Right, where do we even start with Paul Fairclough – the PE teacher who turned Boro’ into the finest non-league team in the land. From the bottom rung of the Isthmian League ladder to the very top of the Conference; Cloughie was the author of an epic tale that lasted eight years at Broadhall Way to start with. A second spell in charge completed his decade too.
As the match programme from our home match against Molesey in March 1992 reveals, Cloughie is a born winner. A native of Liverpool, he strived for success in everything he did. After going through the school system and into football, he also qualified as a PE and maths teacher. Don’t forget his status as a expert chef, U16 snooker champion and a fan of rock music. Is it any wonder that, once football management came calling, he’d prove to be a prodigious talent? He knew how to get the best out of players and he knew how to win.
That’s all you can ask for in a manager, right?
Paul Fairclough: The First Spell
So, let’s go back to summer 1990. All eyes were on Italia 90 as Cloughie arrived at Boro’; the gaffer leaving Hertford Town behind after doing some great stuff there. Under his leadership, success flowed on tap for Boro’. In the space of four years, we won the Isthmian League Division Two North, Division One and Premier Division titles. It’s such an impressive haul that leaves the 1992-3 season looking like a failure. And all because there was no title and no promotion that year!
The prospect of taking on the best non-league sides didn’t faze Cloughie’s Boro’ either. Inside two years of arriving in the GM Vauxhall Conference, we were top of the pile; the lords of the manor. And we gave Woking the right hump too. But then it came to a halt; pressed against the Football League’s glass ceiling. So, our amazing rise was on hold – for the time being, at least.
Cloughie did have offers to manage League clubs, but he stayed; preferring to continue the job he started. Thanks to the archaic ground regulations of the day, we’ll never know how good that Boro’ vintage could have been.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. Sure, the rise through the Isthmian was quick enough. Life in the Conference, however, took time to adjust to; the 1994-5 season getting off to a pedestrian start. After winning our opener at Stafford Rangers, we went on a run of eight league games without a win. Cambridge City dumped us out of the FA Cup, meanwhile, and Chertsey put five past us in the Diadora Charity Shield. It wasn’t a great start, was it?
By the time Cloughie’s first spell came to an inexplicable end, more highlights had been added. Most notable, perhaps, was the epic FA Cup encounter with Newcastle United in 1998; Boro’ going out 1-1 in a replay at Sid James’ Park.
Paul Fairclough: Take Two
Cloughie came home in 2000; Richard Hill and Steve Wignall both failing to replicate his success. By now, however, Phil Wallace was in charge. Hopes were high that Cloughie could once more take Boro’ back to the top of the tree. After all, success was thin on the ground during the late 1990s. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.
Cloughie’s second spell with the club was less glittering. He did, of course, put Boro’ on the path to the 2001-2 FA Trophy final. But he didn’t get a chance to see it through; Wayne Turner being the man to lead us out at Villa Park.
For Cloughie, life after Boro’ hasn’t been too shabby. It’s a bit annoying that he eventually realised his managerial destiny; leading Barnet (of all sides) to the Conference title – and promotion – in 2004. He’s also been an excellent gaffer of the England semi-professional side (England C) over the years.
He and his itchy brown jumper, however, will be a part of our club for a long time to come.