TONY MOWBRAY will return to his beloved Teesside this afternoon, still touched by the memories of his childhood watching and then his playing days with Middlesbrough.

Mowbray, who has not managed at the Riverside since losing his job as Boro boss in 2013, might not have had the fitting end he craved during his time leading his hometown team, but that has not diminished his standing among the fans.

All of his family and friends are also Middlesbrough supporters and he should be greeted like a club legend when he walks out into his technical area as Blackburn manager on Saturday afternoon.

“I look for Middlesbrough games, yes, but only because I have supported Middlesbrough since I was eight or nine,” Saltburn-born Mowbray said.

“I followed Middlesbrough in the 70s, Jack Charlton’s team with Graeme Souness, John Hickton up front.

“My total loyalties, as always over the last 14 or 15 years, are with the team I am managing. You throw your life into the job and I want to make sure it’s a good day for our fans by getting the points.”

He added: “I remember Ayresome Park, which isn’t there any more, that was where I grew up really. I remember walking up the concrete steps and seeing the oasis of grass in the middle.

“You’d then decide if you are going to watch on the outside or get right in the middle with the fans . In those days the crowd would sway as the ball flashes across the box.

“It would be amazing as an eight or nine-year-old to be right in the middle of it and getting carried along with your feet up the floor. They were great days.

“I’d go with my dad in those days and wander off before coming back to him at full time. Later, in your teens, you’d go with your mates. I left school and went in to be a player. They were great experiences growing up in the area.”

Mowbray captained Middlesbrough in 1986 during the period of liquidation, and then led them to back to back promotions to the top-flight.

He told iRovers: “We became less of a power and it ended in 1986 when I was 21 or 22. We went into liquidation, the padlocks went on and we didn’t have a training ground.

“We had nowhere to go. I remember somebody has spray-painted R.I.P above the gates. Bruce Rioch would meet us at the gates but we wouldn’t be able to get in there to get kit. We’d end up wearing our own kid and we’d end up training at schools and on local pitches.

"We ended up playing games at Hartlepool United’s ground.

“In the end we managed to get promotion one season and then promotion again to get back to the top flight. I remember in the team then we had Stuart Ripley, Gary Pallister, Gary Parkinson, Colin Cooper and myself.  “It was a team that gelled together under a pretty harsh regime. It ended up being successful and worked well. I think it sticks with a generation of supporters in Teesside.   “We were on our backside, and in the space of two years we got playing back in the top flight against the likes of Manchester United.  “Steve Gibson has financed a recovery. His fame grew when he brought in Fabricio Ravanelli and then Juninho.   “Boro have had some great players over the years with the likes of Alen Boksic, Mark Viduka, players like that, which were all brought in under Steve’s ownership.”

After leaving Middlesbrough and his playing career ended, Mowbray went into management.  He ended up back at Middlesbrough in 2010 following Gordon Strachan’s ill-fated reign, when the money had dried up following relegation from the Premier League under Gareth Southgate.

During Mowbray’s three years in charge at the Riverside, he was unable to turn them into a promotion winning team after narrowly missing out on a play-off spot in his first full season.  Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis, who built up a decent relationship with him when they managed Stoke and West Brom respectively, said: “I know Tony quite well, he has done good jobs wherever he has gone.  “I thought he quite a good job here, didn’t get the credit he deserves. He picked up a bit of a mess, worked hard to clear that out and sometimes you don’t credit you deserve and he didn’t get the credit he deserved.

“They have done well this season at Blackburn, he has got some good players he has been settled there and he has got what he wanted in lots of ways. He is a good football man and it will be nice to see him.”

Ryan Shotton should return to the Middlesbrough team that faces Mowbray’s Blackburn, with Pulis admitting he needs everyone to be fit ahead of “a chaotic” run of fixtures.

Shotton has missed eight Championship games with a knee injury since appearing at Sheffield Wednesday on October 19 but he is available again this weekend.

His return is nicely timed because Dael Fry, the man who has been playing right-back of late, has to miss out because of the head injury he suffered during last Saturday’s defeat to Aston Villa.

The visit of Blackburn is the first of six fixtures building up towards the trip to Derby County on New Year’s Day, and Pulis knows how important it is going to be to have plenty selection options available.

“Ryan will be available, I think,” said Pulis. “It is important that all the team is fit and ready to go especially during this period, with the games coming up.  “It is going to be chaotic the next four of five weeks. Dael has done exceptionally well, he could play in any position, he is that good. Have we missed Ryan? I will let you know.”

Middlesbrough have slipped down to fourth in recent weeks but Pulis knows the next month is going to be crucial in terms of how teams shape up for the run-in.

He said: “It’s a tough league, we played Fulham around this time last year and they were about 17th, and they beat us, they ended up on an extraordinary run and got promoted.  “Football moves, it ebbs and flows. A lot is confidence and getting the players to believe in what they are doing. We have watched games where teams have done well and not won, you just have to run with it and roll a bit.”