Rioch’s Bombshells – Middlesbrough’s Team of 86

Many memorable teams in history have achieve incredible feats across the footballing ages. From the Busby’s Babes of Manchester United to the Lisbon Lions at Celtic, there are some sides that will be globally remembered in the annals of the world game.

On a more local level, for the people of Middlesbrough in the North East of England football is just as much a way of life as it is for those who followed those great teams from Manchester United and Celtic. Their supporters have enjoyed their ups and grumbled at their downs over the decades, but always keep coming back for more.

However back in the 1980’s, Middlesbrough came close to ceasing to exist altogether as the club tumbled into insolvency and had the gates to their home ground, Ayresome Park, locked by the liquidators. But as is often the case in football, from the pit of despair emerged an incredible high and the unforgettable team of 86 was born.

The Spirit of 86

With debts believed to be as high as £2 million, the Inland Revenue took the club to court in July of 1986, and by the following month the gates were locked and manager Bruce Rioch, plus 29 other non-playing staff were sacked.

Almost every player decided to move on to pastures new and the club was left in utter turmoil and in desperate need of a saviour. Thankfully a local entrepreneur named Steve Gibson managed to pull together a consortium of investors, but not before the club was announced as dead on local news reports.

With days to go until the start of the new season, Gibson and his colleagues held a meeting with the Football League and agreed a deal with just 10 minutes left of the registration window, meaning Middlesbrough Football Club survived as a footballing concern.

Despite the deal, the Boro had to play their first home game of the season against Port Vale at the neutral venue of nearby Hartlepool United’s ground. The team was made up almost entirely of local lads, all born within just a few miles of Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park, and would ultimately keep their places in the side for the rest of the season.

Middlesbrough v Port Vale played at Hartlepool

That opening game against Port Vale ended in a 2-2 draw and sparked an unbeaten run that lasted for the first nine matches of the season, a sequence which included convincing victories over Wigan, Bury and Rotherham United.

The Run-In

Unbeaten sequences proved the trend for Boro that season and following a 3-1 defeat at table-topping Bournemouth on the 3rd March 1987, Middlesbrough didn’t lose another game in the league in an unbeaten run which spanned fifteen games. 

A scoreless draw with Wigan on their final home game of the season was enough to secure promotion to Division 2, and the pitch invasion that ensued at Ayresome Park that day is still talked about as one of the great days in the club’s proud history.

Middlesbrough finished as runners-up that season with 94 points on the board, then followed up with a second successive promotion the following season under Bruce Rioch after beating Chelsea in play-offs.

After almost being wiped off the footballing map, to reach the heights of the First Division within two season was a remarkable achievement in it’s own right, but to do it with a side that contained mostly local players is a feat that is unlikely to be ever repeated.

Boro Back On The Up

At the Riverside Stadium in 2021, Middlesbrough have a chance to reach the top flight once again and Neil Warnock’s side have impressed the bookies this season who have them in the mix when it comes to the latest betting for the play-offs.

According to the latest Oddsmanager odds, the Boro are now 40/1 to win the Championship this season, and 9/1 to follow in the footsteps of the team of 86 by being promoted to the Premier League. You can also get 4/1 on them making the play-offs once again and odds of 15/8 for them to finish in top six in the Championship table come the end of the season.


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