When and where did you live locally?
I was born in South Bank in 1967, a descendant of Irish immigrants. Or were they Irish Expats? But we moved from South Bank when I was young. First just to Linthorpe (where I started school at St George’s), then to Leeds (boo!) Whitley Bay, Oxford and back to Whitley Bay.
Aged 18, in 1985, I moved back to Middlesbrough by myself to do a Computer Studies HND at Teesside Polytechnic. I was already a big Boro fan, so most people assumed that I’d chosen Teesside deliberately to go to matches, but I’d actually been accepted for a degree at Kingston University in London. Teesside Poly was organised in a panic when I was back from Euro-railing and found out I’d screwed up my A-Levels. Best thing I ever did!
I was ever present at Ayresome Park during the terrible 1985-86 and wonderful 1986-87 seasons, including the August 1986 match played at Hartlepool. Although I moved back to Tyneside after Poly, I traveled back for most home matches until I moved to France. My last match as a UK resident was the 1991 play-off semi-finals lost to Notts County, managed by Neil Warnock.
What are you fondest memories of growing up on Teesside?
Because I moved away so young, my earliest memories of Teesside are very much coming “home” to see my Nana and Grandad on the Spencebeck Estate in Ormesby. Sometimes this would coincide with going to a match at Ayresome Park. Starting with Jack Charlton’s and John Neil’s teams, my favourite player at the time was David Armstrong. As an 18-year-old student, as well as the football matches, which I attended religiously, there are also some blurred memories of Wednesday nights at The Madison, the Student Union, and pubs like the Empire, the Masham and the newly opened Star and Garter; which later, as the Star, became my family’s starting point for weekend matches at the Riverside.
Where did you move to?
After Poly, I got a job in Rothbury, Northumberland and fell in love with a French girl who was studying in Newcastle. After living together in Newcastle for two years, she decided she would like to move back to France and I decided to join her. We are still together now and have 2 lovely grown-up daughters. I found a job in Paris as a computer engineer and we lived there over 3 years. When I discovered Internet, in 1995, I decided to go independent and work online. We moved to Sauveterre-de-Béarn a medieval village in the South-west of France. The area we live in is The Béarn, but it is on the border with the Basque Country which straddles France and Spain along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
Are there many differences between Teesside and where you are now?
The biggest challenge when you move to France is the language. My level at school was failing CSE French so it was a big step up for me. I achieved proficiency using the “jump in the deep end” method. Although my girlfriend and work colleagues could communicate in English, I switched to speaking in French all the time as soon as I arrived and I even speak to my daughters in French now.
As well as French, both the Béarn and the Basque Country have their own languages and are very proud of their cultures and traditions. Similar to Wales, you can get by without knowing the local language, but you can feel left out in some situations when you don’t speak them (which I don’t).
What do you miss most about Teesside?
I miss that going to the matches, pubs, fish and chips (from Saltburn or Whitby), pork scratchings, speaking English, Dad’s jokes (but not my Dad’s jokes), getting in a round of drinks, curry, extra strong mints, Christmas pudding, the view North from Redcar beach, a poison in the air, a mix of chemicals and fear, Branston pickle and even the most industrially processed Cheddar cheese. Crisp sandwiches, but I’ve recently discovered that I can make them in France – they sell Salt and Vinegar crisps in our local supermarket!
But, more seriously, the thing I miss the most is my family. Until COVID, it never seemed that difficult to get back home, but after being restricted for 2-years, it has underlined how lucky I’ve been to emigrate, but also travel home regularly. Compare that to our Irish immigrant ancestors and a lot of people being forced to emigrate in modern times and we can really set ourselves apart.
Do you get back ‘home’ much?
Before COVID I tried to get home regularly every year, normally around the start of the football season or at Christmas. The dates are often chosen to get in the most matches over a 10-day period. I had also try and get to at least one away match a season and I’ve been lucky to get to most cup finals since 1991. Modern technology also means that I’ve been able to watch most matches on Internet for the past few seasons, my optimal matchday routine is therefore similar to what you all had to endure last season! Before that it was radio and back in the 1990s it was either a call from my Dad, BBC World Service, Sunday papers or IRC (Internet Relay Chat).
My best experience of following Middlesbrough from afar was in 2006 when I managed to synchronize French TV and Alistair Brownlee’s commentary for the Steaua Bucharest UEFA Cup semi-final.
Don’t think I will ever top listening live to “That is it. It’s Eindhoven. It’s Eindhoven. Boro have made it. One of the most glorious nights in the history of football. We go back to 1876, the Infant Hercules, fathomed out of the foundries of Teesside, mined out of the Eston Hills, we’re roaring all the way to Eindhoven and the UEFA Cup Final. It’s party, party, party! Everybody round my house for a parmo!”