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Fan letter: Lockdown as a Middlesbrough supporter in exile
Friday, 19th Feb 2021 15:07 by Matthew Hunter

Being a Middlesbrough fan in South Wales hasn’t always been the easiest.

You were born and raised in an area that's absolutely football mad, and all about the Boro at that. You leave for university in Newport and years later, you’re settled with a job with no immediate return in sight - constantly reminded of your heritage with Newport also having it’s own transporter bridge.

This makes it difficult not being able to follow Middlesbrough as closely - you can’t just nip out on a Saturday afternoon and watch the Boro. Meeting the lads down the Navi with a drink in hand, making score predictions as you get those butterflies in your stomach, sadly, all seems a thing of the past.

I used to look forward to times I’d return home to the area, in the hopes that myself and friends would all meet up for the game. It’s always been something on my agenda when making the trip back home.

Lockdown this year was an unprecedented low time for everyone, and not being able to watch Boro at the Riverside on Boxing Day made it even more depressing. But, in hindsight seeing what Rotherham did eventually do to us, I’m kinda glad. I could not of dealt with a 3-0 drubbing on Boxing Day during the pandemic.

Now you have to be much more selective about the games you go to.

It’s tough because you love them and follow their news and results so closely but choosing which fixture to fork out £30 sometimes seems difficult. The obvious go-to games do include Swansea, Cardiff and Bristol which are all no more than an hour away.
There’s Newport County too but not as frequent a fixture.

It was a very surreal moment when we played them in the cup before and they scored a last-minute equaliser. Not only did I have to deal with the stick from local County fans but then the manager himself!

You cannot make this up, I was in Le Pub, an independent pub/music venue in Newport, drowning the sorrows of a let-down accumulator some hours later and in walks Michael Flynn, the Newport manager.

Mike still donned the Newport tracksuit he worn on the sidelines and informed me he’d came straight off the bus. He was treated like a local legend and I felt so down.

In a way though, that’s a big compliment to Middlesbrough – the reception he got for earning a second tie at Rodney Parade was something else. We won’t talk about the replay much but it does make me feel better when you’ve seen Newport cause other Premier League outfits trouble. The likes of Tottenham, Man City and Newcastle have all had their troubles too.

Being a Boro fan also made that Newport v Newcastle game in 2020 even more interesting as I certainly was supporting the exiles.

I’ve always enjoyed the buzz of an away day and it’s interesting comparing their stadiums to ours.

I’ve been to a few throughout the country including Leeds, Wolves, Nottingham Forest, Birmingham and still nothing compares to being in a packed-to-the-rafters Riverside.

With the obvious and most accessible for me, Cardiff and Swansea do also have great stadiums. Surprising to some, I actually believe they’re nicer than the likes of Elland Road and Molineux.

Anyway, moving onto how lockdown has affected life as boro fan, living down south.

Forgive me for sounding dramatic, but I genuinely believe Football has a big impact on your mental health. I won’t be alone in saying I miss going to the games. Yes, it’s good that now a lot more games are televised but it still doesn’t compare to being there.

The atmosphere, the camaraderie with your mates, the goals and nearly moments make football what it is.

Crowd noises certainly do help but it’s tougher with Middlesbrough when they’re sometimes not the “main fixture” and crowd noises aren’t possible.

That said, we’ve been treated to the odd bit of hysterics hearing what Warnock has to say on the sidelines.

I’ve got to say appointing Warnock in the first place has made being a Boro fan in a pandemic all that bit more bearable.

I thought we were done for in the championship under Woodgate. Bereft of ideas and players not really wanting to play his system. Sometimes the ones that did just simply didn’t have the quality.

Warnock was appointed and suddenly there’s that buzz about the air. The players start to play better, they want to impress the manager and results improve. Warnock obviously has had many years’ experience and you could see the players really wanted to make an impression on him.

Results started to come and suddenly we’re staying up. Now lockdown isn’t looking so bad eh?

It was an interesting as well considering I work in Cardiff, a city of which Warnock has also managed. I’d spoken to various friends and fans about the appointment and it seemed everyone was in unison, we’ll do alright under Warnock.

Some said about how we’ll get promotion with him and I dismissed this quick. I had to with the quality and depth of our team from last year. Writing this in Feb 2021, now I look stupid with us being only just outside the play-offs. How Warnock has got the better of this team we have is amazing.

Some players that looked bang-average last year now look regular, high-quality players that would be sorely missed. Dijksteel and Bola to name a few.

I often wear my Boro top when I’m out and about – it’s interesting to see the reaction I get. One man at a coffee shop was a Cardiff fan and he spoke a bit about the Warnock effect, his words almost sounded like he was jealous we now have him.

After all, he did get Cardiff promoted to the premier league. I don’t want to get ahead of myself but could Warnock do that for us too? I did wonder sometimes whether Steve Gibson had left it too late for Warnock’s appointment and that would be my criticism of Sir Steve – does he give managers too much faith?

Woodgate nearly took us down to League One. Now we’re eyeing play-offs. Maybe it was difficult for Gibson with Woodgate being a Boro boy, and fan to get rid of. But, thank god.

Yes, it’s a shame we’re not able to be at the games right now, but under Warnock I’ve certainly felt more positive in world where there’s not much to look forward to right now.

He is straight to the point, nothing fancy about it, old-school. And it’s working.

Everyone I seem to speak to about Middlesbrough, objectively, seems to say how it’ll be a tough game because of our defensive setup and it has to be testament to Warnock.

One day soon when football does allow fans to return, I’ll be one of the first to get a ticket but for now we will support the Boro from the armchairs.

Here’s to hoping Warnock can keep the fire alive and we can nick a play-off place. UTB.

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