It was 23 years ago this weekend that Middlesbrough supporters were heading up Wembley Way in their tens of thousands.

Full of hope, they were going to the home of football for the biggest game in the club’s history – their first FA Cup final.

They were looking forward to Boro ending a tortuous season on a high just a week after being relegated from the Premier League.

But little did they know behind-the-scenes in-fighting meant they were about to go down without a fight in the Wembley showpiece.

It is only now that Teessiders know that manager Bryan Robson’s team was being its own worst enemy as they prepared to face Chelsea.

Fabrizio Ravanelli was involved in a scuffle with Neil Cox, who has spilled the beans about their bust-up.

“In the build-up we’d done the press and I’d spoken to a journalist I know really well and I did a piece on what I thought the team would be,” Cox told The Northern Echo.

“I picked Becky (Mikkel Beck) up front rather than Ravanelli because he’d been away in Italy for ten days with a hamstring problem.

“I’d ruled myself out already because I had a similar issue and I wasn’t ready and I didn't want to let myself down my team-mates.

“We had a tremendous spirit; we trusted each other. Big Nigel Pearson and Bryan Robson had taught me it's not just about the team, it’s about the squad, so it was an easy decision.

“That team I went with was just my opinion and I think the rest of the squad felt the same. But we’d had such a hard season and the manager was under so much pressure he gambled on Rav.

“Anyway, Rav read my interview on the morning of the game and took a swing at me while we were having a team picture taken. He spat at me first. I retaliated and it all got broken up.”

It was no laughing matter but it was still a cause for joke on the team bus to Wembley, where comedian Stan Boardman was ready to do a turn to put the players at ease.

“Juninho was the first to push Rav away and say he was bang out of order but Juninho liked the banter as well,” Cox added.

“And so he had got on the coach driver’s microphone and said ‘right let's get ready for this boxing bout at the back of the bus.’

“That was a cue for Stan to make fun out of the ding-dong we’d had as well as taking the Mickey out of Germans and Italians, which Rav didn’t take well.”

Ravanelli has recently denied there was a fight, but Cox called things right in his newspaper column at the time – and he believes his colleagues agreed with him.

“Me and Ravanelli still have our ding-dongs about it now but we expected him to be dropped because no-one had seen him for ten days,” Cox said.

“I understand why he was so desperate to play – everyone wants to play in an FA Cup final, but he was kidding himself if he thought he was fit.

“And it went against our ethics. The reason we had such a good two years was because we were all united. Everyone made the right decisions with the team and the club in mind.

“In fact, I remember people knocking on the gaffer’s door saying, “I’m struggling, I can't play’. Instead of playing for themselves they played for the team.”

“But at that time our friend Mr Ravanelli didn’t play for the team, he played for himself,” added the Notts County assistant manager.

“I understand where he was coming from because he was a goalscorer and they win games. But at that time the club had gone through a really difficult time and we needed to make sure we ended the season on a high.

“Instead of the morning of the game, it could have been sorted out any other time instead of spitting and throwing a punch when I’m not looking. If we'd done things properly it might have been different that day.

“As it turned out, our friend Ravanelli played 20 minutes without making a run and then his hamstring went. That cost us the game.”

In a way Ravanelli symbolises everything that was good and bad about that ill-fated season when he scored 29 goals.

“Ravanelli was a fantastic forward but probably thought he was too big for the club,” Cox said.

“He didn’t want to be part of the boys sticking together, rallying around each other and fighting.

“He was more of a loner. He trained on his own, ate on his own, went to away games on his own. He even got a personal chef to cook his food when we waited for our food in hotels.

“It was strange and after away games the gaffer would be saying things and he’d gone home in a car. He didn't really want to be there. I liked playing with him, but his personality just wasn’t for me.

“With Becky, a young striker just coming into our country there would have been no one better than Ravanelli to help him. He had lots of potential but Rav killed him. The lads all knew Rav was out of order in the way he dealt with everything.”

In that FA Cup final, Boro, of course, were behind after just 42 seconds and lost 2-0.

“That goal summed it up,” Cox said. “We never really showed up – Chelsea cruised it because we ran out of legs.

“We’d played around 55 games that season but it was the game we didn't play that was key.

“I’ll never know why we did it but not going to Blackburn cost us dearly – we could have had the best season in the club’s history.

“We could have won two finals and stayed up which would have been an unbelievable achievement for a relatively small club finding its feet among the big boys.

“We trained that morning and there was enough of us to play and if we’d gone there and got beat and licked our wounds.... It all took its toll on us – right until the FA Cup final. We were all played out.”

Rob Stewart’s book Boro Tales, which features a more than 100 interviews with former players and a special section on the club’s Carling Cup success, has been made available on Kindle and paperback for £9 including delivery from Great Northern Books.