Alastair Brownlee wasn’t just ‘one of us.’ He was ALL OF US, because every ‘Boro supporter who has earned the name couldn’t help empathising with this lovely man’s incredibly biased commentaries; couldn’t resist laughing at his absolute refusal to acknowledge any criticism of his beloved ‘Boro from his neighbouring ‘expert’ and couldn’t help being thrilled at the excitement he shared with us all when his team scored a goal.
We all loved him because he epitomised the enormously strong feelings every football supporter has for the club to which they feel tribally and permanently attached.
I first met Ali back in the mid-eighties when he wrote a weekly ‘Boro comment for the local free sheet ‘The Cleveland Clarion,’ and regardless of where ‘Boro were playing on the Tuesday night he would always have his piece presented by the requisite 10am on the Wednesday morning.
Such was his optimistic enthusiasm that I often accused him of writing his piece on what had turned out to be a great ‘Boro’ performance before he set off. ‘Yes,’ he joked, ‘I have a win and lose piece written before every game.’ ‘What happens if they draw?’ I asked. ‘That,’ said Ali, is as bad as getting beat!’
That just about sums him up, but how proud would he have been for what turned out to be one of the most emotional days I have ever had as a ‘Boro fan. Never mind that night in Eindhoven or the Wembley trip last May. They were things we can get over and when you’ve been a ‘Boro fanatic for as long as I have you get used to such downfalls. But the response to his incredibly sad demise was one of the most touching and poignant experiences I’ve ever had as a ‘Boro fan.
At Leeds, on the Monday night following his death, even the opposition fans joined in when his face appeared on their big screen. It was a wonderful gesture from the Leeds club and their fans and I’m convinced will go a long way to mending some of the fences between our two clubs that have been erected over the years. But it wasn’t just Leeds. So many other clubs acknowledged his contribution to both Middlesbrough and football combined and I feel no shame in admitting to shedding many, many tears as the tributes poured in.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of his life and his unique love for both his town and its football club is that he will be remembered with equal warmth and love as the football ‘greats’ with whom he was so familiar.
Rest in peace Ali and let’s hope that next season you’re watching Premiership football from above….
….and make sure Gabriel’s wearing a ‘Boro scarf!