Football: Fan's eye view: No 213: Middlesbrough

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The Independent Online
Last Sunday Middlesbrough fans watched the history of our club being rewritten as the team walked on to the Wembley pitch for the first time in a major final. Amazingly, we'll do it again at Old Trafford tomorrow as Boro play their first FA Cup semi-final.

In 1975, a handful of Boro fans met together on the steps of the players' entrance at Arsenal to form Middlesbrough Supporters South. All fully rounded in the history of a century of mediocrity, if you had suggested to them that the next 22 years would feature three defeats in the FA Cup quarter-finals, two setbacks in League Cup semi- finals, four relegations including a season back in Division Three, and losing the lead with three minutes to go in the only real cup final we ever reached in 121 years, they would all have responded: "bloody typical", which still stands today as the unofficial motto of MSS.

If you had then gone on to say that you predicted that Boro would also go bankrupt, then reach the top division within two years they may have started to inch away from you. But when you told them that Boro would leave Ayresome park for a stunning new all-seater stadium, buy an England striker, an Italian international who had just scored the winning goal in the European Cup final and a Brazilian star who Pele described as the best player in the world, they would have called for the straitjackets.

For many of the 650 members in MSS now, all this sudden attention across the sports pages of the world's media is difficult to comes to terms with. Only a couple of years ago, being a Boro exile 250 miles from home meant scouring the press and Ceefax for any scraps of Boro news. Snippets like "John Gannon has signed on a free transfer" or "Gary Parkinson has passed a late fitness test for the Zenith Data Systems Cup-tie with Port Vale" would have us nattering away with excitement, proudly sporting our Heritage Hampers sponsored shirts and squinting at smuggled copies of the Evening Gazette to see how the reserves got on at Doncaster.

Now a quick scan in the paper shop means a blast of tabloid headlines announcing "Juninho to Atletico/Valencia", "Points docked as Boro go bottom", "Ravanelli to Man Utd/back to Italy", "Emerson's in Rio", "Robbie Mustoe in sprained ankle shock". And that's just Gazzetta Dello Sport.

There were over 200 of us pre-Robson and the newcomers have joined after hearing of us through people like the actor Steve Tompkinson of Drop the Dead Donkey and Ballykissangel fame, who warmed Boro hearts when he insisted his character, Father Peter Clifford, chastised a group of kids clad in Man Utd and Liverpool shirts with the words: "Hey, remember, Middlesbrough rule OK."

Critics taunt us that there were only 4,000 at Hartlepool to watch Boro's first home game of the 1986/87 season or that in Lennie Lawrence's twilight months only 8,000 turned up at Ayresome to watch them play Bolton in 1993.

You won't find the tens of thousands who have recently queued for cup tickets claiming to have been there. They were sat at home cursing their luck at having the Boro heritage passed on to them by generations who have always been let down by a club who, in the words of our own Harry Pearson, "had displayed a capacity for self-destruction that would have drawn gasps of admiration from a roomful of kamikaze pilots."

When the Boro have looked anything like breaking out of the mediocrity the support has been huge, only to be broken by pitiful defeats in crucial cup ties or, in the case of two of the greatest sides, in 1913 and 1939, war being declared.

We may have no fingernails, cash or nerves left by 17 May but we would rather have all this than sit in mid-table boredom. Alan Hansen may not understand that, but who cares?

Boro exiles can contact MSS at 3 Garland Court, Victoria Street, St Albans, Herts AL1 2SY