The latest in a series of profiles and interviews, Orginal Fat Bob gives his personal view on the life and career of a footballing guest, before sitting down for a chat and asking a few questions. Our Diasboro special guest this week is Neil Maddison.
1. The Overview – the man and his career
I see Neil Maddison at most of the Boro home games, where he, like a lot of former Boro players, acts as a matchday ambassador and host at the Riverside Stadium. He confidently walks the corridors with a smile and a handshake for all those that are pleased to see this friendly and personable ex-Middlesbrough footballer. He’s back home amongst friends, but don’t be fooled by this nice guy appearance, as he is a determined cookie underneath. He has the reputation of telling the plain unvarnished truth, straight, how it really is, in his other role since the 2013-14 season as a co-commentator and match summariser for BBC Tees.
He now has a new job at the Boro, whilst still combining these other roles and during this interview we shall find out more about his day-to-day duties at Middlesbrough Football Club.
After signing for Southampton as a trainee in 1984, he eventually joined Boro for a fee of £250,000 in 1997. After eight seasons and 185 appearances in the Premier League with Southampton and Middlesbrough. He did go on loan to Barnsley and Bristol City, before he eventually returned to play for his home town club Darlington and retired in 2007. Although he was known as a midfielder, he has played in all outfield positions, which makes him a genuine all- rounder.
After he stopped playing professional football, he was involved with Darlingon, in a coaching and joint acting manager capacity and was their Centre of Excellence manager until the club folded in 2012.
He established a football coaching academy in the area called; The Premier Player Football Academy, where he was the Head of Outfield Coaching. Amongst other familiar names at the Academy, they included: Mark Proctor who is the Director of Football, Graham Kavanagh and Phil Stamp who are the Lead Coaches.
He was also the Academy Director at Middlesbrough College Sport’s Football Academy where my eldest Grandson sometimes played for him. I also see Neil at a lot of junior football games, where he watches his son play and I see my other grandson play in opposition, at League and at District level, so we come into contact quite a bit.
2. The Interview – a quick chat
OFB: Congratulations on your new role at Middlesbrough Football Club, can you tell us how that came about?
NM: I just got a phone call out of the blue, from the club, to come and have a chat and it all went from there really. I started at Middlesbrough’s Rockliffe Training Complex on the 2nd July and I’m loving every minute.
OFB: What is your job title, and can you outline your day to day duties at the club?
NM: I’m “Ambassador and Player Welfare,” that’s my title at the club.
The Duties are looking after all our loan players, making sure they are being watched every 6 weeks and keeping in touch with them on a regular basis. I’m also doing the linking in with the local leagues at junior level, i.e. the TJFA. I’m offering my services to go and coach in their clubs at any level and to make strong links with them. I must confess that I can’t wait to get started with this part of my job role, as I love coaching and watching young players develop.
OFB: It must be a great feeling to be back in professional football, can you see your role developing and who do you report to?
NM: I can’t tell you how happy I am to be back at Rockcliffe. This is a fantastic club and it has always given young players a chance if they are good enough. At the moment, I’m just loving my role and doing my best that I can do. I report to Craig Liddle.
OFB: You started your career as a professional footballer with Southampton as a trainee in 1984, how did they manage to scout you and get you agree to join?
NM: Southampton had a very good scouting team in the North East and it all started from there. I was playing in a district team for Darlington and a scout called Jack Robson (I knew Jack well – OFB) spotted me and the rest is history.
OFB: Where did you stay? Did you rent, or did you live in digs?
NM: I was lucky enough to live with a family, whom I still speak to today. They were brilliant to us! Me and Shearer that is. It was just like living at home. I’m actually a godparent to their daughter’s child.
OFB: You have been quoted as saying you persuaded Alan Shearer to stay at Southampton could you tell us how it happened?
NM: It was our first Xmas back in the North East, so we were back with our families. I was feeling pretty much the same as Alan, we missed home a lot and it was hard to get ready and go back down after Xmas, back to Southampton. Alan rang me at my home and said I’m not going back. I just said to him
“You get on the train and I will see you at Darlo.”
So, I went to the station and the train pulls up and there he is, sat on the train. It was the best decision we have ever made!
OFB: Who was your favourite junior player at Southampton and others that you have played with?
NM: Shearer was class as were a lot of the young lads. I was lucky to play in the Saints youth team, as it was full of top players, notably the Wallace brothers Rod and Ray, Shearer, Le Tissier, Franny Benali, Jeff Kenna, Jason Dodd, all these boys played at the top level.
OFB: Who were the best and worst trainers of all the teams that you have played with?
NM: I really don’t remember any to be Honest.
OFB: Southampton had a conveyor belt of talent, who were the names who made the headlines when you were there?
NM: The lads that I’ve said before, all top boys and most of whom I keep in touch with today.
OFB: Who did you room with for away matches at Southampton and Boro?
NM: We used to change room-mates a lot down in Southampton, but at the Boro it was Stampy, Higgy, and Festa.
OFB: Who were the jokers in the teams?
NM: I loved a joke, but most of the lads did, Gazza was the joker when I was at Boro
OFB: Can you tell us any amusing anecdotes or pranks that were played?
NM: My times at the Boro were priceless when Gazza was about. He lived with Andy Townsend for 6 months and sat next to Andy in the changing rooms. Every day he came in and just sat and chuckled away and used to tell me what he got up to. I was in stitches most of the time. I’m sure you have heard them all LOL!
OFB: Whose boots did you clean as an apprentice and who cleaned yours?
NM: I actually cleaned Jon Gittens boots when I was an apprentice early on and then for a pro called Gordon Hobson. He was sponsored by Hummel and we wore the same size boots, so he gave me a few pairs! Beautiful boots they were.
OFB: Did you try and emulate your style of play, on any individual player who played in your position?
NM: I never really tried to play like any other player. I scored 44 goals for the youth team one season and most were with my head. I was decent in the air and used to get in the box as much as possible.
OFB: What was your most memorable game, your own individual performance and best experience with the fans?
NM: The best game by a million miles was for the Boro at the 1998 Coca Cola Cup Final. Although we got beat in extra time 2-0, I will never forget walking out at Wembley. It was incredible, just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. And then thinking about the game itself, it was just a great, great experience. (I flew back from Argentina just for the weekend for that game – OFB)
OFB: What was your worst game or experience and why?
NM: Ha! you never remember the bad games…
OFB: Is there a game that you wished you had played in, either for Boro, or another team?
NM: No there are none to be honest I had a great career.
OFB: Who was in your opinion the best manager that you have ever had and why?
NM: I was lucky to have had some good ones, Souness was brilliant for me, I loved him. Bryan Robson was top drawer, but my favourite of all, was the late Alan Ball. He was a great motivator, but also a good coach. I loved his training sessions they were always high tempo and he always joined in. He was very competitive and even hated losing in a five-a-side!
OFB: Who was in your opinion the manager that had the greatest influence on your career and why?
NM: My youth team manager at the time I was at Southampton was Dave Merrington. He was a Geordie (Nothing wrong with that – OFB) and was as hard as nails but a great coach. We had jobs to do around the club as apprentices. like cleaning the toilets and polishing everywhere. If he found any dust on doors, or on ledges, he would get us all outside near to this little running track. We then had to run around the pitch at the Dell and run and run, until we couldn’t run any more. He did this, so we would learn to do our jobs properly on and off the pitch. He taught us so much regarding being respectful and to just be a good person.
OFB: Which opposing team and which player did you fear playing against?
NM: None although I have nightmares about Marc Overmars.
OFB: Which opposing team and which player did you like playing against?
NM: None, none at all, I just got on with the game
OFB: Who is your favourite Boro player of all time and why?
NM: For me it has got to be Paul Merson, he was the difference when we got promoted, he was the game changer.
OFB: Who is your current favourite Boro player and why?
NM: Johnny Howson at the moment, but that could change as the season progresses!
OFB: How do you think the match day has changed from the time that you played professional football to the present day?
NM: Well the money in football has allowed better players to come to England and play in the top flight. I do see a lot of changes regarding ice baths after games, where I used to jump in a boiling bath and stay there for ages. The Food and Diet has changed also.
OFB: If you could be a fly on the wall, is there any dressing room you would wish to eavesdrop on?
NM: Alex Ferguson at Man United, now that would have been great!
OFB: Do you have any regrets in your career, or missed opportunities?
NM: No, I’ve no regrets, I had a really, really, bad injury that kept me out of the game for 2 years at Southampton. It was a serious knee injury, which if I told you then, you would not believe me, but four operations and 2 years later I finally got back playing and it made me appreciate football even more.
OFB: Whom have you made a lifelong friend through football?
NM: Lots of players, Nicky Banger, Dave Beasant, Le Tissier, Franny, there are so many also that did not make it professionally in the game, but I was in the same youth side as them. All of them I still speak to, to this day.
OFB: You joined Radio Tees as a co-commentator when Craig Hignett left to join Boro were you nervous?
NM: No, because I did do a little bit with the great man himself (Ali) on a Monday, so I felt ok about it.
OFB: I met Ali Brownlee quite a few times and he was such a nice guy, what was he like to work with?
NM: The best! He was so professional in his work and I just could not believe when we scored, the words that came out of his mouth, he was genuinely the best. He made me laugh so many times when we did the commentary. The lads that I work with now on Radio are absolutely, top, top, drawer as well.
OFB: Ali had the reputation of being a devil may care character, can you tell us of some of his amusing escapades.
NM: He just made me laugh, the commentary, the words that came out of his mouth, the loudness, everything about him was amusing
OFB: When Ali left us he was a big miss, to us all, do you still think of him whilst you are commentating or does professionalism take over?
NM: I always think of him, what he would say etc. I confess that I sometimes talk to him whilst I’m walking my dog!
OFB: Malcolm Allison was a co-commentator and summariser, many years ago on Radio Tees and famously used an expletive. How close have you come to being caught out yourself or is there a 3 second delay switch?
NM: I’ve lost count!
OFB: What is the best commentating experience you have had whilst watching the Boro?
NM: The Brighton game when we got promoted, I’m not ashamed to say I had a few tears that day, and for Ali also.
OFB: Did you ever think whilst you were playing that you would end up as a coach and in managerial positions, or did it just evolve naturally?
NM: I’ve only ever known football, I think I’m an OK coach, I just love watching football at any level
OFB: Finally, if you hadn’t had a professional career as a footballer, what do you think you would have done as a career?
NM: OMG I dread to think!
OFB: A huge thank you for taking the time to talk to Diasboro and our readers.