He saved Boro and led them to glory

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

WHEN Steve Gibson was asked to res­cue Mid­dles­brough, a 28-year-old busi­ness­man from the town’s rough Park End es­tate, the club was tak­ing its fi­nal, gasp­ing breaths.

“The liq­uida­tors were in,” re­called Tony Mow­bray, Boro’s young skip­per in that wretched spring and sum­mer of 1986.

“The Boro gates at Ayre­some Park got locked.We couldn’t even get to our train­ing kit so we bought some t-shirts and trained in the park, some­times with jumpers for goal­posts.

En­tre­pre­neur

“There were spells when we didn’t get paid and were times we had to go to the town hall and get cash in brown en­velopes off the coun­cil to keep the play­ers’ reg­is­tra­tions. Then the manager and all the staff were laid off.”

By Au­gust, with debts spi­ral­ing be­yond £2m and the Foot­ball League threat­en­ing ex­pul­sion, Tyne Tees news for­mally an­nounced the death of the club.

But they had reck­oned with­out Gibson, the haulage en­tre­pre­neur who at just 21 had be­come Mid­dles­brough’s youngest Labour coun­cil­lor.

That very same day, he trav- elled to Heathrow air­port and met race­horse owner Henry Moszkow­icz, who handed over £300,000 in a brief­case. Gibson’s con­sor­tium then stumped up an­other £825,000.

MId­dles­brough sur­vived with ten min­utes to spare, Gibson took con­trol and, ex­actly two decades later, the lo­cal lad had a Pre­mier League side with one of the coun­try’s finest academies, a League Cup in the tro­phy cabi­net and an ap­pear­ance in the UEFA Cup fi­nal.

Lit­tle won­der, then, that when Boro stepped out at Eind­hoven that night in 2006, it was not the names of manager Steve McClaren or striker Jimmy-Floyd Has­sel­baink that echoed around the ground. It was that of their saviour and bene­fac­tor.

“Back in ’86, Steve was the fo­cal point that kept ev­ery­one to­gether,” said for­mer Boro player Brian Laws. “And he is still that fo­cal point now. He’s a vi­sion­ary chair­man who loves the club and ev­ery sin­gle sup­porter up there ap­pre­ci­ates what he has done.”

The town has much to be grate­ful for. It was Gibson who bankrolled pro­mo­tion to the Pre­mier League, then the ar­rival of in­ter­na­tional su­per­stars like Jun­inho and Fabrizio Ra­vanelli. Be­tween 1995 and 2001, some £78m was spent on trans­fers, with a fur­ther £16m ploughed into build­ing the 34,000-seater River­side Sta­dium.

But so too does the man­age­ment fra­ter­nity. Be­cause not only has Gibson al­ways sought to give first-time man­agers a break, he has stood by them when oth­ers might have pulled the trig­ger.

“In terms of loy­alty and fi­nance, no­body has been so re­li­able,” said Neil Warnock, who once said his big­gest re­gret in foot­ball was never get­ting the chance to work with Gibson.

“With­out him at the helm, I think the club would have been in a real mess over the years. And over the last 20 years or so, I don’t think any chair­man has done as much to sup­port young Bri­tish man­agers. He gave Bryan Rob­son his break, then Steve McClaren and Gareth South­gate. Now he’s given Ai­tor Karanka his first job. In 30 years, he’s had ten man­agers which is an in­cred­i­ble record in the mod­ern game.”

In­cred­i­ble

In­deed, when Karanka called his men­tor Jose Mour­inho to say he’d been of­fered the job, the Por­tuguese told him not to hes­i­tate.

Yet the Boro chair­man is no pushover. In those early days at Ayre­some Park, he per­suaded third-gen­er­a­tion share­hold­ers (“more in­ter­ested in what they’d had for lunch than tack­ling the debts”) to hand over full ex­ec­u­tive con­trol of the club.

When they dis­mis­sively re­lented and asked what he was go­ing to do, Gibson replied, “None of your busi­ness, you’re all fired.”

McClaren, af­ter field­ing a weak­ened side in a League Cup game, was hauled into Gibson’s of­fice and read the riot act.

“He’s a nice guy and a per­sonal friend, but I al­ways knew he was a hard-bit­ten, cut-throat busi­ness­man,” said Rob­son, who suf­fered his own slice of ruth­less­ness when he was dis­missed to make way for McClaren in 2001.

“I used to read some of the rub­bish that was writ­ten about our spend­ing and they were talk­ing as if Steve didn’t have a head for busi­ness. I thought, ‘Do they even know who they’re deal­ing with?’ He would never let this club get into trou­ble again.”

And he hasn’t, con­tin­u­ing to pump his heart, soul and cash into a club that this year posted a pre­tax loss of £20m.

“Steve had been through the ringer with Boro and that gives him a sense of per­spec­tive,” said ex-boss South­gate. “Ev­ery de­ci­sion he makes is for the good of the club. He wants Mid­dles­brough to achieve but, above all, he wants them to sur­vive.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

PENNY FOR THEM: Steve Gibson in pen­sive mood and, inset, with cur­rent boss Ai­tor Karanka

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