Boro’s Red Faction: From Riverside Naughty Step To Pride Of Place

BARE-chested, arms-linked and bouncing in the South Stand, the Boro-barmy Red Faction made vocal and visible the ‘Spirit of Teesside’ in the Doncaster game.
It was quite a spectacle. For the entire 90 minutes the proud and loud Boro ultras were a performance art collective, full of colour and passion, the throbbing drums a powerful heart-beat of an energised crowd. The Red Faction in their South Stand Kop are now part of the matchday furniture and an impressive sight to behold.
Yet just a year ago they were persona non grata, slated by authorities and fellow fans alike and hemmed in by a ring of fidgety fluorescent bouncers.
What a dramatic change. What a positive change.

The Red Faction display against Doncaster was fantastic and contributed to the box-ticking satisfaction of the night almost as much as the display on the pitch. Goals, tick; attacking football, tick; vibrant atmosphere, tick. All the ingredients were there for a memorable match.
The zealous chanting started long before kick-off and at one point the Red Faction actually drowned out the pre-match music, which as that aural hell goes up to Spinal Tap’s notional 11 is quite some achievement.
With a genuine old school atmosphere building it would have been a perfect time to pull the plug and let the tangible excitement build organically to a natural crescendo as the teams ran out.
Instead Mark Page turned the volume up and unleashed weapons grade Bananarama against unsuspecting civilians in an ear-bleeding cacophony. It was possibly a breach of the UN Charter as a cruel and unusual punishment. That was the only bum note on a night of inspirational singing and chanting from a galvanised ground.
It wasn’t just the South Stand. The North made a bold attempt to make it stereo but they lacked the co-ordination and choreography and hence the concentrated volume of the Red Faction, a group now on a roll showing consistency in every game and looking particular impressive at set-pieces.
There are echoes of the Holgate and the original Boro ultras the Ayresome Angels in their joyful, creative gusto. They go to enjoy the spectacle but are part of it themselves too. In football the atmosphere as much as the action is the product.
The Red Faction started the match by unveiling a big new banner the echoed the Spirit of Teesside and proclaimed: “We Built The World.” Tapping into a proud industrial heritage in front of a national television audience was a nice touch.
‘Every metropolis came from Ironopolis’ may be a bit long and obscure and a bit too Fritz Lang for the Sky Sports demographic.
A couple of goals to the good and the Red Faction really got going. The entire block was stood, many having whipped their tops off, and had linked arms to bounce and chant in unison.

It was the most impressive pre-planned display in that stand since Banik Ostrava arrived on Boro’s European debut and left home fans gob-smacked with their relentless chanting even in defeat. All it lacked was the post-interval balloon popping. Maybe that’s in the pipeline.
The Red Faction also led the poignant second half chanting that ‘Mowbray is king.’ It would be hard to celebrate the Spirit of Teesside without hailing the man who has most epitomised that phrase on the pitch and without acknowledging his role in building the team that was ripping Doncaster apart.
In front of the press box there were a clutch of pre-teen girls who had clearly only turned up to squeal at parmo-powered prince of pop James Arthur at half-time.
By the end they were joining in the chants, giggling as they came to terms with the fist pumping swagger of the EIO and badgering their proud dad and pointing: “Next time we come can we go over there?”
The admirable enthusiasm of the Red Faction is unwavering and contagious and not in any way diminished by either the current league table or the status of the opposition. That gives hope for the future. The building blocks are in place for a renewed sense of optimism among fans. We just need the results now to light the fuse.
Just last week Steve Gibson was moved to publicly praise both the Twe12th Man and Red Faction – by name – for their enduring and unstinting support through what has been a difficult 12 months for Boro.
What a difference a year makes.
Not so long ago the Red Faction was an embattled group isolated in the South-east corner surrounded by hi-viz stewarding, often man-marked one-to-one with every out-break of celebration sparking an anxious ripple of fluorescent orange and yellow fidgeting.
They were on the naughty step, under surveillance and out in the cold.
They were at loggerheads with the club and watched closely by the police.
Every new flag was forensically tested for its terrorist potential.
Every game a tense Cold War stand-off.
It seemed at one point last season as though the authorities were preparing a purge.
Admittedly the wilder elements of the young group did themselves few favours when they were free of the confines of big ground CCTV security as they whipped out red flares at Burton and at North Riding Cup games.
And some of the provocative seventies retro-chanting at the bemused travelling fans across a very narrow sterile area and the self-styling as “ultras” – a word heavy with hostile intent, not least because of our events in Rome – had the police on edge.
But basically, far from being a proto-firm they were daft young lads who just wanted to make a racket and enjoy the game more intent on making banners than making trouble. They just wanted to be part of the action. They wanted to enjoy the match, not just what was happening on the pitch – which wasn’t always that inspiring – but the whole experience.
They naively believed that pro-active supporting – chanting, singing, flags and banners – could add to the fun. And they were sneered at for it. As much by older, more cynical fans as the authorities. And they were estranged from the safety authorities who couldn’t see the essence of their passionate support and instead saw a policing issue.
But now they are very much welcome. They are lauded by the club. They are part of the Boro family and seen as a vital ingredient in the match-day mix.
How did that happen then?
Over the past year there has been a marked thawing of attitude on both sides that has created the conditions for compromise and a new relationship. It is part of a wider move by the club to build bridges and listen to supporters, a detente that came from a series of meetings brokered by the Gazette on ticket prices, the configuration of the ground and ways to generate an atmosphere.
The summits ushered in a series of cut-price ticket offers – and a free pint – as an immediate attempt to boost crowds but the switch of the Red Faction to the South Stand and the creation of the Generation Red family zone were more concrete long term results.
The family zone has been a resounding success. With a season ticket a parent and two kids can go for a fraction under £20 which is ridiculously good value. It is cheaper than the pictures and a far more effective brainwashing technique.
But it could be the relocation Red Faction which proves to be the engine of a new atmosphere.
Chairman Steve Gibson laid it on the line: We love your passion but we can’t afford to police you. Drop the posturing and provocation and we’ll move you to a prime site behind the goal; keep it up and you can come and tell me which player to sell.
Initially they were pencilled in to move slap bang behind the goal but safety chiefs were nervous about the possibility of pitch incursions and the newly conciliatory Red Faction offered to step up a tier to allay those fears and in return were given a lot of leeway. It has helped that there is now much more distance between them and the away fans. They are far more focussed on supporting their team now and less on goading the opposition. Although the odd bit of well timed and sharp barracking is still part of the repertoire. And very funny.
That stand is now a de facto safe standing experiment with the group regularly up for long spells going through a routine. And overt EIOing. And now with rarely a single hi-vis incursion to be seen. Although the police box is immediately behind them to keep an arms length vigil.
Now both sides have grown into the relationship and have regular productive meetings to discuss the practicalities whenever the fans suggest a banner or other display. There is an understanding there now, a trust. The instinct of the club is to say ‘yes’ to a proposal and then work out the practicalities rather than to say ‘no’ and ignore any backlash. And the instinct of the Red Faction in return is to only propose stunts that are workable.
Earlier this season when the teams came out they were greeted by a storm of Argentina 78 style ripped paper confetti… but only after they had agreed before hand and offered to stay behind to sweep up.
The arrangement is working well where it matters – on matchdays.
The Red Faction are creative, persistent, loud and funny and at times as much fun as the action on the pitch. The new ‘Boys End’ Kop is going from strength to strength as it inspires and sucks in more like minded individuals every week.
And there is room around them to grow now. The club are allowing season ticket holders to switch to that area – and even allow a one- match taster before you decide. And, unless you’ve got kids, walk-up prices are the cheapest in the ground.
The clubs should even consider targeted ticket offers for that specific area every now and then to keep the momentum growing.
This could be the start of something good.
*****THIS is the Infant Hercules ft Chantz Massive remix of this week’s Big Picture column.


20 thoughts on “Boro’s Red Faction: From Riverside Naughty Step To Pride Of Place

  1. Good to see the old Ayresome Angels back.
    Next we can have chasies back to the Station!!!!
    “It is cheaper than the pictures and a far more effective brainwashing technique.”
    I have said this before on this blog, my ex-wife actually said that it is child abuse to support the Boro and I should have supported Man U. ” for the sake of the children”
    I took my kids when they around 12 yo to an away match at Derby and the atmosphere was great – caged in with the Faction. They thought it was really cool to be with the “hooligans” – it was only singing and friendship and a few mild swear words… but it was pure nostalgia none the less.
    Keep it up Boro!!

  2. Fair play all round to an organic, inclusive approach to ground development. Excellent work.
    Mind you when we’re promoted in May, the FA Nazi Politburo (sorry for confusing my totalitarian hierarchies, Mr Boyle’s O level history class was a long time ago) will be far less forgiving of the (technically illegal) persistent standing and the Riverside Velvet (Underground) revolution may be crushed beneath the tanks of the Sky-Prem industrial-military complex.

  3. Good bit AV. The Red Faction have been fantastic for the club. They have kept the atmosphere on life support over the past couple of years and the idea that some people in the club wanted to turn the machine off just shows how stupidly self-destructive they are and how far removed from understanding why supporters go to the match.
    I was embarrassed at times last year at the sight of 50 or so stewards sat menacingly around the only people in the ground who looked like they were enjoying themselves, slowly trying to strangle any life out of the crowd. It looked like they were waiting for the slightest excuse to throw RF out. Talk about over the top.
    I’ve heard people complain that they are a bit mouthy and they goad the opposition fans. So what? Didn’t we all do that at Ayresome Park? That is all part of growing up as a fan. These lads have got that bit of edge and humour but its not like they are not fighting or invading the pitch like the old days.
    It is good that the safety people at the club have taken a step back and given them room to breath – and look what has happened. They have blossomed into a group to be proud of that are encouraging other youngsters to sing and enjoy themselves.
    And AV, credit where it is due. It was you and this blog that talked the club into first meeting the RF face to face and coming to thsi understanding with them and second talked them into rejigging the ground to get the RF out of “the naughty corner” and back into what was a depressing and deserted South Stand. Good work that man.
    I hope the growth of the RF is a sign that the club are healthy and growing again. And a mention for the North Stand Twe12th Man as well. They tend to get overlooked a bit now because of their noisy little brother but they do their bit too

  4. “Instead Mark Page turned the volume up and unleashed weapons grade Bananarama against unsuspecting civilians in an ear-bleeding cacophony. It was possibly a breach of the UN Charter as a cruel and unusual punishment. That was the only bum note on a night of inspirational singing and chanting from a galvanised ground.”
    That’s because a certain person thinks that the Riverside is his stage and it’s his personal show. He’ll try his damnedest to not let the fans be fans. We shouldn’t have to react in the way he wants ‘his public’ to react. It’s a football match, for football supporters…not the Me Mark Page Show.
    The RF do a great job and long may they continue.

  5. A couple of seasons ago I was followed an elderly couple into ground in the Red Faction corner. (As someone who saw Jim Irvine and co play you can see how old they must be if I consider them elderly!)
    They looked like that couple in the advert who accidently got on the Theme Park ride complete with blankets etc.
    The stern steward checked their tickets to make sure they sat in the correct place and it wasn’t out of kindness. Have to do it he said – orders. There were about 16,000 in the ground so it was hardly packed.
    Luckily they didn’t jump over the netting and charge the away fans. Mad.
    The away crowd tends to morph into Ayresome Angels when everyone mixes together. There are still the idiots you get in any crowd but in general they are in good humour and spirits.

  6. Great stuff AV, about time they got some recognition for their exemplary support.
    I remember doing a “Star Wars” spoof on here based on the Red Faction. It seems it has come full circle and they are now the acceptable face of MFC. Long may it continue.

  7. I like the Red Faction but am I the only one to find the drum annoying? No doubt to those sitting around it the drum adds weight to the chants. From the east stand it is mostly all you can hear and it is relentless. Sing, chant, clap, EIO…great. Creates a great atmosphere behind both goals. Boom boom boom de boom…annoying.
    Or maybe I am getting middle aged

  8. The more the younger generation enjoy the match day experience the more likely they are to want to return. The more of them there are the greater the pull to be a part of it and so it goes. Self perpetuating, so long as the orange Jackets focus on helping their customers rather than intimidate them.
    As Ian mentioned above about the stewards being overly assertive when checking elderly tickets, I witnessed several such incidents myself last season. It was interesting that they “blocked” the elderly and kids for ticket checks but big blokes with knuckles dragging on the floor coincidentally escaped their gaze on a repetitive basis. Absolutely no need for it especially as Ian says the stadium was half empty. God forbid someone moved at half time to go and talk to an old friend or school chum.
    Simultaneously the entrance/exit tunnels in the corners were often blocked by orange jackets and people just hanging around talking or waiting for someone yet this obvious safety issue was completely oblivious to them. Gladly I haven’t witnessed similar “officialdom” so far this season. Common sense seems to be prevailing.
    As regards the atmosphere killing “foreground” noise that emanates from MMP I have said on numerous occasions on here that it spoils the day. By all means play a bit of “background” music up to 10 minutes before kick off but then switch off and let the natural ground atmosphere build up. I can’t even carry out conversations with people around me because of the deafening din and sit in silence waiting for the refs whistle so it switches the racket off. I am pretty sure if I brought a meter from work to measure the decibels it would be in breach of factory regs.
    If you are reading this just turn it down a bit Mark and remember that less is more, its not enjoyable, it doesn’t add anything and it certainly isn’t entertaining!

  9. Anthony Emmerson needs to take some credit for the fantastic works he’s done to make the supporters feel right at the heart of the club once again.
    Hoping to see the Boys End bouncing every home match now. Bring your flags, bring your scarfs and most importantly bring your voices.
    We are the Ayresome Angels …………
    &&AV writes: Yes, big shout out to Anthony Emmerson. He has put a lot of good work in smoothing the way around the Red Faction move to the South Stand, the Generation Red Family Zone – which I should really do a piece on at some stage – and the Twe12th Man post-match bar in the North Stand.

  10. I was in London over the weekend because my son had bought me a ticket for the NFL game at Wembley between 49’ers and the Jagwarrrrrrrrrs as the stadium annoncer pronounced it.
    I enjoy all sport and throughly enjoyed it apart from the four 500ml bottles of Carlsberg, a cone of chips and a small tray of fish bites and chips for £31.80!
    My son worked in Indianapolis so follows them as well as Boro.
    It was interesting to watch how they did things, there was something going on all the time but when you consider there is 60 minutes of game time that takes three hours to complete then you have to keep people entertained – not that adverts back in the US play any part of course.
    Football is a game of constant action and as I said to my son Mogga would be a perfect in that environment with separate attack, defence and special teams formations. And 50 players available!
    Me Make Noise is not entertainment but I don’t mind some music.
    There are some good points to the NFL way of doing business. The proceeds from merchandising and TV are largely shared equally. The ‘Academies’ are the colleges and the worst team gets first pick each year. Gate receipts are shared 60:40.
    But I prefer football.

  11. I worked with a lad who was involved with this group from the start. He said there were acouple of older fellas who wanted the group to be as aggressive as possible and wanted to use intimidation methods to get there own way. They were not going to be told what to do. This I think was why they made the press for all the wrong reasons.
    He left as did others as they were getting too much police attention. Things have obviously changed for the better, don’t think the troublecausers are still involved.

  12. Praise for Anthony Emmerson, hats off for finally embracing the Red Faction, congratulations on the family zone, well done on Spirit of Teesside. There’s certainly no danger in our local paper being banned by the club. It’s a positive love- in at present. Expect the engagement to be announced any day soon.
    I’m all for the power of positive thinking but I wonder whether coverage of recent events has lacked the objectivity and critical edge we’ve come to expect from the Gazette.
    Looking back on the coverage since Mowbray left, particularly the comments of Gibson, I’m struck at the lack of critique. How assertions he made which are just plain wrong have been allowed to go unchallenged.
    Take Gibson’s claims on finances for example ( Gazette 24/10/13)
    ” We’ve strived to make sure our managers have had the means to compete. I am satisfied that we’ve always done that, whether it’s Steve McClaren or Tony Mowbray. And by doing that you give your manager the resources and responsibilty to compete.”
    Come again ? Mowbray got the same financial backing as McClaren or Strachan. Absolute rot.
    He took over a demoralised team heading for relegation (probably administration) with the club £90m in debt and with a ludicrous wage bill approaching £30m. Since then there has been a continuous round of selling assets and cutting costs. Mowbray was largely confined to freebies, out of contract players and loans. He operated in our age of austerity, an essential period of recuperation after a huge overspend.
    In absolute terms the wage bill was probably competitive but vastly reduced and a huge chunk of it was being used up on two or three underachieving players that Mowbray did not buy. It meant that he was extremely limited in the transfer market, certainly until the last window.
    His net transfer spend was minus £9m. Contrast that to the millions frittered away by Strachan for example. To pretend the two had equivalent backing is dishonest and plain wrong.
    There’s nothing in the Gazette however challenging Gibson’s claims or pointing out the reality of our financial position under Mowbray.
    Here’s another quote ( Gazette 25/10/13)
    ” We gave him as much time as we could before it almost became suicidal for us”.
    Suicidal ? Really? The club would have died would it had Mowbray stayed in charge? Ludicrous and insulting in equal measure.
    It might have been sensible for the Gazette to point out that , contrary to Gibson’s assertion, it was Mowbray who helped save the club in that desperate post Strachan era. At that point Gibson did not have the faintest idea what to do. His last throw of the dice had failed. The club was not fit for purpose without a scouting network and a crumbling sports science department. If ever the club had a death wish it was in those dark days.
    Yet the comments went unchallenged.
    I appreciate that the Gazette aren’t going to bite the hand that feeds it. They’ve had some great exclusives in the past week or so. Gibson doesn’t speak to the media that much and therefore his quotes are bound to set the agenda, particularly when the departing manager is far too decent and honourable to respond.
    Yet it’s still incumbent on the local press to question and to criticise especially if what’s being said is so obviously incorrect. The Gazette can’t afford to be seen as giving tacit support to an obvious buck passing exercise.
    One of last week’s pieces,eulogising Gibson’s grand plans for premier league glory, ends with the line ” Phew! You can’t argue with that! “. It sums up the doe-eyed unquestioning nature of much of the coverage. It appears that Gibson has finally got the “blind faith ” he has always craved, from the most unexpected source.
    **AV writes: It is always hard with quotes led news pieces to get the balance between the immediate story and the background. As you say, the quotes set the agenda, especially in a news story. And especially when they are turned around very quickly. That is the nature of the beast – but having the official quotes in the public domain let readers make up their own minds as to how the mental furniture is being shifted.
    Opinion pieces are different and in both the Mogga analysis bits I did in the paper the financial picture was painted very clearly, as it has been for the last several years.
    When there is a big upheaval you always have the same unfolding chain as the story is processed: the big flurry of new information, usually presented by some official body. This is the spin cycle. That’s when readers argue over the nuances and semantics of what has been said and try to cherry pick the bits they like to suit their own existing world view. That happened last week but was disrupted by the game.
    Then when it settles down a bit there is a phase when you sift through the words to find out if there is any hard information and if there is, exactly where the new bits of the information it fit into the existing picture. We are heading into that phase now.

  13. Also Anthony, lets not forget that as recently as Wigan away this year, Red Faction let off smoke bombs in the stand which led to some other supporters leaving due to smoke inhalation.
    The energy and support are fine but a disregard of other fans safety and welfare is still inbred in the ultra mentality. They are naive and immature as to the consequences of their actions.

  14. Watching BBC news this morn about the growing use of pyrotechnics at English grounds. Lots of people dismiss it as harmless fun but they showed the dangers.
    These young lads use them regulaly. Will you stay in bed with them if a serious injury happens to one of them or any other innocent fan? Doubt it.
    **AV writes: As I said in this bit, and as I said at the time after the flares were set off at Burton, the wilder elements did themselves few favours with those pseudo-ultra actions. It was silly, dangerous and irresponsible, there is no question about that. But the dynamic and mentality of the group seems to have changed. They know where the line is drawn now. And they see more benefit in staying this side of it. That is to be encouraged.

  15. I think they are great. Anyone who goes to away games knows how much better the atmosphere is and if it’s anything like it seems in the South Stand they’ll be having a great time.
    I can’t really understand why some people have been so keen to have a dig at them, it’s showing up here as well.
    The club should slash prices in the South Stand and try and fill it up. Maybe make it a no-season tickets area but prices are £10-£12 or something? Or make it cheaper for U21s?
    By the way, the Twe12th Man do usually sing ‘east stand give us a song’ during the match but unfortunately it’s generally ignored these days.
    I sit in the Generation Red zone, we moved slightly this year from the seats we’ve had since the ground opened, and it’s been a great success as far as I can see. My two kids (3 & 5) have tickets there now and while Lily has only been once (the 3-3 v Bournemouth, I said it won’t be like that every week), she loved it, although I think that was mainly down to the half-time chips.

  16. AV wrote “But the dynamic and mentality of the group seems to have changed. They know where the line is drawn now. And they see more benefit in staying this side of it. That is to be encouraged.”
    The Wigan away game was 2 months ago!

  17. I have only been to a few of the home games with my grandkids since my wife was diagnoed with the Big C but I was in amongst the Red Faction lads and have supported their fight to be recognised by the club. As Jimmy Jones has said I was one of the “Older fans ” not that i was a trouble causer but these lads had a hard time to get where they are now,. The club seemed not to want the fans to have a voice within the Riverside
    I can remember an incident when a steward actually stood in front of my grand-son and it was impossible for him to see the game. I asked him to move and it took the head steward and a police officer to understand that the steward was being a jobsworth.
    There must be a hundred and one stories that the Red Faction could tell about their long and hard fight with the club to get where they are now but as they have kept quiet so as not to upset the apple cart.
    Ali B has finaly seen the Faction as a great asset to the club as he used to avoid even mentioning them during his commenteries from the Riverside.
    “Best of luck with the future supporting of the club lads. I hope the club stick with this attitude that you are and always have been “fans not hooligans”

  18. AV –
    Toon fans must despair at the fact the local paper has been barred yet again. And how must Pardew be feeling with jokingear as his boss.
    Dysfunctional springs to mind but Cardiff are nearly as bad.
    **AV writes: There is a briefing war going on at Cardiff now. The pressure is really building up there. Newcastle is a circus, seemingly intent on self-destruction. It is as if, every time there is a lull in the Civil Wor, Mike Ashley deliberately rolls in a hand-grenade.

  19. A poorish game in terms of quality, with neither side mastering the difficult conditions, and Blackburn just about deserving the points. Boro produced a performance the polar opposite of last Friday’s: a strong defensive display, but offering little threat up front.
    It was good to see Varga back in midfield for Carayol, a sensible readjustment to the all-out attacking formation, which I hope will be the preferred option for home games. Less explicable was Emnes being used as main striker with Kamara operating on the left. Marvin has had a new lease of life in a more withdrawn role, where he has found the space to offer a real threat going forward. Here he spent most of his time with his back to the goal being battered by Neanderthal defenders. Back to square one, I’m afraid. Friend for Gibson was also puzzling. Ben has done little wrong and deserved better treatment.
    The story of the game was of resolute Boro tackling and closing down in midfield, with Varga and Smallwood both working their socks off, and Woodgate and Ayala solid behind them. In spite of this it needed a string of brilliant saves by Steele to keep us in the game in the first half. He was our man of the match in conditions which could scarcely have been worse for keepers.
    Going forward we were disappointing, showing none of last week’s flair, and hardly troubling the Blackburn keeper. With little creativity coming from midfield it was left to the front three to both create chances and finish them. Too much to ask.
    That is the dilemma. With an attacking formation we have looked creaky at the back. When we go for defensive and midfield solidity, we have little penetration going forward, even when roared on away from home by some of the most loyal supporters in the land.
    How to solve it ? Answers please on a postcard to Messrs Venus and Gibson.

  20. So many people have over the years written about what has been missing at the Riverside.
    We all missed the Ayresome days, that atmosphere, thankfully whatever has changed within the club to bring this forward and be all inclusive, well it deserves to be encouraged and applauded as this is the only sort of thing that will save the club.
    Next on my hit list would be to get rid of Mark Page and his misplaced ego and then bring back the 86 club badge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s