it wasn’t until 6 days before the FA Cup Final that he finally decided that he wasn’t going to be able to make it.
Sadly, he passed away two days after that Cup Final. My mum was watching the game with him in the Butterwick Hospice and she told me that he lost consciousness within minutes of Di Matteo’s early goal and never regained consciousness. As if after 50 plus years of watching the Boro he had given up. Again, quite ironic that on his death my then 7 year old son had been to more cup finals than my dad.
Fly: A few years on and we finally won a cup at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Was it extra special after all the miles you had travelled watching Boro?
NW: Every Boro fan there will never forget that day. I don’t know why, but I had no thoughts of getting beat. It was going to be our day and so it proved. I don’t think it was any more special for me than every other Boro fan. We were just privileged that it happened in our lifetime and we have a lot to thank the Chairman for.
Fly: The Europe years – there must have been a few difficult trips to get to destinations in Greece etc?
NW: Xanthi was obviously the one that stands out after both Flight Options and the club trip got cancelled. I drove to Sedgefield, got picked up in a taxi to NewcastleAirport followed by a holiday charter flight to Thessalonica. My friend’s PA had worked out train and bus times from there, but we ended up getting a taxi straight to Xanthi. The whole of the European adventure was surreal and the away games came so thick and fast. We played 64 games in that one season.
Fly: I haven’t missed a match myself since 1999 so I know there can sometimes be big sacrifices made in making all the fixtures. Like me, I believe you missed a game for a family event but can it ever be difficult making fixtures?
NW: My record does not stand up to yours in any way other than for consecutive games, but we share the fact that the last league game missed was for our brother’s wedding. I guess yours wasn’t however as spectacular as the game I missed at Molineux in May 1992 when we got promoted to the inaugural Premiership. (Your record is far, far longer than mine Nick – Editor)
In terms of competitive games, again family reasons as my daughter was in hospital when we played away at Hereford in 1996. It can obviously be fairly difficult and I have been to a few weddings where I have missed the reception and gone back on the evening.
Holidays are of course arranged in the close season and international breaks and then there is illness. The worst was a couple of seasons ago when somehow I managed to get to Leicester on the train 5 days after a hernia operation. I was in agony all day, but the hospital did initially offer me an appointment for the operation on a Saturday morning so I guess I have to be grateful.
Fly: Last season we lost at Wembley again but did you take any enjoyment at all from the event or would you prefer we never see that stadium again?
NW: That game was 100% about the result and nothing else was relevant. It was obviously very disappointing that we didn’t turn up, but our away form since Xmas had not been that good, especially in scoring goals. I cannot however wait to get back to Wembley provided it is not a play off game as it will mean we are either in the FA Cup Semi Final or the League Cup Final.
Fly: They were two big results I thought at Burton and Sheff Wed. Do you think they could be important in seeing us on our way this season?
NW: Just as I didn’t think the BristolCity game would change the season, I don’t think these two games will have a significant impact other than obviously the 3 points and the place in the next round of the cup.
The Championship is a real slog both for players and fans alike with games coming thick and fast. Thankfully however fans don’t ever get rested, unlike the players. There will be good performances, average performances and bad performances. It is all about minimising the latter.
Fly: Are you hopeful about us going all the way this campaign?
NW: Technically the Championship is a long way behind the Premiership, but I think we have the players who should be good enough. We learnt last year that scoring goals is important and hopefully we have learned that lesson. Another addition or two to the squad will be useful and who knows what will happen with Albert. (This was done a day before the transfer deadline.) Automatic promotion has got to be the aim and the Chairman has given the manager sufficient ammunition to get us there.
I am still not totally convinced about the resting of players, especially as soon after the start of the season and the rigidity of always playing the same formation.
Fly: What would you say is the best team made up of the players you have watched for Boro? And who would manage?
NW: A very difficult one comparing players of different eras when the game has changed so much, but possibly:
Craggs Southgate Boam Ziege
Emerson Souness Armstrong
I guess the manager would have to be our most successful manager ever, Mr McClaren. I don’t think even ManchesterCity could afford that team.
Fly: Have you a favourite ground or game visited and a favourite away trip?
NW: I don’t really have a favourite ground, but maybe the ground where I have never seen us get beat at, the Millennium Stadium Cardiff, is as good as any.
Fly: How many miles do you think you might have travelled even recently watching Boro? It must have cost a couple of quid too, being an accountant you probably know this all too well.
NW: Somebody recently estimated that from 1992 it would be in the region of 200,000 for the league games alone (which is quite scary when you think it is more than 8 times round the world). However, if you then throw in cup games, including Europe, who knows. One day I might try and work it out.
A quick plug here for the FSF “Twenty is Plenty” campaign. The sooner the clubs see the benefit of this the better.
I have been fortunate over the years to have known a lot of players who have given me away tickets for the majority of the 23 years, but I wouldn’t like to start to think what it has all cost.
Fly: You are a trustee of the Finlay Cooper Fund – what fund raising events are up and coming? Can you tell us something about the kind of children’s charities that have been benefiting.
NW: Yes, a very proud trustee of the Finlay Cooper Fund. We have the Great North Run coming up and a Sportsman’s Dinner featuring Mark Crossley on 9 October for which we only have a few places left if anybody fancies it. We are also planning a massive Ball at Wynyard Hall next June.
We help all sorts of causes for children who unfortunately do not have the health and lives that most of us take for granted. In the last couple of months we have contributed 50% of the cost of a minibus for a school for children with autism, we have assisted with medical costs for a child who cannot get the required medical treatment in the UK and we have brought recreational equipment for two very poorly kids.
We like to think we make a little difference and must be almost unique in that we have no overheads. None of us has claimed anything in expenses since we started ad have now raised in excess of £350,000.
Fly: Have you got any plans to climb any more mountains for the charity or after the recent car accident will you be keeping your feet firmly on the ground from now on?
NW: Something I forgot to mention is that I am hoping to arrange a fundraising event to walk the River Tees in 2016. 100 miles in 4 days and I am told that it is all downhill!
It will never match Kilimanjaro which still seems like only yesterday, but was over 2 years ago, which was a life experience, but this one is a bit closer to home.