The Ali Brownlee Riverside Run

The Ali Brownlee Riverside Run was first renamed last year in honour of the local broadcasting legend who died last February after a short battle with cancer.

The new name for the Middlesbrough 5k Road Race and 2k Fun becomes a permanent fixture when the event returns on Sunday, July 2.

Middlesbrough Council and leisure services partner Everyone Active are hoping for another record turn-out for the run which takes in some of the town’s most striking landmarks including Temenos and the Transporter Bridge, before a memorable finish beside the hallowed turf inside the Riverside Stadium.

I chatted with Race Director Jimmy Wattis at a gathering of Alastair’s family and famous Boro personalities to officially launch the 5km run.

The launch of the Everyone Active Ali Brownlee 5K Riverside Run took place at the Riversiode Stadium on Wednesday 1st March. 1-3-17  Pic Doug Moody Photography
The launch of the Everyone Active Ali Brownlee 5K Riverside Run took place at the Riversiode Stadium on Wednesday 1st March.
1-3-17 Pic Doug Moody Photography

Q: We are here at the Riverside for the launch of the Ali Brownlee Riverside Run – I believe the name is now a permanent memorial to Alastair.

JW: Yes, Ali first ran the 10k probably about 10 years ago. We both decided that his skills were probably best used doing the commentary. Then I organised the Sport Relief Mile from the Town Centre in 2008 and we wanted to develop that and we felt that we could extend it to a 5k and take it round the Riverside. So from 2009 Ali did the commentary on this event as well. And I know how much it meant to him being able to come out and meet so many people in a position where he could encourage people and see the joy on peoples faces as he shouted their race number out or if they had their name on their shirt, he would shout their name out. He was just an incredible man all round and I know that he had these events in his heart and I thought that it was only right that we named the event after him.

Q: Of course one of Alastair’s daughter’s ran last year.

JW: Yes, I wasn’t involved last year but Alison ran last year and I think Emily, Alison and Alastair’s wife, Wendy are all going to do it this year.

It is great for the town. We hope that all those thousands of fans that still sing Ali’s name at the games come out in force and support the run and I am sure they will have a great time.

The launch of the Everyone Active Ali Brownlee 5K Riverside Run took place at the Riversiode Stadium on Wednesday 1st March. 1-3-17  Pic Doug Moody Photography
The launch of the Everyone Active Ali Brownlee 5K Riverside Run took place at the Riversiode Stadium on Wednesday 1st March.
1-3-17 Pic Doug Moody Photography

Q: For anyone that jogs, parkruns or races, whatever ability it is special to finish in a football stadium, isn’t it?

JW: Oh it is, there is a fantastic atmosphere because obviously there are two events, we have the 2k fun run and we also have the 5k run, so as people are finishing whichever one they are running in you have got the support of the other runners sat in the stadium cheering them on. Other than last year but it will be back this year, we play Chariots of Fire theme as they run into the stadium. I know that each runner loves that and it will be back on this year. Hopefully, all being well, we will have pictures of Ali and commentary of Ali up on the big screen, that is what we are hoping to achieve this year. So, it will be fantastic for all involved.

Q: So, people that run the 5k can progress to the Middlesbrough 10k can’t they?

JW: Yes, that is what we are trying to do. We have tried to create a stepping stone for the 10k  because that has been a major event in the town since 2005. We are always out there beating the drum about people being healthier and fitter and so there are all the stepping stones there, there is a 2k, the 3k, the 5k and the 10k. Obviously and on top of that there is the Redcar half marathon that we would like to think people could achieve at some point as well.

Q: How long after the 10k is Redcar half marathon?

JW: It is 4 weeks after 10k, it is October 1st Redcar half marathon. So, you could train up for the 10k and then still get a couple of longer runs in and then start to taper off in time for the Redcar half marathon. So, I think the timing for the runs in Middlesbrough and on Teesside is perfect.

Q: It is a great thing that there seem to be more people running than ever before.

JW: Oh there are. I think everyone notices now the nights are starting to get lighter you can see people out all the time. The 10k route especially with it being marked, so people know the distances and they know the times and I think that route has been great for the town as well.

It is always a great event and one of my favourite day’s of the year but the permanent renaming after the great, late Alastair Brownlee and the involvement of his family is bound to make the Riverside Run that bit more special.

Alastair’s widow Wendy said: “I am really honoured to have such a wonderful and prestigious event named after Ali – he would be so proud.

“I know what this event meant to him, he was always excited when he was leaving the house on the morning knowing he was going to meet so many people and to be able to cheer and encourage each and every one of them on.”

To register for either the 5k or 2k please visit www.runmiddlesbrough.com

Entries are also being taken for the 2017 Taylor Wimpey Tees Pride 10k and 3k Fun Run which takes place on Sunday, September 3.

For further information contact Jimmy Wattis on 01642 20083

The launch of the Everyone Active Ali Brownlee 5K Riverside Run took place at the Riversiode Stadium on Wednesday 1st March. 1-3-17  Pic Doug Moody Photography
The launch of the Everyone Active Ali Brownlee 5K Riverside Run took place at the Riversiode Stadium on Wednesday 1st March.
1-3-17 Pic Doug Moody Photography

Tees Valley Wildlife Trust

wildlife-trustThere were some tough times for Tees Valley Wildlife Trust last year when there vans and valuable equipment were ransacked during a break in. The damage totalled a whopping £1400 in all, a big set back. Middlesbrough FC rallied round to help the trust out with a signed Boro shirt. Development Officer Jenny Hagan contacted me for any advice to do with the signed shirt and I decided a meet up was in order and so set off for their Margrove Park HQ to find out all about their operation. I already knew that the Trust works with children on matchdays in the Generation Red Family Zone of the Riverside, hence the signed shirt. I wanted to know more about this and where and what the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust was about and how we could buy tickets for the prize draw to help make up for the criminal damage

tees-valley-van-damage-1Q: Can you tell us your names for the tape please.

Tees Valley: Amy Carrick River Tees Officer; Jenny Hagan Development Manager

Q: We are from Tees Valley Wildlife Trust one of 47 wildlife trusts in the country, we are second or third smallest.

Jenny: The other two are islands.

We have 9000 members and we have been going since 1979 we used to be Cleveland Nature Trust.

Amy: We have 15 nature reserves spreading from Hartlepool, down to Stockton and Middlesbrough all the way down the coast to Skinningrove and Loftus.

Q: What are your responsibilities in the reserves?

A: We own some of them and then others we manage on long term leases on behalf of other companies eg Coatham Marsh was owned by Tata and we manage it on a longterm lease.

Q: Do you have volunteers helping you to manage the reserves.

J: Yes we have 125 volunteers.

A: They do several things. We have three different groups. Dan, our reserves officer has two groups out doing practical things. Matt has two groups at the moment doing practical things. I have got three groups doing practical things. There are a lot of groups out there doing tree planting, tree cutting, ditch clearing, path making, anything goes, it is all managed by our volunteers. Then there are the admin volunteers as well who help deliver magazines, invoices etc. Then we have surveyors as well, bat surveyors, otter surveyors, water vole surveyors as well. And education volunteers too, mainly retired teachers or people that used to be in the profession will come in and give us a helping hand. So volunteers not just practical but all over the spectrum.

tees-valley-swanQ: So how do you go out and speak to people? Do you go into schools for instance?

A: Yes we do newsletters. They go out to schools where we can offer sessions for a price or free, depending on what projects are going on. We also recruit volunteers via social media and our website. Also by word of mouth as well.

J: We also have a presence at events such as when Middlesbrough College has an event or World Health Day in Middlesbrough last year that was a big event that attracts lots of people.

There are only 20 staff and 125 volunteers, they are regular volunteers as well, not just one off volunteers.

A: Yes, they come out every week or some ad hoc we call them when we need them. A lot of the practical reserve volunteers can come out every week.

J: Most of what we do is depending upon them being there.

A: We would be scuppered without them. It is their skills as well. On my team for example I have got people that can do carpentry, welding, joinery etc. It is stuff that I can only know in limited amounts so it is good to be able to pick their brains. We have some of them designing benches or frames for signs. So it is not just they are going out and doing a path they are actually designing stuff for us as well. That is what my River Tees Rediscovered project is about and Jenny’s mental health projects, it is people that have all these skills and getting them to actually design things and come up with management plans as well, they are heavily involved. Especially with all the cuts in the steel industry we are hoping to leap on that to give those people a chance to show off their skills, get back out there and boost their self esteem.

J: I don’t think they always realise how much they help each other because some of them have amazing skills but really low confidence. And some have amazing communication skills and they are really good at welcoming new people who might be really nervous coming to a group. Especially something like this where they might not have previously gone out doors and it might be in the middle of nowhere. Everyone is the same. We don’t have super skilled volunteers in one group, everyone is the same.

A: It is all inclusive. Jenny and Dan from early on have all pushed the inclusive volunteers, so we don’t have separate groups.

We do work a lot with people with varying mental or physical health issues. We will tailor activities so that everyone is involved.

All the staff have been on courses and have spoken to each other and helped each other out to understand people’s needs a bit more.

J: Matt’s life skills project – we wanted an open approach so anybody can ring me up and say I have been out of work for 3 years, I am really not very confident, I don’t go out any more, I would like to come out and try something. Then at the other end of the scale, it could be someone that might be an in patient at Roseberry Park and come out with a support worker. But the support worker would volunteer as well. So, everyone comes out and pitches in and they all learn a bit from each other and benefit where they probably wouldn’t elsewhere.

We do some pretty strange and wonderful things. We do blacksmithing workshops and drystone wall workshops. There is wildlife gardening. There is green woodwork, decorative things etc. They are all things that we don’t think they would get a chance to do anywhere else.

They come twice a week, a workshop one day then match it up with volunteering once a week. They get to work on a project of their own choice. They go and visit different reserves and they choose a reserve and figure out a way to improve it. They get a John Muir award for doing that. It is a trust up in Scotland that offer free conservation awards for people. That is 12 weeks long, we have 12 people every 12 weeks until June next year.

Q: In Middlesbrough you manage Maze Park don’t you, between Newport and the A19 bridges.

tees-valley-maze-parkA: Yes it has 3 mounds which were the spoil from the building of Teesside Park. We have let nature take its course and then we have managed it. Maze Park is really good for butterflies. It has one of the rarest butterflies in the country or especially in the region, called the grayling. They lay their eggs on the marshalling yards behind and then once they are hatched out they come into Maze Park itself. We have been managing special habitat corridors, to make sure that they have a way in because some butterflies are quite particular in how long they want their grass. There are a lot of different wildflowers in there as well for them. We manage it, we make sure we cut all the meadows and we rake them as well. We make special basking areas for them as well because once they have hatched out they like to basically sunbathe. So all the gravely paths have been increased into proper basking areas so the butterflies can have a sunbathe. They can feed on all the wild flowers and then sunbathe.

Q: That must be a great opportunity to see them as well.

A: Yes, exactly that is how you see them. You keep quiet for a bit and then have a look at the butterflies. So that reserve is brilliant and that is how it is managed for the butterflies and also bees. It is a nice little reserve.

J: Also in Middlesbrough there will be work at Linthorpe Cemetery through the Wild Green Places project which is working with twenty community groups right across the Tees Valley.  Not working on our own sites but Friends sites etc and improving them for wildlife. Doing anything from getting a food hygiene certificate to run an event to doing a bat survey etc.

A: Also Maelor’s Wood in Stainton, there is a rubbings trail designed by kids, where they can rub pictures of ladybirds etc that is new and being launched and opened.

J: This project is working with community groups but not just to get them involved but to build them up so they have the capacity to do things on their own in the future. It is foundation depending on what they need.

A: There are a lot of Friends groups in Middlesbrough from Fairy Dell, Maelor’s Wood to the old Boro Becks project. They are still going and still need volunteers. The small patches around Middlesbrough always need helpers. A lot of them might be run by older people who cannot go out and build a path for example and are now doing more of the management side. They always need people to actually go out, even for a few hours.

Q: The green ribbons in a town are very important aren’t they?

A: Yes definitely because we are losing them all the time. It is again part of what we do in general, saving space for wildlife and working with those Friends groups to keep those little patches open.

Q: You are showing people that there is wildlife even in a town.

A: When you go out and look there is a lot there.

J: We want to go out and do more in the town centre as well, working with younger people as well. We did a great project last year in Middlesbrough with Talent Match, that was with people that had been unemployed or out of training for two years. We worked with a group of guys of which two have apprenticeships with One Planet Pioneers. They did a 12 week programme. They got to do their own project. They made a video with a gopro camera. They stayed over night in the roundhouse on the Nature Reserve in February and they were sponsored. We are hoping to do a repeat of the project again. We got four lovely young people last time.

Q: Tell me about your involvement at the Boro, in the Generation Red Family Zone.

A: Yes, we were there last season and we have been invited back this season. We have had three stalls (at different matches) already this season. Each one has a different theme. The first one this season was birds so we made log bird feeders. You make a lard and seed mixture and put it into a log feeder that has holes drilled in. So the kids get to make their own and take them home and we speak to them about how you can help birds in your garden and what birds we have in the region.

tees-valley-grfzOur second theme was bats, we had our bat officer, Sarah Barry came along. We made loo roll bats. So, they could make their own little bats and then hang them up around the house. We did a bat trail, so the kids followed a sticker collection of different animals the bats eat, like flies and moths for example. Each child had to find the missing sticker, so basically they had to interact with all the other kids and also Roary the Lion and try to get stickers from Roary and the seal and the bee to see if they could get a full collection of stickers for their bat. Once they did that they got a prize from us that contained a banana and a chocolate bar and information about bats. The banana and chocolate was because bats help the pollination of plantations.

Q: Did the kids find the bats exciting or scary?

A: Most found them exciting I think. A lot knew about vampire bats so we dispelling myths that bats don’t just go around sucking your blood. They are actually quite nice animals and they do pollinate a lot of plants. They do eat a lot of midgies.

They do have bats down at the Riverside. You have to go to a late game in about September and you can actually see them fly around the actual stadium and I have seen one actually land on the goal net during a game which is cool. So there are actually bats at the Riverside Stadium which is why we wanted to link it in a bit more. You would normally go out with a bat detector which detects their calls but obviously it is too loud but you can see them flying around. I think they will be most likely the common pipistrelle bats. It is brilliant having them around the stadium itself.

tees-valley-batsIt was national squirrel awareness day on Saturday 21st January so we were dispelling myths that grey squirrels are our native squirrels when it is actually the reds and that they kill them but they don’t they eat their food. We are getting the kids to create their own squirrel tales and we make nature mobiles out of twigs, leaves and bits of wood they can decorate and take home.

All of our activities involve making something to take home. It is about them having a Wildlife Trust experience at the football ground and taking something home and looking back and thinking I remember that and hopefully remember all the little facts we have told them.

tees-valley-squirelThe last event is World Book Day, March 11th, the Sunderland game. We are making little pen holders and also wildlife book marks. Again we will be promoting what we do and also different wildlife books as well as ID books and how simple it is to go out with them and ID wildlife.

Q: Sadly you had some very bad news about your vans didn’t you?

A: We park the vans in a locked up compound. People broke a lot of the metal fencing to get in and they took 4 wheels. They tried to break into a locked box, they couldn’t but it was so damaged that we had to weld it off and destroy it to get back into it. The blue van had a window broken and a chain saw taken and some tools. The mini bus was also broken into and tools taken.

They left a message Thanks for stuff #stickybandits. Apparently the burglars from Home Alone.

It totalled £1400 of damage.

tees-valley-van-damageJ: They don’t realise that for a place like this that is £1400 that comes out of paying for clothes for volunteers or tools for doing activities etc.

A: So it is a lot of money and the vehicles were off the road for a few weeks so we couldn’t do anything. There are some volunteers who only go out anywhere a few times a week in general and we are their means of getting out and they are missing out on that for a couple of weeks. So it was a bit gutting for us all. Everyone was very down about it for a while.

Q: But you now have a plan to try and raise some money.

tees-valley-roary-birdsA: Yes Middlesbrough Football Club have kindly donated a signed shirt for us to have a prize draw to raise some money. Crathorne Hall have donated an afternoon tea. They are the two top prizes. We rallied around the staff for runners up prizes. There is a year’s Wildlife Trust Family membership as a second prize. We also have a wildlife garden makeover kit, that is bird feeders, nest boxes, seeds etc. Also there are signed wildlife and foody books by award winning poet Sean Borodale. He kindly gave us the books.

tees-wildlife-prze-drawQ: How do people enter?

J: We have a suggested donation for tickets, a pound each or five for £3 or ten for £5.

We have an e-newsletter that people can sign up to from the website or check the website for our next events and buy the tickets from the events. Or buy them at our Margrove Park centre in person if local.

We will draw it on February 10th. We will arrange for them to have the prizes in time for Valentine’s Day.

Margrove Heritage Centre, Margrove Park, Boosbeck, Saltburn-by-the-Sea TS12 3BZ Phone: 01287 636382  Tees Valley Wildlife Trust

tees-valley-reasons

 

Dimi’s Goal is Great Greek Food

Boro keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos has opened a Greek restaurant in Middlesbrough. GREAT, serves modern Greek food in a comfortable, relaxed environment. Sited on the Clifton Street corner of Linthorpe Road it is right, bang in the heart of the restaurant and night life sector of Middlesbrough’s main drag.

Nestled beneath student halls and just over the road from the big Weatherspoons pub, Swatters Carr, Dimi Konstantopoulos could not have picked on a better location for his new restaurant, opened with childhood pal and business partner, Nikos Pitsoulis. Nikos has relocated from Greece along with the head chef. But 10 new posts have been filled locally.

But if you are thinking that this is a sign that Dimi is slowing down and looking towards retirement then think again as he reveals to us in his interview, hanging up his goalkeeper’s gloves is the furthest thing from his thoughts. Dimi arrived here as third choice keeper and now four seasons later he is waiting his turn again from the same position. Give him a chance and he fully intends to pounce on it.

Last week I joined media people and had a chance to sample a little food. Apparently you are pick and choose main courses now that the restaurant has opened. The menu opens with a choice of Greek starters from Tzatziki to Htipiti – that is fest cheese spread with chilli peppers. All £3.95.

Main dishes start with Pork Yeeros £11.90 to Whole Roast Chicken £10.90 and special club sandwich £12.95. There are three Greek salad options and then a selection of wraps and burgers, including Sovaki skewers. Oh and don’t worry there are chips and side dishes. And desserts for a fiver. Plenty of options to try.

Greak Food

Anyway, I plonked myself down at a table with Dimi and fired some questions in his direction about the restaurant, Boro and himself.

Q: Could you tell us a bit about your restaurant. A lot of us will have travelled to Greece and the Greek islands and sampled the food but could you tell us a little about the food in Great please?

Dimi: This is traditional cooking that you find everywhere in Greece. It can be a take away or you eat a sit down meal, there are places like that everywhere in Greece. It includes a lot of variety of different meat cooked in different styles and salads. I think it fits very well to the British mentality because in my experience they like that sort of thing.

Q: Looking out of the window here on Linthorpe Road we can see many different types of restaurants and they all do well but no Greek food.

D: Yes that was the idea I think there is a gap in the market. We looked around the area and there was nothing similar so we thought it was a good idea because as you say there are a lot of different styles of restaurant around here but it is good to offer the people of Middlesbrough the option.

Q: I have heard that you enjoy eating out in local restaurants when you can.

D: Yes, I love food, obviously I can’t have exactly what I want because of my job but I do like to try different things and I go many places not only in Middlesbrough but around the area. Yes, I think a lot of people like to try new things and this is a good option for them to have.

Q: I live not far from here Dimi and I saw the signs going up in the windows a long time ago so I know that you have spent some time doing this. You are obviously trying to do it properly.

D: Yes we said from day one that we have to do it properly. If we do something like this then it needs to be 100% quality-wise. Everything should be spot on. This is something we have been planning for the future as well. We want people to come here and enjoy the food and everything to be clean and very efficient from the service and so they leave this place happy.

Q: You have a business partner from Greece and a chef from Greece but you have employed some local people as well.

D: Yes it is partly something for me to give back to this area that has given me so much. To invest here. Since we started having this idea straight away I said the best place to start is here in the north east and in Middlesbrough. Yes, there is no better place for me to start a venture like this.

Q: How many years is it now since you first came to the area and joined Hartlepool?

D: Yes, there was a spell of three years when I went to Greece, it has been altogether about ten years now. So, I have spent most of my professional career in the north east and it feels like home to me. My family is settled here and my wife is from Hartlepool and it is where I have my home.

Q: From my experience of going in restaurants in Greece it seems like a social thing as well as eating. Would that be fair to say?

D: Yes, it is like a ritual for them in Greece people like to spend a few hours eating and talking, nibbling and having a chat and a laugh. It is not the same here because people sometimes go out and eat and they go straight away. But we are flexible. If people want to spend their time here and enjoy a few drinks. Because we have the option of a little variety, you don’t have to stick to the same main course you can try different things and pick. So, maybe people will take some time.

Q: I notice you have the four tv screens. Like a sports bar.

D: Yes we want it to be a bit contemporary and simple really.

Q: You are certainly not stepping into a taverna here are you?

D: No we didn’t want to go down that road because the kind of food we are offering is not taverna food it is more traditional Greek food. We have done this design where the designer did the whole project. The tellys are part of this, they will be showing videos and music. Something for people to look at. There will be music as well. We are trying to make it as enjoyable as possible for people to have food here.

Q: You are beneath a student hall here aren’t you?

D: Yes, student accommodation, so I think it is a good spot to open a restaurant. There are a lot of students upstairs so we hope they will come and try some food. We will see what happens.

Q: Can I please ask you a few questions about football. You joined Middlesbrough three or four years ago now?

D: Four seasons ago.

Q: I don’t suppose you dreamt back then what would happen over the next couple of seasons. You were third choice weren’t you?

D: No, it has been a tremendous journey for me. I have enjoyed every step of it. I came to the team on a short term contract but I always believed in myself, I always thought I need a chance and if I get a chance I will prove myself. That is what has happened in the past and I was lucky to be given a chance and then from then on it started going upwards.

Nothing has changed for me; it is the same story now. I have done it before whenever I am given the chance and I will do it again.

Q: People might not realise that prior to joining Boro you had been playing at AEK Athens, so playing in the top league in Greece.

D: Yes and Europa League as well, European football. I have some good experiences on my CV. I have played for many big clubs and I am proud of it.

Q: You must also be very proud of your record at Boro, especially last season with so many clean sheets.

D: Yes it is something I take great pride in. I was lucky to be amongst a set of lads who were really working hard, really working together. They were a good team and still are. To have this record and to be in the record books of the club is something special.

Q: And of course to experience the drama of clinching promotion in the last game against Brighton. Going down to the very last seconds. That must have been special.

D: Yes, it was a bit of a roller coasterm as a season and a game. But we came through it and we are here now and we are very grateful and we are enjoying our time in the Premier League and I think we have the potential to be in this league for many, many years.

Q: What about you for your future? You have said that you want to continue playing as long as you can?

D: Yes, I feel good, I feel fit, I feel sharp. I train every day and I train hard. I still have the urge to improve myself. So, it is not even in my mind yet about retiring. When I get to the stage that I wake up on a morning and I am not feeling as happy going to work and am not feeling that I want to try any more then I will retire. But for now I am feeling like I was feeling ten years ago. So as long as I feel like that I will continue.

Q: I was going to say, so you are still hungry to play football…

D: Yes, (laughs) that is a good one.

Q: Thanks very much I am looking forward to coming here and trying the food and celebrating a Boro win.

D: Yes, I will get the lads in soon to try it as well. I have already told them they are expected.

Photos by Tracy Hyman (below head chef, Dimi and Nikos)

Great is open 11am til late. You can find it on twitter @GreatGreekFood

Dimi, head Chef and Nikos

Saturday, 3pm: Fifty eternal delights of football

Boro fan and football writer extraordinaire Daniel Gray has a new tome published. His Saturday, 3pm, takes us back to the old days when fixtures were fixtures. Yet rather than getting all misty eyed and bemoaning our lot Daniel extols the virtues of modern football with fifty short passages that will make you want to punch the air and then march straight down to the Boro ticket office.

This is a book that every Boro fan and indeed every football fan needs to see in their Christmas stocking on Christmas Day.

To put you in the mood for tonight’s Boro match and FA Cup draw I asked Daniel a couple of questions about football and this time of the year. Then we have a specially prepared short extract from the book in questions, Saturday, 3pm.

Seeing as we are playing Hull City tonight, not Saturday at 3pm but under floodlights, do you still get excited by the glow of floodlights? The anticipation as you are drawn towards them? Is there something special about a night match?

It feels like a fairytale to me, a night match. That may only last until Boro go one-nil down and I am so cold that I can’t actually move my feet, but nonetheless…when you walk towards a floodlit ground there are always goosebumps. In the traditional places it lights the streets around, or in stadiums with space around them like The Riverside, it sprays light into the sky. But I’m spoiling a chapter in the book now!

The FA Cup 3rd round draw is tonight – do you think there is something enduringly comforting about the draw when the big boys enter the competition. The rattle of the balls tumbling from the bag. The excitement of potential David v Goliath encounters. Whether the ex footballer will accidentally leave a ball in the bag etc..

There’s not a draw that goes by without mention of warm balls is there? Football is nothing without Carry On smut. But anyhow, this draw is one of those rituals, the minutiae which all come together to make us belong to the game, and it to us, the supporters. Alright, not all clubs are lucky in who their owner is like Boro are, but whoever you support, you own these little things about the game, the things I’m trying to express – jeering when an opponent’s pass goes out of play, nodding to someone with a Boro shirt on when on holiday… They are all anchors of belonging.

Winter football – is the introduction of the winter ball every year an almost mystical event like Father Christmas coming to town etc.

Oh absolutely. One of the few slightly angsty bits in the book is a short rant against those zealots and philistines who would curb winter football, and plunge us into the dull purgatory of a winter break. This is a game to be played in mud, in the dark, and when you can see your own breath. The way the games fly in over that fortnight or so is a magical thing in itself. What a feeling it is on Christmas Day to remember you’ve a game to go to, and an escape from visiting relatives, the next day. Then, just as everyone is getting depressed about going back to work and the wheelie bins are overflowing in the street, you’ve the FA Cup Third Round to look forward to.

Though the ‘eternal delights of football’ in Fly Me To The Moon stalwart Daniel Gray’s new book Saturday, 3pm (Bloomsbury) are aimed at all fans of the game, they are rooted in his beloved Boro. Entry 37, Knowing where you were, is a fine example of our club’s influence on the author. Here we run the chapter, one of fifty short essays of prose poetry written to remind us that football can still make our hearts sing. The book, published last month, has won widespread acclaim, with When Saturday Comes labelling it ‘a precision-tooled delight… nothing but pure, unadulterated joy’ and The Daily Telegraph ‘Delightfully written…countless little gems of recognition and satisfaction, many of them very funny… a lovely little thing.’ Priced £9.99, it is available in bookshops and online, including signed copies through the author’s own website (www.danielgraywriter.com). Here’s that extract chapter:

saturday-3pmI don’t know why it matters. Life events should be significant enough in isolation without football fixtures clamping on to them like limpets.

On the afternoon I proposed to my wife, Middlesbrough were playing Manchester United in the FA Cup. We both have tender memories of sitting on a bench in Whitby that day, eating cheese and onion pasties. I also remember looking over her shoulder as we hugged, double-checking on a chalkboard that the game was going to be screened in the pub behind us.

My first kiss happened as Boro were beating Charlton Athletic 1 – 0. I was on a bus at the time. My parents split up the weekend we defeated Blackburn Rovers, the reigning champions, and I lost my virginity the night before a derby win against Sunderland. I am glad that I became a father in the summertime, because I would hate to associate my daughter with an insulting home defeat.

Remembering these benchmarks with a match attached to them makes me feel retrospectively reassured about younger versions of myself. I know, through being inextricably linked to this football club, I had a certainty to see me through times of chaos and flux. Some people choose a star to look at in the sky. It makes them feel sure, fixed. We have dusty football grounds, mesmeric wingers and away wins that are etched within us like ancient cave paintings.

There is a more particular fulfilment in being able to say exactly where you were on a particular Saturday in 1993. Past fixture lists are an alibi, and you can precisely state where nine- or 16-year-old you was, and fairly accurately detect the mood you were in. Screw your eyes closed, drift away and you might just smell the Bovril.

It is all enormously comforting.

Daniel Gray

Priced £9.99, Saturday, 3pm is available in bookshops and online, including signed copies through the author’s own website www.danielgraywriter.com

dan-gray-cartoon

Platt Plays Blinder at the Boro Hotel

Jim Platt rolled the back the years as he gave members of Middlesbrough’s Tofy Club an insight into his years playing between the posts for the Boro. The Northern Ireland international talked about the managers and players that he played for and against during a star studded career. This would be the end of an era for the venue, the Longlands Hotel.

You will probably know the Longlands Hotel, the John Hickton sign outside sets it apart. Step inside and it is every Boro fan’s dream, a museum and shrine all rolled into one, stuffed to the (Gary) gills with Boro memorabilia, from turnstiles to signed photos. Or rather it was.

This turned out to be the final talk held in the Longlands Hotel, before manager John Culley decided to retire and take down his Middlesbrough memorabilia from the walls.

jim-platt-dave-connorJim Platt is the latest of a line of entertaining former players and personalities that have addressed the Over 50s men, including Bernie Slaven, Gary Pallister and referee Jeff Winter. The men were formerly Sporting Chance and now are members of the Tofy Club. That stands for The Over Fifties Youth Club. This is a group of guys refusing to sit back and grow old. They meet to do carefully planned exercise but also play games on mornings at Southlands Centre.

Sporting Chance is a Heritage Lottery funded scheme and over its three years in Middlesbrough it is fair to say that it has transformed the lives of many men. A lot of praised should be heaped on organiser, Gill Watson, who is now taking her tireless energy to the men of Norton and Stockton. Tofy Club are now taking up the mantle in Middlesbrough.

Jim pictured above with former referee and question master, Dave Connor.

But back to Platty and his tales of playing as the last line of defence in possibly the greatest defence in Boro’s history. Charlton’s Champions were built around the firm foundations of the telepathic twins Maddren and captain Boam, flanked by the steel of Craggs and Spraggon, with the ever dependable Jim Platt behind.

Jim’s team mate John Hickton said he was honoured to unveil that hotel sign outside. He was the target man for the Boro side that featured Graeme Souness and a player Jim heaped praise on the late, great Bobby Murdoch. Jim was gushing with praise for the pass master.

The former keeper had less to say about Big Mal Allison the flamboyant manager that was once based over the road from the Longlands at the Baltimore Hotel. Malcolm Allison finally ended Jim Platt’s Boro days, calling time on a Middlesbrough career totalling 481 appearances.

So, an interesting morning then, recounting memories of Ayresome Boro, surrounded by photographic reminders on the walls. Jim also was able to voice his opinion on current custodian, Victor Valdez and Aitor’s side. It was good to have one international number one’s perspective on another. Jim of course is one of only a handful of Boro players to have played in a World Cup. Always a gent, Jim is nearing retirement now but he still looks too young to be one of the over 50s club to me.

jim-platt-tofy-love-boroAgeing Better Middlesbrough, a Big Lottery Funded programme, is working with Tofy Club to reduce loneliness and social isolation for people 50 and over in our town.

If you’d like to join as a member to find out about activities and groups in your area call 01642 257034, email

info@ageingbettermiddlesbrough.org.uk or visit our website to join us www.ageingbettermiddlesbrough.org.uk