There are only three things that can scare even the most zealous and hardcase Boro fan; a 3 point deduction, a trip to Wembley and Gordon Strachan’s time as manager.
In a 12 month period between October 2009 and October 2010, Strachan managed to take a Boro team that looked well equipped to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking and sap the soul right out of the club, his Tartanisation of the squad leaving a toxic drain on the wage budget and complete apathy towards the team within the town.
Crowds were hitting lows of 14 thousand as Lee Miller, Kevin Thomson and Kris Boyd robbed big wages from a club that had gone from a UEFA Cup final to hanging just above the Championship relegation zone inside four years. Times were hard for the club and the community. A darkness had fallen across Teesside.
However, in the darkest night, even the faintest light is blinding. In Boro’s case, this light was a raging fire. A raging fire of ginger fury, a junkie looking Braveheart that helped begin the slow march back to the Premier League, with a hammer blow of a left foot and a full-blooded attitude that slotted into the Teesside way of life seamlessly. His name was Barry Robson.
Battle scarred and as Scottish as they come, Robson arrived with Scott McDonald, Willo Flood and Chris Killen from the SPL in January 2010 and would be the screaming, all or nothing, pulsating heartbeat of the team for two years. With a knack for flying into tackles and hitting the ball dead hard, Robson would become a fan favourite amongst the MFC faithful as he went headfirst into battle while most of his Scottish counterparts struggled to adapt to the English game. He took no prisoners and became Tony Mowbray’s dog of war once the Boro legend took over as manager.
While Mogga was steadying the ship behind the scenes, patching together a team of mostly free agents and unfulfilled potential, Barry Robson was out on the frontline leading by example. Studs up and wearing his heart on his sleeve, striking fear into the heart of the other team and most of his own teammates.
As well as being a frothing at the mouth pitbull of a midfielder, Barry Robson was really, really good at scoring lovely goals. When that left foot that was forged from Aberdeenshire granite connected with a football, it usually ended up in the back of the net or taking someone’s head clean off their shoulders.
Many a time after a game, Robson would come flying through the door of Tony Mowbray’s office, matchball under one arm and the decapitated skull of a opposition team’s goalkeeper under the other. “Good lad, Robbo. Here’s your tea. Don’t get blood on the carpet, I had to sell Wheater last time to pay to get it steam cleaned.”, Mogga would say, pouring a bottle of Irn Bru into Robson’s bowl.
There’s two goals that stick out the most when thinking about Barry Robson’s sweet, pasty left foot. The first was a late Christmas present on Boxing Day 2011 against Hull City. A packed Riverside, hungover on turkey sandwiches and Baileys, was watching two of the top teams in the league that year edge each other out to a 0-0 draw when Scott McDonald played a diagonal over to Robson on the right hand side of the pitch.
Cutting inside onto his left, Big Bad Bazza was actually running away from goal when he looked towards goal. He’s not going to is he? No way? Oh, he fucking is like. Like a Russian missile, the ball flew right into the net from 30 yards. No curl or swerve, no odd movement that tricked the Hull keeper. Just pure “ave it”. There’s nothing sweeter than a proper thunderbastard into the top corner.
Alright. Maybe there is. A goal against Sunderland. We hadn’t played the Mackems for a few years after being relegated from the Premier League, until the FA Cup fourth round in 2012. A few of the boys were in the Roundel having a spot of Sunday lunch when the draw came on the telly. “Be class if we got the Mackems or Geordies here, like. Probably be Plymouth away though knowing our luck” was the general consensus. How wrong we were.
When they pulled us out for an away day to Sunderland, the pub exploded. Mash tatties and gravy up the walls. Mackems away. Love it.
That day the Red Army took over Sunderland in their thousands hoping for something special and our fearless leader obliged. In the 16th minute, Faris Haroun knocked a cross in from the right towards Marvin Emnes. John O’Shea headed it up and away from danger. Or so he thought. He’d actually put it in the most dangerous place in the whole stadium.
Right onto Barry Robson’s left foot.
Straight out of the sky and into the back of the net, sending Simon Mignolet on a hopeless mission to stop it and the Boro end into meltdown. Old blokes diving over 5 rows to celebrate, down the stairs and nearly onto the pitch. Even though Robson would ultimately cost Boro that game with an error that led to Sunderland’s equaliser, the game will always be remembered for that hammering volley.
That game probably best sums up Robson’s time at Middlesbrough. He gave us some brilliant moments but he wasn’t a top player. He’d give away passes, get pulled out of position and overran in midfield. His guts and glory approach to the game would also cost Boro, as he racked up needless yellow cards (26 in 90 games) and leave his troops a man down on three occasions.
Sent off on his home debut against Bristol City, giving away a last minute penalty for punching Aaron Mokoena on the jaw against Pompey and for lashing out at a young Adam Clayton against Leeds; Robbo was always a second away from overstepping the mark from passion to violence. You can’t just go round punching people, Baz.
That’s why he was loved, though. At a time where it seemed the club was being taken for a ride by Scottish mercenaries who didn’t give a shit about the club and were only here to make a few quid, Robson fought and battled every week. He cared about us and we cared about him. He wasn’t perfect but he made an indelible impression on Boro. He scored the fastest goal in Riverside history, scored against both striped shites and led the way for two years. He was the first hero Them Reds had after relegation.
Before Friend and Ayala, before Bamford and Vossen, before Leadbitter and Clayton, before Kike, Stuani, Adomah, Ramirez, Traore and the rest; there was a ginger psycopath with a unbelievable left peg. Before the darkness was lifted, he was the shining ginger beacon of hope.
Cheers for the memories, Barry. You big, mental bastard x