Writing on the wall
The graffiti at Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park was so extensive and in unexpected places that they opted to knock it down rather than clean it, as Harry Pearson explains
When Ayresome Park was finally eradicated the demolition men took with them a lot of bricks and a small slice of folk-art history. True, there was nothing that left its mark on the conscience of a generation like north London’s splendidly indelible “M Khan Is Bent”. Nor was there anything quite as archaic as the north-east’s oldest surviving product of boredom and testosterone, the carving on Hadrian’s Wall that depicts a giant penis hopping about on chicken’s legs (had a Roman Legionary had some ghastly premonition of Kieron Dyer?). But there was enough for us oldsters to get wistful over in much the same way our coevals in Leicester do when they recall the evil threats on the back wall of the away end at Filbert Street.
There was “Neal Out” sprayed on the side of chairman Charlie Amer’s infamous sports hall during John Neal’s reign. It lasted almost as long as the ill-fated building itself and gave the public considerably better value for money. The artist responsible for “Man U Are Shite”, meanwhile, chose a different medium, scraping his message into the grime of the small windows at the back of the North Stand. Here for decades it bore stark testimony to Old Trafford’s place in the minds of men and to the club’s nonchalant attitude to domestic cleanliness before finally being removed, not with a J cloth and some soapy water, but by the wrecker’s ball.
More arcane perhaps were the words “Elvis Lives” which appeared on the wall in the Holgate End several years after The King’s demise. Although it wasn’t specific on the point it was hard to avoid the conclusion that the artists felt Elvis was actually living there. The later period Memphis troubadour would certainly have had little trouble blending in. With his unseemly waistline, lardy jowls, pompadour quiff and Reactolite shades he could easily have passed himself off as a County Durham bus driver. Though I suspect his karate moves and white cape might ultimately have resulted in him getting a bit of a kicking.
And finally we come to something that might be claimed as unique to Ayresome, the mad magic marker doodlings that decorated the home dressing room, covering practically every inch of wall space in a mad whirl of feverish cartoons and larky puns (“Coitus Fleming”). Initially club officials denied knowing who was responsible, but later the players pointed the finger at captain and madcap dressing-room joker Nigel Pearson. When the first team quit the ground for The Riverside leaving it briefly to the reserves, the dressing rooms became a favourite place for tour parties – Teesside’s answer to the Grottes de Lascaux. Now, of course, the images are gone forever, living on only in the memory of those who saw them and the photograph section of John Hendrie’s autobiography.
From WSC 206 April 2004. What was happening this month
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