Local lad Gary Pallister has been a Boro supporter man and boy, and
Exclusive: Local lad Gary Pallister has been a Boro supporter man and boy, and says England's decision to play a Euro 2004 qualifier in his hometown proves how far the town and club have come since he was padlocked outside the ground in 1986...There aren't many people who know more about the highs and lows of Middlesbrough than local lad Gary Pallister.
At seven, he stood with his Uncle Malcolm on the Ayresome Park terraces as Jack Charlton's side romped home with the Second Division title, booking promotion by March.
The highlight of his teenage years were signing for his boyhood heroes from Billingham Town for a set of strips and a few matchballs.
As a 'Boro player he thought he would be out of a job when the gates at Ayresome Park were padlocked and the club sent into liquidation in 1986.
Steve Gibson saved the day - and Pallister went onto play for England as a Second Division player before joining Manchester United.
When he returned in 1998, Gibson had made sure the club were big news - having moved to the magnificent Riverside Stadium where England will play on Wednesday night.
Pallister retired because of a back injury in 2001 but still attends all the club's home games.
"We were always the poor relations of the area because Newcastle and Sunderland had such a big fan base.
"But our financial stability means we have caught up with Sunderland and though Newcastle are still ahead of us with their 50,000 stadium and Champions League stadium, Steve Gibson is chasing that dream. He wants to be as big as Newcastle."
Even when he was at Manchester United, Pallister never hid his Teesside roots and admits Boro were the only club he would have joined when he quite Old Trafford in 1998 with a year left on his contract.
"I have always been a big fan. I started going in 1972/73 when Jack Charlton started to build a good side on a resolute defence - they were the forerunners to the George Graham Arsenal team by winning every game 1-0.
"One of the centre-halves in that side was Willy Maddren and he turned out to be a great influence on my career."
Sadly, Maddren died in 2000 at the age of 49 from motor neurone disease. As Boro manager when the club was seriously in debt, he signed Pallister and was proud to see his prodigy picked for England even though he was in the Second Division.
"I was a nervous wreck," admits Pallister. "I had a stinker at Shrewsbury and had to drive straight off to meet up with the England squad.
"Because I had never been in the First Division, I hadn't even met the likes of Peter Shilton and Bryan Robson. I was nervous sitting down to them for lunch. When I turned up for training, I found I had brought two left boots with me!"
After winning countless trophies with United, the prodigal son returned in 1998. Although back injuries restricted his appearances on the field, Pallister felt good about seeing the club now established as a major force.
"It has been great to see the renaissance of the club," he said.
"I went through the '86 liquidation where it looked as if we would be out of the football league, out of the ashes Steve Gibson has really built it up.
"We have a new stadium - fit to host important internationals - and new training of the art facilities. We have become a club people talk about; look at the players who have been here - Juninho, Ince, Gascoigne, Ravanelli, Geremi, Merson."
Little is known of Gibson outside Teesside but Pallister says he is the perfect owner/chairman.
"In all my time at the club, I never once saw Steve Gibson come into the dressing-room to over-rule the manager. He is a football fan who has made a lot of money through hard work and has spent it on his passion - his club.
"A lot of businessmen are under the control of the PLCs but Boro are in a unique position of having Steve Gibson able to back his own decisions."
Did you know: Gary Pallister was Britain's most expensive player when he joined Man Utd from Middlesbrough for £2.3million in 1989
Gary Pallister was talking to Joe Bernstein
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Gary Pallister - The Stat Pack
Place of Birth: Ramsgate
Date of Birth: 30 June 1965
Height: 6' 5''
Weight: 15 02
England v Slovakia: Match Centre