It's almost 30 years to the day since Middlesbrough FC were saved from liquidation.
Alvaro Negredo scores Boro's first goal back in the Premier League
Middlesbrough began their return to life in the Premier League on Saturday, when they hosted Stoke in a 1-1 draw. But unquestionably more important to Boro supporters than the point gained from their first league fixture was the memory of a day in the club's history almost 30 years ago exactly, a day that playing top-flight football, or perhaps any football at all, would never have been possible without.
Rewind 30 years to 1986, and Middlesbrough Football Club are in dire straights. After a string of poor results, manager Willie Maddren has resigned, leaving assistant Bruce Rioch in charge. And the club has had to borrow a sum of £30,000 from the Professional Footballers' Association just to pay the players' wages. The situation looks bleak.
Things then went from bad to worse for Boro, as tensions grew between Rioch and senior players in the squad. Rioch was accused of shunning his established players and giving much more time to young academy prospects. This didn't go down well with chairman at the time Alf Duffield either, who met with Rioch at the end of the season and, after a heated argument, resigned from his post as Chairman.
By now rumour had began to spread of Middlesbrough's financial difficulties. Bank loan after bank loan was taken out, but this only served to plunge the club into more severe debt. On the 21st of May 1986, with the club having been relegated to the third tier of English football for just the second time in its history, and the debt owed by the club totalling to just shy of £2 million, Boro called in the Provisional Liquidator.
The club believed that by announcing liquidation, they could clear some of the debts that they owed and then be able to restart the club more easily. But the Football League showed little support to Boro, despite clubs having been liquidated before in far more serious financial situations. Steve Gibson, who by now had taken on full executive power at the club, famously said that the Football League's aim was to “crucify a football club, and this small club in the north-east was the one they picked on.”
Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson (centre, front) in the stands
In July, the Inland Revenue took the club to court over a sum of £115,156 owed by Middlesbrough in tax, and the judge issued the club with a winding up order. On the 2nd of August, 30 non-playing staff at the club were sacked, including manager Rioch, and the club padlocked its gates to its home ground Ayresome Park. Rioch and coach Colin Todd bravely continued to take unofficial training sessions in a local park, and the majority of the squad joined them, in order to portray the clubs' defiance and provide some hope to Teesside fans. Other players, such as Don O'Riordan and Peter Beagrie chose to leave the club, and were dubbed 'Judas' by Boro fans.
Chairman Gibson had found a combination of donors who were prepared to try to keep the club afloat financially heading into the new season, in the hope that Boro could start to clear their debts. However, the local council claimed that it was unable to meet its £200,000 share of the pot, and just before the season began the Football League introduced a ruling whereby all clubs had to show that they had a minimum of £350,000 in working capital to be able to pay all its creditors - this was money that Middlesbrough football club simply didn't have, and was the final nail in its coffin. The death of the club was announced on Tyne-Tees Television.
On Friday 22 August, a crisis meeting took place between representatives of Middlesbrough fc, the Football League, and a consortium called ICI who were asked to give Boro a bond, meaning that they would pick up any of the club's subsequent debt, and the consortium of donors, including Steve Gibson, put forward a total of £825,000 in order to get the football club back up and running. The documents encapsulating Middlesbrough's rebirth were signed by the relevant parties just ten minutes before the registration deadline to enter the Football League; Boro had been saved. The club announced the news to the supporters at the town hall.
Middlesbrough celebrate with the trophy after being promoted to the Barclays Premier League
Legal matters continued to hinder the club financially over the course of the next two years, but this was overshadowed by Boro's remarkable performances on the pitch. Rioch's young side finished 2nd in their next season, giving them promotion back to the Second Division, and then went on to achieve back-to-back promotions through the play-offs the following year. Middlesbrough's return from dissolution to the top flight in just two years stunned the football world, and the incredible rise left supporters in ecstasy.
Fast-forward back to present day, and Middlesbrough Football Club continue to go from strength-to-strength through the guidance and financial backing of chairman Steve Gibson. Gibson is adored by all Boro fans, and is idolised in a god-like sense around the Riverside, the stadium that Gibson funded the move to after leaving Ayresome Park. Gibson appears to be quite a quiet and reserved man in public, although his joy could not be restrained after seeing Boro gain promotion back to the Premier League at the end of last season. A Teesside man with a fierce love of Middlesbrough Football Club took over when the club was in peril, and has turned things around in a manner in which fans could only have dreamt of.
Middlesbrough will have high hopes of staying in the Premier League this season, and the fans have been hungry for top-flight football for the last 7 years. But it is important for supporters to take each result as it comes, and try to simply enjoy the matches they watch - because without some heroics from local lad Steve Gibson 30 years ago, a return to the peak of English football would have been an impossibility.