As the great Boro’ side of the mid-1990s broke apart, we needed new talismen for a new era – and Michael Love was one of them. The left-sided lad from Stockport took up a heavy baton; cementing his place in the club’s folklore at the same time. And that’s no mean feat for, well, anyone who came into the Boro’ fold at that point in time.
Under Cloughie, we’d enjoyed a meteoric ascent up from the depths of Isthmian League. We had gone as far as the top of the Conference – and should’ve gone higher. But, much like an elastic band that’s stretched out, there will come a moment it can’t go any further. And that moment came for us in 1997; a powerful, iconic Boro’ side coming apart.
Michael Love: Why Is He A Cult Classic?
Of course, Love came after that moment. So, we know it doesn’t sound like we’re setting him up for praise. But here the context is important. That summer, big ticket names such as Barry Hayles and Efetobore Sodje left us; some for a well-earned shot at a higher level. That was a heavy price for us to pay for falling short in the 1996-7 title race. And while those who did go up a level deserved it, it was bittersweet knowing it should’ve been with us in any case.
If you were betting on football in Ireland or the UK at the time, Boro’ would still be thought of as title contenders. Yet, the scale of the task on Cloughie’s hands was quite considerable; to build a new-look side that could register a second Conference title in three seasons. With Robbie Mutchell leaving for Kettering Town, we had a space on the left-hand side of defence. In fact, our entire left flank needed attention.
And it was a void that was difficult to fill nearly a month into the new campaign.
On 13 September, however, Michael Love made his Boro’ bow.
All you need is (Michael) Love
Boro’ hadn’t made a great start to the season. Not dire, but not great. Some of the guys who came in that summer didn’t last long as a result; a dreadful double whammy of home losses (Hayes 5-1 and Morecambe 3-0) bringing down the curtain on the short Boro’ careers of both Warren Kelly or Robert Codner. In came Michael Love, however, and a sense of stability. OK – so one man alone couldn’t solve some of our troubles that season.
But he was one less part of the pitch to worry about.
Of course, Love would be a part of the team that powered through the FA Cup; securing that Round Four tie against Newcastle United. In the matchday programme for that fixture, there was high praise for Love’s presence from teammate Ryan Kirby: “Luvvey is very versatile. He can play at the back or get forward with pace. He works really hard and it’s hard to say what his best position is, but he always puts it in for the team. We call him Doctor Love.”
We’ll gloss over that last comment.
Injury in that 1-1 draw with the Magpies would actually keep Love out for nearly two months. But his importance to the team by that point was shown by the fact he came back; taking his place back in the team with aplomb. Despite missing the first month of the season and what he sat out through injury, Love still featured 35 times in his debut season – scoring three. It’s a sure-fire sign he was swiftly becoming a key part of the furniture.
Rocky times and managerial changes
The FA Cup aside, Boro’ found the 1997-8 campaign to be a hard adjustment. At least, though, there was the stability that came from consistent performers such as Michael Love. It meant he was now one of the players around which Boro’ would build their squad for the following season. And that certainly played out that he’d make 47 appearances in 1998-9 – with only a couple of players (Mark Smith and Carl Alford) turning out more times.
It was, however, a bit of a choppy time. Cloughie got the axe midway through the campaign. In what we take to be a testament to his importance, new boss Richard Hill stuck with Love. And the player would still be with us into the new season too; Hill again finding no cause to replace him. Why would he though? Assists, goals – Love pulled his weight, that’s for sure. A total of seven goals in 1998-9 meant that he was second only to Carlo (33!) in that area.
Then, maybe, something clicked. Boro’ raced out of the blocks at the top end of the 1999-0 season; six wins from six and Love an integral part of things again. Was this squad going to return us to the summit and secure immortality for the players who did so?
Things went south for the team and Hill lost his job during the second half of the campaign. Love, like a few others, were among a core of guys who featured regularly and dug deep. It’s our opinion that Love was more than good enough to be in a top-end Conference team. This just didn’t come to bear, however. To be fair, he wasn’t the only chap whose efforts would go without reward for his efforts. Then again, he won’t be – and hasn’t been – the last.
So, what happened to Michael Love next?
Steve Wignall came in and left in the space of a sentence – not that it immediately affected the position of Love at the Boro’. What apparently did, though, was the return of Cloughie in summer 2000. It’d be under the manager who brought him to Broadhall Way that Love’s stay would come to an end; his time with the club lasting just shy of three years. His next port of call would be another Borough – Nuneaton Borough to be specific.
Well, via a brief stopover at Tamworth.
There’s a very strong case to suggest the player’s love affair (pun totally intended) with the Midlands side was deeper than it was with us. Love had the best part of six years at Manor Park; extending his stay on more than one occasion. He’d then move onto Hinckley United (and a few other clubs), before ending his playing days at Barwell in 2011. He then switched to coaching; enjoying a successful spell as University of Warwick men’s team head coach.
Main photo via – and with thanks to – Andy Every