When the final whistle blew at the end of last night’s game between Boro and Luton it would be fair to say that what had just unfolded in the 90 minutes prior was the most Championship of Championship football matches.
A cagey, tedious first 45 had been followed by a second half that had a little bit of everything; a goal, a ridiculous red card, penalty drama, backs to the wall defending and a last minute super save. If you were playing Championship bingo that’s almost a full house.
The only thing that was missing was the thing that has been missing since March. The fans weren’t there and for the first time in a long while, it stung a bit to miss out on a match. It’s something we’ve all had to get used to in this tiresome cycle of lockdowns, tiers and restrictions which have meant we’ve had to miss out on a number of victories and supporting a growing team under a new manager in person.
That’s been a hard pill to swallow for a lot but with cases fluctuating it’s been something that we’ve had to deal with but I’d of given anything to have been freezing my bollocks off at the Riverside last night in what was ultimately the perfect game of Championship football. Not in terms of quality or even outright excitement but it had all of the hallmarks of a memorable night in the stands.
It’d of started with a flyer from work through either grafting extra hard during the day to get finished or skiving off if the gaffer wasn’t about. Dash home to get sorted or a catwalk-quick change of clothes in the car. It’s a big coat type of evening. Making it to the pub and settling down with an ice cold pint (soft drink if you’re driving) while the rest of your matchday mob arrive in drips and drabs.
Some of them haven’t managed to get away from work and will be meeting you at the ground. Poor buggers. Even worse are the night shift reds whose tickets are quickly being redistributed to old faces or younger brothers entrusted on their first night match. One of the lads hasn’t bothered to get changed because their office is only round the corner. Would’ve been a waste of time. Ooh, look at you in your tie.
Now, it’s time to brave the long, icy march to the ground. You should have worn an extra layer, mate. Big coat zipped right up, hood and scarf protecting your ears, the wind from the Tees whips and stings. Steam rises from the burger vans and the fog hangs in the air as “jackpot tickets, only a pound” is shouted with even more gusto in an effort to keep ticket sellers warm against the December night.
The drinks in the ground taste even stranger because of the chill in the air. Whatever is in that cup because it certainly isn’t the same lager you’ve just had in the pub, is glugged down before braving the stands. The usual slap of hands as the last of your mates comes through the turnstile is replaced by the dull thud of gloves.
While last night’s first half wasn’t anything to write home about that had me yearning to be in the stands because I could feel the familiar vibes rolling off the Tees. The songs and shouts, usually with extra vigour to keep you warm on a night like this, would’ve died down as the game crawled it’s way to halftime.
The excitement of a midweek match would’ve fallen away to the dulcet Boro tones of “don’t know why we even fucking bother, could’ve been in bed here” and the air would’ve filled with the meaty smell of pies, parmo buns and Bovril. Eating is cheating but it’s a Wednesday night and you’ve had no tea so you join in.
What was to follow as the match resumed felt like what could become a crucial part of Neil Warnock’s legacy in Middlesbrough. A defiant performance in the face of injustice that is discussed and glorified in years to come. There is a particular magic that envelops 90 minutes of football played under the floodlights that makes it almost romantic. Well, as romantic as 2 degrees Celsius on a Wednesday night in Boro can be.
The chants and ecstasy that would have accompanied Chuba Akpom’s goal would have been traded for howls of derision as Andy Davies pointed to the penalty spot and sent off Sam Morsy for an innocuous handball as he blocked James Collins’ shot at point blank range. The frosty air would now be red hot as the effs and see you next Tuesdays peppered the night’s sky.
The ensuing celebrations as the best linesmen in all of England Akil Howson adjudged Collin’s to have struck the penalty with both feet may have outstripped the ones for Akpom’s goal. Although correct, Howson was strong-armed and bullied into the decision by a ferocious combination of Marcus Bettinelli and Neil Warnock in either ear. Rather you than me, son.
It was now Boro vs. the World, just how we like it. Every towering Dael Fry header or thumping Paddy McNair clearance would’ve been punctuated with a roar and choruses of We Love You, Follow Follow and You Are My Boro would’ve rained down to create an extra, invisible line of protection on the Boro goal. The tension would rise and the cooling air would again be reignited with proper Teesside fume as the fourth official put up seven minutes of added time. SEVEN?! Yerjokinarnyer?
Marcus Bettinelli’s last second worldy save down low to deny Collins an equaliser would’ve shattered the tension with fist pumps and hugs giving way to a final cacophony of cheers and songs at the final whistle. Leo would’ve been giving it big style to the South Stand and it would have been worth the lack of sleep before graft in the morning.
Departing to brave the elements once again, there’s a pep in your step. Maybe a late night parmo or pizza is on the cards. All is right with the world. It would have been perfect.
Get me back in there for the next one.
Photo Credits Getty Images