Boro's Carling Cup Glory Remembered
DUE TO a Football League fixture/calendar conspiracy it's only our second chance to celebrate the exact anniversary of mighty Boro's famous Carling Cup triumph at Cardiff.
Not being one to miss that kind of opportunity to caress a cultural touchstone here's my nostalgic musings on the historic importance of ACTUALLY WINNING A TROPHY and what a fantastic emotional experience it was for everyone who was there.
It opened the door to Europe and fixtures inconceivable on the Holgate. It ushered in a new golden era of possibilities and excitement and raised expectation levels to unsustainable levels, the painful fall from which has left profound psychic bruising that still smarts.
But hey, let's not beat ourselves up about the hangover. Let's recall the party...
Here's the highlights, just to refresh your memory....
And here's the slightly sickly club video of the celebration night and victory parade, recorded in Pravdavision but worth a watch just because of the beaming smiles and sense that the air of possibility had permeated the players too. Although Michael Rickett's sharing the club's greatest moment has an incongruous feel.
Here's the Gazette's picture gallery from the day. And here's my celebratory Big Picture from today's paper, painting from an emotional palette....
A CALENDAR conspiracy can't stop us celebrating just the second real birthday of our glorious Leap Day delight at the Millenium Stadium on February 29th, 2004.
Eight years on, the glow from Boro's greatest success in winning the Carling Cup still hasn't faded completely.
WHITE hot iron, red hot steel... Boro finally brought the silver back to Teesside.
And it was fantastic. After 128 barren years of barren mediocrity, a life sentence of enamel shattering 'typical Boro' kicks in the teeth was over and a new golden age of European glory beckoned.
Surely with an historic log-jam in the trophy pipeline now unblocked a century's worth of cups would gush forth?
It had been snowing when we left Teesside - there were even fears the game may be off - but it was beautiful in Wales, the sunshine of a bright new era.
Suddenly everything felt possible. And all the suffering was validated. What could stop mighty Boro now?
Alas, the famous victory at Cardiff is fading now. None of the matchday squad are still at the club, the naive optimism and European dividend is long gone and few outside Teesside will remember it. Certainly not the national media.
But for Boro fans it is still a vivid and precious memory. There are plenty of cup final tickets framed in pride of place, plenty of still tattoos paraded and caressed with a beaming smile and the DVD is a key part in educating the next generation. And no doubt cult classic "128 Years Later" will be getting a poignant re-run for many tomorrow.
Cardiff was brilliant. And victory was inevitable. How could Boro have failed when urged on, as they were, by an awesome wave of tangible passion that almost blew the roof off the Millennium Stadium?
Rarely can a structure have had to withstand such a sonic boom as the aural explosion of emotion that greeted the final whistle and then echoed again and again in the aftermath of a historic communal celebration of Tees pride.
The crowd were in ecstasy; mind-spinning, heart-soaring, dream-fulfilling ecstasy. I was. Television can't convey the impact of that tangible wall of red and white noise as Boro finally came of age.
The anxiously awaited whistle - it was Boro after all! - was greeted with a jubilant full-throated claim that Boro were "the finest team in football the world has ever seen" - and for once there was the sweet, shiny proof to wave under the noses of all those who sneered and doubted.
The spontaneous post-match Pigbag was a collective hymn of victory, a flag-waving, tear-jerking affirmation of faith, a communal celebration of long awaited success that is the stuff of legend.
The air-punching Southgate Salute, cheered to the rafters, rammed home the emphatic message that Boro were now up there with the big boys. Boro were the first team in the North-east to bring back a major national trophy in over 30 years. And remain so.
And the grateful chorus of "One Stevie Gibson" showed that supporters were very much aware that the moment was chiefly down to the drive and vision of the uber-fan and champagne soaked chairman Steve Gibson deserves to see his club succeed for his massive personal investment.
He deserved to be chaired in triumph and to celebrate the culmination of a dream. He deserved his moment of vindication.
And so did the fans. It was a fitting reward for their unconditional emotional investment over those long bleak years with little dividend.
It was payback for those desolate trips back from Wembley and the near misses that have teased us for generations.
And as usual, on the big day, the Boro fans played a blinder. We were louder, brighter, more colourful, more insistent than Bolton. We wanted it more.
Boro fans had no time for tourism. We had done gasps of awe at an impressive stadium and the "it's nice just to be here" routine before. They were single-minded and steely. This time we were here to win.
It had been the same for the whole weekend. Bolton fans were there, but in small numbers, and strangely muted. Boro were everywhere. Boro were loud and proud, visible and confident.
The heart and soul of the Boro operation, the Teesside Embassy in the Principality, was the Gatekeeper, the epicentre of hope on the eve of the game as the masses gathered.
It was a gigantic cavern of a pub 50 yards from the entrance to the Boro end with ample room to drape banners and acoustics perfect for belting out terrace favourites. The air of confidence, of determination in there was inspirational. How could we fail?
Among the banners was one that said simply "Erimus" - the town's Latin motto which means 'We Will Be'. Just before kick-off that prescient banner rippled across the back of the North Stand.
Elsewhere banners proclaimed "Smoggies on Tour" or declared the owners to be from York, Billingham, Derby, Perth, Yarm - and even from just down the road in Gwent.
There were the flags of Boro's League of Nations squad: French, Italian, Brazilian, Cameroon and even Basque.
The Boro crowd were a magnificent spectacle in a magnificent arena. Under the roof, with sunlight breaking through the corners the eerie atmosphere was added to by the billowing smoke left by the pre-match pyrotechnics.
And they went through the eardrum bleeding decibel barrier as Boro got off to a flyer with two quickfire goals.
Legend Joseph 'one' Job came sliding in at the far post to stab home a low Bolo Zenden cross before two minutes was up. The ball in may have been a wayward shot but who cares?
Then Job was bundled over just inside the box by Emerson Thome in the seventh minute and Zenden stepped up take the resulting penalty and slipped as he made contact - or dribbled it forward illegally if you are equipped with jaundiced Samovision - and Boro were two up. I was deafened by the roar. And almost sick with excitement and fear.
As usual, Boro fans were put through agonies as a dream start threatened to almost turn into a nightmare through 83 minutes of paranoid tension.
When Bolton hit the post the roof almost came down as the intake of breath from 30,000 cynics fearing a 'typical Boro' moment created a vacuum for a split-second. And there were further scares as time ebbed through a long pregnant four minutes of added time.
But there was no spoiling the long-awaited Boro party. It lasted for months didn't it?
Great memories of a brief moment when we really were winners. It felt like the beginning of something special. And it was: a tentative European debut, a highest ever Premier League finish and a more determined push to Eindhoven via Rome, Basel and Steaua was to follow. That was all fantastic too.
But for now, just bask in the belated glory of Cardiff.
Happy birthday, dreams.