I was sent a facebook poster by Tony Wedlake for a Sportman’s Dinner in aid of the The Teesside Family Foundation. Eager to find out more I contacted Tony for a chat at Costa near the Riverside.
Q: How far do you go back as a Boro fan, Tony?
TW: I started going to Boro matches when Bruce Rioch was in charge. They were fantastic times. My uncle came to pick me up and said I am going to take you to the Boro match. There was Mowbray, Pallister, Gary Hamilton, Colin Cooper, they were all kids. I remember going to the Junior Reds and Mowbray was the guest one week and he came in and there was an aura around him. He must only have been a kid himself. It was fantastic.
Q: With his dyed blonde hair..
TW: Yes and bleached jeans and his tan. Yes, I loved it.
Q: So you were there for a decade at Ayresome Park?
TW: Yes, to the very last game. We beat Luton and then there was Stephen Pears Testimonial. A great day but a sad day. Then I remember coming over to the Riverside. The first five seasons were brilliant, weren’t they?
Q: There was a relegation in there as well.
TW: Yes but I was fortunate to go to all the cup finals which I was over the moon about. Wembley three times in a year.
Q: Don’t mention the results.
TW: I couldn’t believe we lost the first cup final when Ravanelli put us 1-0 up and then Heskey equalised in the last minute, it was devastating.
Q: Then of course under Steve McClaren we finally won a trophy.
TW: Yes, I was there again, Carling Cup Final, reduced me to tears, what a Sunday. There won’t have been many Boro fans not in tears that day.
Q: Did you go to many of the European games that followed?
TW: Yes, I went to all the home games, some of the away games and the final. I don’t think we are ever going to get to another European final, so to say that I went to that is unbelievable.
Q: A great time really.
TW: Yes, fantastic times, everyone went didn’t they? Every game was packed home and away. The support was unbelievable. I believe that some of those games where we needed 2 or 3 goals that the supporters got the players through, with the momentum. If there hadn’t been many fans there I don’t think they would have got through.
But it is a new era now, different, I am glad to be back in the Premiership. My lad goes now to all the games, home and away. I think he has only missed one game all season, at Southampton. He goes with his mates on the coaches.
Q: Did your dad go to the match?
TW: Yes, my mam and dad went until about 2000 when they stopped going. But Neil Bullock, who is also part of the Foundation is a huge Boro fan and he has probably been going even longer than me. Since the early 80s with his dad. He takes his son as well.
We are two Boro fans wanting to make a difference within Middlesbrough and Teesside.
Q: We are mentioning Boro families here, tell me how the The Teesside Family Foundation came about?
TW: I used to be co-founder of a charity called Boro Real Fans Believe in Dreams. Everything we did was based on taking kids down to Boro Football Club, on tours, as mascots, for home games, even away games. We even took kids to the play off final. Then I started doing bits and pieces away from that.. I just felt as if I wanted to help more people in Teesside in different ways. So, I will still go down there with Jenny and Boro Real Fans and have some involvement.
Neal Bullock used to run a charity called Fat Lads on Bikes.
Q: Alastair Brownlee was involved wasn’t he?
TW: Yes and other ex players, Stampy, Hodgy and Maddison all did the bike ride last year, the Tour of Teesside. So Neal and me became friends a couple of years ago and he helped me when we started out. He managed to sort out paying for five mascots for us when we were trying to get off the ground. From then we became friends. We helped a lad called Finley Ingles. He has just had laser treatment in America for a brain tumour. We did a golf day called the Erimus Cup at Middlesbrough Golf Club, where Neal had a team and I had a team, Ryder Cup style. We raised £3 500 from it. That was a great day.
Then Neal had the same vision as me in what he wanted to do. The women from The Fat Lads on Bikes, wanted to go their own way after two years, with family ties etc. So it was left with Neal. Most of the money Neal raised went to Ward 14 but Neal wanted to help everybody on Teesside really, our own grass roots level from the bottom. So we decided to start the Foundation back in November at a charity ball, where we announced it.
So, the brand Teesside Foundation started January 1st but we were already active. At Christmas we helped around about 300 families and children with Christmas dinners and presents, clothes, selection boxes. We have started helping different groups. Since January we have sponsored two football teams. We are really trying to get off the floor. We had our first fundraiser and then raised £1755.
We put on the Gallon Walk. We were going to do this Grosmont to Egton but we decided to make it a Teesside Gallon Walk, to put money in local business. So, we started the route at the Blue Bell and it is a 9 mile trek around Teesside, visiting various public establishments. We called it 9 pubs, 9 hours, 9 pints. But really it is a sponsored walk, you can drink if you want to, you don’t have to. It is just more of social sponsored walk aiming to raise funds to help Teessiders.
Q: Lots of exercise for people.
TW: Yes, you can drink water; it is a 9 mile walk.
Q: Nice to get out in Teesside.
TW: Yes the Tour of Teesside is around here too, a 42 mile bike ride around Teesside. That starts at the Sports Village and going towards Great Ayton, going all around, past the Stray cafe and Marske, past the Riverside, going to Stockton.
I have also decided to set myself a personal challenge. For the past couple of years I have felt uncomfortable about my size and I wanted to lose some weight. Our Christmas Appeal this year am hoping to pay for by the money I raise by reaching my own personal goal. So on 24th January I started Tony’s Weight Loss Challenge to lose 5.5 stone by our first annual ball on November 24th at Gisborough Hall. That will be my final weigh in and all the money from there will go on to help possibly 500 Teessiders to have a better Christmas.
Q: That is a massive incentive and a bit of pressure too.
TW: Yes, well that was the idea. My incentive was for myself and my family but I needed the pressure. I never ever got going when it was myself, for whatever reason but the thought of letting other people down is what drives me.
Q: Tell us about the Sportsman’s dinner. Are you calling it that?
TW: It is a Boro Fans Dinner. It is Over 18s for men or women. The term Sportsman’s dinner is because it is sportsmen who are the guests. We have got Bernie Slaven who was there at Ayresome Park through the dark days. We call it Doom to Boom don’t we? He was there at the liquidation, people weren’t getting paid and people left. Bruce was left to work on a shoe strong with young kids training at Stewart Park and wherever they could. They were using old kits and putting jackets down for goalposts. Bad times.
We thought it fitting we did this as it is only 30 years gone for the 1986 Reunion, which we both attended and it was a fantastic night. Bernie Slaven is a legend and part of the history of Middlesbrough Football Club and has seen it all. Brucey’s Red and White Army, Mowbray, Pallister.. all of them. We wanted Bernie there straight away.
Then, there is no one more fitting than to have Craig Hignett, who scored the first goal at the Riverside. Craig was a great player himself. He saw the full Robson Revolution with Emerson, Ravanelli, Juninho and then Gazza, players we would only have dreamed about coming to Boro. And cup finals. He was there. To get Higgy there was massive.
We wanted a comedian and were thinking who we could approach. Through a friend we contacted Patrick Monahan but he was booked. My friend George is pals with Nobby Stiles son John. Nobby obviously played for the Boro and also won the World Cup in 1966. So John has grown up around players like Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, George Best and Boro legends too. So, we thought for John to come would be brilliant. He has got the link through Nobby. I have seen him before and he has got some fantastic stories about the World Cup, about George Best, about his dad’s time with Boro, his time with England. So, we really feel it will be a massive night.
Q: So, he is a comedian and has great stories too?
TW: Yes, he starts up telling stories about the ending of his career. He was a footballer himself and played for Leeds and Doncaster and then retired through injury if I remember rightly. He talks about himself and his dad and then will introduce the top table and the players and then we will probably have food, he will follow this with his comedian act. Then it will be Bernie followed by Higgy.
It is a brilliant night; it includes a two course meal, roast beef and a dessert.
We know Teesside is not a thriving, rich area, so we tried to keep the cost relatively low. But we are a Foundation and we want to help a lot of people on Teesside. So we thought £35 was a fair price. It is a nice local venue at Marton Country Club. It is our first ever dinner so we hope it is a busy night.
Q: Where are you as far as full charitable status?
TW: It takes about 11 months. We have a charity bank account. Our website is 90% complete. Our events for the full year are booked. We have started writing a constitution that will be submitted and hopefully by the first ball on November 24th that will be the day that we can announce full charity status.
Q: We are sitting here at Costa next to the Riverside where MFC Foundation is based. You have used the word Foundation in your charity is this a deliberate statement.
TW: Yes, it is all about families and groups. We deal with anyone from children to the elderly. If we see someone we want to help we will help. We are hoping to start DIY SOS. Last year, Neal did a couple of projects. One was building a sensory room for a girl called Millie. Local businesses were involved. The project from scratch turned into a room for her to use for the rest of her life. Also, there was a family from Redcar who were ripped off by a rogue builder, they went in and built the extension. We are hoping to start that. It will definitely be in place for next January. We will be taking nominations for that later in the year.
Q: Are you finding that there a lot of people on Teesside wanting to help other people on Teesside?
TW: Yes that is right. Over the last 2 years we have helped thousands of people between us in our groups. It is mad that both Neal and me were given Teesside Hero Awards by the Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation which was unbelievable. We were taking some kids to the Boro game v Stoke, the first game of the season. The stadium manager and Dave from the Philanthropic came over and started taking pictures.
Q: So, it was a total surprise getting the award?
TW: Yes, I didn’t see it coming at all. I didn’t see how I warranted becoming a Teesside Hero but it was a great accolade and one I will cherish forever.
Neal and I are the two lads brought up on council estates, we are huge Boro fans. We are passionate about helping people across Teesside who need help. We aim in 2017 to start fast. You might think that we are in people’s faces a lot on facebook and social media but to sit back and not push it we would never get off the ground. So, those people that want to help will step forward and help. Then, over the next year from the different things we are doing people will see where money goes and who we help and what it brings to the people that we help, then other people might come forward.
It will then get busy and a lot of people will come forward that want to help.