So we’re all looking forward to the Bournemouth match (with trepidation), perhaps cramming a column with gallows ‘humour’ and looking forward to trips to Brentford, Villa and getting a stuffing at Barnsley (strangely no matter our position, or theirs) next season, and then our ex-England international defender goes and dies after a cardiac arrest.
Really sad news this. Ugo Ehiogu was only 44 and, as someone exactly the same age, I can attest that it’s far too young an age to go. I admit that I lost contact with his whereabouts some time ago. Unlike his partner at the heart of Boro’s defence, Gareth Southgate, Ugo never went into management. At the time of his passing he was a youth coach at Tottenham so perhaps the route to a gaffer’s job was something he would have taken eventually, but chiefly I remember him as a player who just put in years of solid work. While Gareth took the plaudits, and the England caps, his fellow ex-Villan got on with his job, undoubtedly one of the first names on the teamsheet week in, week out, because he was so damn reliable. The role he played was critical to the years of quiet and slow improvement that took place under Steve McClaren. I’m pleased to think that he was part of the side that won the Carling Cup, our first trophy and his second. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke.
A standout memory from Ugo’s time at Boro. We signed him in the autumn of 2000, back when Bryan Robson was at his most beleaguered and we looked like sure fire candidates for the drop. Steve Gibson tried to defy the old ‘can’t buy a win’ adage by shelling out £8 million for Ugo, then forging his reputation for top drawer defending at Aston Villa. While Arch-Twat John Gregory wondered why anyone would want to leave his club for Boro (because you’re a dick, mate – next!), there was no doubt we needed the steel Ehiogu would add and he seemed worth breaking our transfer record for. But to underline all the bad luck Robbo was suffering at the time, Ugo lasted five minutes of his debut against Charlton before coming off, suffering from torn fibres in his calf muscle, which ruled him out for weeks. It was a moment of black humour in what was turning into a horrible season, Robson’s last as he ended up sharing the managerial duties with Terry Venables before establishing Boro’s safety and leaving by mutual consent the following May. As for Ugo, he had developed into a mainstay, exactly what we paid for, and then new broom McClaren went back to Villa Park for Southgate.
A further ‘typical Boro’ reminiscence came at the start of the 2001/02 season. Boro had just been thrashed 4-0 at home by Arsenal, back when they did that to us as a matter of routine. ITV were unveiling their flagship highlights show, The Premiership, as part of the rights package for English football they turned out not to be able to afford. Part of the episode was Andy Towensend’s Tactics Truck, in which the onetime Boro midfielder took players into his ‘truck’ and showed them some footage from a match they’d just played in. After the Arsenal debacle, Ugo joined Andy, only to be hectored over his defensive shortcomings that had allowed the opposition to cut through Boro like butter. Talk about TV gold; Ugo looked as though he wanted to thump him!
Over time, injuries caught up with him and his Trojan presence in the side diminished ahead of a loan move to Leeds and then spells with Rangers and Sheffield United. Sadly, Ugo played at a time when England was blessed with good centre backs and he only made four appearance for his country. Even so, he scored against Spain whilst a Boro player, attesting to his quality.
By all accounts a great guy away from the pitch, and a superb athlete on it; he’ll be missed.