Mogga Mania Is An Echo of 1986
TONY, TONY Mowbray! Tony, Tony Mowbray! It is bizarre but some of the most blinkered, passionately parochial and unforgiving Boro fans I know are planning to chant the name of the opposition manager with real affection, respect and pride tomorrow .
Such goodwill is unnerving and a quite clear breech of all known football supporting protocols. Returning heroes normally get a polite ripple of applause when their name is read out, maybe a nostalgic half-hearted name check from Block 17 and then the whistle blows and normal service resumes as niceties go out the window and war is declared.
But Mogga is different.
No one comes close to Mogga's position in the mental universe of Boro fans. He personified on the pitch the sheer determination shared by the fans, the Gibson consortium and Bruce Rioch that this club WOULD survive in 1986. Red hot passion, white hot steel. Mogga was 100% Boro and his pride in playing for the club was a key element in his power to inspire. And inspire not only the team of young Teessiders around him but also the galvanised Holgate.
He was not to prove the best player in the legendary squad that trained on when the club slipped towards liquidation then played its way with zest and incredible belief to a football fairytale of successive promotions back to the top flight and a first ever trip to Wembley. Gary Pallister was the one who went on to collect championship medals and England caps galore, Brian Laws moved to Forest to get his share of gongs and Colin Cooper played for England. Rippers won a title medal. Bernie met the pope. Even Alan Kernaghan went to the World Cup.
But Mogga is the one that attained iconic demi-god status. He was a good player, a great leader and an industrious and committed defender who scored his share of goals but it goes beyond that. Mogga is the one who the crowd identified with: a worker, a battler, a gritty never-say-die, bleed-for-Boro supporter transported to the pitch as a cypher for us all.
He crystalised the rejuvenation and powerful sense of unity and purpose as the club clawed away from abyss of liquidation, a moment in history wired forever into the collective psyche of Boro fans in the same way that Juninho crystalised the explosive possibility and expanded horizons of the move to the Riverside.
That is why the Boro fanzine Fly Me To The Moon, named in honour of a Bruce Rioch quote about his loyal lieutenant is making tomorrow's fanzine a Mogga special.
And why despite 16 years since his departure and a quantum leap forward into the big time for Boro - Europe was unthinkable when he was at Ayresome - Boro fans can still pay such sincere homage to the man as Chris Hill did on Football365 this week.
And he feels it too. For most players - yes, even the 'local lads' - football is a profession rather than a passion and it requites and objective distance from anything as quaint or distracting as supporting your team. Sometimes slip service is paid in some trite comment about "the fans beinga bit specia" or a crass act of badge-kissing but it is rarely believable. But when Tony Mowbray speaks about Boro you know he means it.
He was honest and brave as he risked a Baggies backlash as he told a press conference at West Brom this week: "Middlesbrough are my team. It is where I was born and bred and brought up and I watched them for the formative years of my life.
"I played there for 12 years, captained them through liquidation and promotion to the top division and walked them out at Wembley in a cup final against Chelsea - the ZDS Trophy in 1988. I had some great days there. You don't erase those memories."
There has been some heated debate over the past few days comparing Mogga with Southgate, discussing the morality of chanting the name of an opposing manager who is plotting the team's downfall, and of course the simmering sub-text that many Boro fans championed Mowbray as manager ahead of Gareth in the summer, a factor that could make defeat a political banana skin.
In purely footballing terms there is no comparison. Southgate has played a World Cups, led Boro through a golden age, lifted the Carling Cup and Cardiff and wore the armband in the UEFA Cup final. It's all a long way from scrapping out a draw with Port Vale in a borrowed ground.
But it is not about football. It is about history, and symbolism, and the mystical bond between fans and players that only very rarely in a club's history becomes almost tangible.
Mogga is revered because he is one of us and because he more than anyone is a symbol of what we did back then. The Class of 86 were deservedly celebrated earlier this season to underline exactly how far we have come. What has been done - survival against the odds, rebuilding, barging onto the top table, winning a trophy and rebranding as a well stewarded club with ambition - has been built on the foundations laid back in those incredible years of endeavour and unquenchable spirit, qualities that Tony Mowbray showed in spades.