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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Down by the Riverside

Middlesbrough architecture ancient & modern
The busy festive schedule always presents an opportunity to visit a new ground providing the weather is reasonable and the decision of the Football League to move their entire Christmas weekend programme from Saturday to Sunday offered ample choice. I plumped for a first ever trip to Teesside along with my friend, chauffeur and Reading season ticket holder Dave.
The stormy weather which has engulfed England recently fortunately abated for the day to present ideal driving conditions for the elementary route up the M1/A1. The dual carriageway which scars its way through the town of Middlesbrough deposited us right outside the Riverside stadium with time enough to take a short detour to the suburb of North Ormesby to find free parking and a pleasant walk towards the ground.
The Riverside
Middlesbrough is England's great nearly club. More successful in my lifetime than illustrious neighbours Newcastle United and Sunderland but without their status. For me the 'Boro's Cinderella sterotype is summed up by George Camsell's record breaking season of 1926/27 when he scored 59 goals, a record that stood for just twelve months before it was beaten by Dixie Dean by just one goal, the latter's mark of course standing almost certainly in perpetuity.
Gates open to all
The Riverside boasts that its the country's first new stadium built to the specification required by the Taylor report. The location is ideal being just a short walk from the town centre with a magnificent backdrop of the famous Transporter bridge. The main entrance is protected by the iron gates from Ayresome Park, infamously locked in 1986 when the club nearly went out of business, the gates themselves watched over by perhaps the 'Boro's two greatest players Wilf Mannion and George Hardwick.
Wilf Mannion
George Hardwick

A wander around the ground revealed evidence that industry still exists in Middlesbrough, along with the entrance to the Willie Maddren Education Centre before the familiar sight of the Horseman coaches came into view to signpost the entrance to the away section.

The Secondary Sector
One reason why I could not attend Football League matches every week is the predominance of all seater stadia, particularly those newly built in out of town locations. The impossibility of rolling out of a cosy pub and passing through the turnstiles onto a terrace, packed or otherwise is the reason why. Yes the sightlines from the seats might be great, the beer and food in the ground reasonably priced and of fair quality, but the cavernous concrete areas under the stand, the rows of empty seats on top and the need to manufacture an atmosphere means attending football at this level is a thoroughly uninspiring experience.
The game at the Riverside ticked all these boxes. The lager was flowing at (Southern) pub prices which you could drink whilst watching the live game on TV. The local speciality of a Parmo (chicken schnitzel topped with cheese) was possibly the best thing I've ever eaten in a football ground if that's not damning it with faint praise. The 195 (great individual commitment but collectively poor) travelling Reading fans were confined to a small block in the North East corner of the ground, resembling a dark button on a festive red winter coat, surrounded by empty seats in a ground that was less than half full. The North stand ultras to our left tried their best to create an atmosphere but from where we were sat it felt like we were looking in to the match rather than part of it as I'm sure would have been the case at Ayresome Park with a 16,000 crowd.
There was little for Reading fans to get excited about throughout the ninety minutes. Both clubs have new managers committed to playing football but it was Aitor Karanka whose values paid the greatest dividend with a comfortable 3-0 win taking advantage of some powder puff Reading defending to take a two goal lead into half time.
This state of affairs was exemplified by the goal of the game which gave 'Boro the lead in the twelfth minute. A long ball into the box by Emmanuel Ledesma was headed down by Lukas Jutkiewicz into the path of Albert Adomah who drilled his shot into the back of the net, a training ground move aided by the lack of challenge from the opposition. Jobi McAnuff almost conjured up an equaliser when he dribbled through the 'Boro defence only for his shot to be saved by the experienced goalkeeper Shay Given. This proved to be the closest Reading came to scoring, the poverty of the Royals' attacking play punished with nine minutes to go before half time when Grant Leadbitter was given the time and space to pick his spot and fire home the hosts second goal from fully twenty five yards.
After the break, Reading at least showed the determination to get back into the game but their comeback was almost over before it began when a reckless challenge from Casper Gorkss led to his second caution to reduce the Royals to ten men. The three points were sealed in the dying minutes when Leadbitter scored from the penalty spot after Ledesma had been brought down by a clumsy challenge from Alex Pearce.
This was the third win in a week for Middlesbrough who look set to soon pass a moribund Reading team in mid table as the Basque Karanka mounts a possible play off bid.

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