Middlesbrough v Burnley
Riverside Stadium / FA Cup 3rd Round / 9th January 2015
Sexy. That’s how I used to think of Middlesbrough in my youth…well, the football team at least. Growing up I was treated to the Middlesbrough of the mid-90s with exotic players such as Emerson, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Gianluca Festa and obviously the incomparable Boro legend that was Juninho. Boro were fun and everyone seemed to like them. They were, as I said, sexy (until they somehow managed to get themselves relegated with their stellar lineup).
Being young, I had no conception of the place Middlesbrough – it was just a football team to me. Even into my teens I never really thought of the place itself. However, In my uni years, I would regularly boast to people that my hometown, Merthyr Tydfil, was voted the 4th worst place to live in the UK – whether this was to impress or to give me some sort of street cred on campus, I’m unsure. The town that finished top of that list though was Middlesbrough. Now, I know not to take such lists too seriously, but nonetheless I was intrigued by Teesside from this point and wanted to know what made it so much shitter than my hometown (which I love by the way). Since Lost Boyos began, I’d always delayed a trip to Middlesbrough usually with the line ‘They’ll go up next season, so I’ll wait to go with Swansea’ (I’d somehow missed all of our previous trips up to the Riverside in the Championship). Well, I had enough of waiting for them to get promoted and so I decided that with tickets being relatively cheap (£15) for their FA Cup 3rd round clash against fellow Championship promotion chasers Burnley, I’d head up to the Boro finally. After this trip, I’d probably continue to associate Middlesbrough FC with the word ‘sexy’, but maybe less so the town…not that I didn’t enjoy myself.
As my train left York on this grey Saturday morning, I was treated to miles of semi-pleasant non-descript Yorkshire countryside, before suddenly the landscape began to transform as we headed into the north-east. Chimneys. Lots of them. My initial thought was ‘this just looks like a bigger Port Talbot’ (the small industrial town next to Swansea for those who have not experienced the delights of Port Talbot). The number of industrial buildings seemed to multiply the closer I got to Middlesbrough; not that this surprised me with Middlesbrough once being a hotspot for the iron and steel industry with the Sydney Harbour Bridge even being made from steel from Teesside. The town was largely synonymous with industry, but sadly many of the reasons why Middlesbrough gets a rather tainted reputation is because of the closing of many of the local industries leaving many unemployed.
Soon the famous Tees Transporter Bridge was in sight and I knew I had arrived on Teesside. It was only 10.15am by the time I had arrived and so I decided to dodge the beer for now and go take in some local culture by going to see the bridge properly. Many had encouraged me to hitch a ride on the bridge the day before my visit, but I really couldn’t be bothered hanging around waiting for a ride across the Tees. So, instead I stood and admired the mighty fine bridge, took some photos of it and headed back through the eerily quiet streets towards the town centre of Middlesbrough. The walk to the bridge had also proved useful reconnaissance, as from here I could see the Riverside Stadium looming not so far away.
It will probably not surprise you to learn that with the time still not past 11am I found myself in the Isaac Wilson – one of the town’s Wetherspoons’ pubs; apparently Isaac Wilson was an industrialist and Liberal politician from nearby Stockton-on-Tees for those interested. I was more interested in the Punk IPA available, but my Spoons visit was not merely about indulging in beer it seemed and some of my teacher skills were put into good use by helping a member of staff put up a display of local attractions and businesses (for the record, I am awful at putting up display boards in school).
My next stop was the Last Orders pub opposite the train station. The place was devoid of customers at this time (more on this place later though), but I did happen to get chatting to a friendly local who gave me directions to Doctor Brown’s – the pub everyone seemed to be recommending to me – as well as how to get to Riverside from there. My new pal, Trevor, then suggested I pop into the Medicine Bar too, as he was meeting his sister and her mates in there and they were all proper Boro fans going to the game today.
I found Doctor Brown’s opposite the Medicine Bar, which was next door to a fancy looking bar called La Pharmacie. Medicine, Doctors and the French word for Pharmacy – there seemed to be a running theme on this street. The previous evening the government had announced it’s quite laughable new alcohol guidelines, but I figured with a street with so many nods to ‘healthiness’ I would be fine drinking here and that I should maybe even drink as much as possible here.
Doctor’s Brown was a typical ‘me’ pub with its old, quite tacky interior, but I was surprised to find it quite quiet with kick-off now only two hours or so away. Like everywhere else in Middlesbrough though, it was cheap and so I was happy. However, with it lacking any real buzz, I decided to go sample the Medicine Bar (admittedly, Doctor Brown’s was filling up with Burnley fans as I departed).
The Medicine Room was a far more plush establishment than the good doctor’s across the road. In here I found my pal Trevor at the bar reading his paper and we were soon joined by his sister Jenny and her husband John, as well as their friends Joel and Gill. All were great company and as the beer flowed I began to tell them about my love for all things Patrick Bamford-related – Boro’s star striker last season, who they had on loan from Chelsea – and how I’d love to see him in a Swansea shirt. They were more interested in Swansea’s peripheral attacker and former Boro player Marvin Emnes; they seemed a bit shocked when I stated how much I liked him, before I then explained that my views on him may be twisted by the fact that he scored the winner in a South Wales derby at Cardiff a few seasons ago, something that gets you instant hero status in Swansea. Having spoken lovingly about Patrick Bamford for far too long and with the time creeping over 2pm, I said goodbye to my friendly Boro supporting co-drinkers and began the walk to the Riverside Stadium.
There was already a steady flow of fans heading towards the ground, so I didn’t have to worry about working out the route to the ground. The walk from town involved a couple of underpasses (complete with buskers) and crossing a train track, before the Riverside Stadium came into view. The ground was opened in 1995, after the club moved from the more ‘traditional surroundings of Ayresome Park, and it still looks a mighty impressive structure positioned adjacent to the River Tees (if the stadium name hadn’t already hinted at that ).
I’d been told that I had to have a photo outside the Middlesbrough gates, once used at Ayresome Park, and so I found a willing Boro fan to take said photo for me (after a few efforts). However, I was more intrigued by the feature adjacent to the stadium: a rusting, abandoned ship called the North Sea Producer. Apparently, the ship only arrived back onto Teesside in August 2015 after 18 years away. The ship has spent its life as a ‘floating production storage and offloading vessel’ in the North Sea, but now it is docked back in Middlesbrough awaiting its fate. I thought it was cool having it next to the ground anyway and certainly a unique feature. But enough of admiring big ships, there was some football to be watched and so into the Riverside Stadium’s South Stand I headed.
There were two bits of Middlesbrough culture I set out to tick off today and one had been ticked off by going to see the Transporter Bridge; the second I was far more excited about though: it was time to try my first ever parmo. What is a parmo I hear you ask (Unless you are from or have been to Middlesbrough/north-east)? Parmo is the local delicacy of Middlesbrough (and much-loved in other parts of the north-east) and it basically consists of breaded chicken topped in cheese and bechamel sauce. At the Riverside, a parmo in a bun can be purchased for £4.20 and I felt I had no choice but to try one. No doubt that a parmo is not the most nutritional meal I’ve had in my life, but oh my days, it was beautiful. Parmos need to be branched out across the country! Parmo devoured and photo posed with a lad wearing a ‘Juninho 10’ shirt from Middlesbrough’s 90s pomp (he also asked about Marvin Emnes too), it was now time for some football.
I’d been told beforehand that the South Stand would be where I’d find the best atmosphere and so I took my place at the back of this stand, located behind the goals. With Boro currently on top of the Championship and in a good position to finally get promoted to the Premier League after 6 seasons in the second tier, I predicted that today’s cup clash wouldn’t be too high on the club’s priorities – for the team and fans; and so that’s why I wasn’t surprised to see 18,000 in the ground’s 34,000 seats – still a respectful attendance nonetheless. To the left of my position on the South Stand were the club’s more raucous fans, the Red Faction, and they did well to create a bit of atmosphere in the stand throughout the game with their large flags and drumming.
When inside the Riverside, it is not too much different to a lot of the bigger new-build stadiums (dare I say it reminded me a bit of the nearby Stadium of Light?), although there is a slight unbalanced feel to the place with the West Stand being slightly bigger than the other three – all of which are two-tiered. I did particularly like the fact that I could see the ship from where I was standing too; I’m not sure what my whole fascination with that ship was.
It wasn’t long before the teams were greeted onto the pitch by the roar of their respective fans with Burnley bringing an impressive following up to Boro on this FA Cup 3rd round weekend. The game itself would prove a fairly entertaining one.
I’m going to throw it out there now: Middlesbrough are easily the best footballing team I’ve watched this season – well, for an hour at least. Their passing and first touch reminded me of the sexy football of Roberto Martinez era Swansea, but I’d probably say that Boro in full flow were of a much more relentless pace than that Martinez team. They really were magnificent in the first half and seemed to be cutting Burnley apart at will.
One player who was particularly impressing me was Boro’s no.31 Diego Fabbrini; that may be an understatement actually – he was bloody awesome! He was as silky a playmaker as I’ve seen in a while and everything good seemed to be coming through him.
Despite the dominance, the home team hadn’t really created a true goalscoring opportunity until well into the first half when a powerful headed clearance sent David Nugent through on goal and one-on-one with Tom Heaton in the Burnley goal. Sadly for Boro, Nugent’s effort was fired straight at Heaton when he looked certain to score.
Boro finally grabbed the goal their football deserved in the 34th minute. Nugent was denied at close range by Heaton, before he somehow then stopped George Friend scoring too; however, the rebound fell to my new favourite Fabbrini, who fired home from a few yards out. 1-0 to the Boro.
I was continuing to purr over Middlesbrough’s football, when from absolutely nowhere Burnley equalised. Some good play down the right saw the ball curled into the box to meet an unmarked Rouwen Hemmings, who tapped home simply to make it 1-1 on the brink of half-time.
Half-time: Middlesbrough 1-1 Burnley.
The goal before half-time had clearly buoyed the away team and despite Boro dominating the opening exchanges of the first half, Burnley had got themselves well organised to cope with their free-flowing football. Fabbrini had two good shots – one saved and one deflected wide – but soon Boro seemed to be running out of ideas and Burnley began to take control.
Burnley manager, Sean ‘Ginger Mourinho’ Dyche made a change in the 69th minute and the change appeared to be a masterstroke as 2 minutes later Burnley had claimed the lead. A corner from the right was met on the volley by George Boyd, who mishit and sent the ball floating up into the air above the six yard box; Burnley’s Stephen Ward was the quickest to react and hooked in the dropping ball with a left footed volley from close range. 2-1 to Burnley and they had done well to battle back after being dominated in the first half.
Burnley fans were now singing about going to Wembley, whilst the Boro faithful fought back by repeatedly singing about being at the top of the league. Despite Boro’s proud declarations, at this point in time, it looked like the Burnley fans were having the most fun.
My fun was cut short as I was devastated to see Fabbrini substituted and I felt from here on in that Boro failed to get back into the game and Burnley were now really doing a number on them. The final 15 minutes saw little of note on the pitch and Burnley held onto their win and to progress into the 4th round of the cup.
Full-time: Middlesbrough 1-2 Burnley.
To be honest, the Middlesbrough fans didn’t seem too arsed about their loss and the famous ‘we can focus on the league now’ line was reeled out repeatedly (a line I’d also be using a lot the next day, as Swansea lost 3-2 to League Two Oxford in the 3rd round). I hung around long enough for some photos of the ground and I even got chatting to an Irish lad who recognised me from my blog about my trip to Celtic Park – still by a long distance the most viewed blog on this site.
I headed back through the cold Middlesbrough evening and soon ended up back in Doctor Brown’s, which was now full of Burnley fans celebrating their cup triumph. I felt a bit like a Goldlilocks, as earlier I had complained that the pub was too quiet and now I was moaning that it was too full and it took too long to get served. Plus, I wanted to watch the Manchester United v Sheffield United FA Cup tie on TV and so I headed out after one pint and ended up in a bar down the road to watch that – a bar I can’t remember the name of. Anyway, I gave the United v United game 15 minutes, realised Manchester United are still boring to watch and left.
My train back to Manchester was at 19:30 and so I thought a good place to finish my day on Teesside would be back at the Last Orders opposite the station. Earlier the pub was virtually empty, but by now the place was absolutely bouncing. And more to my liking was that karaoke was in full flow. I do love a bit of karaoke and with enough beer in the system I figured I’d put my name down and do my usual butchering of Andy Williams. Then, I listened to the Middlesbrough locals perform and realised that they were all really, really good singers (particularly the lad performing Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel) and so I bottled it. Instead I enjoyed the soulful voices of the Boro locals and the £1.95 pints on offer…£1.95! God bless Middlesbrough.
Soon, I was on the train from Middlesbrough bound for York and I didn’t have a drop of alcohol with me – not even my usual train companions of cans of M&S Belgian lager. Why? Well, apparently alcohol is forbidden on the route between Middlesbrough and York on Saturdays. Silly. Nevermind though, I found good company in the form of Boro fan Nigel (who once again, in a running theme of the day, I ended up talking about Patrick Bamford and Marvin Emnes with).
I had figured that on arriving in York that I’d finally be able to get my hands on some train beer, but no; as the signs stated around the station, York wants to protect the ‘beautiful city’ from monsters like me on Saturdays and on entering the train station shop I was told that they wouldn’t sell anyone beer on a Saturday. ‘No worries,’ I thought, ‘I’ll head to the shop down the road to buy some.’ Once again I would be denied, as apparently they would stop me going through the barrier with beer. Pathetic. I even got chatting to two policemen about my plight and they agreed with the silliness of it all.
So, a whole train journey home from Middlesbrough to Manchester with no alcohol…or so I thought. Fortunately for me, three students – two girls, one lad – got on the train in Huddersfield and with one of the girls taking a shine to me purely because I was Welsh, I was eventually given free reign of their vodka. This did involve me having to say things in my Welsh-est accent though. They were jolly good fun and they were determined to get me out in Manchester with them for the night. I politely declined, especially as they wanted to go clubbing and I didn’t really think my flat cap and #NoFlatCapNoParty shirt were particularly suitable ‘clubbing’ attire. I did supply them with stickers to stick around Manchester on their night out though.
Conveniently, I made it home with my curry and beer (they let me buy some in my local shop) just in time to watch the highlights of Boro losing to Burnley on Match of the Day.
I’d very much enjoyed my day on Teesside and hopefully look forward to returning with Swansea next season hopefully (at the time of writing, I have more faith in Boro getting promoted to the top flight than Swansea staying in the Premier League though). More parmos are needed in my life.
Highlights: cheap town, plenty of pubs, ground near city centre, friendly fans, nice stadium, parmos, Middlesbrough’s first half showing, Diego Fabbrini, decent game, Middlesbrough folk are good at karaoke.
Low Points: shame Boro’s showing in the first half didn’t get more goals, Transpennine and York’s Saturday alcohol ban.
See all my photos from my day in Middlesbrough here.