February 29th: The Day Boro Won the Carling Cup
By Chris Bartley
Saturday 29 Feb 2020 13:36:00
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Today is the anniversary of our greatest triumph, victory in the Carling Cup (League Cup) Final securing the first major silverware in Boro's history. Sky have denied us the opportunity to celebrate together with a much-needed win at the Riverside. So, we turn to memories and here is long time fmttm fanzine contributor Chris Bartley recounted the big day. Hopefully his experience can help impart the full meaning of events to a younger generation who have still to taste success. Keep on hanging on in there because for some of us there was a life time of disappointment and even despair before we finally knew what it was like to see our team lift a cup.

Take it away Chris.

Now, it is not for me to say that the footballing gods are against us but it just doesn’t seem fair that the the first time we win a major domestic trophy it lands on a leap year ensuring that we can only properly celebrate it once every four years. So, I’m going to shout from the rooftops as we celebrate our 4th anniversary (after 2008, 2012 and 2016).

In 2004, I was approaching my 40th birthday and I’d witnessed a fair few sobering cup disappointments in that time. From the FA Cup Quarter Final defeats (Birmingham in 1975, Orient in 1977, Liverpool in 1978 and Wolves in 1981). Our first trip to Wembley happened in 1990, in the Zenith Data Systems Cup final. We lost 1-0 to Chelsea but after several lifetimes of waiting to go to Wembley, there weren’t too many tears shed that day. I just felt so sad that Bruce Rioch who had done so much to revitalise the club after liquidation never got the chance to lead us out.

The FA Cup final defeat in 1997 against Chelsea was particularly painful after our relegation from the Premier League a week previously. In 2002, we were beaten again in an FA Cup Semi Final against Arsenal.

The League Cup was equally heartbreaking. A semi final defeat in 1976 was brutal after I witnessed us take a 1-0 lead in the first leg against Man City. In 1992, under Lennie Lawrence, we were knocked out against Man Utd after a brave 2-1 second leg at Old Trafford. In 1997, many Boro fans were convinced we were never going to win a trophy when we failed to beat Leicester City.

We took a 1-0 lead in extra time after Ravanelli scored but that pesky Emile Heskey equalized to break our hearts and force a replay in which we lost to a solitary Steve Claridge goal. The following year we lost 2-0 to Chelsea. Would it ever happen? Would the Anglo Scottish Cup triumph of 1975 be the only trophy on my supporting CV.

They say magical things happen on a leap year and February 29th 2004 had all the makings of a sort of fairy tale. As we left Teesside on the morning of that legendary day, we were faced with a blanket of snow and a bellyful of dreams. I boarded the coach near Eston Sports Centre with our Jack and a couple of work mates, Matty Bingham and Mark Sells and I had a good feeling that something

special was going to happen. Not that my gut feelings were ever reliable before! We didn’t need to worry about the game being cancelled though as the Millennium Stadium was going to have its roof closed. It was the first football final to ever have that strange honour. We weren’t heading for that dream destroying London but Cardiff. Surely our luck would change. 128 years of hurt is too much for anyone.

The match itself was quite unbelievable. The Milllennium Stadium held over 72 thousand but the closed roof created a sound and an atmosphere quite unlike anything I’d heard before. To take the lead after one minute and 43 seconds through Joseph Desire Job ramped things up to unbelievable levels. To score the second in just under seven minutes from a Zenden penalty made it feel like the best dream that you have ever had. He even slipped over when he took it... and still scored. Of

course, there was no way things were ever going to be that easy.

In the 22nd minute, Kevin Davies scored with a weak shot which slipped under our always reliable Schwarzer. What followed was probably the longest 70 odd minutes of our lives, yet in the end our grit, perseverance and fantastic defending, particularly from future Boro and England Manager Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu (who died so tragically young). The final whistle was just one of the most amazing feelings ever. WE HAD WON OUR FIRST EVER MAJOR TROPHY!

Oh my, I still get goose bumps when I think about that date and I know that no matter what happens in the future, that day can never be taken away.

The drunk on memories

Chris Bartley

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