blimey. i seem to have uploaded quite a whack of pictures here. i am somewhat tired out from the day, but let me have a go at telling the story of how fantastic the day was and how being tired out is a very small price to pay!
today is, or was if you like, FA Cup 3rd Round Day. it's a traditional thing, the cup being on the first weekend in the New Year, except i suppose when New Year's Day falls on a weekend. anyway, the draw was kind and Boro had a home game against Premier League giants Hull. so off James and i went to watch.
i have not yet, alas, replaced my stylish car here, but it is not like i would have driven us to the game anyway. not with perfectly good buses running. so here is a picture of James eagerly waiting by the bus stop.
this was, to my knowledge, James' first ride on a bus here, as i do not recall him catching one when were here in 2012. he was quite keen on it, then. as was i. all my years of driving has taught me that it is rather better to just let someone else drive as you busy yourself with a newspaper, a walkman or some other form of entertainment.
or indeed you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
this was also, as far as i am aware, James' first visit to what one would call the essential town. he had once before visited the outskirts to visit a shopping centre and indeed a KFC, but he had not been to the heart of the place.
he pretty much took the place to heart, as it happens, when he saw this range of class art of display.
if they are posters or something like that which are for sale i suspect i know how the boys' bedroom will end up being decorated at some point. they are class, they are!
as our travels were of a time usually associated with lunch, we both wished to have something to eat not long after our arrival. to that end, James has had but one simple and humble wish ever since we landed, which would be to have some Burger King. as i am not all that fussy about what we were to have, i was happy to oblige this wish for him.
James was very, very keen indeed. as in he had pretty much polished off his cheeseburger before i had even had the chance to open up my own meal! i guess there is a review of how good Burger King is for you, although that we were rather hungry, or a bit Hank Marvin if you like your rhyming slang, no doubt played a part.
what did i have? something of a controversial choice, i suppose. it was some chicken thing, the name of which escapes me, but apparently it was a "Christmas" or if you like festive variant on the usual menu offering. as far as i could work out from a brisk comparison between the special offer and the festive variation, the chicken and bacon were standard, but to celebrate the festive season, if not the birth of Christ itself, they had shoved some caramelized onion in too, so long as you asked for the festive version.
it was very nice indeed, i suppose. i was just thinking "i need to eat this quick as James is done and will no doubt want to get going". so i imagine my more formal review is that it is ace and can be eaten very quickly.
my many South African based friends and of course dear family (hello, everyone!) will no doubt be suggesting that we should have eaten in a restaurant that you can see in this next picture.
the Nando's here is as lovely and as excellent as you would expect, but alas at some cost - half a chicken here costs what you would pay for a full chicken meal back in what i believe presently is a very hot Johannesburg. a taste of home, so to speak, will be lovely at some stage, but it can wait until the budget is up for it.
onwards to the ground we went, then. somewhat early, might i add, but more on that later. James was very keen to see the stadium, and his jaw did indeed drop somewhat when he saw it.
perfect opportunity to take a picture of him with the Riverside in the distance, then!
although kick off was over an hour away from the time at which we arrived, James was keen to get in and get into his seat. excitement i suppose played a part in this, extending to a wish to not miss a moment of the match.
i was, at least, able to persuade him to stop for a picture or two near or in front of things of significance at and around the stadium, like the below.
and of course there is no way we could have gone to where we did and see what we saw and not have a picture done. here is James with the magnificence of the Transporter Bridge in the background.
i did, briefly, try to explain the importance and the magnificence of the Transporter Bridge to James, but he mostly shrugged and just identified it as being the thing that Grandad had a lot of pictures up of. i probably reacted in a similar way at the same age.
despite it being lovely and warm inside the stadium, and there being places selling food and drink, not to mention huge TVs showing the class looking Blackburn vs Man City game, James was determined that we get to our seats as soon as possible. so we did, even though, as you can see, no one else was in all that much of a rush to do the same.
yes, it is quite empty. it is not at all common for fans to take their seats in football grounds an hour before kick off, especially not in January. no matter how exciting the FA Cup, or indeed a glamour tie against Hull, is.
as it happened there were a few other Dads with their children in early too, with those kids also, like James, going to the match for the first time. nice to have a chat with them!
with some time to do as much, i was able to get a few pictures of James in the mostly empty stands at least!
they actually have loads of signs up saying that recording and pictures are not really allowed inside the ground, although you can it seems take pictures off of your phone and that for personal use. i will assume, then, that my blog falls within any mandate of personal use, since it is my blog and i do write this stuff personally.
i do know and appreciate that the "no recording" thing is there to honour and oblige the TV contracts in place for football clubs, which is fair enough. i just wonder exactly what the market is for bootleg and illicit recordings of Boro games. one can understand someone sneaking a video camera into a cinema to make copies of Thor and that, but is there really a sustainable client base to sell badly filmed Boro vs Hull matches to?
if there is, i may look into it as a career opportunity. or i might not.
going back to the earlier point, and i suspect many fellow Dads brought their sons and daughters along partially as it was the FA Cup, but mostly because of the very good price for the tickets. ₤25 was the cost of tickets in total for me and James to be allowed access to Boro's first step to cup glory. as a means of comparison, the last time i saw Boro was in 2002, when my (considerably) better half and i went to the glamour tie of Boro vs West Ham. then, some 11 years ago, the cost of the tickets was ₤30 each. so allowing for inflation and that, yes, good pricing.
on the note of Boro taking their first step towards cup glory, here they are warming up and getting ready for the challenge of facing Premier League giants Hull; a team who had to make 7 or 8 player changes due to some sort of virus hitting the squad.
as i mentioned both a mystery virus and West Ham, now is as good a point as any to say that my mate Spiros, now the self-styled "Spiros of Staines", is probably a Hammers man now. he has a very good working relationship with a poet who bases himself in and around West Ham territory, and no doubt this has blossomed into Spiros deciding that the Hammers are the team he should follow. i did mention to him that he would probably get to do more of his kung fu if he went along to Millwall, but i suspect he will have ignored this.
did i, you ask, get the chance to include my good self in any pictures? yes of course i did.
sorry if i look less than happy in the pics. i was mostly annoyed with the blueberry not taking pics when i pressed the button, and was trying to angle the thing so that both of us were in the picture. as you can see, there is something of a size and height difference between James and i.
i assure you i was just as excited to be at the game. my first Boro match in 12 or so years, and the first football i had been to see since i went to a couple of World Cup games with my Dad in 2010. good to be going again, especially of course as Boro were surely favourites to spring a cup upset on higher division opponents.
go on then, another go at a picture of the two of us, with me apparently staring at the blueberry phone in the hope that intimidating it would make it work more better.
and so on to the match itself, a match in which Boro did not unleash a cup upset after all. the first step towards cup glory proved to be the last for this season, as we lost the game 2-0 to the Premier League giants that are Hull.
Hull, as you might expect from a dramatically changed, makeshift side, were appalling, scoring only when we made two spectacular decisions in defence. which should tell you how rubbish we were, really. awful, in fact. the first shot i can remember us taking was in the 44th minute, and even then it was more of a pass to their keeper than it was an actual shot.
somewhat bewilderingly, mindful of this being Boro and thus nothing should come as too much of a surprise, we decided to pass only backwards for most of the game, with every now and then one player taking the bold move of passing sideways once in a while.
the thing is, right, most proper fans don't mind their team losing as long as they have gone out there and done the best they could. if we were simply outclassed but went down fighting you could accept that, but that didn't happen today. we basically gifted a 4th round bye to Hull, a team in a state that we could and should have at the least drawn with, perhaps even beaten, going on the good run we've been on.
as for why our players flat refused to shoot, or go too far into the goal area Hull were defending, i have had some thoughts on the matter and have produced an illustration of what was going on inside the heads of the Boro players during the game. sorry, the version of MS Paint on this child's toy is somewhat lacking, so it is not the high quality art you are used to me doing.
Hull, you see, is full of wizards, shaman, illusionists and other practicioners of the dark arts. someone within their camp, then, had orchestrated a large scale hypnosis of the Boro squad, convincing them that the penalty area was loaded with sharks, spiders, bombs and loads of other scary things that i could not be bothered to draw. that is why they refused to set foot in the place.
not that the ref helped. at all. Hull were allowed to hack and kick Boro players with some sort of diplomatic immunity, every time a Hull player got so much as an itchy arse it was the fault of Boro and thus play was stopped to award the Premier League giants a free kick, with a random yellow card for a Boro lad thrown in for fun. one can hardly blame the ref, i suppose, for being a bit starstruck, being as he was in the presence of those big name second choice players off of Hull.
Hull's diving antics and amateur dramatic theatrics were also mildly amusing to watch. zoom does not work too well on the blueberry, but if you in the below can see someone who looks like Steve Jones out of the Sex Pistols, only with his face battered in with a shovel and being roughly the size of Thing out of the Fantastic Four, then that is Steve Bruce, berating his players for not diving properly or wasting enough time.
the attendance was 15,571 and i do not see it being that high in two weeks when Charlton, sort of a poor man's West Ham, come visiting. i can tell you for a fact that two who were there today will not be at that game, for i am not paying the usually charged price to watch that kind of performance again.
sure, we threw away the chance of a bit of a cup run. but the most important thing about today, let us not forget, was that it was James' first ever trip to a football game. and as he enjoyed every minute of it, despite the result, the day was most worthwhile.
and oh yes, James insisted we stay to the final whistle, "just in case" Boro managed some sort of exceptional comeback. which they didn't. most people started leaving with 10 or so minutes to go, since it was clear we were not in this match, and one can only applaud their wisdom. i would not have had any particular issue with leaving early either, but James was really enjoying it all, and so it was my pleasure to stay until the end as he wished.
when we did finally leave, to the sound of the crowd who stayed booing Boro for wasting everyone's afternoon, we went past the club shop and found the rubber duck we had hoped to. apparently, at least, for i did not know we were short of rubber ducks. i was also able to get a picture of James in front of the other statue at the entrance to the ground
after that picture, it was off on the long trek back to the bus station, via a shop which sold sweets. they also sold marshmallows too, which was a bonus, as William really likes them and we have for some bizarre reason struggled to find them in the shops here thus far.
and so a last picture, then, of James loitering in the bus station as we waited for our chariot to take us home, a home where my (considerably) better half was getting a superb post-match tea ready for us.
will i be taking James to the Boro again? absolutely, certainly. just not any time soon, really. i think we will leave the players to reflect on their poor performance today and buck up their ideas. when they are ready to actually have a go, and do dramatic things like pass forward and shoot at the goal, we will be delighted to return.
hopefully you all had an ace Saturday!
be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!