Atherton Collieries had never reached the semi-final stage of the Lancashire Challenge Trophy. We were 90 minutes away from a showdown with one of the area’s biggest non-league sides in Chorley at The Reebok. Our date with destiny was a cold, dark Tuesday evening at the County Ground in Leyland against Clitheroe. The stakes were high. Cup fever had hit Atherton. Excitement was dripping off the walls of the old cotton mills, the crazy gang were being primed and the players were on alcohol bans… apparently. The match was huge, so I went to Middlesbrough v Bolton Wanderers instead.
I got a bit of abuse for opting to go to watch Bolton, but it was an understandable decision. It was an away match with the team I have grown up watching and another one of the football league grounds ticked off. More importantly it was far easier for me to get to Middlesbrough than Leyland on a Tuesday evening after University. It was going to be a long day either way, but it felt an awful lot longer after I decided to head out into York on the Monday night.
Dragging myself out of bed for my early morning lectures I felt content. Hangover or no hangover I was going to soldier through the day and make it to Middlesbrough where I knew I would inevitably witness another poor evening on the road for the Wanderers. Joining me on this adventure would be Middlesbrough fans Paul and Darren. Paul has been fantastic giving me lifts to a number of matches this season, while Darren and I got talking about this match during pre-drinks in my flat a few weeks ago. That drinking session incidentally could have gone horribly wrong as fans of Bolton, Blackburn, Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough were all present; note how my team are the lowest ranked in the pyramid system… not that I care.
Darren and I caught the 16:15 train to Thirsk where we shared a table with a cantankerous pensioner and a commuter who was also off to watch the Boro. Add to this a train conductor who clearly enjoyed her job far too much and we were in for a long 15 minutes.
As we arrived in Thirsk the horizon turned an abhorrent shade of grey; the world appeared to be reaching its final stages. Paul collected us from the footbridge at the station as that fine rain that soaks you through began to fall. Fortunately it didn’t last long and it was clearing up as we neared Teesside.
Middlesbrough, like most places I seem to visit these days is a large industrial town in Yorkshire. Yes, that’s right, Middlesbrough is in that wretched county, regardless of what responses I received when I used the usual #GibboDoesYorkshire hashtag on Twitter.
Steel, iron and shipyards are what the local economy has traditionally been built upon. Parts of the Sydney Harbour Bridge were engineered in Middlesbrough, although I prefer the Transporter Bridge that was lurking in the dark behind the Riverside Stadium for this evening visit.
We parked up in the former red light district of the town. That’s what I’m told anyway. I haven’t had it on my bucket list, I promise. Strolling into the town centre past the train station it appeared to be karaoke night for the natives in the local pubs. We had arrived early so wanted to nip for a pint somewhere, but all the pubs were either closed or had a group of menopausal women thinking they were Madonna. Unfortunately none of them were wearing large capes so we couldn’t haul them off the stage with an innocuous dance move.
Stranger things were to come as I walked past a group of blue trees. With the general election just around the corner I wondered whether David Cameron had wasted some money on painting trees blue, in order to compete against Labour’s infamous pink van but this seemed unlikely in this part of the world. A quick google search for blue trees provides me with the well known Fraximus Quadrangulata species of ash tree. Not blue in appearance, but nicknamed blue ash.
Enough dendrology for one blog entry, it really was time for a drink. Darren and I were really struggling with our hangovers – or whatever we had contracted – so we headed to Doctor Brown’s pub. Annoyingly it was shut due to “unforeseen circumstances”. This left us with one last option; head to McDonald’s for a sugar rush.
On my last legs, it was at this moment Paul broke some awful news to me. He had printed the match tickets off at home. That’s right, we had some flimsy unkeepable form of a ticket stub. What next? Would the club convince me to pay £3 for a strangely shaped matchday programme which would get creased in my bag before being shoved in a finely balanced pile amongst a host of rubbish in my posh student abode? Yes. The programme was square.
I firmly believe that square shaped programmes should be dumped into Room 101 alongside square plates, square shaped watches and BBC North West Tonight newsreader Roger Johnson. All aforementioned objects and beings appear uncomfortable in their roles and positions in life, a bit like me really in the home end with the vociferous Red Faction for this match.
It was cheaper to sit in the home end so I was made to promise that I would keep my jacket zipped up as I had the sacred white of Bolton on underneath. If I had have put my Bolton shirt on show then I would have been only the second person in the ground to do so as out of 200 Wanderers just one braved the cold weather to display his colours.
The Riverside Stadium replaced Ayresome Park and was opened in August 1995 which makes it two months older than me (I say this to make Paul feel old). The gates which stand outside The Riverside used to sit at the main entrance to the old ground, which means their spiritual home hasn’t been completely removed from the town.
Mention a Middlesbrough v Bolton match to both sets of fans and it will refresh contrasting memories of the League Cup Final in Cardiff in 2004. Boro won 2-1 to claim their first major trophy. Joseph-Désiré Job scored after just two minutes for Boro before Bolo Zenden doubled their lead. The ever reliant Kevin Davies pulled a goal back for Sam Allardyce’s men but it wasn’t enough as Wanderers went home empty handed. Considering how momentous this victory was for Middlesbrough they didn’t even mention it in their strangely shaped matchday programme. There were however a couple of large banners from the match on the concourse which were obviously put there to try and tease me.
Of course, back in the those days both clubs were plying their trade in the Premier League with the likes of Juninho and Jay-Jay Okocha giving both clubs . Now in the Championship, Middlesbrough had their sights set on a return to the Premier League finding themselves in second place, two points behind league leaders Derby County. Bolton on the other hand were nervously looking over their shoulders as is so often the case these days. However, Wanderers’ social media team were keen to dress their position up as being “only three points behind 12th placed Sheffield Wednesday”.
Bolton had lost 4-1 at Nottingham Forest three days beforehand. Forest of course are managed by Neil Lennon’s predecessor Dougie Freedman. So, how would Lennon approach this match? I have no idea what he said or what he had in mind, but we were bloody awful. With Emile Heskey and Eidur Gudjohnsen up front our strikeforce had a combined age of 73. At the other end of the pitch we had Ben Amos in goal who was making his Bolton full Bolton debut on loan from Manchester United following the injuries of Adam Bogdan and Andy Lonergan. Also in Lennon’s starting lineup was former Middlesbrough favourite, the Redcar Rock himself, David Wheater.
It was a rather scrappy opening to the match but Middlesbrough soon started to carve through a languid Wanderers defence. We were that poor defensively that we made Grant Leadbetter look like Lionel Messi who was running rings around Manchester City at the same time.
The deadlock was broken on 32 minutes when Lee Tomlin threaded a ball through to Albert Adomah. One on one with Ben Amos, the striker steered the ball around the advancing goalkeeper with his first touch.
Boro wasted a good opportunity to double their lead shortly before the break when Patrick Bamford missed an empty goal from less than a metre out.
Half time arrived and as Darren and I headed down to the concourse for a Bovril, I began to wonder what other culinary experiences were to be had on Teesside. A quick browse of the menu and I was soon in possession of a parmo.
A parmo is to Middlesbrough what a pie is to Wigan and what an oatcake is to Stoke. Shortened from the name ‘Parmesan’ the dish typically consists of deep fried chicken in bread crumbs topped with bechamel sauce and cheese. The chicken is usually served with chips and a salad and is apparently a firm favourite in most takeaways throughout the town.
Unfortunately, the parmo which I was served at the football ground was “not the best for a first timer” according to the Twitter account entitled ‘The People’s Republic of Teesside’ who instantaneously responded to my short yet uninspiring review of the parmo. “I don’t get it” were my words. Various photographs of a real parmo were fired in my direction and I promise that next time I am in Middlesbrough I will source only the best produce.
It was cold, we were losing, I was eating strange food and Emile Heskey was still stealing a living. Bring on the second half.
Quite why it took until the final 15 minutes to bring Zach Clough and Adam Le Fondre on I will never know, but neither Lennon or his players looked the slightest bit interested in this match. The most enjoyable moment of the second half came early on when a rather large steward steward perched himself on a rather small plastic stool. Within seconds it buckled and snapped into many pieces in front of everybody in the stand. Even the stewards workmates couldn’t conceal their laughter.
Patrick Bamford should have doubled Boro’s lead on 55 minutes after great wing play from George Friend. Running through on goal Friend elected to set up Bamford who flashed a shot just wide.
Heskey wasted a good chance on 61 minutes before Lennon chose to replace Gudjohnsen with Clough. This change livened the Wanderers up slightly. Le Fondre then joined the action and Bolton looked like they could snatch a point from set pieces but it would have been cruel on Aitar Karanka’s side.
The result strengthened Middlesbrough’s promotion credentials and did Bolton no favours whatsoever.
In all, I put in more effort than Emile Heskey given my hangover and lack of emotional attachment towards Bolton Wanderers these days. Despite his and the rest of the teams atrocious play I still wore my Bolton shirt with pride on the long car journey back to York.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 49 miles (from York)
- ADMISSION: £26
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £3