This was the realisation of a task that I had set myself for sometime, yet I had never really had chance to do. I had always fancied testing myself by sitting within the home fans at a Middlesbrough away game. Last Saturday I got my chance, sort of.
Every die hard football fan, I feel, likes to test themselves to prove their fandom every once in a while. It may be sitting at the match in the freezing cold (like the other week against Crystal Palace) or pouring rain, or waiting in ridiculous queues for cup tickets, or going to early rounds of cup competitions against teams like Shrewsbury Town (Have a read here about that one) Yet the one that I feel is the ultimate test is being 'Behind Enemy Lines.'
The chance was given to me by my good friend, and Ipswich fan, Sam Harding. He bought tickets, and after a minor confusion/scare about my hours for that week, I had the day off.
So the journey was an early one. My train left Darlington station at 7.01am for an arrival time of 10.37am in Royston (just outside of Cambridge). After a tiring journey, with 2 changes, one in Hitchin which is further south than Royston, I got there and was picked up in Sam's passion wagon. Now as I was going into the Lions Den, I wanted to remain as inconspicuous as I could, yet when Sam picked me up in his black Mini with bright orange sunflowers on, that kind of blew that plan wide open (Disclaimer: It was a works vehicle, Sam doesn't like sunflowers)
So after the two hour drive, we parked up and set off in our quest to find a pub to watch United v Liverpool. Now Sam and I usually pride ourselves on our ability to sniff out a pub, whether it be the Las Vegas strip or suburban Orlando or in the wild wilderness of Vermont, Sam and I always find a drinking venue. Therefore, the 40 minutes wandering around Ipswich town centre trying to find a venue was not what we had planned. When we did find places, we were confronted with 'Home Fans Only' signs, until we lost our head and wandered into the Plough.
Now I was really testing my nerves, stood in a home pub, with my Boro shirt on (under layers of course) if I had been exposed I would have had my head stoved in for sure. We played it sensible. Sam went to the bar while I stood way back, hoping that the wouldn't read the 'Stockton-on-Tees' written on my drivers licence. Then when pints were given I kept my voice down and tried to suppress my accent as much as I could. We left at half time. I would like to say it was because the tension and intimidation of the home fans was too much, but that would be a lie, actually its because there were too many people at the bar.
So our plan was grab some food and maybe wander back in for the second half, yet on our way back through town we came across a 'Sports Bar'. Now I say sports bar, I am not entirely sure if this place had a licence to do anything, no TV licence for football, no food licence for our burgers, and certainly no licence for our severely watered down beers. Even complete with greasy hair slicked back Southern gangster owner. Yet this fit our needs perfectly, so we ordered our burgers and pints and took up a position in front of the telly (which probably 'fell' off the back of a van) for the second half.
Now sat near us were some lads who had comically styled themselves like something out of the Football Factory or Green Street. Shouting loudly, excessively using the word 'Cant', and generally talking a load of complete bullshit. One of the gents piped up with a story about how a man came at him with a broken bottle, which he successfully kicked out of his hand before knocking him out. His mates were all captivated and taken in by their mates heroic efforts, I personally thought it sounded like something I had seen in a Steven Seagal film.
So it was to Portman Road and my seat in the Sir Bobby Robson, Sam thinking this was amusing due to my dislike of everything Newcastle. We took our seats behind the goal, and I contemplated 90 minutes of trying to suppress my emotions. I had only been rattled once, when one of the scumbags in the sports bar had said he wanted to stab Tony Mowbray, I was not happy with that one.
The match kicked off, and to be honest it wasn't a thriller, very few chances from either side. Boro new boy Lukas Jukiewicz zipped one past the wrong side of the post. I had a minor scare as I saw a shot that I thought was destined for the net from one of the Tractor Boys luckily clatter off the Boro bar. (My tactic was to put my arms in the air anticipating a goal and then quietly say "For fuck sake" to myself)
Suddenly, the ball went out for a throw, the fourth official called the ref over for a chat, and we suddenly found ourselves with the game cancelled after 37 minutes. 37 fucking minutes! After getting into deep negotiations with work and waking up at 5.30am to get down there, ridiculous. I lost it, along with many of the fans of both fans. One reporter called it a "chorus of boos" from I was sat it was more like calls of the "referee's a wanker" but I suppose you can't report that.
Yet I still made it through unscathed, I do wonder if I had made it through the 90 minutes, but there will be plenty more opportunity for that. Just another box ticked in the cause of being a Boro fan, or is that half a tick?