A classic north-south confrontation like the Coca-Cola Cup final between Middlesbrough and Chelsea would appear to leave little room for ambivalence, but the genial John Neal could be forgiven a sense of divided loyalties over tomorrow's match at Wembley.
Neal was the first of Ken Bates' eight managers - the one he inherited on taking over at Stamford Bridge in 1981 - and arguably the best. He went back to Boro, where he had been in charge for the previous four years, to recruit Darren Wood and Tony McAndrew, the latter leaving Teesside in his testimonial season and inspiring Chelsea to promotion before returning two years later.
Andy Townsend, who cost Boro pounds 500,000 last September and Chelsea pounds 1.2m in 1990, embodies the "ex" factor in this year's final. But the Republic of Ireland midfielder went to the Riverside Stadium via Villa Park: the last deal between the clubs prior to Neal's raid took Geoff Butler south for pounds 60,000 in 1967. The full-back stayed just four months before relocating to Sunderland.
One of Boro's all-time greats, the England defender George Hardwick, guested for Chelsea in two wartime Cup finals while with RAF Bomber Command. The London club's manager then was Billy Birrell, captain at Ayresome Park during the promotion campaign of 1926-27. Four seasons earlier, Andy Wilson left Boro for the Blues for a record pounds 6,500 in November. He still ended up top scorer for both clubs as they were relegated together.
Ten things that Boro's Slovakian Vladimir
might be missing
1 SAD transport for happy journeys. The main bus company, Slovenska Automobilova Doprava, is cheap and cheerful.
2 Bratislava's Neoclassical Primate's Palace, with its 300lb cast-iron cardinal's hat. Teesside's newest valuable lump of dense matter is said to be almost as popular this week.
3 The main SNP monument. Not a politically converted Paul Gascoigne, but the bridge of the Slovakian National Uprising.
4 Parek - dubious looking giant sausages.
5 The national dish, bryndzove halusky. A kind of macaroni cheese.
6 Home-brew brandies.
7 Bratislava's clock museum. A good place for a wind-up, apparently.
8 Skiing in the High Tatras.
9 Kosice, the cosmopolitan border town which attracts Hungarians and underemployed Romanies. Middlesbrough only attracts footballers hungry for career boosts and underemployed Rangers' players.
10 The peculiar cultural blend of the Slovakian people. He'll feel at home playing Chelsea tomorrow.
NAME OF THE GAME
No 28: THE SADDLERS
Walsall's nickname came about because of the town's historical reputation as a major centre for the leather industry. The town centre still has a number of shops specialising in leather goods.
On 28 March 1987, Blackburn Rovers of the Second Division came to London and defeated First Division Charlton 1-0 to win the that weekend's big cup final - the Full Members' Cup final.
The match was won thanks to the efforts of a 21-year old Scottish centre- half, signed three weeks previously and pressed into action as an experimental striker for the match. The experiment worked, as Colin Hendry drove home what was hailed as "a spectacular 86th-minute winner."
On the same day, Luton beat Tottenham 3-1 to move third in the First Division, while struggling Newcastle beat Southampton 2-0, to take their unbeaten spell to four games.Reuse content