On August 25, 1995, Nicky Barmby cut through the Chelsea defence time after time to inspire Middlesbrough to a famous 2-0 home win over the Londoners. Craig Hignett and Jan-Aage Fjortoft received rapturous applause for their goals from tens of thousands of die-hard fans that were full of optimism about the season ahead. It was the perfect performance on a momentous day in Middlesbrough’s long and illustrious history as it was the first time they played at their new 30,000-seater Riverside Stadium.
The stadium has seen many highs and lows over the years, but it has always held a special place in the hearts of Boro fans after they chose the name ahead of Middlehaven Stadium, Erimus Stadium and Teesside Stadium in a voting process. Middlesbrough had played at Ayresome Park at Paradise Field since the 1903-04 season. It saw some great times in the 20th century and was one of the venues for the 1966 World Cup – North Korea famously beat Italy there – but by the 1990s it was suffering from wear and tear and needed to be upgraded. The Taylor Report on the Hillsborough disaster recommended that all stadiums be moved to an all-seater model. Ayresome Park was boxed in by terraced houses in a residential area with minimal scope for expansion, so it would have only been able to hold 20,000 seats, and that simply would not do for a club of Boro’s size.
Club officials began the search for a new site for a 30,000-seater stadium, and Teeside Development Corporation offered them the Middlehaven site that straddled the banks of the River Tees to the northeast of the city, a 10-minute walk from the rail station. Taylor Woodrow Construction, a firm that has built everything from cathedrals to nuclear power stations and restored the Royal Albert Hall, was appointed to build the new stadium for £16 million. That looks a steal when you consider that Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium cost £390 million.
The move to the Riverside marked the start of a bold new chapter in Middlesbrough’s illustrious history, but the club paid great respect to the past. Statues of two of Boro’s greatest heroes – George Hardwick and Wilf Mannion, many fans’ football picks when asked to name the best Boro players of all time – stand proudly at the main entrance, intersected by the old gates to Ayresome Park, which were once closed when the club went into liquidation and serve as a historic reminder of where the club came from. There is also Borobrick Road, where Boro fans can pay to have a message inscribed on a brick in memory of a loved one.
From there on in the stadium gets a lot more slick and modern. At night the Riverside Stadium lights up and is visible for miles around. The roof around the stadium is raised above the seating areas through Perspex panels, and a large video screen is nestled in the southeast corner.
In 1998, when Boro were promoted back to the Premiership at the first attempt, the capacity was expanded by 5,000 seats to cope with increased demand from fans to see their heroes in action. The club did this by filling in the north and southwest corners in a £5 million extension project. That meant the stadium was fully enclosed. All the stands are two tiered, although the west stand is slightly larger than the other three. The west stand is where the players’ tunnel and team dugouts are situated, and it also houses a row of executive boxes. The east stand has a family zone and away fans watch from the southeast corner.
A series of reorganisations has seen the capacity of the Riverside Stadium drop from 35,100 to 33,746, but the club has the council’s permission to increase this to 42,000 should demand arise. The club was promoted back to the Premiership in 2016, and many football picks paid off as they were heavy favourites, and a £5 million renovation package saw the club install new floodlights, two permanent TV studios, a large press box on the East Stand, new kiosks and contactless payment methods at outlets with the stadium.
One particular highlight for the club saw the FA choose the Riverside Stadium for an England match as the team was bidding to qualify for Euro 2004. Two goals from Michael Owen saw England put Slovakia to the sword in front of home fans.
Fans can visit the Riverside Stadium throughout the week as the club hosts guided tours taking in the dressing rooms, the players’ tunnel, the boardroom, the press area and the directors’ box, so you might get some insider knowledge before making your football picks for the weekend. They run four days a week at a cost of £6 per head.