13 July 2008

Middlesbrough Football Club

Middlesbrough is my local team, which I have followed for a number of years. (commonly known as The Boro) are currently playing in the Premier League. Formed in 1876, they have played at the 35,100 capacity Riverside Stadium since August 1995,

The team plays at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough, North-East England. The current manager is Gareth Southgate who was appointed on June 7, 2006. The chairman of the club is Steve Gibson. The official historian/statistician is Harry Glasper. The official mascot is Roary the Lion, who is played by Andrew Morgan of Kirklevington.

Wilfred ("Wilf") James Mannion (16 May 1918 - 14 April 2000) was an English professional football player. Capped 26 times by England, he is regarded as one of Middlesbrough's greatest ever players, and along with George Hardwick, he is commemorated by a statue outside the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough.

Born in South Bank, a hardscrabble community within Middlesbrough proper, he played in local leagues before he signed professional forms for Middlesbrough on 17 September 1936 at the age of 18.

During the Second World War, Mannion served with the army and was evacuated from Dunkirk. He later served in the Middle East and Italy but was invalided out of the forces with shellshock. He played four times for England in wartime internationals that did not carry full international status and he finally won his first full international cap when selected to play for England's opening post war fixture against Northern Ireland in Belfast on September 28, 1946, scoring a hat-trick.

Mannion had stunned Middlesbrough fans in 1947 when it seemed he was set to join lowly Oldham Athletic in the Football League Third Division, Middlesbrough then being in the prestigious First Division. The Lancashire club could not afford the prohibitive price tag Middlesbrough placed on him, and he was soon back at Ayresome Park. For Mannion this was a defeat, as he was attempting to sidestep the league's maximum wage of 10 pounds per week which was in force at the time[1]. His plan had been to play and run a business at the same time, an option not available at a top rank club. His dispute with Middlesbrough over the transfer ultimately led him to refuse to re-sign his contract with the club and after jeopardising his England career, ultimately he continued to play for the club. Mannion played his final game for England on October 3, 1951 against France. He had collected 26 caps, scoring 11 times.

After initially retiring as a player in 1954, Mannion joined Hull City on 24 December of that year and decided to play on for another season. However, in a series of articles for newspapers he made several highly contentious statements, including allegations of illegal payments. Challenged to back up these by the Football League, he was banned for life and never played league football again[2]. In 1956 he joined Cambridge United, then in the Eastern Counties League. Just before the end of that season the Football League announced that it was lifting Mannion's life ban, but he decided to stay at Cambridge for a further season. He retired in 1958, and after a spell running a pub in Stevenage returned to Teesside to work for ICI.

He had a joint testimonial match with George Hardwick on May 17, 1983. Hardwick is also commemorated by a statue, facing Mannion across a ceremonial brick walk behind the old iron gates from Ayresome Park, where both played.

On April 14, 2000, Wilf Mannion died in hospital, at the age of 81. Many Middlesbrough fans were greatly saddened at the passing of one of their heroes. He was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2004 in recognition of his impact on the English league.

I had the pleasure of a guided tour of the grounds by one of the stadium staff after I had attended a conference there for work. It's only when you go out into the grounds the vastness of it all.

Middlesbrough FC also support disabled people with their Soccability Club which provides a dedicated disabled football programme which gives members the opportunity to develop skills and the chance to compete in local leagues, tournaments and festivals, all in a friendly and fun setting.

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