Wednesday, 15 January 2014

2004 - My Favourite Year

So we drove to Manchester Airport early today because Stacey had to fly back to the States. 

None of us want her to go obviously. Not me, our son Vince, my family, our friends, relatives and cousins to whom she's cool Aunt Stacey. Just the small fact that because she's not from round here the Government says she's gotta go.  

Vince and I had a good dad & lad day in the North West for a couple of hours afterwards, well as much fun as you can have when your hearts broken into 18,600 pieces and you can't tell your son when his momma is coming back. 

So back to being a jobless temporary single parent for the time being. This does remind me of the last time a year started so inauspiciously, exactly 10 years ago in fact, so indulge me while I recollect how 2004 turned out to be the best year of my life. 

I began the year much like this one bathing in the ashes of personal defeat. I had just come back from a mostly agreeable New Years Eve party with my friends in Bicester that unfortunately, for me, culminated in seeing my former fiance from six months previously snogging her new boyfriend. I went back to our, now my house, and took it out on the less expensive and replaceable kitchen equipment. 

I needed a change of scene and as luck would have it, I was able to join my parents on a trip to Oman, where my dad was working at the time. 10 days of sun, beaches and the secluded silence you only get in the Mountains was as good a place to take stock as any. 

As it turns out the trip was exactly what I needed. A chance to recuperate and take stock, mentally as well as physically. Being able to run at a higher altitude in a higher heat or work out in an air conditioned gym,  catch up on movies at home, eat the finest Indian food I've ever tasted - mainly thanks to the Indian expat community just over the gulf from home - a chance to take in some genuine Arabic culture and catch up on sleep.  

I mean real sleep, I have never slept as deeply or as well as I did in the Desert, going to sleep and waking up naturally, getting over eight hours every night, I felt like Superman waking up every morning. I enjoyed swimming in the sea and could not stop myself from laughing after running on the beach from the hotel and back.  I even had an improtu kickabout with a bunch of expat Iraqis - my 'Beckham 23' shirt helped and proved that despite their being a 'war' on, the beautiful game is the universal language - especially if you're far from home. 

While I was away, I was keeping a close eye on unfolding drama at home. The BBC was awaiting the publication of the Hutton Report so I was due for a busy time back in the Press Office and equally pressing, Middlesbrough were taking a 1-0 lead into the second leg of the League Cup semi-final against 'The Invincible's' Arsenal side that would not lose a league game that season.  

A momentous night at the Riverside Stadium saw the Boro triumph on aggregate and travel to Cardiff for the first time to contest a major Cup final against Bolton Wanderers on the fateful date of February 29th. The whole family went to Wales for the weekend and we enjoyed a tremendous day beforeout and about in the Capital running into friends and familiar faces at every turn. 

Not getting to a major final every season, we decided to do things in a little bit of style and managed to book a Corporate Box for the whole family to watch the game from. The game has been well covered in other places but despite leaking a goal just before half time, the two we had scored in the first 15 minutes saw that 128 years later, Middlesbrough FC had won it's first major trophy and I, and pretty much everyone I loved and cared about, was there to see it. 

The year continued without much negativity or drama and we enjoyed the rarity of a real, warm British summer. I celebrated my 31st birthday in Bicester during the European Championships and despite being ejected from The Litten Tree for being too drunk to speak, a good time was had by all. 

A week later, I started chatting with a bright, sparky, clever and amazingly attractive girl from Atlanta called Stacey - and so it began, although I had to pull out the big guns to keep her interest...

Suddenly my life was transformed and energised even more, by a relationship I wasn't even looking for when it exploded into my life. I still feel that way when I look at her. 

I had been planning to take a trip to the USA later that year anyway but now I had a specific reason to go and a city to visit - Atlanta - for the first time. I've never been so nervous, excited and alive as when I saw Stacey for the first time at Hartsfield Jackson airport. The busiest airport in the world it may be but it still stopped when she spotted me and smiled.  We had a great 10 days together - I've always been an Ameriphile and we hung out, passed the friends test, went to the Baseball and clicked like we'd known each other for years. It was just right. 

I reluctantly headed back to England and reality but we had already made plans for Stacey to spend Christmas with me back in England. In the meantime, I had Middlesbrough's first European adventures to look forward to, starting in with a trip to the Czech Republic and Banik Ostrava. Leaving from Teesside Airport, my brother, Dad and seemingly half of Teesside descended on this Eastern European steel making town and felt decidedly at home with the locals. Boro progressed over both legs but lifelong friendships were made in our twin Steel City

Stacey and I kept on chatting throughout the Autumn and Middlesbrough shrugged off their history of mediocrity, beating the likes of Liverpool, Man City and Villa in the league and in one special evening making Lazio look like a Northern League outfit in the UEFA Cup. 

The year ended with Stacey coming to the UK for the first time and despite the tactical error of taking her to Whitby in December and actually making her cry with the cold, she met my family and friends and actually decided to come back again. And again, and again.

So as I sifted through the broken sugar bowl and spilled milk of the kitchen lino before I had to take a cold shower and drive to work in London that cloudy New Years Day not knowing the filips and fun awaiting me in the year ahead, so we don't know what's round the corner this except for one caveat.  It will be better than last. 

It has to be.