Monday, 29 July 2013

Do You Remember The First Time?

There are certain rights of passage every young man much go through,  first day at school, first kiss, first punch (taken or thrown), and for every British boy, your first football match. 

I've been aware of the omnipotent presence of Middlesbrough FC since an early age.  My grandparents lived in Meath Street, one of the myriad two up, two down terraced streets in West Middlesbrough, a goal kick away from Ayresome Park, the Boro's former home.

As loved by Boro fans as it was feared by opposition supporters, it was nestled in the middle of these street next to the old General Hospital where several generations of fans, myself included, would spring forth. As well as the streets themselves there were numerous cut throughs and back alleys which provided many short cuts and hiding places to be wary of for opposition fans making their way back to the station at the bottom of Albert Road.

A typical North Eastern Saturday would see me and later my brother deposited into my Nana's care while the men of the family and more often than not my mum would make their way to the game. We would be entertained with a round of board games, impromptu musical performances with pans and wooden spoons serving for drums and back yard football and tennis. Once this got too much, we'd come inside to catch the wrestling on World of Sport before the classified results would tell us what sort of mood the returning heroes would be in.  Occasionally they would be back before the results if the defeat was too heavy or too dispiriting to take.

I remember walking through the huge red North Stand gates with MIDDLESBROUGH AFC emblazoned above you. The gates themselves now stand in front of the new home, the Riverside Stadium, and walking through them is something of a pre-match tradition enjoyed by a new generation.  I don't remember a whole lot about my first game other than I'd never seen so many people gathered in one place before and spent as much time watching the crowd as the game.  My only sporting recollection is that the opposition played in yellow shirts and green shorts which immediately led me to see when we played Norwich City and concluded that it was must have been them. 

In the age of social media, no such guesswork will be needed to record this weekend when I took Vince along to the Riverside to see Boro's final pre-season friendly against the French cup winners - Bordeaux. 

He'd been looking forward to it all week, mainly because his cousins Jacob and Ethan would also be going but because we pass the stadium every week on our way to the Speedway, his other sporting routine, and new that Middlesbrough played there. 

He has a Boro branded t-shirt but not a replica shirt for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I'm not paying £50 for something he'll grow out of in six months and also, actually the strongest reason, is that Middlesbrough are sponsored by Ramsdens, a pawnbrokers.  I appreciate they are not as bad as predatory payday moneylenders such as Wonga or QuickQuid but as far as I'm concerned, they are the one-haired man in the kingdom of the blind. I disapprove and won't let my son endorse them.  It's a reason I wear the classic 1970s style Boro shirts to matches myself, as well as being timeless classic and associated with a swaggering brand of football and machismo that Jack Charlton's team epitomised, they also don't have a sponsor.

I parked near the old Dockside clock and told Vincent the story about why it has three faces (the fourth one is a bricked out section that faces the docks themselves. Designed so the workers would not know how close it was to 5pm, and therefore wouldn't slack off from their duties), and walked past the giant Temenos sculpture which resembles either a huge Star-Trek style wormhole or twisted femidom depending on how charitable you are feeling.  A hop across the swing bridge to take in a downriver view of the Tees including a submerged jetty and sunken boat at low tide and to the gates to meet up with his cousins.  

Providence takes many forms the site of three handsome young Boro fans took the imagination of a local director.  He asked if he could film all three of them in cheering mode to feature in the opening titles of the matchday show this season. I happily signed the release form and am looking forward to seeing them immortalised for at least the next 24 matches, especially when the weather and probably results take a grimmer turn than today's sleepy sunshine draped Riverside. 

The boys settled down to enjoy their drinks and sweets and happily cheered a motivated Marvin Emnes scoring both goals in a 2-1 including a great top corner consolation for the visitors. Vince left with a spring in his step as we walked back down Vulcan Road, past SLP where I spent a happy summer working in the Shipyard and nailing down my claim to working class Teesside credibility.  I watched Vince running around with the happy boys, playing together, wondering if he suspected the lifetime of worry, pain, annoyance, embarrassment, confusion, anger and occasional joy I've bequeathed him through a lifetime allegiance to the forces of the Roaring Red Lion. 

As misery shared is a trouble halved but for one bright, brilliant summers day, it was a deserved dividend in happiness.