Goalkeeper Tomas Mejias and coaching duo Leo Percovich and Danny Coyne are among the faces to have returned to Boro recently. Here we take a look at 11 players who did the same...
Born in County Durham, Pears began his career with Manchester United but struggled to dislodge regular Red Devils no.1 Gary Bailey. A loan move to Boro in 1983 proved the making of the young goalkeeper but, despite quickly becoming a fan favourite at Ayresome Park, the cash-stripped club could not raise the required transfer fee to acquire his services on a permanent basis. Willie Maddren finally got his man in 1985, Pears moving back to Boro for £80,000. Pears became one of the first names on the Boro teamsheet over the next decade - he set a then-club record of seven consecutive clean sheets in 1987/88 and was exemplary in Boro's promotion to the inaugural Premier League in 1992, winning North East Player of the Year and only a freak injury denying a deserved England cap. The keeper was released in 1995, but not before a sell-out testimonial match where he unofficially scored the last-ever goal at Ayresome Park, netting from the penalty spot. Pears later came back to Boro in his coaching career, while son Aynsley is himself a promising net-minder and was with Boro’s first team in Austria over the last week.
The first of several native Teessiders on this list, Norton raised Pally began his career with Billingham Town before being snapped up by Boro as a 19-year-old. Forming a formidable defensive partnership with fellow Boro boy Tony Mowbray, Pallister made more than 150 appearances over five seasons, helping us win successive promotions in 1987 and 1988. The defender moved to giants Manchester United in 1989 for a Boro record £2.3m, and would win just about every domestic honour going, including three FA Cups and the Premier League four times. Pally returned to Boro under the stewardship of former United teammate Bryan Robson in 1998, and despite his advancing years, his class continued to show as he played a further 61 games in Boro colours and helped to establish us as a fixture in the top division.
Like Pallister, Colin Cooper was given his big break in the mid-1980s with Bruce Rioch building his Boro side around several local lads as the club fought off the threat of extinction. In 1991 and nearly 200 Boro games later, Cooper rejoined Rioch at Millwall and spent two seasons at The Den. That was before heading to Nottingham Forest where he was near enough an ever-present for the Reds for the next five years and earned two England caps. Cooper returned to the north east with Boro in 1998, cementing his status as a club stalwart with as a regular in our defence over the next eight years. His playing swansong with Boro was, fittingly, as a late substitute against Fulham just days before the UEFA Cup final, taking the captain’s armband in a team brimming with the next generation of Boro youngsters. Cooper would later take a coaching role at Rockliffe Park, and worked as assistant manager to Gareth Southgate.
Our new head coach took a longer route than some on this list to find his way into a Boro shirt - but he did it proudly in two spells during a career littered with illustrious names. A boyhood Boro fan, Woodgate was involved in our youth setup but eventually made his name as part of a talented crop of youngsters at Leeds United under David O’Leary. Establishing himself as one of England’s most promising young defenders as Leeds competed for honours on domestic and the continental stage, Woodgate would go on to play for Newcastle United under Bobby Robson before joining the ‘galacticos’ of Real Madrid. Injuries took their toll on Woodgate’s time in the Spanish capital, and he came back to Teesside, initially on loan, in 2006. Rediscovering his fitness and his best form, the defender joined Boro permanently for a £7m fee the following season. Spells at Tottenham Hotspur - where he would score the winner in the League Cup final - and Stoke City under Tony Pulis followed, with Woodgate heading home again to Boro in 2012 to help the club into the top flight. That is exactly what happened, with Woodgate calling time on his Boro career after winning promotion to the Premier League in the 2015/16 season.
Playing as emergency striker, Glaswegian McAndrew became the youngest Boro player to score a hat-trick when he stuck three past Sheffield United in 1976. It was as a centre-half, however, that he established himself as a regular and dependable first team star alongside Stuart Boam, while he was also a solid midfield player when called upon. When Boam left, McAndrew took over the captaincy, and played one more season in his first Ayresome spell, before linking up with former Boro boss John Neal at Chelsea for a fee of £92,500. McAndrew played just 20 games for the Blues, before returning to Boro as part of a deal that saw Darren Wood move in the other direction. After two more seasons, McAndrew left the club a second time, having played a total of 353 games and scored 18 goals. McAndrew is now youth team manager at Aston Villa.
Signed as a schoolboy and rising through the youth ranks at Boro, Proctor was handed his first team debut at 17 by John Neal, netting nine times in his maiden campaign. Proctor continued to impress for Boro, with his form rewarded with caps for England Under-21s and was snapped up by fellow Teessider Brian Clough to link up with back-to-back European Cup winners Nottingham Forest. After 18 months with Forest, Proctor headed back up north on loan to Sunderland before moving permanently to Roker Park, where he clocked up over a century of appearances. Bruce Rioch brought Proctor back to Boro on the March transfer deadline day in 1989, and during his second spell at his hometown club, Proctor captained Boro to our first Wembley appearance in 1990 in the Zenith Data Systems Cup final against Chelsea. Despite missing out on promotion in 1991, Proctor and Boro were back among the top flight and into the inaugural Premier League under the guidance of Lennie Lawrence in 1992. Like Pears, Proctor would come back to Boro in his coaching career, working as an assistant to Tony Mowbray.
Unique in this list in that he enjoyed three distinct playing spells with us, the fact that the diminutive Brazilian kept coming back to Boro was testament to his affinity for the club and fans, and vice versa. A real coup for Bryan Robson’s side when arriving from Sao Paolo in 1995, The Little Fella captured the imagination of Boro’s supporters with his trickery and tenacity. Juninho sheds tears on the pitch at Elland Road as Boro fell from the top flight, but his departure from Teesside in hope of retaining his place with his national side was short-lived - after breaking his leg at new club Atletico Madrid, Boro was deemed the best place for the playmaker to recover his fitness and form, spending the 1999/00 season back at the Riverside. It was in his third and final spell at Boro, between 2002 and 2004, that Juninho finally achieved his dream at Boro - lifting major silverware as we won the League Cup In 2004. Ten years later, Juninho returned to Boro for a testimonial match at the Riverside, while his hometown club Ituano continues to hold strong links with the club. Juninho himself now works as youth director for the Brazilian FA.
Undoubtedly one of the most talented players ever to be produced by Middlesbrough, Downing made his Boro debut against Ipswich Town as a 17-year-old in April 2002. After a breakthrough spell on loan up the road at Sunderland, the left-footed wide-man’s dribbling and crossing soon saw him become an integral part of Boro’s success under Steve McClaren. Downing was on the bench for the 2004 League Cup final, but played a much bigger part in our exploits on the European stage that followed. Among star names including Bolo Zenden, Gaizka Mendieta, Mark Viduka and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, he was often seen as Boro’s most potent creative force on the left flank, and would play for England at the World Cup in 2006. Following Boro’s relegation in 2009, Downing went on to become a leading light at Aston Villa, with stints at Liverpool - where he was named man of the match in the 2012 League Cup final - and West Ham to follow. On the back of an impressive season with The Hammers under Sam Allardyce, it was a shock move when Downing returned to Boro in 2015 - and statement of the club’s intent to return to the top flight that season. That was achieved, with Downing playing 49 games and scoring three goals along the way. After captaining the side in his 400th Boro appearance against Swansea last season, Downing departed the club to join Blackburn Rovers in the summer.
Boro were one of a host of clubs who chased David Mills' signature when the Thornaby teenager left school. Fortunately, the England youth international decided to join his local club, with Manchester United among the disappointed suitors. It was as an essential member of Jack Charlton's record-breaking 1973-74 Division Two championship side that Mills really made his name. He scored 11 goals in 40 games, including the goal that won promotion in a 1-0 win at Luton in March. His best season in terms of goals came in 1976-77 when he notched 18 times in 41 league and nine cup appearances. His form again caught the eye of managers throughout the country and in 1979 West Bromwich Albion’s Ron Atkinson paid a reported fee of £500,000 for his services and made him Britain's first half-million-pound footballer. But injuries, loss of form and a switch to midfield all conspired to make the switch to The Hawthorns an ill-fated one. Within five years, his career turned full circle and he re-joined Boro - and soon found his shooting boots again. His 14 goals were crucial in keeping Willie Maddren's side in Division Two. Mills later had two spells working for Boro as a scout.
Joining Boro on loan from Chelsea in the 2014/15 season, Bamford struck an impressive 19 goals in all competitions and was named Sky Bet Championship Player of the Year. After Boro’s Play-Off heartbreak at Wembley, Bamford opted for a shot at the top flight with a succession of clubs in the subsequent 18 months, Crystal Palace, Burnley and Play-Off foes Norwich City. But the striker struggled to find his feet with any of these three clubs in the manner he had on Teesside. Rejoining Boro in January 2017 on a permanent basis, with the club now in the Premier League, Bamford hit his first top flight goal against Southampton in the final home match of the season. With Boro returning to the Championship once more after relegation, Bamford scored 13 more goals for the club - with a run of nine in seven matches in the second half of the campaign. This included a first-ever career hat-trick against Leeds United, the club he would leave Boro to sign for in the summer of 2018.
Signed from Chester-le-Street in 2003, Graham started his professional career at Boro, scoring against Coventry City in the League Cup and Charlton Athletic in the Premier League in his debut season. The striker represented England at Under-20 level and went out on loan to clubs in all three tiers of the EFL before, having made only a handful of senior Boro appearances, joining the last of those clubs Carlisle on a permanent basis. There the goals began to flow, and continued to flow as he moved up the footballing pyramid to join Watford. In June 2011, Graham joined newly-promoted Swansea in the Premier League for £3.5m, and would score 21 goals in 62 appearances over the following two seasons. Thereafter he moved back north to Sunderland, eventually returning to Teesside for a loan spell in the second half of the 2013/14 season - scoring a respectable six goals in 18 games for Aitor Karanka's Boro side. Graham now plies his trade under Tony Mowbray at Blackburn, counting Stewart Downing and Harry Chapman among his teammates.