LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Middlesbrough FC

A long time since the League Cup for moribund Boro

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Without the huge fan base of Newcastle or the six-title silverware of Sunderland, local rivals Middlesbrough FC are still a big club, and one that all but disappeared three decades ago.

Within ten minutes of folding completely, Middlesbrough were rescued by board member Steve Gibson, whose consortium saved the day and helped Boro climb back to the top flight. Within a decade, Boro had a new stadium, the Riverside, and had made three cup finals. Within another, they were in a European final and had won a long-awaited trophy, the League Cup.

Boro briefly returned to the Premier League after a desperate race for a promotion spot went to the wire in 2015-16. After a lost play-off semi in 2018, Boro are still striving to rejoin the elite.

With Gibson still chairman, Boro will always be ambitious but the crazy days of big-money marquee signings, Juninho and the like, are long gone.

It was Boro who started the trend for headline transfers in the first place. Signing Alf Common from Sunderland in 1905, Middlesbrough were the first club to splash out £1,000 for a player. Founded in 1876, Boro had only turned professional in 1899 and moved into Ayresome Park in 1903.

But while Sunderland would still win another two pre-war titles, Boro remained empty-handed. Steve Bloomer, the finest player of the early 1900s, was signed soon after. Ironically, Boro’s best-ever league finish, third in 1913-14, was achieved after Bloomer had gone back to Derby.

The next great players to don the red and white were all drawn from nearby: prolific, loyal striker George Camsell, stalwart left-back George Hardwick and inside-forward Wilf Mannion, England internationals all either side of World War II. 

Boro’s next highest finish in Division One came in 1939 but the club subsequently spent two decades in the Second and even Third until the mid 1970s. This despite the near goal-a-game record of another great, forward Brian Clough, who met Peter Taylor when his later long-term managerial assistant was a goalkeeper at Boro.

With Jack Charlton in his first, impressive post as manager, overseeing players such as midfielder Graeme Souness, goalkeeper Jim Platt and centre-back Willie Maddren, Boro promised much in the return to the top flight. But relegation in 1982 was followed by complete disappearance in 1986.

That was when Steve Gibson stepped in. With Boro saved, manager Bruce Rioch had enough young talent at his disposal in defenders Tony Mowbray and Gary Pallister to achieve two successive promotions.

Boro really took off with the arrival of Bryan Robson as player/manager, Gibson finding funds for players such as later Leicester manager Nigel Pearson and forward Jan Åge Fjørtoft, as well for a new stadium on the banks of the Tees, the Riverside.

With Boro back in the Premier, Gibson broke the bank for young Brazilian midfielder Juninho and Nick Barmby, then Fabrizio Ravanelli – only for his club to lose top-flight status. Appearances in the two cup finals of 1996-97 also ended in defeat, to Leicester and Chelsea.

Boro bounced back in one season, even making the League Cup final again, another defeat to Chelsea.

With incoming coach Steve McClaren in 2001 came more big signings, including Gareth Southgate and former La Liga stars Boudewijn Zenden and Gaizka Mendieta. All combined to secure Boro the first trophy in the club’s history, the League Cup of 2004, a 2-1 win over Bolton.

The McClaren era ended in 2006 with a dramatic run to the UEFA Cup final, late goals from Mark Viduka, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Massimo Maccarone inspiring unlikely comebacks against Basel and Steaua Bucharest. Outclassed by Sevilla in the final, Boro turned to Southgate as the replacement for McClaren.

But Boro had lost their mojo in cup games and league form had never been consistent. Southgate lasted until 2009 and neither Gordon Strachan nor Tony Mowbray could fully revive a club now back in the Championship.

Incoming coach Aitor Karanka brought in compatriots Kike and Daniel Ayala for Boro to reach the play-off final in 2015. For 2015-16, it was Uruguayan international striker Cristhian Stuani who proved the key, scoring Boro’s vital goal in the 1-1 home draw with Brighton that sealed promotion on the last day of the season.

One top-tier win in the whole of 2017, albeit over Sunderland, led to relegation that May. With a quick return unlikely under Garry Monk, Tony Pulis stepped in to take Boro to the Premier League play-offs in the spring of 2018. A solitary Aston Villa goal having settled the two-leg tie, Pulis had a huge clear-out that summer, including selling defender Ben Gibson, nephew of club owner Steve, to Burnley.

Ex-England veteran Stewart Downing was kept on, though, and the signing of Congolese international Britt Assombalonga proved astute but Boro failed to make the play-offs in 2019. Pulis’ outdated tactics had also seen home gates fall below 25,000. 

Gibson turned to former player and local favourite Jonathan Woodgate, manager of the month for December but unable to reverse poor form after the 2020 restart. Journeyman firefighter Neil Warnock stepped in to prevent relegation and oversaw a mediocre campaign in 2020-21.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Lighting up an otherwise underused stretch of the Tees, the Riverside Stadium was built in the wake of the Taylor Report that recommended that top-level football be played in all-seater grounds by 1994.

Ayresome Park, Boro’s home in the west of town since 1903, would have been impossible to expand given the residential buildings immediately surrounding it. So, in 1997, it was knocked down, 1966 World Cup memories and all, its gates having already been moved to the Riverside to provide a link with history.

Costing £16 million to build, rising another £5 million when capacity increased to nearly 35,000 in 1998, the Riverside features statues of Boro legends George Hardwick and Wilf Mannion. A modern-day England player, Michael Owen, netted twice here when Slovakia were beaten 2-1 in 1993, the only full international staged at the Riverside until two pre-Euro 2020 friendlies in June 2021. 

Core Boro home support, the Red Faction, is found in the South Stand, as well as in the North beside the Tees. Away fans access the stadium through turnstiles 51-61 for a seat in the south corner of the East Stand. Reception and offices are in the main West Stand.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

The Riverside is a 15min walk from Middlesbrough train station. You need to get on the river side of the station, as opposed to the town side, either by exiting via the back or via the front onto Zetland Road, heading left then first left down Albert Road and under the railway bridge. Either way, you’re aiming for Bridge Street East. Follow it to the right fork for Windward Way that leads to the stadium.

The sat nav code for the Riverside Stadium is TS3 6RS. There is limited space for away coaches and some private vehicles at Car Park E (via Dockside Road/The Leeway) behind the East Stand. Availability is on a match-by-match basis and enquiries should be made at the ticket office or by phone (01642 929 421). Seasonal passes are usually sold out and all other stadium car parks are allocated to disabled spectators.

With the station/town centre only a 15-20min walk, Middlesbrough city council provides a list provides a list of car parks and prices. By Middlesbrough Leisure Park a 10min walk from the ground, the France Street car park (TS1 2DY) has 500+ spaces and offers free parking at weekends and bank hols. Weekdays, it’s £2 for up to 4hrs.

Near the train station on Station Street, the Zetland Road multi-storey (TS1 1SR) charges only £2 up to ten hours and the facility stays open until 11/11.30pm if there is an evening game on. Zetland otherwise closes at 7.30pm Mon-Sat, 6pm Sun. The car park at Captain Cook Square (TS1 5AP) in town has the same closing times without the guaranteed extension for evening games. Short-stay bays (levels 0-3) are free for the first 2hrs then £1.30/hr. Long-stay (levels 4-6) are £2.30 (Sun £1.60) after 2hrs.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

General sale starts the day after priority is given to season-card holders. With average gates usually around 25,000, availability shouldn’t be a problem.

Behind the West Stand, the main ticket office operates Mon-Fri 10am-3pm, and 2hrs before kick-off. Tickets can also be purchased over the phone (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, 01642 929 421) or online, with a print-at-home function, but with a £1 booking fee. Away fans can also use the match-day kiosk behind the South Stand, one of three set up around the ground. For all enquiries, email ticket@mfc.co.uk.

Prices start at £30 for a Category B game in the South Stand and lower tiers of the East and West Stands, rising to £39 for a Category A game in the West Upper. Over-65s pay £20-£31 for the same range of seating/opposition, under-18s £17-£20. For away fans in the East Stand, it’s £30, £20 for over-65s and £17 for under-18s.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

Behind the West Stand, the Riverside Stadium Store (Mon-Fri, non-match Sat 9am-5pm, match-day Sat 10am-4pm) offers such delights as branded Zippo lighters, puzzle cubes and dressing gowns.

Home tops remain the familiar red with a white band, away for 2021-22 is dark green. A full range of retro shirts run from 1958 to 1994.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The nearest pub to the ground is the Navigation Inn, on Marsh Road, just over the railline by the stream, a traditional pub set in a heritage building. No away fans on match days. 

The family-friendly option is the Six Medals, named after a war-time pilot, with a carvery and play area. Again, it’s recommended for home fans but visiting supporters with children should be welcome. It stands about 300 metres from the ground, just off Shepherdson Way.

Visiting supporters have several choices around the station. On the stadium side of town, Dr Browns at 135 Corporation Road is a friendly, lively spot with a TV and occasional live music. Across Corporation Road, La Pharmacie has always been a notch above, all steaks and cocktails, giving a big pre- and post-match welcome to both sets of supporters. Closed towards the end of 2021, it’s currently still seeking new owners.

Around the ground on match days, the Fan Zone behind the main West Stand and post-game Twe12th Man bar in the North Stand welcomes both sets of supporters.  Those enjoying affordable match-day hospitality deals head to the Hardwick Bar for drinks and light bites.

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