Boro Should Open Riverside To Eager Young Fans

SKY SPORTS cameras with access all areas were at Villa Park today following manager Martin O’Neill through first team training. It was just a gentle session with a few warm up exercises and stretches, a couple of runs through set-plays and a half-hour training match between bibs and non-bibs that looked to be three touches and non contact.
More interestingly the lower tiers on two sides of the ground were jammed with spectators as 5,000 or so kids on a half-term break were invited to come along and get close-up with their heroes. They got to watch training, many got a first ever glimpse inside the ground and afterwards they could collect autographs before heading off to the club shop.
What a brilliant and simple bit of PR. Why can’t Boro do that?

Boro’s training ground is isolated and deliberately so. After the bad publicity of Ravanelli chasing dogs and dodging toxic clouds across a variety of school fields on urban Teesside the club opted for more serene suroundings of Hurworth. It is a beautiful site and easily accessible for players driving in from Yarm and the Harrogate Triangle.
No one is criticising the move there. It has delivered enviable facilities that have helped attract top name players and given the club the stability to develop a culture of excellence and a productive academy. It was also a shrewd investment and planning permission has been granted for a luxury golf and leisure hotel that should help it pay for itself.
But moving the training operation lock, stock and barrel to Hurworth has denied a generation of eager young fans the traditional joy of watching their favourites training. To get there by public transport is a logistical challenge of changes and timings that never arose when it was just a case of getting to Hutton Road. Realistically It requires a parent to drive and that is not always practical and rarely desireable.
In adults the need to watch the nuts and bolts of first team preparation always seems a bit anoraky and sad but for the zealous kids who are the future faithful it is a rite of passage. For the passionate consumed by their team watching on matchdays was not enough. To be a real fans you had to do more, see more, understand the mechanics of the team and see the nitty-gritty of the tactical and technical preparation. It was important to feel that what the team did was knowable and that you were part of the inner circle who understood.
So Villa’s approach has much to commend it. It would be good for Boro to follow suit and make Riverside training sessions part of their own battle for hearts and minds. There would be objections to training on the pitch, not least from the groundstaff, but the benefits are obvious.
It can bring new would-be fans into the ground, excite them, lure them back for matches and unleash the awesome pester power that drives the consumer machine. It makes the star names visible and accessible. So often the players only enter Middlesbrough on match days so every appearance in front of fans like this is a PR boon, especially if they can take out some time afterwards to sign autographs and chat to the youngsters. Cynics would point to the fact that it
may increase revenue streams in the club shop too as parents arrive to pick up buzzing children desperate to show them the goodies in MCC Retail.
It would help answer some burning questions exercising the minds of the crowd too: do Boro practice corners? Does Jason Euell ever hit the target from 20 yards; is Ray Parlour still alive?
It would go some way to replacing the much missed tradition of the Ayresome Park open day. Back then it was the norm for the gates to be thrown open for fans to have a wander across the pitch, meet and greet the players, sit in the dug out musing and get behind the scenes into hallowed areas like the boardroom and the fabled 100 club. That helped fans feel they knew more about the inner workings and imagine themselves as part of the club.
Given that fans are more estranged from the stars than ever before anything that can help increase that contact is a good thing. Boro should consider open training sessions at the Riverside. Half-term is only three times a year.


9 thoughts on “Boro Should Open Riverside To Eager Young Fans

  1. money talks and steve gibsons aim is to get the club to run at a profit so they wont give many tickets away.
    I dont agree with them training so far away at hurworth as the fans and players become detached from each other.Apart from match day do the players ever interact with the fans?
    In croatia the fans feel part of the club.
    Football in england is all about making money and making people rich. They will only more proactive with the fans when they need more money

  2. Good shout Anthony. However if the Boro want to attract and keep young fans, lower prices to games is the answer.
    All clubs are suffering from falling gates. Sky plus big dish pub television are seeing to that.
    We have areas of the ground that are never full. The club should make them a fiver for under sixteens. The FA should consider small standing areas for the youth. If keeped small, there would be no danger.
    The crowd is very much part of the game, imagine television audiences of millions and empty stands!
    That is the way things are going. Many working class kids just cannot afford to games they would love to see live.
    If anything has affected the atmosphere at football grounds, it is the diminishing youth attendance.
    Before long the footballers union, like that of the musisions, will be urging us to “KEEP FOOTBALL LIVE!”

  3. Vic
    Yes – good shout. With the advent of the sorts of surfaces that Prem pitches now have the objections of groundstaff shouldn’t be an issue.
    Properly organised these could become really relished community events during the school hols – I guess by players and coaches, who must all enjoy the limelight and an opportunity to show off as a change from the normal training routines as well as by the kids, parents and others.
    Nothing wrong with income generation either and the catering side of the operation could do well too. Like some other clubs – Charlton are a good example – we could look to partner with other organisations who may want to do business or set up displays etc alongside the training sessions.
    I know The Ex had to cancel a trip to the States recently when he was gong to study coaching methods – allegedly – but that shouldn’t put off Boro having a look at how American Football, Baseball, Basketball, Ice Hockey, Nascar etc etc exploit the potential of their stadia, ‘product’ and brand loyalty both on match days when the game itself becomes the centrepiece of a family day out or the opportunity for a bunch mates to get together for a ‘lads (or lasses) day out’ and on other occasions when the facilities are used for a wide range of activities,
    Nothing like hooking them early and keeping them.
    There is a special atmosphere too when the floodlights are on. What about an opportunity for a programme of friendlies with other European sides not involved in European competition or with South American sides in their close season. I can still remember when I was at Uni in Brum queueing for hours to watch Santos play under floodlights at Villa Park against a ‘West Mids Select 11’.
    Many top European sides do this sort of thing regularly. Real Madrid’s training complex has its own stands and often gets bigger crowds than smaller clubs get for matches.
    We might also get a hint of what leads to the ‘curse of Hurworth’ and the injuries that result!

  4. John Dawson
    The problen seems to be most severe for those clubs in the middle rank of the premiership. The really top clubs are in most of the finals, play in the champions league and all have full houses.
    It appears that the next tier are struggling to fill the grounds. Even the ‘sleeping giants’ are not filling their grounds, even Toon have slipped a tad.
    The promoted three always show a big jump in attendances – that is down to novelty and being determined to enjoy the experience
    I can only put it down to the amount on TV and the fact the middle ranking teams fans feeling brassed off, only there to make up the numbers, their main purpose to keep the big boys in trim for the european matches.
    A big step forward would be not showing live games on Saturday but how do you fit them in otherwise?

  5. This would be one good way to promote Boro as a community club. It is important for a club our size to use all its assets to the full and the stadium is one and the crowd is another.
    Given the fall in crowds and rising sense of alienation from the game and its overpaid stars it is time to think about seeding the next generation of fans and making sure the current one is fully engaged with the club.
    We should be thinking of ways of getting far more people into the stadium for the first time and using it as the jewel in our PR crown.
    I know it is quite busy for corporate events but why not community wide cultural events that are not geared entirely to profit making too?
    Why not have all the local Teesborough and Langbargh League finals there on one big day at the end of the season for instance? Quid in, maybe 10,000 people there from grassroots football. It is giving a little bit back.
    Why not consider staging the Mela there? Ot part of Middlesbrough Music Live? Reaching out to wider currents of Teesside’s cultural life.
    What about really promoting the big reserves games at the Riverside as free entry family fun days a couple of times a year with the first teamers wandering around outside signing autographs and having pictures taken before the game, with face painting and bands and raffles etc.
    And why not a pre-season open day?

  6. Its because the club is too complacent that the money will keep coming in and the fans will come back as we climb the table.
    The club just cant be bothered with all the hassle as they are too busy wrapping players in cotton wool, checking their bonuses have been paid and their flash car back from a service.
    I wouldnt be surprised of some of the players who never get a game dont even know how to get to middlesbrough or where the town hall is.

  7. Now onto the other points. What about five aside tournaments. Area competitions (maybe at Hurworth or places like Billingham, Whitby etc) and having the finals onwards at the Riverside. You could even include Darlo and Hartlepool with the finals at the Riverside. The pitch would be ok because you dont need to use the centre strip.
    Have fun days where the concourse is open for all sorts of activities, link into the local communities, share the proceeds.
    No doubt many more ideas will come out as people post, the problem is summed up by a management guru who said something along the lines of ‘there is no noise unless someone can hear it’. Will anyone at the club be remotely interested? ‘Not invented here syndrome’ is still alive and well in many organisations.

  8. Ian
    You are spot on. During the closed season I wrote to the club for the first time – not a critical letter, in fact one recognising what has been achieved – outlining many of these ideas and others as worthy of consideration. I added that, given the situation with replacing The Ex, I wasn’t expecting a reply by return of post!
    I was warned by a ‘source close to the club’ that because of the prevailing atmosphere there – ‘still run like the old Warwick St. shop – like the cash was in a biscuit tin’ the letter (hard copy and e-mailed) would be intercepted before getting to Lamb or Gibbo. They advised copying to Gibbo at Bulkhaul too, which I did.
    I have never so much as received an acknowledgement to any.
    At around the same time a colleague at work sent several letters to Gibbo which even he describes as ‘verging on the abusive’ about The Ex. He got individual replies, personally signed by Gibbo (or the wp machine that does this for him) to every letter.
    Shows where the focus was. As the guru maybe said ‘when the tree falls in the middle of the forest with no one to witness it…………’

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