As a tight-knit club, it’s good to keep things in the family? And we’ve certainly seen some close family ties over the years. After all, it’s easy for clubs to go out and bring in a player or two from the same club. Or even from the same country. But it’s a bit harder to do that when you’re signing lads from the same family unit. And yet – somehow, maybe? – Boro’ have done it many times. Like many times. And there have been times when it’s been an extraordinary case of like father, like son. Or brothers-in-arms.
Or something like that.
When you think about it, you could probably reel off a list of names that’d let us put out a couple of teams. Not quite dads against sons, but still keeping the family ties close. Here, we take a look at some of the families who gave so much to this club (on the pitch*). This is almost like old Irish mythology. Except without the old. Or the Irish in the explicit sense. Or the mythology. Here are five of the best Boro’ family ties that’ll stand the test of time – and have already done so in many ways. Let’s have a look and see what you think…
(*who can of course forget or disregard the off-field efforts of the Briscoes, Berners et al?)
5 of the Best Boro’ Family Ties
If ever there was a case of following in your father’s footsteps, this is (almost) it. And Boro’ isn’t the only team to get service out of two generations of the Nugent family. Yeovil Town are another. But we’re not here to talk about the Glovers. Our family ties with the Nugents start in late 1985 when towering defender Richard first turned out for us. And it started an impressive association with the Boro’; winning the 1985-6 Vauxhall Opel League Division Two North title in his first season.
In three spells with us (including on loan from Barnet in 1989), Richard Nugent added the 1993-4 Diadora League Premier Division title to his honours here. He also played a major role in establishing us as a Conference side; helping to lay the foundations for our 1995-6 Conference title win too. So, when it was announced that son Ben was joining us in 2018, we hoped we might benefit from a little more of that Nugent family magic. Sadly, it’d prove to be a much different experience for Ben at the club.
We almost made the League Two playoffs in his first campaign with us. But our form took a huge nosedive in the 2019-20 season and Ben’s experience couldn’t help as we sunk to the bottom of the Football League. Between father and son, however, the Nugents racked up more than 200 appearances in the red and white of Boro’.
Richard Nugent: 133 (8)* appearances, 16 goals
Ben Nugent: 62 (2) appearances, 1 goal
Now here’s a bone fide Boro’ dynasty. The Gittings brothers will live long into the memory for a lot of Boro’ fans. You could argue that Martin steals the show, of course; topping our all-time scoring charts with a mammoth 217 goals in his four spells with us. Like Nuge, he saw glory as part of the 1985-6 and 1993-4 squads. But he was also on the scene for our title win in 1991-2. And he must be the only player to feature for us in every single division we’ve played in – except the United Counties League Division One*.
(*to be confirmed with data still missing for the 1980-1 campaign)
Let his efforts not take away from those of brother Peter, though. With at least 100 outings to his name (though some still to be accounted for), this midfielder was a class act. But for a rubbish run of luck with injuries, there must be no doubt that Peter would’ve been rightly seen as a Boro’ legend in his own right. A title-winner with us in both 1981 and 1986, we’ll never know how much more of an impact he’d have on us; a genuine unsung hero by our reckoning. Football can be a cruel mistress sometimes.
And let’s not forget a third Gittings brother, Alan. It’s hard to argue, however, that he quite lived up to the massive standards that Alan and Peter set – not only for the Gittings family, but for Boro’ too…
Martin Gittings: 352 (28)* appearances, 217 goals
Peter Gittings: 82 (4)* appearances, 18 goals
Alan Gittings: 2 (2)* appearances, 0 goals
At Boro’, the Balls also kept the family ties close. But it’s safe for us to say that one of ’em did most of the heavy lifting in terms of their contribution. Now, that’s no-one’s fault per se. Tim was a constant presence in our side between 1984 and 1987; a member of the 1985-6 title-winning side (we see a theme here). An energetic midfielder, he also did his bit from the dugout too in a coaching capacity. We’re almost surprised that his goal tally isn’t as big as we thought it might be. But what an asset he was to us in the middle of the park.
In summer 2012, Tim passed on his baton as it were; son Matt signed by Gary Smith. We don’t think Smiffy did so knowing the history there, but in he came from Norwich City. As it turns out, Matt didn’t go on to have the same impact as his dad. For a start, he had to wait long into the 2012-3 campaign before his debut. And in his two games for us, we lost them both. By this point, Smith had been sacked and back had come GW. Ball Junior’s services weren’t needed and he was sent out on loan until his deal was up in summer 2014.
Tim Ball: 75 (3)* appearances, 2 goals
Matt Ball: 1 (1) appearances, 0 goals
In recent times, you’re more likely to come across some less-than-ideal press coverage of the Sodje family name. But we’d rather not dwell on that; instead remembering the football talent that brought three brothers to Boro’. Mind you, not at the same time. First to come in was Efetobore (and by far the stand-out Sodje in our opinion). Known as Peter to some of our fans at the time, Efe arrived in 1994 as we started life in the GM Vauxhall Conference.
He was a mighty defensive rock for Boro’; playing alongside Mark Smith and Nuge above, among others. As we found our feet in the Conference, Efe was a star player in our rise to the top of the table and the 1995-6 title win. And he proved just as important as we sought to retain our title in 1996-7, while also pushing hard in the FA Trophy. Failing to win either, however, meant it became hard for us to keep him – and he deservedly moved up a level.
Four years after Efe left us, brother Sam came through the ranks. Unfortunately, he had a lot to live up to and he wasn’t quite able to do so. Sure, he did get his opportunity to shine in the Football League. But he wasn’t able to help our own cause in getting there. He was sent off as many times as he scored, with discipline a slight concern in his time with us.
Sam almost had the honour of sharing the pitch with brother Akpo; a striker who made an instant impact by scoring as a sub on debut in March 2001. It was the only time he played for us, however; that outing coming a mere 10 days before Sam first stepped out in Boro’s first team. Sam and Akpo also turned out for Margate at around the same time. But, from what we can see, they narrowly missed playing in a competitive match together there too.
Efetobore Sodje: 128 (9) appearances, 13 goals
Sam Sodje: 28 (4) appearances, 2 goals
Akpo Sodje: 0 (1) appearances, 1 goal
Ah! The first ‘keeper in our family gathering. We don’t think there’s any real reason for this. It’s just how it goes, innit. Richard joined in summer 1991; Cloughie strengthening his side for the full-on assault we were about to make on the non-league pyramid after our Diadora League Division Two North title win. Wilmot made an incredible 60 appearances to help us make it back-to-back titles in 1992. And he featured heavily in the 1992-3 season.
He left us, however, before the season was out; joining Scunthorpe United. But he’d return three years later to share goalkeeping duties with Des Gallagher during our 1995-6 march to the Conference summit. His time as a Boro’ player continued on to the end of the 1997-8 before leaving for good. But a 3-0 away defeat to Telford United in April 1998 wasn’t his final contribution. Nope – his son Ben would be, although not as a goalkeeper himself.
Ben’s rise to fame would be much faster. After making his debut in October 2017 perhaps earlier than planned, the central defender was courted by bigger boys during the January 2018 transfer window. We held onto him for three more months, however. In April, his run in our first team came to an end as transfer talks meant we decided it wasn’t worth risking a nice little earner. He moved to Watford for a ‘club record fee‘; a contribution that few can match. Not everything can be measured in appearances and goals, after all.
Richard Wilmot: 158 (3) appearances, 0 goals (obviously)
Ben Wilmot: 14 (1) appearances, 0 goals
Hang on, what about…
Now, limiting ourselves to just five Boro’ families means leaving out some others who had a positive impact on the club. There’s the Luques, with Miguel playing 150 times – though brother Manuel only made it as far as the first team bench. Or perhaps the Cardines, with Colin returning 27 goals from two spells and Nigel playing here during the 1988-9 season. And then there’s the Vooghts too; Mark there for Boro’ at the start in 1976 and skippering the club in the late 1980s, before John nearly broke through from the youth side in 2004.
For all these and more too, it’s unusual – but heart-warming – to see all these family ties down the years at Boro’. And, no matter what their contribution on or off the field, this all goes towards making our club one big family too. Don’t you think?