Fan's Eye View: Why I like hot Bovril down me

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The Independent Online
A MONTH or so ago, as I was trying to halt Boro's latest run of bad luck, I searched my wardrobe to find some old lucky piece of clothing that might help lift the gloom surrounding Ayresome Park.

Of course some say it's nothing to do with luck and it's all down to bad management, witness the banners at the fortunate win over Millwall. Whatever, I thought that Lennie needed a hand - or should that have been rabbit's foot? So it's back to the wardrobe.

What about the Wembley Tie? No I've used it already and to no avail. OK then, the Second Division Championship commemorative big Jack T-shirt? Well, perhaps. . . but there again.

Self-deception is an integral part of football and like it or not we all have little superstitious habits on match-day just like the professionals. What we wear, what we do and what we say, if they work, you can bet your last milk token that we'll be doing the same for weeks afterwards.

Clothing is probably one of the main areas of superstition. It's a ridiculous thought, I know, that an article of clothing can make Morris pass to a red shirt or Wilko stay onside but does it stop us? Does it hell.

One game I wore the Zenith Data Systems T-shirt in remembrance of Boro's one and only appearance at that big toilet 200 yards from Wembley tube station. It was reduced in the Boro shop and, generous to a fault, they charged me a quid. It was the night of the first round in the very same cup against Derby. Sure, it may have been years out of date, but who could argue with a superb 4-2 win after being two nowt down?

Come the next round I had to wear it again. Of course I froze my bollocks off as we lost to a jammy own goal to Tranmere on a nithering North-east night. How much more stupid can you get? Well, quite a lot actually.

Pre-match preparations often focus on the way we get to a game. One Saturday afternoon the car refused to start, too many awaydays I guess. I was compelled to walk. I took a short cut, trekking across Albert Park going the wrong way round the boating lake and finally cutting through the tennis courts.

The Boro won comfortably. Needless to say I continued this way for weeks to come although the Cortina now functioned. Staggering through the park from the club I've never been so fit and suggested it could work for Rioch in an open letter to the local paper. Perhaps they took some notice because it was absolutely incredible - they were unbeaten 14 matches in a row. The luck finally ran out with a visit from Leeds, unusual that, and when three more defeats followed I called it a day.

I always drive now. I reckon I was cured by all that walking or perhaps this later vision of just how far things can get out of hand. One morning I was walking away from Ayresome after buying a ticket for the Everton cup game when I was hit by a taxi. Nothing serious, mind, but enough to scare me out of my wits and leave me with a pronounced limp on the night of the match.

I'll never forget the sympathy, understanding and commiserations from our Dave and the lads: 'Wet yourself then Paul' and 'Move your ass along Hopalong'. . . We were rewarded with a brilliant performance that compelled me to limp to Goodison for the second replay. We weren't to grace Wembley that year but at least it saved me from risking life and limb any further.

However, later that same season one incident almost made me have a change of heart about all this superstitious nonsense. Sheff Utd at home, the bloke behind me spilt a cup of boiling Bovril over me crombie. Oh great, I thought, just my luck.

As it turned out the lads sliced the Blades in two (6-0 actually). I'd almost forgotten the incident when it happened again this season, at Barnsley. The score? They won 3-0. Well, it wasn't a full cup you see.