The latest in a series of profiles and interviews, Original 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 Ron Bone.
1. The Overview – the man and his career
In 2015 The Football League announced 72 ‘Club Heroes’, identifying a member of staff at each of the 72 Football League clubs. The award highlighted the role played by staff at clubs throughout the League, whose work often goes unnoticed. All clubs were asked to nominate one member of staff to be acknowledged for their loyal and dedicated service off the pitch. Those selected covered a whole variety of roles showing the many different aspects of a professional football club and included employees that have been involved with their club for over 10 years. It is significant that Middlesbrough Football Club nominated Ron Bone a loyal servant of the Boro for over thirty years, who received a special commemorative glass plaque to mark the occasion.
I met Ron Bone at an MFC Ex-players event, which celebrated the achievements of Bryan Robson, his coaches and his team during those heady years now long ago. It was the time when Boro unveiled a new Stadium, a Premiership Quality Academy and World Class International Superstar Players and Ron was part of the background staff. Also, at the dinner when I talked to Ron were a few of the “Robson Team” including Ron’s signings: Curtis Fleming, Mark Summerbell, Steve Baker and Andy Campbell.
It was hard to believe whilst talking to Ron, that he is now aged 75 and only recently retired last summer as the Head of Academy Recruitment. Looking fit and well, as if he has retired too soon, he played a major part for over thirty years, in ensuring Boro currently has an Academy to be proud of. It was also well known by other Clubs that the players who graduated from our Academy, were fine professionals, irrespective of which team or league they would eventually be playing in.
Statistics to date show that an incredible 95 players played first team football for Middlesbrough, or another Professional Football Club. Also 18 players played international football at U21 level, or higher and that’s just since the Academy started in 1998. Ron was with the club long before that and was responsible for many players being part of the Boro, that we all love. Alan Moore whom Ron scouted in Ireland and he rated highly, was actually recruited by him as a scout when Alan finished playing football and is still scouting for the club.
Ron only became a scout because, although he played as a schoolboy, (Durham Schools) and he signed for Sunderland, unfortunately he was struck down by rheumatic fever which put an end to his playing vocation.
He built up his own career, running a successful Insurance business, before the lure of football dragged him back to his first love.
He joined Middlesbrough in 1987 and it was initially only a part time scouting role, looking for players.
When he talked to the Middlesbrough Football Club web site. on his plans for retirement, it didn’t include watching football…
“I’ll probably play more golf, my son’s big into that right now, watch cricket and travel. But it may surprise a few people to know that I won’t be watching much football.”
What he may be doing, is indulging in something that has brought entertainment to many over six decades, playing his guitar.
“I’ve been playing since I was 14. I still enjoy it and believe it or not I’ve had a couple of offers to go and join bands, but I don’t think at my age I could stand on the stage for that long,” he says with a healthy laugh.
“I’m a lead guitarist, but I’ve done them all, lead, rhythm and bass. I’m right into the Eagles, Cliff and Shadows, Mark Knopfler but I have a wide range of music tastes, anything to do with guitars.
“I’m like a little boy in a sweet shop when I go to a guitar shop. I just stand at gaze through the window, there’s just something about guitars I like looking at.”
So, after him agreeing to talk to us at Diasboro, let’s see what he has to say and try and find out why he was so successful at finding so many stars for the Boro.
2. The Interview – a quick chat
OFB: Can you tell us how you came to join Middlesbrough Football Club, also who was the Manager who took you to Boro, and what was your relationship with him?
RB: I was running a kid’s team (Hilda Park – OFB) in Chester le Street and had Gary Bowyer (son of Ian) Paul Nattrass (son of Irving) Andy Todd and Gregor Rioch playing for us. I was also scouting for Newcastle Utd, but in 1987 Bruce Rioch persuaded me to join Boro as a part-time scout.
When “Toddy” (Colin Todd – OFB) took over in 1990, he asked me to take charge of the youth set up at Middlesbrough as Youth Development Officer.
I had a great relationship then with Colin Todd and I still do.
OFB: Where were you born and whom did you support as a boy?
RB: Chester le Street and I supported both Sunderland and Gateshead as a boy.
RB: How did working with young players change when the “Centres of Excellence” were converted to “Academies,” did it mean working longer and harder to achieve results?
RB: My initial role was to build up the scouting network, then later to improve the Centres of Excellence, but also contribute to the senior scouting system, thus spotting the likes of Curtis Fleming, Craig Hignett, Richard Liburd and Chris Freestone.
So, to clarify: my role from 1990 to 1998 was to oversee the youth dept. This included the coaches, scouts, centres of excellence, keeping log books, the further education scheme etc and scout at youth and senior level. This changed in 1998 when the Academy system came in and my role was Head of Recruitment dealing with the youth scouts although I still assisted with some senior scouting.
Working with young players changed considerably when we became an Academy. We had total access to the boys for coaching and were able to have teams from 9’s to 16’s playing in the Academy leagues. This access went even further as we were also allowed to have them once a week on day release, providing coaching and education. I wouldn’t say we had to work harder to get results, but we had to be a lot smarter particularly when we achieved cat 1 status
OFB: Did you look for a certain style of play, for any individual player and did you take their height and body structure into consideration?
RB: I’ve always looked for technical players, but more than ever pace has become a huge requirement in the modern game. I learned as I went on, how important mental toughness was also.
OFB: What was the furthest you travelled to go and watch a player did you go and travel overseas?
RB: Gareth asked me to cover the World Under-20 Championships in Canada and I saw the likes of Aguero, Suarez and Sanchez, that was a great experience. Steve McLaren asked me to cover an U21 game in Austria and I had a mini stroke whilst away. I managed to get home and continued working until I had an operation to replace a blocked artery in my neck. The job came first!
OFB: How many full time and part time scouts were at the Boro during your time?
RB: During my time at the Boro, I had Keith Noble and Peter Kirkley full time in the early days and Martin Carter and Allan Clarke in the latter years.
OFB: You have been involved with a lot of success whilst you were at the Boro including: FA Youth Cup winners and runners-up, U18 National Champions, U14 National Champions.
Incredibly on May 7th, 2006, 15 of the 16 players on duty in a Premier League game against Fulham at Craven Cottage were from the junior ranks of Middlesbrough Football Club. So, from all those achievements, what, was your most memorable game with the Juniors, or are there too many?
RB: Winning the Youth Cup was the most memorable, but I think the biggest achievement was the U18s winning the Premier League title and going into Europe.
OFB: Did you have any nicknames given by the players to you and did you have nicknames for them?
RB: I didn’t know of any nickname the players gave me not to my face any way ha ha. The players just had the usual, Kav, Moorsey, Wheats, Bakes etc.
OFB: Who were the best and worst trainers during all those years you spent with them?
RB: David Atkinson was the worst player in training, he always had an excuse not to do the bleep test, but he was a terrific player though. Stewy and Ben Gibson were always super fit.
OFB: Who were the jokers in the team?
RB: Tony McMahon was the joker in the pack.
OFB: Can you tell us any amusing anecdotes or pranks that were played by the young players?
RB: Nothing that springs to mind.
OFB: What was your worst game or experience with the lads and why?
RB: Every time we lost to Sunderland and Newcastle!
OFB: Who was in your opinion, the best manager that Boro have ever had to date and why?
RB: Bryan Robson brought some fantastic players to the club and put the club on the map whilst Steve McLaren brought our first “silverware” to the club.
OFB: Who was in your opinion, the manager or coach that has had the greatest influence on your career and why?
RB: I’ll always be grateful to Colin Todd for having faith in me to bring me in full-time, but I got on well with all my managers. I have so much respect for Gareth Southgate and am delighted with his success with the national team,
OFB: Which opposing Junior team and which player did you fear playing against?
RB: Leeds were always tough opponents to play against. The best young player we ever came across was Joe Cole.
OFB: Who was your own footballing hero and why?
RB: George Best was the best player I ever saw play. He had everything in the make-up of a total footballer. He was skilful, quick, brave, two footed, made goals and scored goals
OFB: Who has been, or still is, your favourite Boro player of all time and why?
RB: Juninho is the best player I’ve ever seen at Boro. He was a special player and a special person. He loves the club and the Boro fans.
OFB: Now this is a question that may take some thinking about and needs answering diplomatically, but who in your opinion, were the best eleven Middlesbrough players you scouted and signed for the Boro?
RB: Difficult to say as there were so many and I wouldn’t want to offend anyone by missing them out. It was always a thrill to see them make their first team debuts and go on to represent their country.
I was particularly pleased when Summers (Mark Summerbell – OFB) made his debut away to Spurs because he was so small when he joined us as a YTS kid at 16.
Also a mention must be made of Lewis Wing, who was the last ever player I brought in before I retired. His progress from Northern League football with Shildon, to where he is now has been phenomenal.
Danny Graham was another who came from Chester Town and he has carved out a very good career for himself.
OFB: What was your relationship like with the Managers and Coaches you’ve worked under during the years?
RB: I got on very well with all the managers I worked with. They all had different attributes, but all of them treated me with respect.
Terry Venables was the one who surprised me most. When Bryan brought him in, I thought he was a bit of a playboy, just from things I’d seen in the media. In reality though, he was the complete opposite. He wasn’t a great socialiser or drinker and he used to love just going for walks with his dog. He’d talk for hours about football and was meticulous in his planning and preparation as well as being a fantastic coach.
In 1998 when the Academy system came in, I recommended Dave Parnaby to come in as Middlesbrough football Club Academy Director and I reverted to Head of Recruitment. We had a fantastic relationship, lots of success and we both retired together in May 2017.
OFB: Who is your current favourite Boro player today and why?
RB: It’s got to be Stewy (Downing OFB) but Dael Fry is going to be some player!
OFB: Have you made many friends during your very successful football career?
I have countless friends in football too many to mention but one stands out who still keeps in touch. Salif Bagayoko was a 16 year old boy who came to us from France. He was totally bewildered coming to England so I decided to bring him home to stay with my wife and 2 boys. After 2 months he was ready to move into digs in Stockton with the likes of Kav and Alan Moore. He moved to Bastia FC a few years later but has kept in touch with me ever since. When Dave and I retired, the club organised a farewell do at Rockliffe with many ex players in attendance and Salif came over from France. That brought a tear to my eyes
OFB: Do you have any regrets in your career?
RB: I have no regrets in my career, l loved my job. I did have other opportunities though as I was offered a senior scouting role with a Premier League club. I was also sounded out by 2 agencies for a role in the Middle East and one not so far from home!
But, I wasn’t interested, my heart and soul are with Boro.
OFB: If you hadn’t had such a great career, what do you think you would have done in life?
RB: If I hadn’t a career in pro football I would probably been on the periphery and worked as an agent. The bit I said about David Atkinson in training, I’ve got to say all the boys used to joke about Akky when he was a schoolboy going missing when they were doing the bleep test, but he was a terrific player.
Also, when I mentioned the likes of Chris Freestone, Richard Liburd etc, I forgot to mention Craig Liddle who I brought from Blyth Spartans. He was one of my Hilda Park players as a youngster (and look where Craig is now! OFB)
OFB: A huge thank you Ron, for taking the time to talk to Diasboro and our readers and we wish you a long and happy retirement. Keep playing the golf and practicing on your guitar and I hope to bump into you again at another MFC event.