Maximo Park front man, solo artist and 'Boro die-hard Paul Smith regales us with his Football Firsts.
By Alex Dunn
Last Updated: 24/11/10 4:47pm
While some of the musicians we've interviewed for Football Firsts have needed more than the odd prompt to remind them of that memory that really is on the tip of their tongue, it was the exact opposite with Maximo Park front man, solo star, Middlesbrough die hard and all-round good egg Paul Smith.
It's fair to say any man who has anecdotes about his club's sponsors down the years knows one end of the pitch to the other.
Having released his well received debut solo album Margins in October the affable Teessider is currently touring Europe before returning to British shores next week to play a smattering of sold out UK gigs.
We caught up with Smith on the morning after a show in Austria and found him in excellent form despite a time delay and crackling phone line. It felt a bit like Clive James' old satellite link-up interviews of yesteryear at times but there's no denying the Billingham-born lyricist knows his football.
My dad's not a massive football fan. He got more into it when he recognised I was obsessed. He'd come into the front room and try to commentate on the Big Match on ITV. He'd say 'Hughesy's doing well' and I'd be like 'there's no Hughesy playing'. I'd get upset at his lack of football knowledge but I guess it was endearing. He still does the same thing now when I go back home. A lot of my family are Boro supporters but my grandad, who died when I was quite young, is from South Shields and was a Sunderland fan. I never really got to know him but if he was still alive I could easily have been a Mackem. I think that's one of the beautiful things about football - being able to pass things down.
Middlesbrough v Watford
The first Boro game I ever went to was against Watford and we lost 2-1. It would have been around 1989. I won the tickets from the local radio station TFM. Every Boro match I would listen to on the radio and at half-time they would have a competition to win tickets for the next game. I was the quickest to ring in and won tickets to see the Boro. I went with my dad and we put on our best gear because we were sitting in the Dickins lounge - they were sponsors at the time, shortly before Heritage Hampers - and there was a sweep about who would score the first goal. I won when Simon Coleman (pictured), who some crueller supporters might have called a bit of a donkey, scored. We eventually lost but I won £30. It was an evening match, I'll never forget the floodlights, walking down to Ayresome Park through the town and cobbled streets.
When I was growing up it had to be Bernie Slaven. He was a real character who came down from Paisley and tried to get a trial at every football club in the league. He's our all-time leading goalscorer. It's a real fairytale and the guy had a sensational quiff. He was a poacher who was off-side a lot but every now and again he'd hit an absolute peach. He liked to remind people that Bernie could play and not just hobble around the box. I had all his posters on my wall and my auntie Pauline saw him in a nightclub one night and got his autograph. I had it next to my bedside light and I would see it every night. That's the kind of boyhood hero that you want - a real Roy of the Rovers character. One of my other heroes was Colin Cooper. He always had time for everyone. As a young lad you're totally in awe of these people and he posed for a picture with me, which I put on my windowsill.
There was always Micky Quinn. He always scored against pretty much everyone he was so prolific but especially against Boro. At school we'd all take the mick out of him. He was more than a little overweight it's fair to say. The funny thing is I've since read his autobiography and think he's hilarious. Although he was a villain when I was growing up for popping them in against the Boro I've got respect for him now.
I was quite a bookish child even when I was very young. I wasn't allowed to go out as much as other kids. My mam kept me under lock and key, which was probably a good thing in the long run. I played in goal the first couple of times and then worked my way up into defence, then midfield before ending up as a striker. Kicking a casey around the school yard I loved having a ball at my feet and it quickly became apparent I was obsessed with the game. Playing with a mini Mitre Delta in the streets we'd mark goals against the fences and me and my old pal Paul Walton would play against other. I remember being outside when FA Cup finals were on, I've not missed one for years recently, but at the time I used to say 'I'd play it than watch it'. I still try to play now but it's difficult as I'm always on tour and when I come back I've usually lost my place in the team. I was still playing in a Sunday League in Newcastle up to Maximo Park being signed. Getting into the car in freezing weather, enduring dreadful referees and all that sort of thing.
Boro threatned with administration
I remember in 1986 when Boro looked to be heading for administration Steve Gibson came in and saved the club. I remember watching it on the local news and seeing the padlocks on Ayesome Park. It was devastating for the region. I've been brought up on that era with the rebirth of Middlesbrough - a new dawn. We crawled our way out of the third division to the first division as it was called then. Football has changed so much. I think a lot of people are alienated now. The way the players act on the pitch and the amount they get paid. It's obviously crazy and out of most people's conception of wages. Middlesbrough still has that common touch to it to some extent but it's always in danger of being eroded. If the Boro are doing well everyone is buzzing but if they're not it's kind of bleak. Football is absolutely linked to the community.
I played for my school. I played two years above what I should have been and that was a big thing for me. The PE teacher obviously thought I was decent but I probably only got in the team because I was athletic and no-one else wanted to play at right-back. When I used to play at secondary school my team Northfield were district champions and we won quite a few things in the Teesside area. We played in the national cup a few times but didn't so well in that. We were decent, I'd play up front and I enjoyed my time there. I played at college and at university. At university though I played more for fun, a lot of lads who'd been at pro clubs were in and around the first team and it became really serious. They were all buff chaps. At that stage of my life I just thought 'I can't be arsed with this' so played in the second division.
Boro's Dickens kit
I think my mam bought me a fake Liverpool strip off the market. It was the Crown Paints days at that point and I was six or seven. Everyone at school had the Liverpool strip so I asked my mam for one. She got me one without the sponsor on so I was gutted and never wore it. It was one of those where you sow the badge on. It wasn't that hip to be fair. The first one I properly went out and bought was the Dickens sponsored Middlesbrough shirt - I thought I was the bees knees in that one.
George Michael, Listen Without Prejudice Volume 1
My mother bought me my first CD player and a couple of albums to go with it. I'd asked for George Michael's Listen Without Prejudice Volume 1. I still think it's really good, although I don't often tell people that. The other one was a compilation called Precious Metal. 18 soft rock albums - late 80s naughty long haired ballads.
Paul's splendid new album Margins came out in October. His sold out UK tour kicks off next week. Find out more about the man by visiting his website here.