Middlesbrough’s steel heart is left on life support as oil-rich Manchester City soar


Gordon Strachan

Tough task: Gordon Strachan

Sportsmail's Michael Walker visits the Middlesbrough supporters worried as much for their jobs as their football club.

As another pint of Magnet made its way from the barrel, the song Middlesbrough fans used to sing in honour of one of their strikers got a brief reprise.

There’s Only One Job on Teesside was always delivered with gallows humour, but, in the company of steelworkers from Corus on Wednesday night, it came with poignancy added.

It seems fair to assume that Joseph-Desire Job never made it into the Woodman Arms in Normanby.

This is midway between Middlesbrough and Redcar, where, in 25 days’ time, 1,700 workers will discover if they have a future in steel or not. 

If not, the fear is that as many as 3,000 more jobs will go locally. The knock-on downturn in an area with a working population estimated at 150,000 would be devastating, and those who would feel its effects include Middlesbrough FC.

Already downsized by last May’s relegation from the Premier League, Boro’s budget needs every penny, hence chairman Steve Gibson has been furiously active.

Gibson understands the umbilical link between town and club — Teesside is built on the iron found in the Cleveland Hills and the first professional club in the area were named Middlesbrough Ironopolis.

Gibson will have been partially pleased by the sight of three local MPs heading north to interrupt Gordon Brown’s Fife Christmas holiday on Wednesday morning.

But uncertainty remains. It is against this background that Manchester City, the richest club on the planet, arrive at the Riverside today.


Bleak outlook: The snow-covered beach at the threatened Corus steelworks

Only 18 months ago, City were clattered 8-1 there but then, as they recognised in the Woodman Arms, globalisation intervened. As the oil wealth of Abu Dhabi decided to invest in City, the Indian parent company that owns Corus decided to withdraw from Teesside.

It has left Middlesbrough, town and club, looking economically fragile and when the downbeat effects of Boro’s relegation are mixed in there is an explanation why Boro’s manager of nine weeks, Gordon Strachan, said this week he will face Roberto Mancini feeling ‘like he has a machine gun and you have a water pistol.’

Strachan’s frank response to that is: ‘Deal with it.’

It is not so easy for the men in Normanby.

‘I have had a season ticket for years but this season I didn’t lay the money out,’ said 48-year-old Craig Brooks.

‘I still go to games but if there’s a few more thousand jobs go, then it’ll be more numbers off the gate. It’ll have a hell of a hit on the area, the local economy and the club.

Sean St Ledger

Exit: Sean St Ledger has returned to Preston

‘Football, like the steel industry, is cyclical. We are in a recession and Man City are on the up. They have the orders, we don’t.’

Straight from school, Brooks joined the Redcar plant in 1978, when it was called British Steel and employed nigh on 30,000. Today that figure is 4,000 and could well be halved.

Brooks has been one of the organisers of Save Our Steel and said Middlesbrough and Gibson ‘have bent over backwards to help.’

There have been two matchday parades around the Riverside and Brooks has been to Boro’s training ground to address the playing staff about the plight of Corus.

‘All the players were very supportive,’ Brooks added, ‘although when you see the car park...’

We are familiar by now with the financial dislocation between players and supporters, which in part explained why around the table in Normanby there was no outrage that Boro have apparently just written off £2million on Sean St Ledger by letting him return to Preston North End.

‘Strange and expensive,’ was Brooks’s opinion, while Ian Jackson, 57, said: ‘From what I read he wanted to go back to Preston. If that is the case then it’ll be interesting to see what the compensation is.

‘If £2m is correct then it works out at around £100,000 a game. For someone from the Championship, that’s a lot of money.’

These men are still getting over the club record £12m spent on striker Afonso Alves, who managed just four Premier League goals last season.

Marcus Bent

Focused: Marcus Bent could line up against Manchester City

There was no resentment at City’s new riches, though. They know here that Boro have spent in their time. This was the first club with a £1,000 player — Alf Common in 1905 — and the FA Cup final, three League Cup finals and the UEFA Cup final reached between 1997 and 2004 did not come on the back of the minimum wage.

But a telling remark came from Richard Caddy.

‘Manchester City could continue without a crowd now,’ he said,

‘Middlesbrough can’t. Middlesbrough’s about local pride.’

Alongside was Richard’s son Josh, 17, a trainee at Corus. His two-year apprenticeship may not be finished if January’s closure goes ahead.

‘It’s all on a down,’ Josh said.

‘Work’s on a down, Boro’s on a down, when you go to the stadium you can see the numbers aren’t what they’re saying they are. The atmosphere has gone down.’

Of the six around the table, two are definitely going to the City match. No one expects the FA Cup to refresh Teesside’s thirst, not this year.

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