Result: Middlesbrough 3-2 Oxford United (FA Cup 5th Round)
Venue: The Riverside Stadium (Saturday 18th February 2017, 3pm)
After initially intending to remain local for this weekend and cut some costs, my head had been slightly turned by the price announcement for tickets for this FA Cup Fifth Round tie at the Riverside. For £15, over half of the usual price for a ticket to a game here, I would be able to tick off another league ground and as the week wore on, I came round to the idea of heading to Teeside.
So, after phoning up the Boro ticket office and securing a ticket in the easiest of circumstances, I then had a further brainwave. A ticket up on the train was likely to cost around £38 return. But for just a further 25 minutes travel time I could get there for half that price on the coach with National Express. A no-brainer this one, so come the morning of the 18th, I headed to Manchester’s Chorlton Street coach station for my transport up to Middlesbrough.
After a short wait, the coach rolled in and I was soon becoming aware that the bus was going to be a sell out which meant only one thing. Strangers sitting next to me. Ah, brilliant. I’m not always (or usually, really) the most talkative of people on the whole, so my 2hr 20min journey would be passed with earphones coming in more than handy.
After heading up through Yorkshire and White Rose county’s countryside, eventually the signs for Teeside came into view and soon enough the industrial skyline of Middlesbrough did too. After arriving into the city slightly early (unheard of by rail!), I soon began to take part in my favourite past-time: getting lost. Thankfully, it was fairly simple to correct my error and I was en route to the ground….via a few stops on the way of course!
The first of these stops was entirely accidental. I was attempting to navigate up to Doctor Brown’s, the popular pre-match pub for fans, I came upon the Isaac Wilson Wetherspoon’s and reckoned it’d be rude and silly not to pay a visit and add to my tally of visited JDW’s. Fans of both Oxford and ‘Boro were in here mixing well and I plumped for a Punk IPA as per usual. What was different, though, was that I was served a pint instead. Turns out I’d instead been given a Greene King IPA instead, but no worry there as it’s a fine pint.
With little space to manoeuvre in here, I quickly downed this and headed off for my intended Doctor’s for some much-needed medicine. Instead, I was again side-tracked as I set eyes on the bar across the way co-incidentally named the Medicine Bar. The Medicine Bar looked to be fairly buzzing from the outside and indeed was packed out within. I did employ some dirty tactics here though, looking to the bar to who was being served before heading right behind them and jumping in the gap they’d left. Boo, boo!
I was soon in possession of a pint of the Pale Ale on offer here which was served out, unsurprisingly, in a plastic glass. It was bloody lovely too and went well with watching Burnley vs Lincoln on a mirror hanging above us. Of course as Lincoln went all giant-killer and knocked out their Premier League opponents, I figured I might as well join in with their celebration and had a second Pale Ale, deciding to leave the Doctor’s until post-game.
As a mass exodus triggered come the end of the game and the impending start of everyone’s intended one, I was finally able to have a pint without being boxed in at all sides which was nice and somewhat less sweaty. Soon enough it was time to head for the ground and so I tagged along with the wave of fans being escorted along the way and soon found myself on a very strange approach walk, heading through two multi-coloured underpasses and over a railway line, before spotting the ground directly in front.
After locating my turnstile, I reckoned I ought to go and take a pic of the Ayresome Park gates which sit directly outside the Riverside’s main entrance. This piece of history, though, did mean I forgot to pick up a programme but I didn’t really care too much as I reckoned I’d be able to get one on the concourse. Nope. Ah, problems! Now, a programme isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for me, but I do like to pick one up if possible and especially on a trip so I was a bit worried, but both a steward and a Boro fan assured me I could pick one up during the game. If not, I was off to the main entrance!
Anyway, programme issues put away for now, I took my seat which was located almost right on half-way and behind Aitor Karanka’s dugout. Not too shabby! I like to think they knew about the clear royalty that had joined them on this day…no I’m not like that. Honestly. HONESTLY!
The Riverside Stadium is a smart ground. Built in 1995 to replace Ayresome Park due to the requirement of an all-seater stadium, it has four stands and is filled in at each corner. The North stand “Holgate End” backs onto the River Tees, with the “Main” West stand being a two-tiered structure. The opposite East stand is another two-tiered structure, though smaller than the West stand, it now houses the press areas and the majority of away supporters today. The South Stand is home to the most vocal section of the ‘Boro support, the Red Faction, and they were living up to that billing in the lead up to kick-off.
With the game almost upon us and the Oxford fans on the opposite side of the pitch to me also in fine voice, here’s a little about the history of Middlesbrough FC…
Middlesbrough Football Club was formed in 1876, becoming founder members of the Northern League in 1889 and turning pro. After finishing as runners-up twice in 1891 & ’92, they then reverted to amateur status and went on to win consecutive titles in 1894 & ’95, the latter being joined with an FA Amateur Cup. 1897 saw a third Northern League success with a second Amateur Cup title in 1898 signalling the club’s last silverware of the 19th century.
After turning pro in 1899, ‘Boro joined the Football League Division 2, finishing as runners-up in 1902 and thus were promoted to Division 1. After moving to Ayresome Park in 1903, they would remain in the top-tier for a further 21 years before suffering relegation to Division 2 in 1924 (though this stay does include the non-league football years of WWI, in which Middlesbrough won the Northern Victory League). Their stay in the second tier was a brief one, however, as the club won the Division 2 title in 1927 and returned to the Division 1. Alas, this return was only for one season as the spectre of relegation returned.
The club’s yo-yo existence continued as ‘Boro took the 1929 Division 2 title and they remained here through until 1954, encompassing another spell without league football throughout the WWII years. After the recommencing of on-field action, ‘Boro failed to recapture their strong showing leading up to the outbreak of hostilities and were eventually relegated at the close of the ’53-’54 season.
This saw a spell of 20 years where Middlesbrough failed to return to the top division and, indeed, fell to the third tier for the first time in 1966. After climbing back up as Division 3 runners-up the following year, 1974 saw the club return to the Division 1 as Division 2 champions. 1976 saw the club continue to progress, reaching the League Cup Semi-Finals in 1976 as well as lifting the Anglo-Scottish Cup in its inaugural season, beating Fulham over two-legs.
After experiencing severe financial issues during the mid-1980’s and after suffering the drop in 1982, were relegated to Division 3 four years later. That summer, the club went into liquidation, the gates at Ayresome were locked and the club only survived via a consortium bringing the required money and beating the registration deadline by just ten minutes.
Again, their stay in Division 3 lasted just a year as the club went up as runners-up and missed out on a second successive promotion on goal difference, but did manage to go up through the play-offs, beating Chelsea over two-legs in the final. However, a quick return to Division 2 swiftly followed in 1989. 1991 saw the club just miss out in the play-offs, bowing out in the semi’s but the ‘Boro achieved promotion back to Division 1 the next year as runners-up and took a place in the newly formed Premiership.
Yet again the club’s stay in the top-tier was only to last one year, but 1995 saw them back in the Prem as Football League Champions. This time the club managed to last longer than one year in the highest echelons. Yes, they managed two before dropping back to Division 1 once more in 1997, this despite additions such as Fabrizio Ravanelli and the brilliant little Brazilian Juninho. A further one season away followed before they bounced back as runners-up and finally managed a substantial stay in the top-flight.
An eleven-year stint was to follow for Middlesbrough, encompassing appearances in the FA Cup semi-final in 2002 & 2006, being UEFA Cup runners-up the same year, but 2004 saw the club achieve arguably their highest honour as ‘Boro, under Steve McClaren, lifted the League Cup after defeating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 in Cardiff. 2009 saw the club eventually relegated back to Championship.
The club remained in the Championship through to last season, narrowly missing out on promotion the previous season, the club losing out to Norwich City at Wembley in Aitor Karanka’s first full season in charge. His second saw him guide ‘Boro back to the Premier League, with Middlesbrough finishing the season as runners-up by the narrowest of margins, on goal difference, and they currently sit in a precarious 16th place.
We were soon underway and it quickly became clear that this wasn’t going to be a stuck-in-the-mud tie. Both sides were going for it with Antonio Martinez-Lopez going close in the first minute, Brad Guzan forced into a low save. Middlesbrough responded with Rudy Gestede forcing a decent stop out of the U’s season-ever-present ‘keeper Simon Eastwood and Grant Leadbitter clipping the top of the bar with an attempted chip over Eastwood.
Leadbitter, though, was to get his name on the scoresheet after 25 minutes. Stewart Downing burst into the area but was bundled over by Chris Maguire and the skipper blasted his spot-kick high into the net to give the Premier League side the lead. Oxford thought they’d responded almost immediately when Maguire’s low cross-cum-shot found its way into the corner of the net but the referee adjudged there to have been a foul in the box as the ball went in and the U’s celebrations were cut short.
From then on in, ‘Boro dominated the remainder of the half and ten minutes after taking the lead, the hosts doubled their advantage in spectacular style, the large frame of Gestede acrobatically bicycle-kicking an effort which flew past Eastwood and into the net. 2-0 and it looked like the U’s run in the cup was at an end as half-time came upon us with little else to shout about.
The break saw me manage to pounce upon a programme seller who was stood on the steps about to go on his rounds and purchase a cut-price, cut-back effort (£2). The main-event, though, was still to come as I headed for the food counter. I’d heard good things about the local delicacy by the name of the “parmo”. This consists of a chicken burger-like thing covered in melted cheese and placed within a bun. My word, how good?! For £4.50, it is more than worth it and kept me more than happy during the early part of the second half. It even comes in a carrier bag. Ooooh. The other highlight had to be Timmy Mallet doing the half-time draw though. Just look at his delight:
The second period was underway shortly afterwards and, in truth, little happened during the early part of it bar a couple of half-chances. But, just before the hour mark, Oxford sparked into life. The U’s were awarded a free-kick in the ‘D’ and Maguire stepped up and atoned for his earlier error to curl the ball over the wall and beyond Guzan. 2-1 and suddenly it was all to play for.
This was the case even more-so when, within a minute of them pulling one back, they were level. Winning the ball back from the kick-off, the U’s players rushed forward in numbers and a low shot from the left by Maguire was only parried by Guzan into the path of Martinez-Lopez, the Spaniard given the simple task of side-footing the ball into the open net. All-square, 2-2, and the travelling Oxford fans were in a state of delirium!
With Middlesbrough shaken, Karanka opted for a double change but, my word, the fans didn’t like it! Boos rang out around the Riverside as the hard-working Adama Traore was replaced by Cristhian Stuani and Viktor Fischer subbed for Gaston Ramirez. However, Karanka was to have the last (or first?) laugh.
The on-field big guns were completed late on by the introduction of Alvaro Negredo and he was to have a big hand in the winner. With just four minutes left on the clock a ball in was missed by Negredo, who attempted to emulate the player he replaced, Gestede, with the spectacular only for the ball to fall at the feet of Stuani arriving at the back post and he gleefully finished with aplomb before wheeling away in front of the raucous Holgate End. Full-Time: 3-2; an upset narrowly avoided.
After the final whistle, the same walk back as before was undertaken before I finally got into the Doctor’s which had some sort of on-off karaoke and sing-a-long’s going on. It was a fun atmosphere, however the pint of Moretti in a plastic glass for £3.80 meant I’d only be having the one in here before moving onwards back towards the bus station for the coach back.
On the way, I decided to follow ‘Lost Boyos’ Matt’s advice and head into the Last Orders pub near Middlesbrough station. With wonderous karaoke promised, I headed inside but the songs weren’t the best, with the quintessential karaoke tunes all coming out. More to my liking was the return of the cheap pint, a Kronenbourg costing just £2.20 with bottles being advertised for 99p. 99p! Madness!
With Wolves-Chelsea underway, I watched a bit of the tie in here before reckoning I might as well squeeze one more pub in before heading for the coach. As such, the Yates’ round the corner looked the best bet, plus it would complete a nice little touch in my mind as a pub that I was frequently in during my youth (non-alcoholic times) had been called both Yates’ and Doctor Brown’s before being knocked down, so it was a given to me that I’d have to pop in both whilst in Boro.
So, after cutting through the pedestrianised shopping street I arrived at Yates’ before settling in with a nice pint of the Czech beer Kozel and watching the early stages of the second half of the aforementioned late kick-off before giving in to time and bidding farewell to Middlesbrough.
The journey back was a largely uneventful one, despite being confused by a toilet door and almost falling over whilst exiting (I wasn’t even drunk, honestly) and I arrived back in Manchester pretty much on time. National Express had served me really well and given a nice insight into what awaits me when my railcard runs out after next season and arrived back home just over three-hours after leaving Middlesbrough itself which wasn’t too shabby at all.
All in all, I found Middlesbrough to be a fun place, its cheap beer being a plus and despite my stay only being a brief one, I fail to see why it gets such a bad rap, even from its own people sometimes! Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay and the ground was good too, helped massively by the seats I was given, so cheers to the ‘Boro ticket-office lady for that! Onwards to next week, if we survive Storm Doris….
Value For Money: 8