Bring on Leeds.

BORO go to Leeds United on Saturday and they will have to keep their nerve in a very hostile atmosphere.

Elland Road is always an intimidating place to go, especially for Boro because it is a kind of local derby so it has even more edge than usual.

The fans down there are very close to the pitch and very vocal and passionate and for me, Elland Road is probably the most hostile ground to go to in the whole of England.

I like that kind of partisan crowd – but at times they can also be a bit of nasty bunch there too with some of their chants and behaviour.

They have always had a bit of a reputation for that. I know Boro supporters have had to put up with some choice chants over the years.

And Leeds fans have been at it again this season with some horrible songs about Dave Jones at Sheffield Wednesday and fans on the pitch too.

And when you go somewhere hostile and intimidating like that where the fans are snarling and baiting you for the full 90m minutes, you have to keep a cool head.

They stoke up the atmosphere and even small incidents on the pitch get whipped up and there’s no question it gets to some of the players out there and to the referee.

And having Neil Warnock as the manager won’t help. My word. He’s not the type who is going to calm things down if tempers start to bubble.

It’s no surprise that so many Boro fans have been sent off there. I remember seeing quite a few over the years as a player and doing commentary.

Mogga has been sent off there. Stuart Ripley. Luca Festa. Franck Queudrue. There were three red cards there last year… and that was a quiet game!

I made my debut in English football away at Leeds and it was crazy. They won 1-0 but their fans were still furious

Eddie Gray had just been sacked and there were demonstrations all around the park in support of him.

Two thousand fans stayed behind afterwards, a window in the trophy room was broken while we all inside the ground and mounted police had to break up the crowd.

I remember that vividly. And the fact that when I got back I sat in my car on Linthorpe Road and thought: ‘I hope it’s not going to be like this every week.’ I was knackered! It was a big step up from Albion Rovers. It was 100mph stuff.

We didn’t have a very good record against them at Elland Road but we used to beat them regularly at Ayresome.

I remember we thrashed them 4-1 at our place in the first year of the Premier League when they were the reigning champions and had David Batty and Gordon Strachan and Eric Cantona in the team.

But it always used to go against us down there. One night we lost to a complete freak goal.

I watched Gary Parkinson play a long safe as houses pass back into the box for Kevin Poole in goal and I turned and raced off forward expecting a long punt to chase when I heard a huge roar and loads of laughter.

I turned round to see Parky and Poole stood with their heads in their hands and the ball in the back of the net.

It was only when I got home and watched saw the highlight that I saw the rolling ball had taken a massive deflection off a big divot and looped over Poole as he bent down to scoop up the ball.

That was then. Boro have a good record at Elland Road over the past years and we’ve won the last few so I think we can go there with some confidence. We can get a result.

So long as we play to our best and keep a calm head.

*******

TODAY is the anniversary of Boro’s win at Old Trafford in 1998 – the one that meant Big Mouth Bernie here had to bare his bum in Binns’ window!

That episode was one of the funniest thing sthat has ever happened to me in all my life. What happened was surreal.

It made the national television and brought Middlesbrough to a complete standstill.

It started when I wrote Boro off on a trip to Manchester United and said they had no chance.

United were red hot and we hadn’t won there for 68 years or something and on the phone-in a few days before the game Ali Brownlee was being his usual ra-ra self and predicting Boro would spring a surprise – so naturally I said if they did I would do the deed. I never thought anything off it.

But you know how cheeky and sharp Boro fans are and at Old Trafford we were very quickly two goals up when the fans started chanting: “Bernie, Bernie, show us your bum” – or words to that effect.

Anyway, United hit back but we edged it to win 3-2 and at the end the chant went up again and things just escalated. It caught the imagination of not just Boro fans but all the media were buzzing too. My phone never stopped.

Come Monday morning I was in the Binns manager’s tiny office upstairs wearing a kilt with the score written on my cheeks underneath.

There reporters from all the papers and cameras from the local TV and Sky Sports in this little room and a policeman threatening if I dropped my underpants I’d get arrested.

Then a couple of bouncers came in and escorted me into the lift and I wondered what they were doing there and though it was a bit OTT. Then the lift opened: my word!

It was crazy. There was a huge crowd cramming the store and the bouncers and some police had to carve a path through all these screaming ladies trying to get a hand up my kilt. It was like being a pop star.

I got into the window and the shutters were down. Then they lifted and there was a huge roar – it was like the Holgate! – and the crowd outside was 10 or 15 deep going mental. There were thousands there. It was totally unbelievable.

When I bent over and lifted my kilt to show the score all the cameras flashed and there was cheering and laughing but what I remember most was one little old grannie who piped up: “That reminds me… I have to stuff the turkey!”

It was great. It was all over the papers and TV and a few weeks later I did it again on the sports quiz show ‘They Think Its All Over” and had blindfold sports stars feeling me because I was the answer to a question.

It was all very strange and very funny. Would I do it all over? Ask me again the next time Boro travel to Old Trafford.

**************

WHENEVER Boro went into the tough flurry of festive fixtures, hard-bitten fans used to say that “every year Boro come down with the decorations.”

It has happened often enough so there must be some truth in it – but let’s hope this time Boro get into the New Year still in a good position at the top.

Christmas is always regarded as one of the those make or break spells because there are so many points up for grabs.

There are four games in 11 days and that means the table can change dramatically.

If you are right up near the top but lose three of those then your early promotion hopes are very badly dented.

But if you are languishing in mid-table and can win three or four then suddenly you are right bang in contention.

So it is a very important spell – and a very demanding on too.

These days you need a big squad to get through those games in good shape.

In my day we still played the games but we did it with a squad of 13 or 14 players. And we never suffered fatigue. We never gave it a thought.

Boro have Leeds away, Blackburn and Blackpool at home then Derby away.

If they come through that run with seven points then that’s decent return so long as other teams drop points too.

If they can get nine out of 12 that’s very good and if they get 12, well that would be brilliant – they’d probably be top. All would be having a party and leaving the decorations up!

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I HAVE been doing a lot of book signings in the Metro Centre the last few weeks and I’ve been torturing the poor Geordies and Mackems.

I’ve been telling them Boro are going up – and passing their two teams on the way down!

It started off as a bit of banter and both sets of fans laughed it off – but hey, the way things are going it could easily come true. They are certainly worried.

Both sides look like they are deep in relegation trouble with demoralised teams in poor form. Both sets of fans are not laughing now I can tell you. They are genuinely worried about it. They are very twitchy – especially the Mackems.

For me, they will both probably have enough to escape the drop but Sunderland may find it a close run thing.

You never know, if a couple of the teams below them perk up a bit – QPR under Harry Redknapp for instance – then suddenly they are in trouble.

And there are a lot of points up for grabs over Christmas and if they struggle and don’t get enough suddenly they’re in the bottom three with a gap starting to appear above them.

One thing is for sure, they are not too good to go down – but they both need to strengthen in January or you never know.

*****

AWAY from football, can I urge everyone to support the annual In Out Of The Cold event at Middlesbrough Town Hall Crypt on Friday afternoon (from 1-3pm).

There are bands and stalls with food, raffles, advice and information about charities who work with the homeless.

There are a lot of people who find themselves in trouble for no fault of their own because they have lost their job or the family has broken up or been repossessed or whatever.

It is so sad whatever the reason, , especially at this time of year. Pop in if you can.

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WE HAVE added another new name to the growing network of local and community radio stations who broadcast the Three Legends.

NE1 Radio in Newcastle is the latest station to sign up to the show so the Geordies are on board as well now and we cover the entire region.

The Three Legends looked dead and buried five months ago but now we are going from strength to strength.

******

And finally,

Merry Christmas to you all.

Thanks to Evening Gazette.

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