Sweep stake

Just what exactly was Middlesbrough's fascination with some bagless vacuum cleaners? Dave Carter blows the story

I blame it all on my friend Mark. He is a guerrilla comper, a professional competition entrant who specialises in winning prizes without purchasing the products the competitions are designed to pro­mote. It is his fault that I arrived at the Riverside Stadium bleary-eyed at 9.45 on the morning of Middlesbrough’s clash with Charlton Athletic, to be photo­graph­ed standing alongside a purple, top-of-the-range turbo-suction Dyson vac­uum cleaner.

Mark has already been the beneficiary of dozens of free Boro tickets, including a num­ber with pre-match drinks and meals, by assiduously entering competitions in the local press that no one else can be bothered with. He even sent away and won a video of Bryan Robson’s managerial highlights which – honestly – turned out to be blank.

But the vacuum cleaner was his finest hour. Every Boro season ticket holder was sent a com­p­limentary Christmas edition of Riverside Roar, the club mag­azine. Am­ong the usual articles on whatever hap­pened to Mikkel Beck (he opened a fish restaurant in Earls Court) and why Boro ne­ver win on Boxing Day, Mark spotted a two-page advert for Dyson cleaners, with Ham­ilton Ricard and Ugo Ehiogu proudly standing alongside some purple upright models. (Ricard himself was also upright, a very rare event these days.)

There were 11 Dysons to be won, each autographed by Boro players. This was a brilliant marketing strategy by Mr Dyson. Other Premier League teams are used to promote trendy clothes, new isotonic drinks or the latest in hair-care products. He chose Middlesbrough to highlight his machine’s efficiency at disposing of rubbish.

Leaving aside the technical question of where exactly the autographs would be written – these things are supposed to be bagless – Mark could see the opportunity for a guerrilla comper’s surprise attack. The prize draw entries had to be completed with names and addresses, and have a simple tie-breaker ques­tion answered, before being stamped at a local Curry’s electrical store and sent off to their head office. Mark correctly surmised that this manoeuvre would be way beyond the wit of the average Boro fan, and instructed six of us to bring our completed entries to the Derby County game in January. He hand-delivered them to Curry’s superstore at Teesside Park and stood over the hapless shop assistant while she stamped and dispatched them.

 The outcome was that my wife and another friend won an autographed vacuum cleaner each. The only “condition”, according to the letter from Middlesbrough FC promotions department, was that they (or their “representative”) had to attend a photo-call at the ground with the purple turbo-suction cleaners. Normally, my wife will do anything for a new domestic appliance, but she drew the line at the possibility of being photographed alongside Phil Stamp, a man who needs his bag emptying more than most.

 That was how I came to be at the Riverside Stadium early one Saturday, grinning inanely while fondling Mr Dyson’s purple appliance. Amazingly, most of the other lucky winners appeared to view the ceremony as an appropriate occasion for a family outing, and the foyer of the BT Cellnet Riverside was awash with children and grandparents joyously having their photos taken with the bagless wonders. Only Mark was unhappy. He hates it when he doesn’t win.

From WSC 170 April 2001. What was happening this month