We're a Friendly Force to Be Reckoned With!

Article excerpt

Byline: Anthony Vickers Sports reporter anthony.vickers@eveninggazette.co.uk

MIGHTY Boro have crushed some of the biggest names in football in friendlies at Ayresome Park.

Club or country, we took them all. Boro breached the Great Wall of China and cleaned up against Ajax.

It's easy with the sun shining and the pressure off, isn't it? In the Sixties and Seventies, Boro played some famous names like PSV Eindhoven, Munich 1860, Fluminense, Dinamo Zagreb, Benfica, Olimpiakos, and, er, Tulsa Roughnecks, as well as the Orient in the shape of China and Japan, all in front of largely bemused, shirt-sleeved crowds around the 7,000 mark.

Back when the now relentless football juggernaut actually used to take a break in the summer, a leisurely friendly was a great way for fans to break themselves back into the routine.

They could check out the new players, spot a Chicken-run scapegoat elect and renew acquaintance with the bloke behind them and enjoy the sometimes surreal spectacle.

In 1978, John Neal's Boro played back-to-back home matches against Dutch masters Ajax and Huracan, the latter part of a doomed bid to sign Argentinian World Cup-winning midfielder Rene Houseman.

Boro just edged out Ajax 1-0 - who had just won their third successive Eredivisie title - thanks to towering Billy Woof header from a Graeme Hedley cross.

The Dutch included a Moluccan midfielder called Tahmata - instantly dubbed 'Ketchup' by the Holgate who spent much of the second half urging chairman Charlie Amer to sign him on.

The Huracan game was a 1-1 draw, 'goal machine' Woof again on target and Houseman getting the Argentinans' goal.

In 1980, Boro hosted China as part of a tour of England as they tentatively stepped from behind the Bamboo Curtain to engage with the beautiful game. As well as Boro, they also played Fulham and Everton.

The Chinese arrived at Ayresome first and trained on Teesside for a week before the tour kicked off, much to the amusement of pupils at the nearby Sacred Heart School, who cheered the exotic athletes during break. …