Teesside samba salutes new idol

Greg Wood sees the Middlesbrough faithful bid Juninho a huge welcome

There was a lot of diarrhoea in Middlesbrough last night," the taxi driver said as he turned a corner and the Riverside Stadium, a monument to optimism amid the derelict dockland, came into view. He let it hang for 10 seconds before he explained. "At any rate," he said, "there's a lot of kids off sick from school this morning."

In fact, many local schools had simply accepted that the first public appearance of Juninho, Boro's new boy from Brazil, was unfair competition, and closed until lunchtime. Nor was it just the children who turned out to pay their respects. Jim Brittain, a supporter for 60 years, insisted that he had never known anything like it, as 4,000 fans waited to meet the instant local hero. Young or old, all wore the same expression, one of delight and excitement, mixed with an equal part of disbelief.

Juninho, too, looked a little startled as he peered over the balcony of the directors' box and acknowledged the cheers. But then, he knew little of Middlesbrough when he signed his contract, and so even less about the club's troubled history. He could not be expected to appreciate that the eager upturned faces had, until two seasons ago, been scarred by the worry lines of decades of underachievement.

As the Stockton and Billingham College samba band pounded out its beat on an assortment of empty barrels and dustbin lids, some regulars may have reflected that it is not so long since it was the team that was playing rubbish.

That there was anyone there at all, far less 4,000 people, was a moving testament to a football fan's resilience in the face of extreme hardship. "This was the first club to pay pounds 1,000 for a player," Brittain said, "but for years all the directors were interested in was buying second-rate players, and penny-pinching to put money in their own pockets. We were starved of top-class football, but now suddenly the ambition is there again. There's a euphoria gripping Teesside like nothing ever before."

Little wonder, then, that the club shop has already sold out of Brazilian shirts, or that several fans had rummaged through their cupboards to find sombreros which owed more to Marbella than the mardi gras. And when Juninho finally walked out on to the soft green carpet of the Riverside pitch, you could only forgive the children who broke free of the stewards to mob their new idol.

Yet it could have been rather embarrassing. Much had been said about Juninho's slight build and lack of inches, but the truth became apparent only when Middlesbrough's star signing, the millionaire who will be paid pounds 13,000 a week, was briefly in danger of being trampled by an exuberant gang of 12-year-olds. Juninho's English is, as yet, almost non-existent, but when he begins the course of lessons which has been organised by the club his teacher will safely be able to ignore "over 'ere son, on the 'ead".

As he stood at Bryan Robson's side, at 5ft 51/2 almost six inches shorter than his new manager and weighing in at just nine stone, you thought of Vinnie Jones and offered up a prayer for the waif from Sao Paulo. Robson, though, does not share the concern. "I saw him play when I was in Brazil against a team which got a real beast of a man to man-mark him," he said. "He got away with murder, things which you'd never see in England. Our league is no tougher than the one in Brazil."

A question about the British weather was just as predictable, but the answer slightly less convincing. "He's played when it's been minus degrees, and the winters here don't seem to be as cold as they were." As far as British football is concerned, then, the greenhouse effect is a good thing.

Juninho himself spoke only occasionally, through his interpreter, and quietly, as though embarrassed by all the fuss. He likes England. He was flattered when Robson expressed his interest in him. He is not worried about his place in the Brazilian team, and playing in England may even help, because there are many fewer matches. And it was easy to believe him when he seemed to be saying, with unusual humility for a superstar, that he signed for Middlesbrough because they were the first team to ask.

If Juninho really is the thoughtful, well-adjusted 22-year-old he appears to be, the Premiership will hold no fears for him. Yet whether or not he eventually proves worthy of all the money and adulation, one thing remains certain. The long-suffering fans of Middlesbrough FC richly deserved their chance to samba on a Tuesday morning in October.

n The Football Association has cleared Middlesbrough of any irregularities in the pounds 4.75m transfer of Juninho, following allegations that an unlicensed agent was involved.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Exhibition Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding B2B exhibition and...

Recruitment Genius: QA Technician

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading manufacturer of re...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, an experienced and hig...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 per annum + commission: SThree: Sthree have an exciting opportunity for...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat