DAVID WHEATER and Stewie Downing are poised to make history and become the first Teesside twosome to play together for England since local legends Wilf Mannion and George Hardwick last teamed up in 1948.
The duo are in the frame to feature when Fabio Capello takes a squad trimmed of seven of Man United and Chelsea’s Champions League finalists on the long trip away to Sunderland nursery club Trinadad and Tobago on Sunday. It would be a first full cap for Wheater and a fairytale finish to an incredible season – and another eyebrow raising first for Boro’s productive academy.
Lou Reed lookalike Capello (insert your own ‘Waiting For My Man’ or ‘Perfect Day’ joke here) has long been a fan of Wheater, has named him as been part of an exciting group of exciting prospects for the future and included him in his provisional squad of 30 for the friendly in France but the Redcar Rock failed to make the cut. Capello, who also looks a bit like Ricky Gervias’ Andy Millman sit-com sad act character in Extra would definitely be ‘having a laff’ if he did not use the opportunity to blood Wheats in the senior squad.
And Pallister Park lad Downing, who has been used only sparingly under Capello (he got 45 minutes in a 1-0 friendly defeat in paris ) also looks set to feature – and that will set a local landmark that will be a first in the modern age. There have been instances of two Boro players in the same England team since the Golden Boy and Gentleman George made it a regular occurance – but not two Teessiders.
South Bank born Mannion and Saltburn’s Hardwick played together for the national team 13 times between 1946 and 1948, an incredible spell of international domination in which England won 11, drew one and lost one. Those games included a 10-0 thumping of Portugal and a 8-1 win over Holland in which Mannion scored and Hardwick missed a penalty. The first time they teamed up was a 7-2 win in Belfast in England’s first competitive post-war fixture as the Home Internationals resumed on September 28, 1946. The last time they played together – Hardwick’s England swansong – was a 2-0 Home International win at Hampden Park on April 10, 1948.
Since then we have had to wait 60 years for a double dose of Tees-pride. We almost got to celebrate again last year when Downing and Jonathan Woodgate both played in a drab 1-0 friendly defeat against Spain at Old Trafford in February 2007 but they were not on the pitch together. Woodgate started but was subbed on 65 minutes while Downing was not introduced until the last 15 minutes. Close but no cigar.
Now it could become a reality again, an occasion for chest-bursting pride. That could be added to because Woodgate could also feature – he could even start alongside Wheater as he did 12 times for Boro this term – to make it a Teesside treble.
There have been other non-Teesside Boro doubles in the intervening years. Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu lined up together twice for England as Boro players, in a 2-0 friendly defeat against Holland at White Hart Lane in August 2001 and in a 2-1 friendly defeat to Italy at Leeds in March 2002 (hands up anyone who can see a pattern emerging). Housemates Paul Merson and paul Gascoigne played in a 0-0 World Cup warm-up against Belgium in Casablanca in May 1998 and Grove Hill goal machine Brian Clough played twice alongside Barnsley-born fellow Ayresome Park frontman Eddie Holliday in October 1959, a noteable achievement given Boro’s second division status at the time.
Meanwhile Boro are still buzzing from the incredible feat last week of having FOUR players start in an England Under-21 international. Wheater, Andrew Taylor, Adam, Johnson and Lee Cattermole all kicked off the 2-0 win over Wales.
MEANWHILE the annual shock-horror-gasp fest from the media is underway as football bean-counters Deloitte publish their lascivious league of loot. Every year the cashcade becomes more ludicrous, the figures hit cranium-busting new highs as the TV rights money is raked in, the debts are piled up and ever larger slices are diverted straight into the pockets of average players and unbleiveably lucky agents.
Obviously the spotlight is on the increase in turnover (ÃÂ£1.5billion ) and wages (a Chelsea summer spending spree bellow ÃÂ£1billion) in 2006/7 but more worrying should be the ratio of income being allocated to salaries, the fall in profitability and the continued decline in matchday revenue as a proportion of the overall revenues.
Deloitte also noted the inflationary effect of foreign billionaires who treat clubs as “trophy assets” who see transfer spending as a status symbol divorced from the finincial realities of the club’s true economic performance while pointing out their strategy appears to be not to make operating profit but to boost the brand on a global scale prior to selling on for a hefty mark-up in the future. But we have talked about that at length on the blog before.
I’ve just downloaded the full report and will be wading through it over the weekend looking for more specifics about Boro. In the meantime there is an excellent summary complete with informative at a glance graphics on the BBC while the bite-sized high-lights can be found on the Deloitte website here.
BORO Goal Blitz! Three out of the ten contenders for the BBC’s Goal of the Season award were from our heroes… which is not a bad ratio of sizzlers considering we only scored 43 and a fifth of those came on the final day.
Two of the others were against Boro, so the mesage is clear: if you want to see mouth-watering magical net-busting action with beauties flyingin at either end – get yourself to Boro!
Still, national glory… we’ll take it wherever we can find it. The contenders were the Luke Young 25 yard rocket against Spurs in November, Tuncay’s sublime volley after a first time cross from Stewie at Derby in Decembe and Rocky’s farewell present free-kick against Man City, although for my money Downing’s curling volley in the same game was better.