When Middlesbrough's pre-season was disrupted by defeat in Germany and a crooked referee

Rene Rydlewicz of Rostock takes a free kick against Middlesbrough during an international friendly match
-Credit: (Image: 2004 Getty Images)

Middlesbrough will be starting their pre-season friendly schedule next weekend when they play Portuguese side Vitoria on the continent next week.

A fiesty affair when they met in Portugal last summer as part of Boro's warm-weather training camp, the least Boro should expect is a fair deal from the many match officials. It might sound a given, but it hasn't always worked out that way.

Twenty years ago this month Boro played in a friendly match in which the referee later admitted he fixed. It was in Germany, when Steve McClaren took his side to tackle Hansa Rostock.

READ MORE: Juninho was so good at Middlesbrough that 20,000 fans turned up for reserve team game

Unfortunately, Boro didn’t perform too well on the day but a few dodgy decisions went against them as they went down 3-1. The fact that the Boro players didn’t pull up any trees that day was glossed over somewhat by the ref’s performance.

Certainly, the players were more concerned afterwards with the performance of the ref rather than looking at their own game. Boro felt that absolutely nothing went their way and were pretty angry about the fact.

Their views were substantiated 12 months later when the German ref, Robert Hoyzer, was convicted of criminal match-fixing and was sent to prison in Berlin. It turned out that Hoyzer had been recruited by a Croatian mafia betting organisation and was being paid to manipulate results.

Hoyzer was found guilty by a German court of rigging nine matches, most of which were in the German 2 Bundesliga. He also fixed a German Cup first-round tie in which he awarded regional side Paderborn two penalties which enabled them to come back from two goals down and knockout first division side Hamburg. In addition, he red carded a Hamburg player for protesting.

Ironically, while Hoyzer was not officially charged with rigging the result of Boro’s friendly in Rostock, he spilt the beans during the court hearing. He revealed that he used the game as a “test” match as an experiment to see how easily he could affect a result.

Apparently, Hoyzer took phone calls from the betting syndicate during the half-time interval in games and was informed what result they were looking for. His total earnings from his crooked dealings earned him £45,000 – and a free TV!

I watched the game in Rostock and, while the ref clearly came across as a homer, I was more concerned about Boro’s overall performance. After the game I asked to interview new signing Ray Parlour, who had impressed on the day despite being very harshly accused of conceding a penalty in the second half.

I had interviewed Parlour along with many other Pressmen on the day when he was signed by Boro and was paraded at a Press conference. However, there was an opportunity at Rostock to become more personal and discover Ray’s early views of the Boro set-up, how he had settled in and where the club went from here.

My planned questions were pretty mild, but before I could open my mouth Parlour strode out of the dressing room and said: “What about that ref? He’s the worst ref I have ever experienced in all my time in football.”

It was an unusual way to start an interview but it quickly became clear that Ray was very angry, and his views echoed the feelings of the whole Boro dressing room. He continually made negative references about the match official believing that the poor standard of reffing had seriously affected Boro’s battle for consistency.

Even then, I do not think that either of us suspected that the ref had deliberately engineered the result – though time was to prove differently. Hoyzer, who was 26 at the time, was convicted 12 months later and was sent to prison for two years and five months, while at the same time receiving a lifetime ban from the German FA.

When he was released after serving his sentence, he was allowed to return as a player, taking part in local league games in the Rostock area. He later apologised officially to Boro fans for fixing the outcome of the friendly.

Ironically Boro did little to help themselves on the day, which was disappointing for the few fans who did travel from Teesside because expectations were extremely high that summer. Boro had won the Carling Cup earlier in the year and were about to enter European competition for the first time in their history.

The outcome against Hansa Rostock did not bode particularly well at the time for their prospects against other European clubs in the UEFA Cup. Parlour, who was signed on a free transfer from Arsenal, was one five internationals that McClaren had snapped up during the summer to prepare for the busy campaign ahead.

Amazingly only one transfer fee was involved in the five deals, Boro forking out £4.5m to bring in Aussie forward Mark Viduka from Leeds United. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was another star striker signed on a free from Chelsea, while McClaren also signed Dutch defender Michael Reiziger on a free from Barcelona. Bolo Zenden, who joined Boro on loan the previous season from Chelsea, was made a permanent member of the staff.

The new boys were eventually to turn Boro into a top-notch outfit, arguably the best side which we have seen at the Riverside in modern times. Boro had started the summer with a friendly away to League One side Rotherham United, which didn’t go brilliantly and ended up as a 2-2 draw.

Ironically, one player from the squad who was not selected for the trip to Rotherham was Juninho. Instead, the Brazilian whizz kid was playing for Boro reserves in a friendly at York! It reflected the fact that Juninho was no longer a part of McClaren’s plans. He ended up moving to Celtic on a free transfer before the end of August.

Three days later, Boro had another friendly at Preston North End and fared much better, winning the game by 2-0. They managed to fit in another one before the trip to Rostock by winning 4-1 at Nottingham Forest, who remarkably had just been relegated to League One at the time.

And so to Rostock, which is in northern Germany. I joined the Boro party at Rockliffe Park, from where we motored to Teesside Airport in the club coach for the two-and-a-quarter-hour flight. I was one of four Pressmen, including two from Boro TV and another from the club’s PR department, and we were all housed in the Marriott Hotel.

After a meal, we all went for a night out and ended up in a bar when we spent some time exchanging repartee with a hen party. I was in bed before midnight but when I got up for breakfast in the morning I was the only one of the Press quartet there. It turned out that the other three had made such good friends with the hen party that they had stayed up very, very late.

Anyway, at least I had a clear head when we boarded the Hansa Rostock coach to head off for the Ostseestadion. The home fans must have thought they were onto a good thing after comfortably beating Boro. Ironically they were to end up being relegated from the Bundesliga that season.

Boro were to put the Rostock defeat – and the referee – behind them a few days later when they overcame European opposition in a friendly at the Riverside. They entertained Real Mallorca and won 3-1, setting the scene very nicely for an enterprising first season in the UEFA Cup which was to start with Banik Ostrava and end in the fourth round at Sporting Lisbon’s Jose Alvalade Stadium.

Overall the season was a humdinger with Boro qualifying for their second successive European campaign when finishing in a highly creditable seventh place in the Premier League. No doubt Robert Hoyzer read all about it from his prison cell.