WHEN Jack Charlton took up his first managerial position at Middlesbrough in 1973, he inherited an unremarkable Second Division side and found himself presiding over a club that had spent 19 successive seasons outside the top-flight.

When he left, four years later, he bequeathed a team that had just missed out on qualifying for Europe and was being tipped by no less than Kevin Keegan to end the next season as First Division champions. Little wonder that for all his Northumberland roots, and his lifelong affiliation for Newcastle United, he will always be regarded as a legend on the banks of the Tees.

Bruce Rioch might have won promotion at Ayresome Park, Bryan Robson might have enjoyed some halcyon days at the Riverside and Steve McClaren might still be the only Middlesbrough boss to have lifted a major trophy, but in the eyes of many Boro fans, Charlton stands at the top of the managerial tree.

He dragged a club that was regarded as a parochial underachiever to a position at English football’s top table, turning journeyman players into household names and enthusing a generation of Teessiders. Jack’s army, red shirted and boasting a new, iconic white band, marched proudly across the land.

“For me, Jack Charlton put Middlesbrough on the map, no doubt about it,” said Stuart Boam, the rugged centre-half whose time on Teesside straddled the entirety of Charlton’s reign. “For his achievements, he has to be a Boro legend because he took the club from nowhere to the top.

 “When Jack initially came in I remember him calling us to a meeting at Marton Country Club, which was the chairman Charlie Amer’s hotel. On his first introduction to us, he went round to every player and discussed how good he thought they were and what abilities he thought they had.

“He left me to last and when he finally gave me his description of my capabilities it wasn’t very good. I thought my career at Middlesbrough was finished. He had come in as player-manager so I thought it would be the end of me.

“But the very next day after giving me a good slagging, he made me captain. That was the start of our love-hate relationship. I had plenty of arguments with him because I felt it was my job to say what I felt, but I have nothing but the greatest of respect for him.

“He was blunt, honest and open. He told you what he felt and he was always that same person. That’s why we respected him so much.

 “What I did really like about him was that he spent a lot of time on team spirit. The team did everything together, not just training. It must have worked as well because all the players still keep in touch.

“None of us were famous players, but he instilled in us a confidence in our ability, certainly in me and my defensive understanding with Willie Maddren. Jack was the start of my career really.”

The Northern Echo:

It undoubtedly helped that Charlton hit the ground running. Boro lost to Fulham in their second game of the 1973-74 season, but then embarked on a 24-game unbeaten run in the league that took them to the top of the table and opened up an unbridgeable gap to the chasing pack.

The bedrock of the team that would go on to be successful in the First Division was already in place – Jim Platt in goal, Boam and Willie Maddren in defence, Graeme Souness, Bobby Murdoch and David Armstrong in midfield, Alan Foggon, John Hickton and David Mills in attack – and Charlton was already beginning to work the man-management magic that would serve him so well throughout his managerial career.

“1973-74 was a phenomenal season,” said Platt, “It must be one of the best ever years in Boro’s history.

“Jack was his own man and he wanted to play his own way. His first objective was to make sure we gave nothing away at the back. Sure enough, we didn’t but initially we didn’t score many goals.

“As the season went on, we became more confident and I remember us beating Sheffield Wednesday 8-0 but we also scored four at West Brom and another four at Fulham on Bobby Moore’s debut for them. It was just another match at the time but those were incredible results.

“At first, he was do it my way or not at all but he relaxed soon enough and was one of the lads really, sympathetic to the players. He got the best out of Graeme Souness and got Bobby in, who was a world class player.

“I had a couple of run-ins with Jack, as everyone did, because he was a strong personality. He admitted it in later years but if we had invested in a couple of players to replace John Hickton and Bobby Murdoch, I think we would have won the First Division title.”

The Northern Echo:

Those First Division days remain cherished memories, with Middlesbrough finishing seventh, just two points adrift of a UEFA Cup place, and reaching both the sixth round of the FA Cup and the League Cup semi-finals. In October 1976, Boro briefly topped the First Division table, and Charlton also lifted the club’s first trophy, the 1975-76 Anglo-Scottish Cup.

In hindsight, they were perhaps two astute additions away from being genuine championship material, but Charlton, ever mindful of the club’s financial position, was always reluctant to spend over the odds, even if he had the green light from above to do so.

“When we got promoted, John Hickton was coming to the end of his career and everyone was wanting a new centre-forward but the club didn’t have much money and Jack seemed to think it was his money,” admitted John Craggs. “He was tight that way, but he looked after the club.

“He was only there for four years, but he made that big an impact, he’s got to be a Middlesbrough legend.”