Anyone who tries to tell you football was better back in their day is a raving lunatic who’s not to be trusted.
Pitches were awful, boots were heavy and there were no weird chats on the side of illegal streams to keep you entertained during boring games.
But there is one, hyper-specific, period of English football you should look back on with fond memories.
In 2004 Steve McClaren’s Middlesbrough completed the transfer market in 23 blissful days.
Transfer fees were arranged, medicals were passed and parmos were wolfed down in celebration across Teesside as cult heroes followed each other through the door at the Riverside Stadium.
The cost of all this joy? Only £4million. Slightly less than Jorge Mendes’ monthly phone bill, to put that figure in some kind of modern context.
1 July 2004
Nothing says statement of intent like signing a midfielder who was once the sixth most expensive player in world football.
Gaizka Mendieta, aka the 2001 UEFA Best Midfielder of the Year, pitched up at Middlesbrough three years after being the most sought after player in Europe.
He’d been at Boro on loan during the 2003/04 season, helping the club lift the League Cup, so McClaren had no doubts about making the move permanent.
A match made in heaven.
2 July 2004
On 2 July 2004 many residents of Middlesbrough were awoken by a slight yet unnerving rumbling.
Fears of an earthquake were quickly put to bed when the signing of hulking Australian Mark Viduka from Leeds was announced for a fee of £4mil.
Leeds were up shit creek without a penny and had been forced to sell Alan Smith, Paul Robinson and James Milner prior to Viduka’s exit.
He’d not failed to hit double figures in the Premier League since moving over from Celtic, something none of Szilard Nemeth, Joseph-Desire Job, Massimo Maccarone, Michael Rickets or Malcolm Christie had achieved for Middlesbrough the season before.
Now there’s five players we haven’t thought about for a long time.
6 July 2004
You’ve won two league titles at Ajax. Two league titles at Barcelona. The Champions League. A UEFA Cup. Two UEFA Super Cups.
You’ve been capped 72 times by your country.
But have you proved yourself until you’ve played for Middlesbrough? No, thought Michael Reiziger, who arrived on a free transfer from Barcelona.
9 July 2004
Why settle for one iconic Noughties striker set for decades of gracing your screens on Premier League Years when you can have two?
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was signed on a free transfer from Chelsea, bringing with him two Premier League Golden Boots and left foot that had to be registered as a weapon any time he headed abroad.
He’d been squeezed out of Chelsea by the Roman Abramovich money but had still managed to outscore Adrian Mutu, Frank Lampard, Hernan Crespo and Eidur Gudjohnsen in his last season at Stamford Bridge.
The bank botherer had scored goals everywhere he went, seeing off Raul, Patrick Kluivert, Roy Makaay and Savo Milosevic during his only season with Atletico Madrid.
No wonder he arrived aiming ‘to end this season in a Uefa spot, as high as possible and perhaps in the Champions League’.
13 July 2004
What’s that? You need someone to load the bullets for Viduka and Hasselbaink? Nae bother.
Boudewijn Zenden brought his dad dancing to Middlesbrough following spells at PSV, Barcelona and Chelsea.
The Dutchman already knew what to expect, having spent the previous campaign on loan at the club.
He’d also won league titles in the Netherlands and Spain and been part of the Dutch sides that reached the World Cup semi-final in 1998 then repeated the feat at Euro 2000 and Euro 2004.
The perfect man to show Stewart Downing the ropes.
23 July 2004
There’s no point having a great squad if the working atmosphere is poor. You need a comedian, someone to keep spirits high.
Step forward Ray Parlour, who just so happened to be a three-time Premier League winner and one of the Arsenal ‘invincibles’.
Long before posting slightly out of focus pictures of Cobra lager on his Twitter feed, Parlour was a midfielder so talented they named him the ‘Romford Pele’.
One sold Viagra, the other played with relentless Brazilian flair.
So what was the result of all these signings?
Boro finished seventh in the Premier League, with Hasselbaink ending the season as top scorer.
A UEFA Cup jaunt was ended by Sporting CP in the round of 16, although they’d get all the way to the final the following season only to lose to Sevilla.
Good times had by all. The way it should be.