Middlesbrough - Riverside

The turnstiles from Ayrsome Park in the hotel

My final Championship ground. As the fixture list threw up two Tuesday night games at the Riverside in March, I arranged for my job to take me up to Middlesbrough on 1st March, when Boro were playing Forest. I left home about half ten and caught the 12.30 train from Kings Cross, which was going to Newcastle. I ended up sitting opposite a Lancashire born and bred man who was now living in Yorkshire, who was on his way home from visiting his son in Oman. He was one of those retired people who cannot stop talking in a nice sort of way, so for virtually the whole journey he told me his life story. Basically in a sentence he was from Oldham, was once a Man City fan, had lived in Suffolk and had retired from working as a civil engineer and was now living in North Yorkshire.
The journey went well until we got to Doncaster, where we ended up waiting just south of the station for nearly half an hour. It turned out that a bridge north of Doncaster had some loose bricks and we were waiting for an engineer to check it before we could proceed. Talk about Health and Safety! We did get going again, but were running about half an hour late all the way to Darlington, where I missed my connection. I did only have to wait around twenty minutes for the next train to Middlesbrough.
I was still able to do my work in Middlesbrough rather than put it off until the next day. Afterwards I ended up walking down to the ground to get some photos, whilst it was still light. I was going to get a taxi there, but the two I saw were already booked, or didn't like the look of me! So I ended up walking there under a railway line and past some seedy looking Forest fans who were looking for a pub.
The Riverside does look quite impressive from the distance, though is of the same design as so many newer stadium's like Derby's, Hull's and nearby Darlington's. At least they have put a couple of statues and the original gates from Ayrsome Park in front of the main stand to give it some character. It is right next to the River Tees, but a lot further out from the Town Centre than I thought You can see the famous Transporter Bridge across the river in the distance, a symbol of Middlesbrough if ever there was one. Plus in front of it is what looks like a giant netball net. Modern sculpture I presume.....
After taking a few photos of the outside of the ground, I pay a visit to the club shop, which as you would expect for such a large ground, is pretty big and well stocked. I find a Lion mascot for Wendy and then start to walk back towards the Town Centre. Fans are starting to arrive for the match as it's now after 6 o'clock, and as a taxi drops someone off I get into it and get a lift to my B and B for just £4!
The place I'm staying at is called the Longlands Hotel and is run by a Boro fan, as evidenced by the picture of a Boro player outside the hotel. When I get inside it's like a shrine to all things Middlesbrough FC, with photos of different players on the walls, as well as a set of original turnstiles from Ayrsome Park as, well as part of one of the goalposts! There's also some England memorabilia, including a shirt signed by Malcolm Macdonald and George Cohen's 1966 England tracksuit.
When I tell the owner, John that I'm going to the match, he asks if I'm a Forest fan. When I say no, I'm going round the grounds, he says, "So you're a Ground hopper then!"
After a cuppa and freshen up in my room, I make my way back to the ground, walking this time, as I know where to go. It takes me just twenty minutes, crossing some major road junctions and joining both Forest and Boro fans on the way. A couple of Forest coaches pass me and as you get nearer the ground, you start to hear some music playing. The main car park still has spaces in it as I arrive, which isn't a good sign. Then I see that the music is coming from a group playing a live set from a sort of open shed right in front of the main stand. You'd think they'd be heavy metal with it being Middlesbrough, but I would say they're more Indie Rock. The problem is no one is watching them, or so I thought. There are about twenty watching them, but they're about fifty feet from the stage as they're so loud!
I walk past the away end and can only see six coaches and one mini-bus parked up, so maybe Forest haven't bought that many tonight. I go through the barrier and into the East Stand and it looks like a morgue. There's only a handful of fans by the refreshment kiosks and going into the stadium itself is just a bad. It looks like there's only a few hundred fans inside the stadium altogether. Maybe they'll be a late rush. I treat myself to the local delicacy of a Parmo, chips and a cup of tea. I've no idea of what a Parmo is, but I guess it's something peculiar to Middlesbrough, just as Geordie's have the Stottie. Once I bite into it I discover that it's a type of chicken burger covered in cheese.
The actual Riverside stadium is impressive inside with two tiers all the way round and seats in all the corner areas. The main stand is slightly higher than the other three sides and there are various banners hanging at the back, which give it a bit more colour. To my left are the Boro singers, who congregate at the back and do sing all the way through the game, though I am surprised that the stewards let them stand across the aisles. Across the no-man's land are the Forest fans, who eventually number around a thousand. They seem pretty quiet tonight. On my right is the home fan's end and there is some singing at times from his section. Straight opposite me is the main stand, which looks less than half full. In fact the ground looks less than half full by kick off time, and an eventual attendance of 16,000 is announced, which for a 35,000 capacity ground is disappointing. Shades of nearby Darlington? Maybe they should only allow the fans to sit in certain areas of the ground, so that it would look fuller?
The match itself starts off fairly slowly, but after about ten minutes, Boro start to dominate. I'm surprised that Forest who are fourth in the Championship can only counter attack on just a few occasions. Taylor's shot was probably the best chance for Boro in the first half, but it was still 0-0.
In the second half Boro came out even more strongly and nearly get a deserved lead when Tony McMahon's shot nearly goes in. Then a few minutes later Scott McDonald nicely puts home Arca's pass into the net.
But just when you think Boro are going to get their first home win in a month, with just three minutes added on time, Forest sneakily nick a point thanks to Adebola's fluffed shot which went in. Not really deserved, but it's so true that a game's never over until the whistle blows.
I walk back to the hotel, taking a wrong turning, so have to retrace my steps. I eventually walk into the hotel just after 10 o'clock to see John and his mate there. He's obviously sickened by the last minute goal, but resigned to it. I have a pint of cider and chat to him a bit before turning in.
The next day I make a trip up the first railway line in Britain to Bishop Auckland and Shildon, where there is a railway museum. It's a nice airt museum and free to enter. I then get a train back to Darlington and walk through the town, before getting an express back to London.

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