I mean, growing up I remember being taken to Roker Park to see us lose 0-1 to a Jamie Pollock goal on a freezing cold Wednesday night as Middlesbrough stormed to the Division One title under former Manchester United captain Bryan Robson. There was the standard fighting on Fulwell Road as we came out of the Roker End, but it was the mid 90’s and we were in Division One - it wasn’t anything to do with the fact it was Boro. That was a semi-regular occurrence back then.
A few years later of course, I recall a Middlesbrough side that featured Juninho and Fabrizio Ravenelli struggle to keep their heads above water before they were eventually relegated, whilst simultaneously making it to two cup finals in the same season. Of course, we also went down that year with, as it was at the time, a record amount of forty points.
As it hit April time, with both sides going head to head in a crucial relegation six-pointer a Darren Williams header gave us a massive three points. As good old Dazza ran around the Boro pitch celebrating with his ear cupped to the Riverside faithful, all ten of them, we went nuts in the away end. It was a big game, it meant a lot in regards to our future, both of our futures, but it wasn’t anything to do with the fact it was Boro.
The season later, we were both promotion favourites, but as we started slowly an Emerson rocket sent the Middlesbrough away end into frenzy, as limbs flew about the South Stand and choice gestures came our way. By the time Robbie Mustoe bundled a second goal in, we had already started fearing our first Stadium of Light Wear-Tees defeat. However as we improved, with Quinn and Phillips scoring for fun, we not only caught up to them but overtook the boys from forty mile up the road in the table.
As we continued to storm up the league, Nottingham Forest also joined what became a three-horse race. With a week left of the season, we had lost our game in hand at Ipswich. I remember it well. My Dad came in as drunk as I may have ever seen him and began throwing slices of bread at the TV whenever Alex Mathie came onto the screen. The bread throwing aside, it gave Middlesbrough the opportunity to take automatic promotion from our grasp as long as they matched our result. As Kevin Phillips fired us into a two goal lead at Swindon, Boro still hadn’t scored or taken the lead against Oxford. Just as the away faithful began to believe the men in gold may just sneak automatic promotion from under the noses of our apparent "rivals", Middlesbrough hit four quick goals to secure our place in the play-offs. But it could have been anyone who did it to us that season; it would have annoyed me that we fell at the final hurdle, no matter who it was who beat us to it. It killed me as an eleven year old, but it wasn’t anything to do with the fact it was Boro.
Of course, it’s been a while since we last played each other in the league, but we have recently met on a few occasions in cup competitions. The games in the FA Cup under Martin O’Neill were great cup ties - Barry Robson fired Gordon Strachan’s promotion chasers into an early lead in the first game as we struggled to get out of first gear. As most of us fondly remember, Frazier Campbell equalised with his first touch of the ball after a long-term cruiciate injury. As the ball hit the net he ran off to true adulation as the Stadium of Light crowd went mental. We got back in the game with a fairy tale story of overcoming the odds, whilst giving ourselves a shot in the arm to our FA Cup hopes. It was a wonderful moment, but it wasn’t anything to do with the fact it was Boro.
In the replay, we took 4200 supporters to the Riverside. The trains to Middlesbrough were packed as most fans couldn’t get on and had to take the free buses, with the police trying to minimise any trouble by sheep-herding us down the A19. "Overly policed", I muttered under my breath. "It’s only bloody Boro man, no one cares that much" , my mate replied. It was all fun and games till some drunkard put out the window at Hartlepool and the train driver forced us off, making us arrive late, almost half an hour into the game. In the cold light of the day though, it could have happened at any game - it was a night match and people probably drank more than they should have before the tie, but it wasn’t anything to do with the fact it was Boro. My attempt to run on the pitch as Sessegnon hit the winner in extra time wasn’t anything to do with them either. I would have done the same if it was say, Birmingham, right?
So as history shows, despite the media agenda to try and build this into something it’s not, us and the Smoggies really don’t have much bad history. There’s only the time we done them in extra time as I just mentioned, sealed our Premiership status under Keano with a last minute winner, the promotion battle in 1998, the relegation battles that surrounded many a season, the Emerson screamers two seasons in a row that left an imprint of my childhood, watching them celebrate them right in my face… we’ve got nothing against them right?
Oh, who am I kidding? WE HATE BORO.