ENGLAND head off on a road that will hopefully lead to European Championship glory tonight – with Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson describing the national side’s warm-up double-header at the Riverside Stadium as “a massive thing for Teesside and the rest of the North-East”.

With the rescheduled Euros due to begin a week on Friday, Gareth Southgate’s side host Austria this evening before taking on Romania on Sunday afternoon.

England’s players have been based at Middlesbrough’s Rockliffe Park training ground, in Hurworth, since the start of the weekend, with Southgate having announced his final 26-man squad for the forthcoming tournament yesterday.

A reduced crowd will be in attendance for both of England’s games at the Riverside, with Gibson thrilled the Football Association selected his club to play host to the national side’s final piece of fine-tuning before their opening game at the Euros against Croatia.

“It’s a massive honour, and it’s great to be involved,” said Gibson. “Once it became clear that we were in the running to host the games, we teed up the training ground and the hotel and were able to offer the whole thing to the FA as one package.

“Hopefully, it’s ideal for them. It’s a beautiful setting at the training ground, and Gareth has had the chance to work with his squad in a bit of peace. Then, we’re able to open up the Riverside for the warm-up games and give some of our supporters, and football fans from the wider North-East, the chance to see England at first hand.

“It’s a massive thing for Middlesbrough, the wider Tees Valley and the whole of the North-East. It’s great that we get the chance to showcase ourselves with England’s final two games before the Euros.”

As well as hosting this week’s two warm-up matches, the Riverside has also been selected as one of the venues for this autumn’s Rugby League World Cup, along with Newcastle United’s St James’ Park.

With Scotland’s football team using Rockliffe Park as their training camp for the Euros later this month, Middlesbrough’s facilities have been in high demand.

“It’s great,” said Gibson. “We’ve been looking forward to these two games for a while now, especially once it became clear that fans would be able to attend, and the Rugby League World Cup is also going to be a big deal once it comes around. We’re proud that the Riverside will be one the host venues for the tournament.

“Rockliffe has been established as a top-class base for sports teams for quite a while now. We’ve had the All Blacks squad in the past, and also the men’s and women’s US Olympic football teams. We’ve had the Team GB Olympic football teams here too, and obviously a host of Premier League teams have based themselves here in the past when they’ve been preparing for matches in the region. It’s an important part of what we do.”

The high-profile facilities, and the global exposure provided by this week’s England matches, feeds into the wider regeneration of the Tees Valley, which continues to gather pace. Whether it is the continued growth of Teesside Airport, the relocation of treasury jobs to Darlington or the ambitious plans for the Teesport development, the Tees Valley has witnessed a large amount of investment and focus in the last 12 months. This week’s England double-header is merely another part of that process.

“I think the Tees Valley is becoming a major focus in everything,” said Gibson. “There’s a lot of really exciting things going on, and as Middlesbrough Football Club, we’re pleased to be playing our part.

“In my opinion, there’s never been a better time to live and do business in the Tees Valley. Those of us who live here know what a great place it is, but you’ve got the airport bringing people in from all over the world now and then you’ve also got Darlington’s rail links which are great for London.”

After completing their Teesside double-header, England’s players will head to London for their opening group game against Croatia on June 13. Gibson will be tuning in to watch with his family along with the rest of the country, and having given Southgate his first job in management when he promoted him from Middlesbrough’s playing squad in 2006, the Boro chairman is desperate to his side’s former skipper succeed.

“I’ll be watching, shouting myself hoarse,” he said. “I’m an England fan, so I always want to see them do well, but it would probably mean even more with Gareth in charge.

"I still have great affection for Gareth – I’d love to see him be the man that finally leads England to success in a major tournament.

"Hopefully, that's what we'll all be watching this summer. It would be great to see England winning the Euros, great to see Gareth celebrating, and great to be able to think that the games at Middlesbrough were a little part of making that happen."