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MFC Forgotten Tragedy

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Picked this up from fmttm a very sad account and well, one which I can not recall.

Worth a read though and thought all round.

 

Copy and pasted from behind The Athletic paywall, for anyone interested



On the walk to Ayresome Park, they found a penny lying on the pavement. Manchester United were in town. Middlesbrough were gearing up for their biggest crowd of the season and, when Irene Roxby picked up the coin, she turned to her husband, Norman, and their son, Colin, to say it might bring their team some luck.

Perhaps you know the old saying about it being good fortune to find a penny.

Find a penny, pick it up
All day long, you’ll have good luck.

What happened at Middlesbrough’s former ground that day — January 12, 1980 — ended instead in the kind of tragedy for which that decade in football became notorious, involving a dangerous crush, a wall collapse and the spectre of hooliganism inside and outside a decaying stadium.

Except the likelihood is you might not be aware about the dreadful events of that winter’s afternoon on Teesside. It is football’s forgotten tragedy — rarely spoken about, a story that has been lost in time and is never commemorated, even though it is the 40th anniversary this weekend.

The family have shared a few tears this week as they have gone over what happened after the final whistle, piecing together the details of the crush that formed in the away end and the moments leading to the wall giving way.

Norman, 51, and Irene, 52, both season-ticket holders, were the innocent victims who happened to be walking past, in the wrong place at the wrong time, while the away supporters, held back by police, were waiting to get out.

There are varying accounts of what happened next, some United fans saying there was an attempt to confront Middlesbrough fans outside, others claiming they were trying to get away from an excited police horse. The only certainty is the weight of pressure brought down the wall and that, for the Roxby family, there were dreadful consequences.

“Colin had left the ground early because he wanted to get some tickets for an FA Cup tie later in the week,” his widow, Joan, tells The Athletic. “He went to stand in the queue and, when the game finished, his mum and dad decided they would have a walk round the ground while they were waiting. Colin was in the queue and he could hear all the noise, the sirens, the ambulances, people shouting.

“The police were on horses and trying to clear the Middlesbrough lot out of the way so there weren’t any fights. The Manchester United lot were going mad inside the ground and, as they (Norman and Irene) came round the corner, the United fans were pushing at these gates to get out. It was a double gate, with two concrete pillars, and eventually the wall gave way.

“Norman went to shield his wife and the wall came down on them. Everybody was running everywhere — the police just couldn’t control them — until they realised there were two people under there. Norman was already dead. Irene was still alive but she died when they arrived at hospital.”

Two other Middlesbrough fans were injured in what began a dreadful trend for football in the 1980s, leading to huge losses of life at the Heysel stadium in Brussels, Bradford City’s Valley Parade ground and in the Hillsborough disaster.

Colin, who died 12 years ago, was 33 at the time and among the photographs Joan has on display at her home in Stockton-on-Tees, there is one of their wedding day in March 1968, with her husband standing beside his parents. She has given The Athletic permission to use it today.

“They were football mad,” she says. “They always went together, they had season tickets and they loved going to games. I just remember that day it was starting to get late and thinking, ‘Where is Colin? What time are they coming back?’ When he did come in, his first words were, ‘I can’t find my mum and dad and it’s on the news that two people have been killed.’

“Colin was diabetic. I said, ‘Oh my God, let’s calm down here.’ I had to think of him, too. ‘You need your injection,’ I said, ‘and you need something to eat.’ He went upstairs to get changed and when he came back down he said he was going to call the hospital. He rang the hospital, they put a policeman on the phone and, of course, the police came straight round. They told Colin he would have to go to the hospital to identify the bodies. I went with him. It was awful and, in the middle of this, I said, ‘Hang on a minute, he’s got a sister as well, and she needs to know because it’s her mum and dad, too.’”

Audrey Smith, then 30, was eight months pregnant, expecting her second child, when the knock on the door turned her world upside down.

Her eldest son, Mike, was nine at the time and has a blur of memories from a period of his life that, growing up, his relatives did not often talk about. He was playing with a Skull Machine, a Denys Fisher toy many children of the 1970s and 1980s will remember, on the day the police turned up. He can recall his grandfather being the tallest man he ever knew — “the father-figure for the first part of my life” — and the stories of his grandparents winning trophies as champion pigeon breeders. And, more than anything, he can remember the innocent joys of living in the same house with them until he was seven.

The funeral was shown on the local television news and Mike stayed at home “with two cousins and one of their aunties, with us kids being purposely told not to watch the TV”.

One of the coffins was carried by the Middlesbrough manager, John Neal, with Jim Platt, David Armstrong and John Craggs, all first-team players, among the other pallbearers. The second coffin was carried into the church by members of Eaglescliffe pigeon club. “On one side of their gravestone there is a pigeon and, on the other side, it’s a Middlesbrough player,” Mike says. “Every year, we go there at Christmas to put on a wreath.”

What the family find sad and difficult to understand is encapsulated by Mike’s statement that “it’s a tragic story, but it’s also a tragedy that it has been forgotten about”.

There was never, say, a plaque for the Roxbys. Until this week, nobody from the club had been in touch about the 40th anniversary, or any of the ones that had passed before. And, though it would be wrong to think the family harbour any bad feelings, it does sadden them that so little is known about what happened, even locally.
middlesbrough ayresome park
A picture of Ayresome Park, with seats from the old ground, at the Riverside Stadium in March 2015. (Photo: Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

“I still support Middlesbrough,” Mike says. “I’ve taken my son a couple of times and we sometimes go on Boxing Day with a few mates.

“The players carried the coffin, which was a fantastic gesture, and I can remember I was given a signed picture of the team. But that was it. That was the only thing we got as a family.

“You can work with someone all your life, then they turn to you and ask if you like football. ‘Well, not really,’ I’ll say, ‘my grandparents were killed at a football match.’ The amount of times I’ve had that conversation and, even with so many Middlesbrough supporters, they just don’t know anything about it.

“There are no hard feelings, there’s no resentment, but I do look back sometimes and think, ‘Hold on. My grandparents were taken away from us.’ They weren’t old, they were still relatively young, and it’s almost as if because there were only two people who died, rather than a bigger tragedy such as Hillsborough, it doesn’t seem to matter. But it does matter.”

A while back, Mike decided to conduct his own research and went to the library to go through the old newspaper cuttings. “It was the first football tragedy in the 1980s but there is very little information about it anywhere. But one of the things I discovered was Middlesbrough didn’t have a safety certificate at the time. How unbelievable is that?”

That was widely reported at the time and it was also mentioned in Ayresome Park Memories, a 1995 book co-written by Eric Paylor, former chief sports writer of the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette. The club, it states, “did not possess a safety certificate at the time for that part of the ground, though Cleveland County Council stressed they had been in the process of issuing the certificate. An inquest was not held until the following year, though no blame was apportioned to the club.”

Paylor and his fellow author, John Wilson, also note how Middlesbrough’s achievements that season, finishing a “very healthy ninth in the First Division” were “overshadowed by the double tragedy”. The inquest resulted in a verdict of misadventure.

Middlesbrough’s average attendance for the 1979-80 season was 18,774. For United’s visit, however, there was a crowd of 30,587 to watch a 1-1 draw against the side who were second in the league at the time, two points behind Liverpool. Armstrong scored for the home team and Mickey Thomas was on target for a visiting side featuring Ray Wilkins, Steve Coppell, Joe Jordan and Lou Macari.

All that, however, felt largely irrelevant after the events on Clive Road, in the south-east corner of the ground. One book, The Red Army Years, written by two United supporters about following the club during that era, recalls the ground being “a decrepit XXXXXX-heap” and “Boro cretins inciting from outside”. Yet the co-authors, Richard Kurt and Chris Nickeas, also acknowledge the alleged safety issues and provocation “didn’t assuage the grisly feelings of guilt as national fingers pointed accusingly at Manchester”.

Ayresome Park was demolished in 1997 as Middlesbrough moved to the Riverside Stadium and there is now a housing estate on the site of the old ground. The developers put in a pair of bronze football boots to mark where the centre spot used to be and the street names — The Turnstile, The Midfield, The Holgate — offer their own clues about what once happened in these quiet cul-de-sacs.

For the Roxbys, however, there are no happy memories and, though Colin did carry on watching his favourite team for a while, he found it too difficult and eventually stopped going.

“The only thing I can be glad about is that Amanda, my daughter, also liked to go to matches,” Joan says. “She was 11 at the time. That morning she said to Colin, ‘Can I come with you?’ I remember him saying, ‘No, it’s Manchester United, you’re not coming.’ Their fans had a reputation, so he wouldn’t take her. And thank God he didn’t, because she would have been with her grandparents when the wall came down.”

It was Colin who one day told Joan about what happened on the walk to Ayresome Park and his mother picking up the penny from the floor.

“It was meant to be good luck,” she reflects, and the tears come again. “She picked it up and said, ‘I’ll put it in my pocket and Middlesbrough might win.’ We used to do that as a family, but I don’t any more. Ever since that game, I don’t pick anything up. We stopped doing it that day.”

After being contacted by The Athletic, Middlesbrough got in touch with the family of Norman and Irene Roxby to pass on the club’s sympathies and re-open lines of communication. Yvonne Ferguson, the club’s head of supporter relations, rang Mike Smith on Thursday and the family has been invited to the home game on Saturday against Derby County, which they are expected to attend. Middlesbrough also intend to carry a tribute in a future match-day programme.

 

 

 

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On a personal note I can relate to this as my own Father died in very similar circumstances under heavy masonary

 

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Extremely sad and tragic story. I had never heard about it before but I won’t ever forget it now

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That's a really sad and quite shocking story, and one which I had no knowledge of. It's a shame MFC haven't done more to commemorate the tragedy - it sounds as though they wanted to airbrush it from history.

Although my own experience doesn't compare to the Roxby's, I was a big Bradford City fan as a young boy until the day I stood in my front garden and watched Valley Parade burn down. I knew someone whose dad died in the fire, and I had no interest in football for the rest of my childhood. I was an adult before friends persuaded me to visit the Riverside during a holiday in the north east, on the basis the stadium was all-seater and built from fire-retardant concrete. That was 23 years ago, and I've loved the Boro ever since, but if stadium safety had been afforded any importance in the 1980s, things might have been different. And the Roxbys wouldn't have spent their lives in the shadow of tragedy, like all the families of the people lost at Hillsborough, Heysel, etc.

I wonder how many lives might have turned out differently if the powers that be had given a toss about safety in the Eighties.

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Thank you for sharing this never knew about this until now but shall never forget

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Wow I had absolutely no idea about this. What a powerful read.

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I remember it at the time, Man U fans were a very different breed in the 80’s. The Ground was packed, in those days you would be squashed together on the terraces when there was a capacity crowd. A tragic day. 
 

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I knew about this, not firsthand as I was too young but it's definitely a story i've heard before.

Football fans in general were a different beast in the 80s, and us having one of the most notorious firms certainly made Ayresome Park a target for visiting hooligans.

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Thanks for sharing Alan. I had no knowledge of this tragic day what was suppose a great family day out. 
Not afraid to admit it pulled really hard at my emotions 

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Was at that game and walked past where wall would collapse on my way to ground,,,,,remember starting to walk down Clive Road at end of game and police stopping people and saying "you can't go down there" ...thought it might have been something to do with MU fans so went through back of Holgate and back in main entrance to go down towards Linthorpe Rd and then started to hear wall had collapsed and some people had been hurt .....after facts came out, was less than impressed by attitude of national papers but Gazette (Cliff Mitchell?) did some good reporting .....gave me the creeps walking past that spot for long time  

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Such a sad story

14th January 1980 Boro played at home to Portsmouth in an FAC replay, the following home game after the tragedy & I can rmember the minutes silence before kick off in rememberence of the tragedy 2 days previous

RIP to both Norman and Irene x

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8 hours ago, RiseAgainst said:

That's a really sad and quite shocking story, and one which I had no knowledge of. It's a shame MFC haven't done more to commemorate the tragedy - it sounds as though they wanted to airbrush it from history.

Although my own experience doesn't compare to the Roxby's, I was a big Bradford City fan as a young boy until the day I stood in my front garden and watched Valley Parade burn down. I knew someone whose dad died in the fire, and I had no interest in football for the rest of my childhood. I was an adult before friends persuaded me to visit the Riverside during a holiday in the north east, on the basis the stadium was all-seater and built from fire-retardant concrete. That was 23 years ago, and I've loved the Boro ever since, but if stadium safety had been afforded any importance in the 1980s, things might have been different. And the Roxbys wouldn't have spent their lives in the shadow of tragedy, like all the families of the people lost at Hillsborough, Heysel, etc.

I wonder how many lives might have turned out differently if the powers that be had given a toss about safety in the Eighties.

Given the state of many football grounds back then and the generally lax attitudes to safety & security, you also wonder how many people went on to live long, full lives by sheer good fortune.

I've read some similar horror stories about concert venues and nightclubs.

 

Have to say DS's post came as quite a shock to me, as nobody ever spoke about it in all the time I lived up there...and I was surrounded by Boro fans on a daily basis.

I was even bought a copy of Middlesbrough: A Complete Record (by Harry Glasper in conjunction with the Evening Gazette). This book covers the club from its formation, up to the '92-'93 season and I'm pretty sure there is no mention of it in there.

Edited by AnglianRed

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This day the 14th January 1980 we played Portsmouth at Ayresome Park in a 3rd round FA replay & the 1st game after the tragedy of the Boro fans who were killed under the fallen Wall caused by the Man Utd fans 

A minutes silence was given before kick off 

Boro won this cup tie 3-0 with goals by Terry Cochrane with his 2nd & 3rd goals of the season & his 1st home cup goal, Peter Johnson with his his one & only goal for the Boro & Davey Armstrong with his 8th goal of the season, infront of 22,551 fans seen Boro comfortably cruise through to the next round to face Birmingham 

John Neals team

Jim Platt 

John Craggs 

Peter Johnson

Craig Johnston 

Alan Ramage 

Tony McAndrew 

Terry Cochrane 

Graham Hedley 

Bosco Jankovic 

Davey Armstrong 

IMG_20200114_144750.jpg

IMG_20200114_144800.jpg

IMG_20200114_144807.jpg

Edited by Erimus74

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Thanks for sharing this, I didn't know about it either. It's such a horrible tragedy and I can't believe even the club themselves don't really do anything to acknowledge it happened. 

Edited by Ash

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