The mystery of the missing Middlesbrough fans

SPARSE OUTLOOK: Jutkiewicz scores his opener on Wednesday night - but little over 13,000 Boro fans were there to see the 2-2 draw with Derby County

SPARSE OUTLOOK: Jutkiewicz scores his opener on Wednesday night - but little over 13,000 Boro fans were there to see the 2-2 draw with Derby County

First published in Scott Wilson The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

ON the pitch, it ended in disappointment, with the concession of yet another late goal. But it was away from the field of play that Middlesbrough's home game with Derby County on Wednesday really set the alarm bells ringing.

The attendance of 13,377 was the lowest ever recorded at the Riverside for a league fixture, and was the club's lowest league gate in more than 19 years.

There were mitigating factors, most notably the scheduling of two home games in the space of five days, an attractive Champions League match with English interest on live television and a sparse travelling support from Derby, but there are always grounds for mitigation somewhere.

The harsh reality is that Tony Mowbray's appointment has failed to win back thousands of lapsed Middlesbrough supporters, and the club is increasingly struggling to hold on to the loyal band who have hitherto kept the faith.

Yesterday morning, on Twitter, I posed the question, 'What do Middlesbrough supporters want?' There were a couple of off-the-wall replies – no midweek matches at all, a new reduced-capacity stadium – but on the whole, the responses could be broadly characterised by one of two statements.

It seems that Boro fans either want a more attractive brand of football or significantly-reduced ticket prices. Unfortunately, neither is likely to materialise in the short or medium term.

The argument about the quality of football no doubt relates to a pre-conceived notion of how a side managed by Mowbray should play.

It speaks of a Teesside version of tiki-taka, of slick, aesthetically-pleasing passing and a seemingly blind faith in the value of being on the attack.

Middlesbrough fans, I was told yesterday, demand good football. Well with the possible exception of Stoke City supporters, name me a group of fans who don't.

The reality is that this is the Championship, and three-and-a-half years after their relegation from the top-flight, Middlesbrough are a mid-ranking Championship side.

The glory days are a memory, and it is naïve to assume that Mowbray can somehow conjure a free-flowing side from nowhere. He has tried to make positive changes, but this summer was his first real opportunity to properly dismantle the squad he inherited from Gordon Strachan, and his budget for the recruitment of replacements was limited.

With the greatest of respect to Mustapha Carayol and Emmanuel Ledesma, if you're signing players from Bristol Rovers and Walsall, it's unrealistic to expect to play like Barcelona two months down the line.

Has the football been all that bad? The last two home games have clearly been extremely disappointing, but prior to that Boro had won four of their opening seven matches. In a league as tough and competitive as the Championship, no one is setting the world alight.

“The crowd has been low all season,” said Mowbray, in the wake of Wednesday's game. “If you search for reasons, is it a lack of entertainment? We won three on the trot (at home) and the fourth game only had 14,000 here so I am not sure it is that we are not winning. We had three wins on the bounce so perhaps you have to look deeper.”

Which brings us to the issue of cost. Like much of the rest of the North-East, Teesside has been badly hit by the ongoing recession. Finances are tight, cheaper alternative leisure pursuits are available, and with the Championship lacking sparkle, it is becoming harder to justify the cost of watching a live game at the Riverside.

Middlesbrough's next home game pits them against Hull City on Tuesday, October 23. The cheapest adult ticket for Boro Pride members is £22, with standard adult tickets ranging from £24-31, entry for over-65s starting at £16 and the price of entry for under-18s set at £14.

Clearly that's not cheap, but is it really that expensive? It's broadly in line with the rest of the Championship – tickets for Boro's next two away games are set by the home club at £26 and £28 respectively – with costs having remained largely unchanged for half-a-decade, albeit it that prices back then were for matches in the Premier League.

There is an argument the club should be offering half-price deals for selected matches or even giving thousands of free tickets away, but they already offer attractive deals for local schools and junior football clubs, with child tickets often available for £6, and have to be mindful of the prices that have already been paid by season-ticket holders.

And it doesn't take a financial genius to work out that if you halve ticket prices but only secure a five per cent uplift in the crowd, you don't make money.

'Ah, but you attract the fans of the future and get people back into the habit of going to a game,' came the response on Twitter. Fine, but the argument only really works if those floating fans can be persuaded to return. The evidence of Hartlepool's cut-price season-ticket deal suggests that is easier said than done.

Some targeted ticketing deals could have a positive effect, and in the current climate they are surely worth trying. But my hunch is that simply slashing prices will not see crowds of 20-25,000 packing into the Riverside. Yesterday, two people told me they had spare tickets for Wednesday's game and couldn't give them away.

It is a major headache, and you have to sympathise with Steve Gibson, who continues to subsidise Boro out of his own purse. He constantly claims he is the custodian of a club that exists for the people of Teesside. Increasingly though, the people of Teesside don't appear to care either way.

Comments (20)

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8:51am Fri 5 Oct 12

humaci says...

I was there on Wednesday night and it was not entertaining in fact it was dire. If we win you can sense the buzz as people walk out of the stadium.
I was there on Wednesday night and it was not entertaining in fact it was dire. If we win you can sense the buzz as people walk out of the stadium. humaci
  • Score: 0

8:55am Fri 5 Oct 12

humaci says...

I was there on Wednesday night and the entertainment was dire. Too negative team selections. Play the young lads that can supply some much needed width at least they will have been seen to have tried. Not good enough.
I was there on Wednesday night and the entertainment was dire. Too negative team selections. Play the young lads that can supply some much needed width at least they will have been seen to have tried. Not good enough. humaci
  • Score: 2

9:01am Fri 5 Oct 12

liquidlen says...

I am a lapsed attender of the Boro, the cost is the thing that prohibits me going and taking my son. For the price of 1 game (£45 for tickets, a burger, a drink etc it would amount to £60+) for cosiderably less i can go and watch a full days motorsport (£12-£15 a ticket roughly with kids getting in free) or as we did the other night (1 adult and both my kids) went to watch the ice hockey for less than £20. It is about having fun but making it worthwhile, and unfortunately i cant make going to watch the Boro worthwhile with the current prices as much as i would love to.
I am a lapsed attender of the Boro, the cost is the thing that prohibits me going and taking my son. For the price of 1 game (£45 for tickets, a burger, a drink etc it would amount to £60+) for cosiderably less i can go and watch a full days motorsport (£12-£15 a ticket roughly with kids getting in free) or as we did the other night (1 adult and both my kids) went to watch the ice hockey for less than £20. It is about having fun but making it worthwhile, and unfortunately i cant make going to watch the Boro worthwhile with the current prices as much as i would love to. liquidlen
  • Score: 4

11:13am Fri 5 Oct 12

SpikeG says...

I was there on Wednesday night and you cannot blame the Derby fans for travelling taking into account they would have to leave about 4pm to make sure of getting to Teesside, and don't forget a lot of people work and cannot leave early plus they took thousands to Forest on Sunday, then you expect them 4 days later to travel a 270 mile round trip on a Wednesday evening. Whether it's Derby or Leeds you cannot blame away fans for the lack of dwindling crowds at the Riverside.
I was there on Wednesday night and you cannot blame the Derby fans for travelling taking into account they would have to leave about 4pm to make sure of getting to Teesside, and don't forget a lot of people work and cannot leave early plus they took thousands to Forest on Sunday, then you expect them 4 days later to travel a 270 mile round trip on a Wednesday evening. Whether it's Derby or Leeds you cannot blame away fans for the lack of dwindling crowds at the Riverside. SpikeG
  • Score: -1

12:42pm Fri 5 Oct 12

kennynewts says...

I've said it, my friends have said it too. The thing keeping me away, costs aside, is Mowbrays tactics. Attacking or not, a 41212 formation with 4 central midfielders, none of them attacking is not good enough. Not when we have Park and Halliday not in the squad, and Zemmamma and Ledesma on the bench. There is no place for favourites in football! This is a lesson TM needs to learn, and quick!!
I've said it, my friends have said it too. The thing keeping me away, costs aside, is Mowbrays tactics. Attacking or not, a 41212 formation with 4 central midfielders, none of them attacking is not good enough. Not when we have Park and Halliday not in the squad, and Zemmamma and Ledesma on the bench. There is no place for favourites in football! This is a lesson TM needs to learn, and quick!! kennynewts
  • Score: 2

3:12pm Fri 5 Oct 12

spoorsjone says...

rubbish team, simples!!!
rubbish team, simples!!! spoorsjone
  • Score: -1

5:35pm Fri 5 Oct 12

JBurnett11 says...

2 words, MOWBRAY OUT!
2 words, MOWBRAY OUT! JBurnett11
  • Score: -1

12:25am Sat 6 Oct 12

carlisleMFC says...

I am a Carlisle based Boro fan and never miss a game, I was there on Wednesday and never got home til 1:00am and you know what?...I will be there against Hull later in the month because I support my team.

I was like thousands of others and happy to enjoy the League Cup win, European glory nights at the Riverside etc. but our fortunes have turned and you stick by your club through thick and thin or at least, you should do.

I budget for my Boro matches and make sacrifices so I can get there - others can do the same if they really wanted to.

p.s. To the poster who posted 'Mowbray Out' - Absolutely proposterous...if only the stay away 'fans' cared as much as Mogga then we might have better attendances.
I am a Carlisle based Boro fan and never miss a game, I was there on Wednesday and never got home til 1:00am and you know what?...I will be there against Hull later in the month because I support my team. I was like thousands of others and happy to enjoy the League Cup win, European glory nights at the Riverside etc. but our fortunes have turned and you stick by your club through thick and thin or at least, you should do. I budget for my Boro matches and make sacrifices so I can get there - others can do the same if they really wanted to. p.s. To the poster who posted 'Mowbray Out' - Absolutely proposterous...if only the stay away 'fans' cared as much as Mogga then we might have better attendances. carlisleMFC
  • Score: 2

12:30am Sat 6 Oct 12

carlisleMFC says...

*preposterous
*preposterous carlisleMFC
  • Score: -1

4:16pm Sat 6 Oct 12

doonhamer says...

So how come Newcastle regularly get 50,000 plus crowds for Premier League games ?? Cost has been pegged at the same each season for the next TEN years if you sign up. You can opt out by February of any season, no questions asked. A gamble yes, relegation could happen, but you get the feeling that the Magpies will be at the other end of the table for many years to come. Boro and United were relegated together but like the relevant support, they are miles apart now. Football is a way of life on Tyneside, something that those bred on Teesside probably can't even comprehend
So how come Newcastle regularly get 50,000 plus crowds for Premier League games ?? Cost has been pegged at the same each season for the next TEN years if you sign up. You can opt out by February of any season, no questions asked. A gamble yes, relegation could happen, but you get the feeling that the Magpies will be at the other end of the table for many years to come. Boro and United were relegated together but like the relevant support, they are miles apart now. Football is a way of life on Tyneside, something that those bred on Teesside probably can't even comprehend doonhamer
  • Score: 0

7:09pm Sat 6 Oct 12

ajtib3 says...

doonhamer wrote:
So how come Newcastle regularly get 50,000 plus crowds for Premier League games ?? Cost has been pegged at the same each season for the next TEN years if you sign up. You can opt out by February of any season, no questions asked. A gamble yes, relegation could happen, but you get the feeling that the Magpies will be at the other end of the table for many years to come. Boro and United were relegated together but like the relevant support, they are miles apart now. Football is a way of life on Tyneside, something that those bred on Teesside probably can't even comprehend
There's a massive difference between the population hinterland of Newcastle to that of Boro. Its a stupid comparison.
And when things go wrong fans of any club drift. I've been in a 12,000 crowd at St James in the past.
[quote][p][bold]doonhamer[/bold] wrote: So how come Newcastle regularly get 50,000 plus crowds for Premier League games ?? Cost has been pegged at the same each season for the next TEN years if you sign up. You can opt out by February of any season, no questions asked. A gamble yes, relegation could happen, but you get the feeling that the Magpies will be at the other end of the table for many years to come. Boro and United were relegated together but like the relevant support, they are miles apart now. Football is a way of life on Tyneside, something that those bred on Teesside probably can't even comprehend[/p][/quote]There's a massive difference between the population hinterland of Newcastle to that of Boro. Its a stupid comparison. And when things go wrong fans of any club drift. I've been in a 12,000 crowd at St James in the past. ajtib3
  • Score: 0

7:36pm Sat 6 Oct 12

Mikey_Blighe says...

Attendance may well drop when things go awry, but Newcastle United were still drawing in crowds of 50,000+ every home match. So I don't think there's any question of loyalty there.

And I think you'll find Newcastle's lowest attendance was 20,577 in a League Cup match back in 2008.
Attendance may well drop when things go awry, but Newcastle United were still drawing in crowds of 50,000+ every home match. So I don't think there's any question of loyalty there. And I think you'll find Newcastle's lowest attendance was 20,577 in a League Cup match back in 2008. Mikey_Blighe
  • Score: -1

7:37pm Sat 6 Oct 12

Mikey_Blighe says...

Sorry, I should have said "still drawing in crowds of 50,000+ every home match when we were relegated to the Championship".
Sorry, I should have said "still drawing in crowds of 50,000+ every home match when we were relegated to the Championship". Mikey_Blighe
  • Score: 1

7:47pm Sat 6 Oct 12

Mikey_Blighe says...

OK, my stats about our lowest attendance may have been out... wish I'd researched a little more before becoming a keyboard warrior. But my statement about having record attendances in the Championship is fact.

And the 20,577 attendance was the lowest ever attendance for a competitive first-team match since the 1993 promotion to the top flight. Which isn't bad going.
OK, my stats about our lowest attendance may have been out... wish I'd researched a little more before becoming a keyboard warrior. But my statement about having record attendances in the Championship is fact. And the 20,577 attendance was the lowest ever attendance for a competitive first-team match since the 1993 promotion to the top flight. Which isn't bad going. Mikey_Blighe
  • Score: 1

11:12pm Sat 6 Oct 12

ajtib3 says...

Mikey_Blighe wrote:
Sorry, I should have said "still drawing in crowds of 50,000+ every home match when we were relegated to the Championship".
Really - thats odd - because the official figures in the championship were average home attendance 43,300 and lowest 36,000 for Reading in Sept 2009.
Which means at least 14,000 geordies decided to do something else that day.
And as you agreed your lowest attendances in the past have been much lower than the 20,000 you said. Much lower.
Any other 'facts' you'd like to quote?
Newcastle get good crowds there's no doubt about that but they have a massive population they draw from so they should really - unlike Middlesbrough.
[quote][p][bold]Mikey_Blighe[/bold] wrote: Sorry, I should have said "still drawing in crowds of 50,000+ every home match when we were relegated to the Championship".[/p][/quote]Really - thats odd - because the official figures in the championship were average home attendance 43,300 and lowest 36,000 for Reading in Sept 2009. Which means at least 14,000 geordies decided to do something else that day. And as you agreed your lowest attendances in the past have been much lower than the 20,000 you said. Much lower. Any other 'facts' you'd like to quote? Newcastle get good crowds there's no doubt about that but they have a massive population they draw from so they should really - unlike Middlesbrough. ajtib3
  • Score: 0

12:51pm Tue 9 Oct 12

holmesc1 says...

Middlesborough aint the worst team in the championship just seem to get too many draws. The ticket prices aint that bad. Some premiership clubs charge £40 plus and even Luton town playing in the Blue square premier in a ground thats dropping to bits charge £18 so boro aint that bad. I think Newcastle still ahd decent crowds in Championship because they hung onto alot of key players and the team has a bigger catchment area. As well as local fans from Newcastle/Gateshead the team attracts fans from across the region from as far south as York and as far West as Carlisle. Good thing about supporting Boro is that you can also get to more away games. I'm a Newcastle fan and would love to go to away games but because our away following is so big and i aint a season ticket holder its impossible to get to games especially at small grounds like QPR
Middlesborough aint the worst team in the championship just seem to get too many draws. The ticket prices aint that bad. Some premiership clubs charge £40 plus and even Luton town playing in the Blue square premier in a ground thats dropping to bits charge £18 so boro aint that bad. I think Newcastle still ahd decent crowds in Championship because they hung onto alot of key players and the team has a bigger catchment area. As well as local fans from Newcastle/Gateshead the team attracts fans from across the region from as far south as York and as far West as Carlisle. Good thing about supporting Boro is that you can also get to more away games. I'm a Newcastle fan and would love to go to away games but because our away following is so big and i aint a season ticket holder its impossible to get to games especially at small grounds like QPR holmesc1
  • Score: -1

9:27pm Tue 9 Oct 12

MSG says...

holmes sc1 you cant follow the toon away if you do not have a season ticket because of the bother your fans caused at Darlo Arena.

Population of Teesside with one club is 500,000
Population of Tyne & Wear is 1.2m with two clubs,so 600,000 each.

There is no massive difference in population so this does not explain Boro's poor crowds.

Pool's second bottom of their league, Boro heading nowhere fast. Cleveland just is not interested in footy!!!

Just wish the 600,000 people of Co.Durham would follow Co.Durhams biggest club = Darlo 1883 FC.
holmes sc1 you cant follow the toon away if you do not have a season ticket because of the bother your fans caused at Darlo Arena. Population of Teesside with one club is 500,000 Population of Tyne & Wear is 1.2m with two clubs,so 600,000 each. There is no massive difference in population so this does not explain Boro's poor crowds. Pool's second bottom of their league, Boro heading nowhere fast. Cleveland just is not interested in footy!!! Just wish the 600,000 people of Co.Durham would follow Co.Durhams biggest club = Darlo 1883 FC. MSG
  • Score: 0

11:00pm Tue 9 Oct 12

ajtib3 says...

MSG wrote:
holmes sc1 you cant follow the toon away if you do not have a season ticket because of the bother your fans caused at Darlo Arena.

Population of Teesside with one club is 500,000
Population of Tyne & Wear is 1.2m with two clubs,so 600,000 each.

There is no massive difference in population so this does not explain Boro's poor crowds.

Pool's second bottom of their league, Boro heading nowhere fast. Cleveland just is not interested in footy!!!

Just wish the 600,000 people of Co.Durham would follow Co.Durhams biggest club = Darlo 1883 FC.
Your population figure for Teesside is too high. The Tees Valley is about 550,000 - take off Darlington, Hartlepool and even Billingham (which has a SAFC supporters branch) and you get a possible 300,000.
Also you miss out Northumberland and Durham counties - limited Boro support but mainly Newcastle or Sunderland.
So your split should be nearer 1.2m each not 600,000.
Football surveys in the past have shown that over 90% of Boro's fans come from within 10 miles of their ground. So in the past few years they've more than matched the other two clubs in market penetration for their support areas.
[quote][p][bold]MSG[/bold] wrote: holmes sc1 you cant follow the toon away if you do not have a season ticket because of the bother your fans caused at Darlo Arena. Population of Teesside with one club is 500,000 Population of Tyne & Wear is 1.2m with two clubs,so 600,000 each. There is no massive difference in population so this does not explain Boro's poor crowds. Pool's second bottom of their league, Boro heading nowhere fast. Cleveland just is not interested in footy!!! Just wish the 600,000 people of Co.Durham would follow Co.Durhams biggest club = Darlo 1883 FC.[/p][/quote]Your population figure for Teesside is too high. The Tees Valley is about 550,000 - take off Darlington, Hartlepool and even Billingham (which has a SAFC supporters branch) and you get a possible 300,000. Also you miss out Northumberland and Durham counties - limited Boro support but mainly Newcastle or Sunderland. So your split should be nearer 1.2m each not 600,000. Football surveys in the past have shown that over 90% of Boro's fans come from within 10 miles of their ground. So in the past few years they've more than matched the other two clubs in market penetration for their support areas. ajtib3
  • Score: -1

7:43am Wed 10 Oct 12

Liamsm says...

It is simple.....the reason why Boro don't get the fans is purely because they are garbage.....end off! Look at the stats, when Boro were in the Premiership they got decent crowds!! Stop blaming the price and the size of the place. Get in the Premiership, sign some decent players, get some stability and the crowds will come back. Stop moaning and support your team!!
It is simple.....the reason why Boro don't get the fans is purely because they are garbage.....end off! Look at the stats, when Boro were in the Premiership they got decent crowds!! Stop blaming the price and the size of the place. Get in the Premiership, sign some decent players, get some stability and the crowds will come back. Stop moaning and support your team!! Liamsm
  • Score: -2

10:21pm Thu 11 Oct 12

MSG says...

ajtib3

You make no mention of Boro's proximity to North Yorkshire's population in your figures after allocating Northumberland and Co.Durham's population to Newcastle & Sunderland.
This is some 200,000 people ( Guisborough, Northallerton, Whitby, Ingelby Barwick, Yarm, Skelton, Brotton, Saltburn, Marske, Great Ayton, Thirsk, Stokesley etc. ).
ajtib3 You make no mention of Boro's proximity to North Yorkshire's population in your figures after allocating Northumberland and Co.Durham's population to Newcastle & Sunderland. This is some 200,000 people ( Guisborough, Northallerton, Whitby, Ingelby Barwick, Yarm, Skelton, Brotton, Saltburn, Marske, Great Ayton, Thirsk, Stokesley etc. ). MSG
  • Score: 0

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