Onside: Boro’s European heroes – where are they now?

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AS Chelsea fans celebrated their arch nemesis Rafa winning them their second European trophy in as many years, Boro fans were sent into a distant haze.

An annual haze where we leave the reality of life in the nitty-gritty Championship and slowly fall away into the world of European football .

The big names, the big cities and a baldy striker “repaying the £8m fee” with two last minute goals that instantly etched those glorious moments into the long-term memory span of every single Boro follower.

Memories.

Every time a Europa League final - or UEFA Cup as it was known in the only year it ever really mattered - 2006 - comes around it takes us all back.

Our minds float longingly to the euphoria of dumping shell-shocked Basle and stunned Steaua and proudly stomping into Eindhoven.

Contrary to popular belief and national reports, or the lack of them, the final did actually happen. But in a parallel universe to our fall from grace since then, the 90 minutes is probably something we all want to forget.

As much as we would like to ignore the reality of what has happened since then, we all know the Boro fell out of the top-flight with a whimper and have since failed in our annual quest to reach the promised land.

But whatever happened to our 11 heroes who strolled onto the Philips Stadium pitch and made history for the club that night?

Long-serving Mark Schwarzer has turned into a long-serving stopper elsewhere with 170 appearances to his name in five years at Fulham.

Solid Stuart Parnaby has had a bit of a fall from grace himself - for he’s back at the Boro. After a spell at Birmingham he headed back up north, not that many would have noticed last season.

Big Chris Riggott’s frustratingly unreliable body proved to stop him in his paths. His partner at the centre of the back-line and soon to be gaffer didn’t seem to fancy him when he took the reigns and stints at Derby, Cardiff and Burton Albion were all short-lived.

Which leads us on to his top-notch centre half partner on the night in question and for the majority of that campaign, Gareth Southgate. The captain marvel, the first to lift a major trophy for the Boro and scribe himself forever into the Boro history books went on to become the man in charge. I think it’s best we leave it there.

French Franck’s love of everything English resulted in him staying this side of the sea with Fulham, Birmingham and even Colchester United. Back to Lens he went, tweeted a bit about how he would love to come back to the Boro before signing for French third tier side FC Red Star Saint Ouen.

Talk of James Morrison, who started that night on the right flank, immediately results in the heart rate of most Boro fans rocketing. He went on to be sold for just £1.5m and has since established himself as a top player and international with West Brom.

George, with perhaps his best years behind him, went on to play for Hull City and Skoda Xanthi while the enigma that was and probably still is, Fabio Rochemback, boarded a flight back to Sporting Lisbon before boarding a flight back home to Brazilian club Gremio before boarding a flight to - wait for it - Chinese club Dalian Aerbin FC where he is still plying a trade.

If you believe most then wing wizard Stewy Downing contributed to the double dip recession with nearly £30m in transfer fees spent on him to move to Villa and then Liverpool. In reality, ignoring the fees paid, which isn’t actually his fault, he’s proved a lot of his critics - and there are a fair few - wrong with an excellent second half to the season on Merseyside.

Unbeknown to Mark Viduka, he remains on the lips of Boro fans every year as we talk about “that chance” in the final when Boro were chasing just a one goal deficit. Most fans prefer to talk about that than the fact his next club was Newcastle. Jimmy Floyd had short and relatively uneventful stints at Charlton and Cardiff and an equally uneventful and unsuccessful spell as coach to Steve McClaren at Nottingham Forest.

I guess Massimo could have already turned to the sportman’s dinner circuit limiting himself to pubs and clubs on Teesside talking about those two famous nights but he’s actually been playing back in Italy for Siena, Palermo, Sampdoria and Empoli.

The Yak must still be in touch with Rochemback because after goalscoring spells at Everton and Blackburn, he too decided China was the next best thing for him and is currently hitting the net for Guangzhou R&F.

With the exception of perhaps Schwarzer, Morrison and Stewy, the 11 players who have a fixed contract in the Boro’s history books after appear to have matched the club in hitting a peak in Eindhoven.

And a word for the two managers - McClaren is out of work and linked with every job from the Premier League to League 1 while hotly tipped and 2006’s next big thing Juande Ramos is in charge at Ukranian club Dnipro.

If you had told them seven years ago that would be the case they would ponder as to how they could tumble to such a fall from grace. If you told Boro fans we would be finishing 16th in the Championship we would have thought exactly the same.

But we can still drift into that haze at the same time every year looking back and imagining what could and maybe should have been.

Thanks for the memories.