The last time Middlesbrough were in the play offs.... From My Favourite Year.
...Of the other contenders only Notts County had recorded a victory over Boro that season, which was a bit unfortunate as it was them we had to play.
The first leg of the semi-final, at Ayresome, ended in a 1-1 draw. The game was so intensely physical at times it looked like a fall or a submission might settle it. Neil Warnock, the County manager, had picked up plenty of acclaim from the media through the season presumably from journalists who'd never actually watched his side in vigorous, knees-pumping action. The Magpies had talented players like Tommy Johnson and Noel Bartlett, but they seemed even less interested in entertaining than John Beck's Cambridge.
After Boro's previous display at Meadow Lane - the highlight of which, from our point of view, was the away end inviting Tommy Johnson to 'stick his big banana up his arse' - I didn't travel north with much hope. Stuart Ripley, who had come into form again, was injured, Bernie Slaven, who had been throwing periodic paddies all season, was sulking, and Stephen Pears was still out, which meant a place for Andy 'Officer' Dibble. The veteran was a good shot-stopper but when he came out for crosses he looked like a drunk flagging a taxi.
It was a warm, sunny evening in Nottingham and virtually every pub was shut. Simon Chapman and I sat by a canal eating chips. There was a musty smell of approaching summer in the air; a mood of torpor.
The game, which should have been the most exciting of the season, was pitiful; about as exciting as being trapped in a lift with a Jehovah's Witness, The bloke standing next to me kept shouting, 'Get a goal, lads, and we'll sing you home,' in an increasingly pitiful voice, but Boro never seemed likely to score and soon the tedium had numbed the whole crowd into silence, even him. It was a match neither side deserved to win. Though County did, with a goal in the 75th minute.
When the final whistle blew I watched Tony Mowbray sink to his knees, head bowed. If anyone deserved better it was Mowbray. All season long he'd hurled his battered body around with the disregard a steel erector shows for a work's van. If there's anyone who embodies Teesside more completely than Tony Mowbray then I wouldn't want to meet them.
We drove back to London. No one said much. Ian Magor was reading Jose Torres; book about Muhammad Ali. A phone-in about pit-bull terriers was on the radio. We got in just before midnight. And that was that.