Ayresome Park played host to many great players and famous names over the decades, but few are as fondly remembered as the Golden Boy from South Bank.

Dr Tosh Warwick

Manchester Metropolitan University | Heritage Unlocked

07591093136 | t.warwick@mmu.ac.uk

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The Boro faithful trudging to the ground in its early days could expect to see world record transfer signing Alf Common, brought to the club for a princely sum of £1,000 in 1905, hit the back of the net to help stave off relegation.

Two decades later the Ayresome crowd delighted in George Camsell breaking the Football League record with his 59 goal haul in 1927.

In the ground’s latter decades international stars such as Graeme Souness, Gary Pallister and Bryan Robson graced the hallowed turf and the goalscoring exploits of Hickton, Slaven, Wilkinson and Hendrie helped propel Middlesbrough’s promotion successes.

Yet for many one name stands out above all the great players that graced Ayresome – that of Wilf Mannion. 

A Wilf Mannion collector's card from the collections of Memories of Mannion contributor Harry Greenmon

The diminutive inside forward, born in South Bank, was truly one of the greats of the game and regarded as one of, if not the, greatest Boro player of the Ayresome Park era.

Mannion’s story of wowing the footballing world on an international stage for England and Great Britain and his well-known contract dispute with Middlesbrough that saw the man Stanley Matthews dubbed ‘the Mozart of Football’ spend a year out of the game is worthy of several books to go alongside Nick Varley’s excellent Golden Boy biography. 

Wilf Mannion Professional Contract from 1936

A delve into the collections of Teesside Archives helps provide first-hand accounts from those who saw Mannion play in his prime at Ayresome Park in the 1930s and 1940s as Middlesbrough fleetingly threatened to upset the hierarchies of British football alongside the likes of George Camsell and George Hardwick.

A signed Wilf Mannion collector's card from Harry Greenmon's collection

The club’s collections also help shed light on the star’s career, including his early years at Boro and contract from 1936 when the boy from Lower Napier Street in South Bank penned a professional contract with the club, as well as later material including England caps, awards and memorabilia.

Wilf Mannion's Fooball League 100 League Legends Medal

The more recent Memories of Mannion project with Foundation Press in South Bank and supported by Creative Factory in Middlesbrough has helped reveal the special place ‘The Golden Boy’ still holds in the hearts of Teessiders over six decades since his last match for the Boro and almost two decades since he passed away.

Barry Doyle with his signed copy of Golden Boy

Amongst the dozens of Mannion stories contributed, many inevitably reference his later days at Boro and life after football working in the industries, the sense of awe at Mannion’s achievement is apparent alongside a respect for a humble man. Barry Doyle shared memories of his father’s friendship with the Boro great, visiting Ayresome Park as a child to witness the England and Great Britain star’s skills first hand and later encountering Wilf working in local industry, whilst Pete McCarthy recalled:

“My dad used to tell me a story about when he was sent off during a schoolboy match between Grangetown St. Mary's and South Bank St, Peters. He said he got fed up of Wilf running rings around him, so clobbered him. Despite that, he and Wilf became good friends. Dad certainly worshipped Wilf as a Boro player…I was also lucky enough to see Wilf play for a season and a half. There has still been nobody better”.

Family associations were also evident in Don Chesney’s recollection of how Wilf was held in higher esteem that royalty, reflecting: 

He was my Dad's hero...When my late father was in Teesside Hospice he was visited by Prince Charles and Wilf Mannion. He was very honoured and quite excited to meet Prince Charles, but it didn't come close to how he felt about meeting 'Wilfy'!”

Former South Bank forward Paul Kelly with a newspaper cutting reporting on Mannion returning to South Bank for a New Year's Day

Former South Bank centre forward Paul Kelly also shared the story of his father training at South Bank with Wilf Mannion during his contract dispute with Boro in the post-war era and described the South Bank legend as a man ‘who came from nothing and lit up the football world’.

As well as memories of Wilf, the project with the Foundation Press also provided an opportunity to share Mannion memorabilia. Amongst the material shared included some of the fascinating collections of Harry Greenmon, an avid Middlesbrough collector, who showcased some of his treasured ephemera on a visit to South Bank’s Golden Boy Green including collector’s cards and photographs dating back to the Golden Boy’s playing days.

Clearly, as we approach the twenty year anniversary of Wilf Mannion’s passing, the man immortalised with a statue outside the Ayresome Park gates at the Riverside Stadium will continue to be remembered as one of Ayresome’s footballing legends and a great, humble man who meant so much to so many.