'Charity of Middlesbrough stars rescued me' - Barrow defender pays tribute to Riverside support ahead of Sunderland clash

By Chris Wheeler for the Daily Mail

The magic of the FA Cup has been known to reach many places, but rarely a motorway service station.

That was where Mike Pearson met up with Malcolm Crosby, then Middlesbrough's assistant manager, a couple of months after the Barrow defender broke his right leg in two places in last season's third round tie at the Riverside.

Pearson faced an uncertain future because he did not have a contract with the non-League club and was unable to start a new job coaching schoolchildren in Llandudno.

Barrow joint managers Darren Sheridan and David Bayliss with the FA Cup

Up for the cup: Barrow joint managers Darren Sheridan and David Bayliss

But having received a card from Gareth Southgate and Stewart Downing's shirt, he got a call from Crosby asking to meet at an M6 service station where he was handed a bundle of cash made up of £50 donations from Boro's players.

'The Middlesbrough lads had all put in, and with me not working that really helped a lot,' said Pearson, who came up through the Welsh junior international ranks with the likes of Joe Ledley and Chris Gunter.

'When I met with Malcolm Crosby I was still on crutches and just about able to drive. He said he wanted to wish me the best with my recovery. I didn't expect anything but to get it was a really nice gesture.

'I broke my tibia and fibula and even though it put a downer on the occasion, playing at Middlesbrough was still one of the highlights of my career.'

Barrow also supported Pearson, continuing to pay him until he was handed an 18-month contract at the start of the season, and the central defender will be back in the North East today when they again face Barclays Premier League opposition in Steve Bruce's Sunderland.

Barrow manager Dave Bayliss leads his players during a training session in the snow

Tough work: Bayliss leads his players during a training session in the snow

For Barrow's joint-manager Darren Sheridan it is a chance to cause an upset against a man whose path has previously crossed his own. It was Bruce who showed Sheridan the door at Wigan in 2001.

And Sheridan, a boyhood Manchester United fan, was in the crowd at Wembley when his older brother John scored the winner for Sheffield Wednesday against Bruce and his team-mates in the 1991 League Cup final. The younger Sheridan then played in the Barnsley side that shocked United 3-2 in an FA Cup replay 12 years ago.

Stewart Downing

Donated shirt: Ex-Boro midfielder Stewart Downing

'I still have a bit of a giggle with my mates about that because they're all Reds,' said Sheridan. 'That was definitely the highlight. Steve Bruce had gone by then, but to get promoted with Barnsley and beat United in the Cup was brilliant.

'I didn't start playing professionally until I was 26 years old so to get a chance to play at Old Trafford was a dream come true for me.

'Steve released me at Wigan. I was about 34 at the time and he said he had to cut the wage bill. Any lad who's been released will tell you it does hurt, but it happens to every footballer.

'I'm still player-manager now (at 42) and I'll keep going as long as I can. I think I'll be on the bench against Sunderland, but I'll chat with my other half and see what he thinks.'

Sheridan has been in joint charge with Dave Bayliss for two years, an alliance that has seen Barrow win promotion back to the Blue Square Premier and reach the third round of the FA Cup two years in a row.

'We've not really had any arguments,' said Bayliss, a defender who played for Luton and Rochdale.


'I'm probably not as soft as Shez. He's more mates with the players than me. But sometimes it's my turn to lose my rag one week and his the next. That's probably why it's worked so well. The players know what line not to cross but we've got a great dressing-room.

'We're under no illusions. Sunderland have got international players but we're going to give them a game.

'We're not just going to roll over and expect to get beaten 10-0 because that would be the worst day of my life. We want to go there and show what we can do and walk out of that stadium with dignity and respect, win, lose or draw.'

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