Boro Mag: Cult Heroes - Uwe Fuchs
They say nostalgia makes everything seem better than it actually was, equally, they say you never realise you're in the good old days until they've gone. How confusing. Hopefully, by the end of this piece, we'll have decided one way or the other...
Uwe Fuchs was an enigma. Nine goals in 13 appearances, one brutal red card, one (alleged) celebrity romance and a haircut straight out of the Winds of Change video. The man was fantastic.
Let me paint you a picture...
Please, cast your minds back to the wonderful, almost halcyon days of 1995; Ayresome was in its final swansong, England's Captain Marvel was in a Boro shirt dominating midfield in Division One and everything John Hendrie touched seemed like it went in.
As a nine year old Boro fan on the front row of the Holgate, I hadn't seen the bad times. I wondered what the fuss was all about, this was normal wasn't it? Why's everybody moaning? And what's that smell?
Steve Gibson had played a blinder in the close season prior to the 1994/95 campaign, convincing Manchester United and England legend Bryan Robson to take over the reins from outgoing Lennie Lawrence.
Robson needed no introduction to the Teesside public at all, the man was a living legend having won domestic and European titles year after year with the Red Devils under Alex Ferguson (not yet a Sir, not by title anyway). In total,, he made 462 appearances and scored 99 goals for the club.
The buzz around the Boro was palpable. Robson was an England hero and a born winner, just what would he bring to the club both on and off the pitch? Could he be the man to take this old fashioned, unfancied club back to the top division of English football? He brought with him from United Viv Anderson as his assistant and Welsh wideman Clayton Blackmore in an effort to transplant the United mentality in little old Middlesbrough.
The season started spectacularly with seven games unbeaten and a storming first half of the season. Boro were battling at the top of the division and the team of young up-and-coming stars such as Neil Cox, Alan Moore and Jamie Pollock were gelling well with Robson, centre back Nigel Pearson and trusted players such as John Hendrie, Robbie Mustoe and Steve Vickers.
All signs pointed towards the Premier League. By New Year's Eve, Boro were top of the table, five points clear of Wolves and six points clear of Tranmere Rovers (remember them?). Boro's first game of 1995 was the classic tricky away FA Cup tie to Third Division Swansea City, and it was a struggle to earn a 1-1 draw.
Next up was another mammoth trek to Swindon Town for a Division One tie where Boro again struggled, this time to a 2-1 defeat. The replay of the FA Cup tie with Swansea City ended in another 2-1 defeat. Something clearly wasn't right, was this the dreaded "Christmas slump" we've all come to know and love?
John Hendrie was on fire but hadn't scored since just before Christmas, in fact, it was six games since any Boro striker had scored. Thank Christ for Craig Hignett!
Jan Age Fjortoft had long been linked with a move to Ayresome Park but the division top scorer looked likely to be staying put at Swindon Town. Let’s not forget Swindon were an ex-Premier League club just like ourselves and a push for promotion wasn't beyond the realms of possibility. Boro needed firepower to prevent a faltering run-in to the season. Enter Uwe Fuchs...
My first sight of Uwe was warming up along the touchline at Ayresome Park like a kitted-up Stig of the Dump. One young lad in the chicken run tried unsuccessfully to start a "Uwe needs a haircut, Uwe needs a haircut, lalalala" chant. It wasn't me but I agreed with the sentiment. I asked around to see if anybody knew anything about this lumbering hulk about to take the pitch but nobody seemed to know a thing.
The most we could garner was that he was German and he played up front. That's that cleared up then. It turns out that Uwe was recommended directly to Bryan Robson by former England teammate Tony Woodcock.
"I knew nothing about Middlesbrough, the team or the town, when I arrived here," Uwe recalled with The Evening Gazette's Anthony Vickers, "but I did know Tony Woodcock. I had played with him at Koln. He had become a successful coach in Germany and then an agent and he called me to say Middlesbrough were looking for a centre-forward as they had injuries."
Fuchs scored on his full debut at home to Charlton Athletic with a lovely controlled touch and a finish on the turn. The goal gave Boro a 1-0 victory and a renewed vigour for the remaining games. Maybe this guy would make the difference we needed?
The celebratory hug from Jamie Pollock looked just as violent as his tackles clearly indicating what the goal, and the result, meant to the lads. Uwe was interviewed after the game, clearly freezing on a cold Teesside night, not even a luminous green Errea jacket could battle: "Physically I feel down. In Germany, we play a little bit not so fast, more combination football and here it's more running. The fans call my name before and during the game and it's good motivation for me."
The surprisingly fluent English speaker made me wonder what the Germans thought of Jimmy Nail's attempts to speak their native tongue, anyway I digress. A tired but happy Uwe warmed down with a goal to his name and a legion of new fans. A burgeoning love affair was unfolding beneath the Ayresome lights.
Off the pitch, the seemingly shy German was settling in nicely. "Uwe, Alan Miller and I lived in Norton Hall when he joined the club. He was a great lad and joined in with the banter all the time." former team mate Neil Cox told me. Maybe Germans have a sense of humour after all, who knew?
A rumoured fling with Billingham's own Gladiator Jet, further endeared him to the Boro fans off the pitch as much as on. No "banging them in" jokes please, we're all adults here. The "Uwe Loves Jet" banner on the Holgate fencing cements the German goal-getter and Teesside high-kicker into Boro folklore, regardless of whether the rumours were true or not.
Next up on the pitch was a trip to Molyneux to face promotion rivals Wolves in a clash vital to both team's Premier League dreams. Boro took the lead with Steve Vickers nodding in a Clayton Blackmore corner, the slow-motion header helped into the net by the hapless Wolves keeper Paul Jones.
On a boggy pitch, both teams were stifled by the conditions and chances were few and far between. This was one of those games that could turn on a moment of skill or a complete fluke. We'd had the fluke, what would come next?
Late in the second half, a long, hopeful ball was clipped in behind the Wolves defence in search of Boro's number nine.
In typical Uwe fashion, he set off after the ball at a medium pace. For a second the stadium stood silent as Uwe and the keeper raced for the ball, Jones just getting there first. His clearance was somehow absorbed by the Boro man who immediately cut inside the retreating defender and slotted coolly home into an open net from outside the box.
Strength, composure and cool-headedness personified Fuchs who claimed his second goal in two games. "He's certainly paying his way. I quite like him." said co-commentator Jimmy Greaves. High praise indeed.
Boro travelled to Millwall's New Den for the following league game, the match ending in a 0-0 draw. More on Millwall later...
Bristol City were Boro’s next visitors to Ayresome Park on 4th March 1995, a game which sealed the Uwe Fuchs legend once and for all.
At the time Boro were sitting in second place, three points behind Tranmere Rovers (again, Tranmere Rovers fighting for promotion to the Prem? Doesn't seem real now does it? Bless 'em.) and three points would have provided a springboard for Boro to take the top spot. Boro still had two games in hand.
Boro opened the scoring with a route-one-esque ball from the million-pound man Neil Cox. It travelled straight through the heart of the City defence. Fuchs outmuscled his marker and bore down on goal, one shimmy to wrongfoot the keeper, another to deceive a defender on the line and a finish stroked home from inside the six-yard box.
He'd been described as an old-fashioned English centre forward and so far the moniker was proving to be spot on, his direct, physical style terrorising Division One defenders. Boro's, and Uwe's, second came in the second half again with Cox again involved.
Cox's cross from the right was flicked on by Blackmore, dropping to Fuchs in the box left unmarked to sweep the ball home first time.
The stage was set, two goals for the German and plenty more in the tank. Blackmore turned provider this time with another cross from the right, Boro's Bolivian wonderkid Jaime Moreno nodded the back across goal for Fuchs to volley home again. "Eins, zwei, drei!" the commentator screamed.
Uwe simply smiled that big daft grin we'd all come to love.
"It's my first hat trick all my life. It's not usual in Germany to get the ball if you score a lot of goals but it's a good present maybe to my father." Uwe beamed after the game. I'm sure his father Fritz, himself an ex-pro and accomplished manager would have been more than pleased.
Tellingly the match was the first of seven games in March for Middlesbrough in a month which looked to be stretching a tired squad to the brink of breaking point. Those Fjortoft rumours refused to die down but surely Fuchs' form meant he was nailed on to remain our top striker?
Fuchs scored again in Boro's next home tie against Watford, a game also notable for Robbie Mustoe's pearler from distance after carrying the ball from his own half. Not a bad way to remember your 200th senior game.
Fuchs' goal came after a long ball out of the Boro defence was dealt with terribly by the Watford defence, Jaime Moreno's shot falling to Fuchs' feet on six yards, again having the presence of mind to sidestep a defender before applying the finish. Did nothing faze this man?
Boro failed to pick up any points away at Burnden Park in the next game, Bolton Wanderers claiming the spoils after a narrow 1-0 win. Bolton sat in third at the time, Boro still tangling with Tranmere for top.
I distinctly remember my uncle Craig, still angry after the drive back from the north-west, mumbling something about "they don't even have a proper ground one corner is a supermarket..." whilst tossing his coat to the ground.
It was around this time that many people in and around the club turned one eye to the future. Development was well underway in Middlehaven on Boro's new and as yet unnamed stadium and with the team looking likely to be on their way to the Premier League, the club were looking at building a Premier League squad to match their lofty ambitions.
Robson had links and influence in world football and he must have been rubbing his hands together at the prospect of mixing it with the big boys, as were Boro fans such as myself.
Moreno was looking a great prospect and had chipped in with a couple of goals and assists. Pollock was on the fringes of the England U-21 squad and who knew what the possibilities were with a Premier League badge on our arms? The sky was the limit. But it was equally as obvious not everybody would be making the journey with us.
Fuchs’ next goal came at home to Derby County in a 4-2 defeat. Three goals down at half time, Boro needed something special to claim anything from the game after a nightmare first half. Pollock squared to Fuchs for Boro to scramble one back shortly after the restart, then returning the favour for Pollock to score Boro's second. A fourth from Derby proved the killer blow.
Roker Park was the next destination for Boro, a crunch midweek tie with bitter rivals Sunderland. Fuchs started the game and was involved in the goal for Jamie Pollock.
Fuchs has said of his relationship with Boro fans "You could feel from how the supporters reacted to the game that they loved a player who showed some passion and energy and strength. I saw how the fans cheered if a player made a mistake but chased and fought to get it back and I loved that spirit. Straight away I knew it would be a good place for me, that I could play here."
Looking back now on that cold, horrible Tuesday night, Jamie Pollock nose-to-nose with celebrating Boro fans, Uwe has him in a headlock screaming with joy. Uwe got it. He was one of us.
Two days later, Robson signed Jan Age Fjortoft in a club record £1.3 deal from Swindon Town. That same week international duty with Norway (phew, a full international striker playing for Boro!) meant it was business as usual when Boro beat Port Vale 3-0 at home with Robson lashing home his first Boro goal from outside the box. I bet he dined out on that one in training for a while afterwards!
Fuchs goal was his usual six yard screamer, but hey they all count and its another excuse for a Slaven-style celebration on the Holgate fencing.
The front two of Fuchs and Fjortoft started away to West Brom in a 3-1 win. This looked to be Boro's strongest strike pairing (sorry John Hendrie, we love you) and I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking this would be the shape of things to come.
I'm not sure if this is nostalgia or hindsight but when we've got the league's current top scorer in Jan Age "international striker" Fjortoft and Uwe "I'm mint in the box me" Fuchs surely that's got to be a front two worth sticking with, especially with the flexibility of Hendrie and his ability to play wide or deeper centrally.
Maybe one eye was on a Premier League line-up, who knows? I remember this period of the season well. Every home game seemed to be blazing sunshine, packed with fans and bloody hell what IS that smell? Ayresome Park was buzzing and Boro seemed to do no wrong.
Boro started the final six games of the campaign in the driving seat at the top of the division, but with a chasing pack breathing down their necks, a 2-1 win at home to Stoke City left five games to go.
Fuchs scored his final Boro goal away to Notts County, coming on as sub to equalise in a 1-1 draw and save Boros' blushes. Unsurprisingly, the big German found space in the box and connected sweetly first time from a long ball and smashed it into the top corner.
Visiting Boro fans mobbing Uwe, the ref, fellow Boro players, everyone after the goal went in. It was like a tidal wave of dodgy mid-90s fashion pouring over the advertising hoardings.
Fjortoft made the headlines when Boro took on Sheffield United at Ayresome Park. Well, some of the headlines at least. The big Norwegian opened his account for the club in the first half, again starting alongside Fuchs up front.
Fuchs' major contribution to the game came late on with a typical centre forward's challenge. Translated this means he came in late, at shin height, and nearly took the poor bloke’s leg off. It was a horrendous challenge but typical of the man; not an ounce of finesse about him.
Legend has it the game's teletext page showed "UWE FUCHS OFF" before swiftly being rewritten.
Fjortoft again found the net at Oakwell versus Barnsley with a wonderful curling effort in horrible conditions. 1-1 the result. I still haven't forgiven Barnsley for the soaking we received that day, who puts away fans in a stand with no roof on?
On Sunday 30th April, the stage was set for Boro to say goodbye to Ayresome Park in style. The name of the club's next home was announced, ex-Boro stars of years gone by waved and smiled at the crowd and Boro's current promotion chasers wondered which of them would be remembered as fondly as the likes of Mannion, Clough and Maddren.
John Hendrie, partnered again by Fjortoft, had the honour of scoring the last goals at the old ground before the fans flooded the pitch at the final whistle. 2-1; Boro the victors.
Boro were crowned Division One champions shortly afterwards making the final game away to Tranmere academic. Fuchs again didn't start.
"I was very disappointed when the gaffer told me he would not be keeping me on," Fuchs said recently "I had scored a lot of goals and thought I had played well but he explained his plans for the club in the Premier League and so I understood the position."
"Boro had just signed Fjortoft and in the summer they signed Nick Barmby for big, big fees and soon after they got Juninho. They had a new stadium and were building a new team and I realised I would not be in it. I accepted it and so I left with no regrets and just good memories." I still can't understand it either.
On the subject Neil Cox told me “We all expected him to be there next season, I think the club said to him ‘see you next season’”.
He’d left the bright lights of Teesside and his part in Robbo’s Revolution was done. However, Fuchs stayed in English football, joining Millwall for £500,000 that summer.
It's rumoured (there's that word again) he would regularly pop up in the away end whenever Boro played in the capital, back amongst his people.
In six months in the north-east he'd made 13 appearances, scored nine goals, committed what was pretty much GBH for a red card, celebrated a championship, played in the final game at our beloved Ayresome Park, said cheerio to Steve Pears at his testimonial and won the heart of a Gladiator (allegedly).
But did we really know the man? He arrived seemingly out of nowhere, tore it up then left. What was fact? What was fiction? Sometimes it's better not knowing, and sometimes it's better to have loved and lost.
Would we have loved him as much if he'd stayed and warmed the bench for a couple of seasons? Certainly not, Uwe's abiding legacy was his shock and awe impression on the club, the league and above all the fans.
So was Uwe Fuchs as good as we recall? Absolutely.
Uwe, you're always welcome on Teesside and I'd love to buy you a beer. Prost!
Chris Lofthouse is part of the incredibly talented team at RedArmy.TV.
You can listen to Chris and the Red Army Team on Radio Army Radio.
This article was brought to you by The Boro Mag. You can buy the magazines here with all proceeds going to charity.