On this day in 1995 there was a champion farewell to Boro’s legendary goalkeeper Stephen Pears at Ayresome Park, writes Dr Tosh Warwick.
Dr Tosh Warwick
Manchester Metropolitan University | Heritage Unlocked
07591093136 | email@example.com
Two weeks after Boro’s promotion to the FA Carling Premiership was confirmed, attention turned to the testimonial of departing goalkeeper Stephen Pears and a final swansong for the club’s Ayresome Park home.
Sixteen days after the last official match at the famous old ground, 'Pearsy' was at the heart of the celebrations as fans took the opportunity to take a glimpse at the First Division Championship trophy and witness one of the club’s greatest ever stoppers in action in Ayresome Park’s last, unofficial, Boro match.
The testimonial was reward for Pears’ long-term service between the sticks that spanned over a decade. Initially signed on loan from Manchester United by Malcolm Allison’s Boro in 1983, Pears made his debut against Cardiff City on 5th November and produced one of the best performance of his career in a 2-0 win.
After returning to the North West, Pearsy departed Old Trafford in a permanent move two years later after Willie Maddren convinced the Boro board to fork out £80,000 to bring him back to Ayresome - doing little to harm his popular by declaring ‘I wouldn’t have gone to Roker’ having also been linked to rivals Sunderland.
In the ensuing decade, Pears would be at the heart of Boro’s rollercoaster journey back from the brink. In 1986, he experienced relegation and stayed loyal with Ayresome Park’ padlocked as the club faced the prospect of going out of business.
Successive promotions ensued before the disappointment of relegation in 1989 was followed by Pears helping Boro to a first-ever Wembley appearance and a final-day escape from relegation to the third-tier in 1990. The next campaign brought play-off heartbreak before Lennie Lawrence led Boro to promotion to the newly founded Premier League, helped in no small part by North East Player of the Year Pears.
The stay in the top-flight lasted only one season and the 1993-94 campaign brought rare mid-table mediocrity on the pitch and huge changes off it with the appointment of Steve Gibson as Chairman and the announcement of a move from Ayresome Park to a new stadium near Middlesbrough Dock scheduled to open in 1995.
In the final season at the famous old ground, Alan Miller was new manager Robbo’s first-choice goalkeeper and Pears added only eight appearances to his Boro tally but still left Ayresome Park for Anfield with over 400 matches for the club under his belt.
The testimonial fixture provided Pears with the opportunity to enjoy centre stage. In the match programme, Boro boss Bryan Robson declared ‘tonight, it is carnival time without any tension over League points. We can all relax, enjoy the occasion, and pay tribute to a player who has never let us down.’ Tributes were paid to the stopper by a string of famous names from the club’s history including Willie Maddren, Tony Mowbray and Bruce Rioch.
Prior to kick-off, Pears joined the rest of the squad parading the First Division Trophy before a bumper Ayresome Park crowd. True to form, Pearsy did not let the Ayresome faithful down as he produced some decent saves as Boro took on a Boro Select XI featuring past and present stars including Alan Kernaghan, Mark Proctor and short-term loanee Chris Kamara.
The occasion provided Boro fans with a tantalising taste of things to come in the upcoming campaign, with newly-crowned Premiership winner Stuart Ripley, soon to be capped defender Colin Cooper, and Pears’ fellow Manchester United apprentice Peter Beardsley all featuring for the Select XI. The Newcastle man even got on the scoresheet alongside Bernie Slaven for the ‘visitors’, with Paul Wilkinson replying for Boro.
With the match petering out at 2-1, in true testimonial theatre, the final goal of the contest - and with it the last ‘Boro’ goal (however unofficial) at Ayresome Park - was scored by the man of the moment from the penalty spot following a reckless challenge. It was a fitting end to the showpiece event and a ‘piece of history sure to be the subject of many future quiz questions’ as the Boro commentator put it.