When I was asked to write this article the first cult player that materialised in my mind was Uwe Fuchs, who helped Bryan Robson’s side win promotion to the Premiership thanks to a flurry of goals at the end of the 1994/95 season. Signed as a second-half-of-the season-saviour, Fuchs went about his business with the subtlety of a wildebeest, but with the aim of a crack marksman. Aside from his lost-in-translation surname, the mullet-haired German played only 13 games, scored on his debut, hit a hat-trick in his next game and was sent-off in his final match. In terms of pure impact, alloyed to his unlikely demeanour, Uwe is undoubtedly cult material.
To avoid this article being limited to my era of Boro-watching I asked Boro fanzine editor, Robert Nichols, for his cult suggestion. His answer was huge-haired Ashcroft (outstanding haircuts only add to a cult hero’s legend, and Billy’s looked like a fluffy toy lion perched on his head) thanks to the tale of his last-minute equaliser against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup 3rd Round. Ashcroft wasn’t in the team and went to a wedding where he had a few drinks. The manager sent word he was wanted for the squad and sozzled Billy was barely well enough to sit on the bench. Brought on to save the game, Ashcroft swung his boot at a huge clearance from keeper Platt and his 30-yard volley screamed into the net. Ashcroft, who was, in fact, unable to run, held his arms aloft, proclaiming, “I meant it!”. Such is the stuff of the cult hero.
I almost hesitate to include Slaven, such are his goalscoring exploits, which elevate him from cult hero to genuine club legend. However, we’re dealing with a teetotal Morrissey devotee known as ‘The Wolfman’, celebrated for his flamboyant behaviour and owning a piece of the Holgate End fence that he used to clamber upon when celebrating one of his many strikes. The ex-gardener wrote to every club in the country to get a trial and Boro were one of only two to offer him a chance, which turned out to be a very good decision indeed as Slaven fired the team up through the divisions to the very top league. After his career had finished, Slaven lost an on-air bet in his role as local radio co-commentator following Boro’s 1999 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford. The Scottish Eire international (yes, you heard me) subsequently had to raise his kilt in local department store, Binns, baring the cheeks of his behind in the shop window. I was there, along with many other Teessiders and the incident only cemented Slaven’s reputation in the area.
The previously unproven Italian, Maccarone, had an inauspicious beginning to his Boro career after a big-money signing and ultimately failed to live up to the reputation he’d carved for himself as an Under-21 international. His time at Boro felt like a very expensive car continuously stalling on the drive of a modest semi-detached house in an aspirant housing estate. However, his impact as a substitute in Boro’s 2006 fairytale UEFA Cup run confirmed his cult status with ‘Big Mac’ (as no-one but his Wikipedia page called him) scoring crucial goals against Basel in the quarter-final and Steaua Bucharest in the semi-final, as Boro twice snatched victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat. Boro were thumped by Sevilla in the final with Maccarone back to his non-threatening, erm, best. We will be forever grateful for his exploits.
A slender, dark-haired, left-footed Irishman, Moore was briefly feted as “the north-east’s answer to Ryan Giggs’, which, in terms of physical appearance alone, was almost certainly correct. Moore’s flame burned brightly, but briefly, with wonder-goals against Notts County and Barnsley proving to be isolated in their sheer brilliance. Alongside target-man Paul Wilkinson and barrel-chested midfield maestro John Hendrie, Moore graced the shimmering and speckled ICI-sponsored Boro strips of the mid-1990s, before moving back to Ireland, trophy-less, but with his enigmatic reputation intact. The lesser-spotted left-footed winger is a football conundrum that leads to a surfeit of hope being piled upon the boyish shoulders of players like Alan Moore, only for the burden to overwhelm the rising star. Alan is the silent cult hero who promised so much with his left peg, free of the eccentricity of other members of this list, but whose talents I invested in on a weekly basis throughout my teenage years.
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