THE significance of August 23, 1986, will never be lost upon Middlesbrough supporters.
It was 30 thirty years ago tomorrow that Boro strode out for their home league opener in 1986-87 at the unlikely setting of Hartlepool – just a day after being saved from extinction.
A fraught summer almost saw the Teessiders go the wall amid a mountain of debt approaching £3m before their future was saved at the 11th hour.
It was left to new chairman Colin Henderson and a young Steve Gibson to announce at a press conference at Middlesbrough Town Hall that the future of Boro – under a new company name of Middlesbrough Football and Athletic Company (1986) Limited – had been secured after satisfying Football League requirements.
It was also announced that Bruce Rioch’s side would start the new Division Three campaign at ‘home’ to Port Vale at the Victoria Ground, Hartlepool – with Boro taking to the field after Pools had opened their Fourth Division campaign earlier in the afternoon with a 1-1 draw with Cardiff City.
Like Pool, Boro had to settle for a point after a 2-2 home draw with Vale. But the scoreline was, in many ways, insignificant, with the sight of a team taking the field to represent the club being the only result that fans were truly interested in.
Just 3,690 spectators witnessed that milestone occasion for Boro as their competitive journey in what proved to be a truly remarkable 1986-87 season began. Or ‘phenomenal’ as legendary manager Rioch would have said.
The side who took the field at Hartlepool read: Pears, Laws, Cooper, Mowbray, Gill, Parkinson, Slaven, Stephens, Hamilton, Kernaghan, Ripley. All names who entered club folklore in a season when Boro progressed from liquidation to promotion.
The one name missing in the above list was Pallister, with the future Manchester United and England stopper having to wait until the following Saturday, at Wigan, to make his seasonal bow.
It was a much-travelled rugged Scouse striker by the name of Archie Stephens who had the honour of netting new-look Boro’s two opening league goals in a 2-2 draw with Vale.
At 32, Stephens was the senior head in a fresh-faced Boro babes line-up – and somewhat ‘old school’ with his liking for a post-match pint and cigarette with supporters well known.
His second goal against Vale, a brilliant looping volley, has its own iconic place in Boro history, as he set the tone for a rip-roaring campaign in fitting fashion.
On that milestone game, Stephens said: “We got changed in the Portakabins at Hartlepool and all the lads were up for it.
“My first goal was a trademark header, but the second goal was special. I remember Hammy (Gary Hamilton) going through and shouting: ‘push it!’, but the ball just sat up and I hit this left-foot volley right on the sweet spot.
“The keeper was off his line and from 30 yards out, it just sailed in. Get in there! And that was the beginning.”
Indeed it was, Archie. Indeed, it was...