Spend a reasonable amount of time on this site and you’ll know that non-League football is something I’m incredibly passionate about, alongside my special interest in the game all over the world. However, like many football fans, I do also follow a professional club and, despite being born in Surrey and currently resident in Merseyside, that club is Middlesbrough.
That’s why somewhere near the top of my 2021 Christmas List, I’d asked the big man in red to bring me a copy of 25 Years on the Riverside Rollercoaster by Anthony Vickers.
This is a book which does exactly what it says on the tin. It charts the 25 completed seasons since the Boro moved to the Riverside Stadium in the summer of 1995. And what a 25 years it has been! Promotions, relegations, Cup Final heartbreaks, the Little Fella, a trophy, European adventures and (in my case) a glorious 100th Birthday celebration.
But how does a boy who grew up down South end up a Middlesbrough fan? Some of it was, undoubtedly, a reaction to all the classmates who supported Manchester United and Liverpool. A bit was probably a veiled two fingers to my Chelsea supporting mother. There was definitely a big nod to Dad and Nana.
My Dad grew up in Stockton and his nephew – my cousin – played more than 150 First Team games for Middlesbrough. I still have his Skill brand tracksuit from the 1991-92 promotion season and a signed team photo from the final season at Ayresome Park. Thanks to Cousin Jamie I was at the first match ever played at the Riverside; a glorious victory over the team my Mum supported. I was also at the first ever European match, having earned the money for my ticket by working on the opening of a Sainsbury’s in Stockton.
I mention Nana because she was Jamie’s biggest fan and used to go in goal for him when he was a kid. She also took both Jamie and I on tours of the old Wembley Stadium, albeit separately. She was a formative influence on us both.
Oh, right. You’re here about 25 Years on the Riverside Rollercoaster. Well, it’s the first book written by former Evening Gazette journalist Anthony Vickers who, having reported on the Boro for over 25 years, now works as Middlesbrough’s Club Author. You don’t rack up three decades working for an evening paper without being able to turn a phrase or two and having always enjoyed Vickers’ columns on visits to Teesside, I was looking forward to reading this book.
It was everything I hoped for. Vickers summarises each season succinctly and with a certain dry wit. The review of each campaign goes into just the right level of detail; the reader never gets bogged down in the minutiae of each season, but there are plenty of “Oh! I’d forgotten about that!” moments for anyone who, like me, lived through the tumultuous quarter-century of transformation Middlesbrough FC has been through.
But there is much more than just a campaign-by-campaign recap here. Vickers skilfully explains why his club needed to leave Ayresome Park, the power struggles that nearly kiboshed the relocation and the remarkable story of how the ground came to be built with almost obscene haste. These chapters are some of the richest in the book, not least because they set the scene for all that followed, but the storytelling is terrific.
Football fans with an interest in football history will probably get as much from the stacks of photos which illustrate the book and the complete results from every season since the stadium opened as from anything else in 25 Years on the Riverside Rollercoaster but, while this book is unashamedly aimed at Middlesbrough supporters, it is never myopic. You don’t have to be a Boro fan to enjoy this book.
You probably do need to support the club to get hold of a copy though. 25 Years on the Riverside Rollercoaster was published by the club and appears to be sold out at the time of writing whilst not being available at any of the usual outlets.
Because of that, I almost didn’t publish this review. For Reading the Game, I only review the football books I’ve really enjoyed; I don’t see the point of spending time and energy hammering another author – even if I don’t like a particular title, there’s still huge amounts of research, writing, re-writing and editing gone into it. And my hope is that, every so often, someone might read one of these blogs, buy a book and enjoy it. But if the book’s sold out, why bother?
Well, there might be another print run, for a start. And in any case, I write for the same reason I read: for pleasure. I loved 25 Years on the Riverside Rollercoaster because it reminded me of so many things, whilst also being really well written. I wanted to say so, and now I have.
The greatest compliment I can pay Anthony Vickers is to tell the truth: 25 Years on the Riverside Rollercoaster will be on my bookshelf, right next to the copy of Ayresome Park Memories Nana bought the 15-year-old me in 1995, until I’m in my dotage. It’s that good.