BY the foaming fountains of Castellon!
The news that Boro are set to host Villarreal in a pre-season friendly will have prompted some wistful nostalgic musing of Fairy Liquid bubble parties in the town square, San Miguel by the gallon and being bullied by El Robocop.
We’ve been torpedoed by the Yellow Submarine before in November 2004 when an ambitious Boro bolstered by unlimited possibilities were at an historic high-water mark as Steve McClaren’s team of expensively assembled Galacticos swaggered through a debut UEFA Cup campaign powered by the still golden glow of their Cardiff glory. Ahhhhhh. Memories.
Villarreal was a gift for the fans. After logistically tricky and relatively expensive trips to Banik Ostrava and Egaleo, a cheap and easy short hop to familiar territory on the costas was the one Teesside had been waiting for. It was a game that set the template for Boro’s European adventure: it was great fun and supporters were determined to make the most of the opportunity.
A massive contingent of more than 4,000 Boro fans travelled for the clash with Spain’s rising power. It was a good trip – if not a good result, a weakened side meekly losing 2-0.
For many, the highlight will have been the previous night’s fabled impromptu foam party in the town square after some cheeky Boro fans squeezed a crate of bottles of washing up liquid into the fountain and jumped in to EIO and chant “A Small Town In Europe” and accuse our Barcodian cousins of “staying at home, watching the bill.”
The build-up to the game was light-hearted and upbeat with rival fans mingling and dancing together and Boro fans making friends.
Things quickly changed at the ground as El Riot Cops turned up. Tooled up cops applied a heavy-handed approach and were quick to get the batons out. They pushed fans, including women and children, around, barked orders and swung out indiscriminately with casual brutality and anyone who – literally – stepped out of line . It was an eye-opener for most Euro-virgins but more familiar to anyone who had travelled abroad with England.
Having designated the Boro match a ‘high risk’ in the wake of the diplomatic spat over racism in the previous week’s friendly with England in Madrid – Spain had been slapped down by UEFA after racist chanting – and the beery but good-natured Boro fans paid the price for their hosts’ dented national pride.
The aggressive para-military police closed most turnstiles so they could more easily search every Boro fan. It was the ‘Gibralter Gambit’. That action caused massive congestion and slow moving lines outside the few turnstiles still open.
Then as the beery but good natured queues became agitated as kick-off loomed the police first frantically barked orders in Spanish then sent mounted police in. In a primitive operation of the sort more often “kettling” political demonstrations, horses were used to push fans back and anyone who didn’t move – or in many cases couldn’t move – were whacked with a baton to encourage them.
Eyewitness reports suggests that dozens of people were cracked on the head and shoulders, knocked to the ground, crushed or trampled on while families were split up and women and children were left in tears at the ordeal. That is, dozens of ordinary Teessiders whose only crime was to be near the front of a badly organised queue.
It was more by luck than judgement – and because of those fans’ restraint – that serious injury was avoided. That was to be a theme that emerged during Boro’s European campaign, the fans’ refusal to fall for cack-handed provocation.
Once inside the ground things were just as chaotic. Fans were abruptly searched by aggressive stewards then bundled in. In many cases tickets weren’t checked. Not that it mattered: many tickets were for seats that did not even exist. Fans claimed that many rows and seats were not numbered and that the official Boro section was dangerously over-crowded. They were forced to stand in a pen raising the horrific spectre of Hillsborough for many.
Naturally there was no trouble at all with rival fans shirt-swapping the order of the day.
There was outrage at the time with serious questions asked: Why were no English speakers involved in policing the visiting fans? Why was there insufficient manpower to search fans entering at more points? Why were batons against a crowd with women and kids caught in the middle? What did the FIFA match observer make of the operation? Were Cleveland police consulted on how to deal with the travelling fans? At Ostrava the game was played against the backdrop of local media hysteria about travelling hooligans and with ineffective segregation or stewarding made some kind or trouble almost inevitable everything had been videoed. At Villarreal there were no cameras visible when the police behaviour was suspect. How strange.
In some ways the police operation and subsequent silence from authorities over systematic mistreatment was a precursor for what was to happen on a larger scale in Rome. Travelling fans surrender their legal rights at the departure gate.
It left a sour taste to what had been a great trip. And the game did little to lift the mood. It was a predictable 2-0 defeat.
With progress from the group assured, McClaren had jiggled his squad and rested his two key strikers ahead of a league trip to Spurs (which they lost). Many fans felt cheated on as what was supposed to be a big game felt half-hearted and empty.
Off-key Boro were easily beaten by a slick Spanish side including keeper Pepe Reina, soon to be of Liverpool, Santi Cazorla, later of Arsenal plus Argentina schemer Juan Roman Riquelme who ran the game. They were a goal up at the break . The boss belatedly put Mark Viduka and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on at the interval but they had little impact and Villarreal sealed it late on. Still, good trip.
Team: Schwarzer, McMahon (Reiziger 72), Riggott, Southgate, Queudrue, Boateng, Nemeth, Doriva (Viduka 46), Job (Hasselbaink 46(, Zenden, Downing. Subs Nash, Parlour, Cooper, Morrison.