By Pete Fincham
Summer 1997, and it was a nice day in Watford. Under the gaze of the ICI Chemical works, hundreds of blokes were gathering for the second Euronet tournament, a competition between teams representing Internet mailing lists. We were proud enough to be travelling up to play our contemporaries from Manchester United, Birmingham and Huddersfield. It was very confusing when we got there on the Friday afternoon to find all the pitches under about four foot of sludge, known in these parts as grass, so adjourned to the bar.
Now bear in mind that there were around twenty-four teams, averaging fourteen squad members a team. 336 people in a social club and the preparations made by the Wilf Mannion centre were simply to go to the cash and carry and purchase the most cheap and inedible burgers available to mankind, along with half a crate of Budweiser. Bearing in mind that at least two of the teams were Scottish, it is hardly surprising that all the larger and draught Guinness had been drunk by the Friday close, and so by Saturday everything except for the alcopops had gone. It's not that we were alcoholics, it is just that drinking to forget is one of the few options available to anyone in Middlesborough. Grangetown, a couple of miles from the Riverside stadium, is the only place I have ever visited which has roundabouts with surveillance cameras installed (surrounded by barb wire). Not only that, we all grew to know a man we referred to as "Stampsy's Dad"! A chronic alcoholic whose wife had tried to kill him (nothing could be proved) and whose son spent the weekend begging us to take him with us! The place was one of the most depressing areas I have ever visited.
Apparently at home in Watford the weather was fine, but not until about 3pm on the Sunday did it stop raining there. We were advised not to venture into town on the Saturday night, and as some of the Scottish found out, it was better to go in rather large groups than risk anything like chatting to the locals alone.
Meanwhile I got to witness at first hand how a man can wake up on the floor, finish off the last of the previous evening's pint, go home to 'freshen up' and come back fifteen minutes later with a full bottle of White Lightning.
I have not been back to 'Boro since.
Thought: It's really grim up North!