Chris Kamara was back in the town this week
“To coin a phrase, Middlesbrough is unbelievable Jeff!” says homegrown hero Chris Kamara.
Amazingly, despite his youthful appearance and energetic presenting style this year will mark 50 years since promising local junior footballer Kammy left his hometown, heading to Portsmouth to join the Navy aged 15 on the instructions of his dad.
Within six months Portsmouth Football Club had bought him out of the Navy and given him a professional playing contract.
His career took him to Swindon, Brentford, Stoke, Leeds, Luton, Sheffield and Bradford – though in amongst his travels was a one-month loan deal with the Boro where he played five games.
But regardless of how well travelled his working life has made him since he left the family home at Aldridge Road in Park End, Kammy still defines himself as he would have five decades ago – indeed his Twitter biography (the bit where you describe yourself) starts with two words – “Middlesbrough-born”.
On a recent return Kammy, now 64, told We Are Middlesbrough: “I’m Middlesbrough born and bred. Never forget where you come from. I was born in the General Hospital near Ayresome Park back in the day and brought up in Park End.
“I’m proud to have been brought up in Middlesbrough. I left Middlesbrough at 15 years old but I never get tired of coming back. To coin a phrase, Middlesbrough is unbelievable Jeff!”
For the non-football fans the Jeff in question is fellow Teessider Jeff Stelling, the presenter and host on Soccer Saturday for which Kamara is a roving reporter and pundit.
The phrase “Unbelievable Jeff!” has become a Kammy catchphrase while breathlessly describing the action, or in one memorable exchange, Kamara breathlessly (and hilariously) not describing the action at the stadium where he’s standing as he’s become distracted and missed it, with one-time BBC Tees presenter Jeff having to explain what’s going on to him from the studio.
One thing the two of them both think was “unbelievable”, was the assertion 15 years ago by Channel 4’s Location, Location, Location that Middlesbrough was the “worst” place to live in the country.
The day after the programme aired in October 2007 Kamara picked up the phone to call the Evening Gazette in order to defend his hometown.
At the time he said: “I have been to virtually every city and town that has a professional football club. Without naming names we are nowhere near the worst by any means whatsoever.
“Even growing up as a kid when things were not as good as they are now, Middlesbrough has always been moving onwards and upwards.
“Every time I go back there’s more improvements and advancements. We have some wonderful countryside within the town and outskirts and some wonderful buildings. It’s beautiful.”
The following Saturday, live on Soccer Saturday, Stelling, still seething himself, delivered one of the most memorable ranting monologues – for Boro fans certainly – ever seen on British TV and in the process creating a viral video sensation before the genre properly existed.
Starting with the words “this is not a rant” and describing the survey as “tosh” and “upside down”, Stelling then speaks for a minute-and-a-half highlighting everything from the Transporter Bridge to mima to Chris Rea’s music and his family’s ice cream business – even throwing in “Chris Kamara – Unbelievable!” when reeling off the famous sons and daughters of Middlesbrough.
Soon after, coincidence or not, Stelling received an honorary doctorate from Teesside University making him a Doctor of Professional Studies.
Asked about his good mate’s contribution to spreading positivity about Middlesbrough, Kammy either jokes or gives We Are Middlesbrough a real scoop.
“Obviously Jeff and I are good friends,” he said. “I was envious, envious, envious for him to get a doctorate for a rant I told him all about, can you believe it!?”
Possibly. Unbelievable Kammy.