In the second of our Cult Heroes features, we take a trip to the North East, where James Cartwright tells us of his own legendary hero, current Middlesbrough star George Friend…
There was little made of George Friend’s move to Middlesbrough from Doncaster Rovers back in 2012. Most fans were unaware of who he was and the relatively cheap transfer fee of just £100,000 didn’t inspire great levels of expectation for the 24 year old. Five years on, Friend has deservedly gained a cult status on Teesside and has rightly earned the nickname ‘Gorgeous George’ for his consistent, committed and determined performances.
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Despite his having a southern voice, far from any of the Teesside accents, his involvement with the club has very much earned him a place as an honourary Teessider, much like Bernie Slaven back in the 90s and many other players who have graced the pitch at Ayresome Park or the Riverside. He won the Player’s Player award at the club in his first season, and the Player of the Season award in his second, as well as twice being included in the Championship Team of the Year. He has also thrown himself into the local area, winning Community Player of the Year in his first season.
He is always the first to get the crowd going, applauding enthusiastically to the North and East stand at the start of each home game and waving his arms when there’s a key corner late in the second half. He was given the number 3 shirt in his second season at the club, and scored his first goal in three years in a draw against Wigan, and captained the side in 2015.
In the game he is a marauding left-back who gallops forward elegantly, and it was this directness that played a vital role in Middlesbrough’s ultimately successful promotion bid, as the side returned to the Premier League in 2016 for the first time in seven years. Sadly he was unable to capture his form in the Premier League and injury ultimately caused him to have a relatively poor campaign – Boro were relegated after a single season stay in the top flight.
It is difficult to admit, but perhaps the driving full-back was not quite at the standard of the Premier League, as much as fans believed during the promotion campaign. He is idolised around the Riverside, and it is easy to look at Friend with rose-tinted’ glasses as a Middlesbrough fan.
Off the field he is also a great servant, working hard for the Middlesbrough foundation by meeting children at schools and volunteering at charity events. Overall he is good footballer but he is an all-round great guy. Football, and communities in general, would be better off if there were more George Friends around. He gives everything to the cause on the pitch, he gives back time and again off it, in Teesside, unfortunately, there is only one George Friend.
Our thanks to James Cartwright. Follow him here!
Check out another Cult Hero – Alan Kennedy!