WHEN Jonathan Woodgate is officially appointed as Middlesbrough’s new head coach later today, he will oversee the start of a new era. In many ways, though, it will be nothing novel. More than two decades ago, the Teessider was witnessing the start of another new dawn that was way more traumatic than anything he will face in the next few months. And as the history books show, that didn’t turn out too badly in the end.

In 1986, Woodgate was just six when his father, Alan, took him Hartlepool’s Victoria Ground to watch Bruce Rioch’s Middlesbrough side play out a 2-2 draw with Port Vale in their first game in the wake of liquidation. In the years since, tens of thousands of Teessiders have claimed to have been part of the 3,456-strong crowd, but Woodgate was there, relocated from his dad’s traditional vantage point at Ayresome Park. To this day, he wears the experience as a badge of honour, a formative part of his footballing development as powerful and transformative as anything he went on to experience at Wembley or the Bernabeu.

Cut Woodgate in two, and he bleeds Boro red. His father was brought up on Brompton Road, Linthorpe, where the roars from Ayresome Park could be heard through the living room window.

His earliest years were spent on High Gill Road in Nunthorpe, and he was just five when he first joined his dad and Uncle Dave on the terraces. It was the era of Slaven and Pallister, and of EIO-ing on the Holgate End, not that he was immediately allowed to inhabit the beating heart of Ayresome Park.

“I wasn’t in the Holgate,” remembered Woodgate, in an interview with the Evening Gazette, conducted after he joined Middlesbrough’s coaching staff. “I was at the side of the tunnel in the North Stand. But I just remember looking at the Holgate and thinking, ‘Get me in there’. I was never in there, but it’s fantastic memories.

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“I always wanted to play there, and I managed to play there for my local county team, Langbaurgh. The pitch was unbelievable. It was immaculate, but there was a camber on it. I didn’t realise how big it was, and I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to play football on a pitch this size?’ But it was a fantastic experience for me.”

By the time he was a regular attendee at Ayresome Park, Woodgate was already carving out a reputation as a talented youth player.

He played for Nunthorpe Athletic, before moving on to Cleveland Juniors and Marton, where he won a host of junior honours.

He started attended regular coaching sessions at Middlesbrough’s embryonic Centre of Excellence, although while he would go on to become one of the most expensive defenders in world football, his talent did not immediately stand out, with most of his youth appearances coming as a winger.

“When I was about 11 or 12, I started going to Middlesbrough Centre of Excellence, down at the ground,” said Woodgate. “We used to play in the indoor gym and George Herd was our coach.

“To be honest with you, I was nothing flash. There were a lot better players than me, like Robbie Stockdale and Richard Kell – they were the two main players in our age group.

“I was just run-of-the-mill really, I was just average, but then I started playing at Marton and a lot of scouts started coming to watch like Man United, Forest – you had Leeds, Sunderland, Everton – and I had trials with all those clubs. I was still going to Boro too.”

Had he been developing now, Woodgate would almost certainly have been tied down to Middlesbrough from an early age. Back then, the club’s youth recruitment was nowhere near as polished, and instead of committing to his hometown club, Woodgate found himself signing YTS forms with Leeds. Given everything he went on to achieve, it is hard not to regard him as the one that got away.

“The Boro situation where I didn’t sign for them was that they used to ring you on a Friday night saying, ‘Can you come and play?’ My dad would say, ‘He can’t play – he’s promised to play for his local team’. That’s how it finished, simple as that,” he said.

“They were ringing me on a Friday to play on a Saturday or ringing on a Saturday to play on a Sunday, but I had already committed to play for Marton.

“That’s when Leeds came along and I signed for them. They offered me schoolboy forms and then I became a YTS. I just wanted to play football, and I wasn’t bothered where.”

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The rest is footballing history. Woodgate rapidly progressed to the first team at Elland Road, playing alongside Rio Ferdinand at the heart of the back four, and spent half a season with Newcastle United before joining Real Madrid in a £13.4m move in 2004.

He spent two years at the Bernabeu, before, in August 2006, he finally got the chance to play professionally for Middlesbrough as he returned to Teesside on a season-long loan.

His debut came in a 1-1 draw against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, and his performance up against Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie has come to be regarded as one of the best defensive displays seen in a Boro shirt.

“Credit to Middlesbrough,” said Henry after the game. “I’ve always said and thought that Woodgate is a good defender. It’s good for Middlesbrough that they’ve got him.”

Woodgate joined Boro permanently in the summer of 2007, but within six months he was off again, moving to Tottenham for £8m.

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He won the League Cup with Spurs – his only major trophy – but his injury problems began to mount and he was eventually forced to sign a pay-as-you-play deal to continue his career with Stoke City.

He was offered a new deal with Stoke when his initial contract expired in 2012, but when Boro came calling for a second time, the lure of the hometown pull once again proved impossible to resist. Particularly as home issues were also reeling him back to Teesside.

“My dad was ill, and I had to commute from Manchester to see him all the time,” said Woodgate. “He was in intensive care and obviously he was really ill at the time, and I really wanted to come back.

“And then, God knows how, Steve Gibson rang me. I wanted to play for Middlesbrough, but I needed to be home to be with my parents. My father wasn’t well, so that was the main reason to come home.”

Woodgate signed for Tony Mowbray – “I loved playing for him. He gave you confidence and I think he’s a good manager” – and remained a key factor after Aitor Karanka was appointed as Mowbray’s replacement.

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His career was winding down by the time Karanka arrived, but he was hugely impressed by the Spaniard’s coaching acumen and made a handful of appearances as Boro suffered the heartbreak of losing the play-off final to Norwich City.

Woodgate was an unused substitute at Wembley, and made his final playing appearance the following August as he helped Boro claim a League Cup win at Burton Albion.

By then, his thoughts had already turned to a career in coaching, and after a brief spell working as an analyst for Liverpool, he was appointed to Middlesbrough’s backroom team shortly after Karanka’s departure.

He assumed a senior coaching role under Tony Pulis, with the Welshman praising Woodgate’s coaching abilities in a post-season debrief with Gibson.

Gibson listened to Pulis’ assessment, and always had Woodgate’s name at the top of his list as he searched for someone to lead Middlesbrough’s latest attempt at revival.

His appointment should be confirmed later today, and he will preside over his first match as manager in a couple of months’ time. More than two decades on from that historic day at Hartlepool, and Woodgate finds himself at the heart of another new beginning.