When Two Become One
For this weekend we had two cracking games lined up. Starting with this one at Middlesbrough‘s Riverside Stadium against a good Marseille team who finished second in last season’s Ligue 1 campaign.
The plan was to follow this up with a trip to Firhill, home of Scottish Championship side, Partick Thistle. Illness won the day though and after soldiering on through the Middlesbrough trip, Mrs Hopper called quits on the trip up to the Maryhill district in the north of Glasgow.
Still, as match-ups go, I was happy overall to be left with this fixture and the knowledge that my tickets for the Partick Thistle game were snapped up by a Jags fan, meant at least they weren’t going to waste.
Our day started with an early finish to our working day and a bus to Sunderland to catch the train. From there it is less than an hour to Middlesbrough, much shorter than most of our recent trips.
Upon arriving, we set off down the steps from the station and under the A66 underpass into Albert Road. This road leads to a great location for pubs and it was our intention to head to the Bier and Beer pub on Albert Road itself. This one was shut though, so we headed to The Pig Iron, just around the corner on Corporation Road.
This proved to be an inspired decision!
A good pint of Guinness for me and a Heineken for Mrs Hopper cost about £6.40. Very reasonable in this day and age.
On top of cheap beer, this pub had a lot of characters and karaoke that enticed said characters onto the stage. Say what you like about karaoke, love it or hate it, it can be funny, bad, or excellent. This was a combination of all those.
We had a rendition of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger that would have had Rocky Balboa running for the hills and Robbie William’s ‘Angels’ was straight out of Hades itself. Add to this the guy next to us who couldn’t stop dancing in a hybrid of Northern Soul dancing and something out of a Steps video and the scene was set for a night of fun.
We almost decided to stay there instead of going to the match!
Football is what we do though, so the game won out in the end and we set off with less time ahead than we should have had.
However, there was one thing I had to do on the way, even if we were late for kick-off…
As someone who grew up watching Auf Wiedersehen Pet in the ’80s, I was particularly keen to take a look at the famous Transporter Bridge. You may recall that in the programme Oz, Dennis, Neville, Barry, Moxey, Bomber and the rest of the team managed to sell the bridge to an Indian Reservation in the USA.
You can read more about that story here via the Middlesbrough Gazette
It was to be dismantled, shipped over and rebuilt over a canyon, thus allowing visitors easier access to the casino on the reservations land. Of course, this was all fictional and the bridge was never actually taken down but the memory of seeing it stayed with me and it was on my Middlesbrough ‘to-do list’.
I wasn’t disappointed. The structure dominates the skyline and straddles the River Tees like a machine out of Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’. Ulaaaahhhh!!
In front of it and to the right-hand side are the remains of a very large industrial area. Presumably, part of the old docks, though that is just conjecture on my part.
As you walk away from the Transporter Bridge, you get to see other unique sights ahead of you.
There is the Middlesbrough Hydraulic Clock Tower, a free-standing brick structure, alone in the middle of a grassy area not far from Middlesbrough College.
Beyond this, is a modern art structure that reminded me of two giant basketball nets connected at an odd angle. As you see it from various sides though, it becomes less of an oddity and more of a nice addition to the older edifices in the area. This area of Middlesbrough really is a blend of old and new with the camouflage design of Middlesbrough college in view too.
Also in view was our destination, the Riverside Stadium!
It’s easy to see how it got its name, which was bestowed upon it by the fans themselves in a poll, as it sits right next to the river.
Middlesbrough – The Stadium
After crossing the bridge you come into the Riverside Stadium area and in front of you is a stadium that became the prototype for other stadiums that were built after the Taylor Report.
Derby, Stoke and even local rivals Sunderland, all have grounds that tip their hats to the Riverside, although I’m sure they would argue that!
The Riverside Stadium was built in just nine months’ time and by 1995, Middlesbrough were in their new home after leaving their old ground, Ayresome Park.
These were halcyon days for the club with stars like Juninho, Fabrizio Ravenelli, Nick Barmby and Jan Åge Fjørtoft gracing the Premier League. All under the guidance of Manchester United and England legend and Boro player-manager, Bryan Robson.
Those days may be gone now but Middlesbrough are a decent Championship side who will be hoping to be in the hunt for promotion in the upcoming season.
Back to the stadium… On the left corner, on the river side of the ground, is the club shop and because we were a little late, Mrs Hopper ran in to grab a programme while I took a few photos of the area.
In the middle of the West Stand, or Main Stand, is the epicentre of the club’s heritage.
Two statues, one depicting Wilf Mannion and the other being George Hardwick. Both legends not just of Middlesbrough but of footballing days gone by.
Behind the statues sits the Middlesbrough Fanzone, where you can meet fellow fans and have a drink and something to eat while soaking up the atmosphere as it builds. Beneath my feet were lots of bricks with people’s names on them. This is known as the Boro Brick Road and holds the names of many of their supporters present and sadly departed.
The main feature, for me at least, were the gates from Ayresome Park and a superb gesture from the club to commemorate their history next to the present and future of the club. Looking a little worse for wear but nonetheless glorious, they hark back to the dark days of administration when the gates were locked up and the club stood on the brink of collapse back in 1986.
We presented our tickets at the turnstile, with countless others still in a huge queue for the ticket office. This is the benefit of buying in advance, although I appreciate some can’t do this as they aren’t sure if they will be able to make it or not.
You can buy tickets online for games at the Riverside from this link.
A few flights of steps, which were not appreciated by the ill Mrs Hopper, and we were in our section of the stand.
The game had already kicked off and I thought about all those people still outside.
Middlesbrough – Stadium Gallery – Outside
Middlesbrough – Stadium Gallery – Inside
Middlesbrough – The Game
The game kicked off while we were still making our way inside the stadium, so I didn’t get a chance to do a proper video of the stadium until halftime.
Despite the illustrious opposition including names such as Dmitri Payet, Arkadiusz Milik, Cengiz Under and two ex-Arsenal stars in Matteo Guendouzi and Sead Kolisinac, this was a surprisingly routine victory for Boro.
Yes, Marseille were the more accomplished team in possession but they did very little with that possession. Payet displayed a few nice touches despite looking a little ‘portlier’ and a tad slower than his West Ham days. Guendouzi did very little other than pull shirts and give niggling little fouls away whilst arguing with every blade of grass that touched him. No change there, then.
Indeed, the player that impressed me most among the visitors, was a player I had never heard of before, Isaak Touré. Standing at 6ft 7in (think Peter Crouch but built more like Adama Traore!)
Having just signed for OM from Le Havre, Touré is 19 years old and looked good with the ball at his feet and doing his defensive duties well. He will be an interesting name to keep an eye on in the coming years.
The game was 0-0 when he was substituted early in the second half.
Marseille players aside, Boro showed a lot more in the way of commitment and passion. This is often all it takes to beat a side that doesn’t really have their heart in it and that was how it turned out at the Riverside on this night.
The home side showed more drive in the first half and had a couple of chances, with Tavernier and Watmore both looking dangerous in the final third. Marseille did improve as the half went on and had a couple of chances of their own but Milik was extremely wasteful with his chances and GK, Steffen did well for Boro when called upon.
It was a pretty uneventful first half in truth and no surprise then, that it was 0-0 at the break.
Middlesbrough – Half-Time Video of the Riverside Stadium
The opening goal came on 52 minutes, when right-back/winger, Isaiah Jones, outmuscles Leonardo Balerdi and tucked a left-footed shot under the OM keeper.
Maybe Middlesbrough won’t miss Djed Spence?
In the 72nd minute came the second and final goal of the game. Marcus Tavernier, who is supposedly being hunted by Premier League side Bournemouth, put the final touch to a superb possession move for Middlesbrough.
After some neat passing Tavernier played a lovely ball through for Matt Crooks to run onto. His first touch was slightly too heavy and the defender got a foot on the ball. Tavernier hadn’t stopped to admire his own pass and the ball landed at his feet as he rushed forward and planted a firm shot, low into the opposite corner of the net.
A fine strike.
From this point on, the game was up for Marseille and Boro had chances to add a third which were spurned.
It was good enough though and a 2-0 win against the team that finished second only to PSG in Ligue 1 is a good way to head into the new Championship season.
You can read the full match report here via the Middlesbrough website.
The attendance was announced after the match as 12,227 (you can hear it on the match highlights, although subsequent match reports have suggested 14,000. I have stuck to the official announcement for the purpose of this article.
Attendance – 12,227
Entrance Fee – £10.00
Programme – £2.00
Middlesbrough – Match Highlights and Personal Videos
Middlesbrough – After the Game
Unfortunately, we didn’t have long to do much of anything other than walking back to the station after the game.
We walked back past the other side of the college, which took us pretty much in a straight line back to the train station.
Our train pulled in on time and we were soon headed back to Sunderland. Catching our bus from Sunderland Interchange had us back home in time to grab a well-earned pizza from the local takeaway and a rest for the ailing Mrs Hopper.
Onto the next…