Middlesbrough v Chelsea, Sunday 20th November 2016, 4pm

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In contrast to the previous day on the terraces, my first Boro game of the season was a much more modern-day experience with Tom and I enjoying the hospitality provided in the Middlehaven Suite. The four o’clock kick-off worked nicely for us by giving us time for Sunday lunch at my Mam and Dad’s and then enabling us to be at the Riverside an hour before the start.

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I’ve not much experience of hospitality suites. A reluctance to get involved in work-related entertaining as either a host or a guest has meant that I’ve almost always watched games as a regular spectator. I’ve been in lounges at Old Trafford a couple of times over the years and I’ve a vague recollection of being in a posher area than you’d have expected at a game at Peterhead, but that’s about it. Mind you, posh in Peterhead just means fewer smackheads than normal and maybe slightly less seagull shit.

I almost forgot about the 100 Club. My first two Boro games, forty-two seasons ago, were in the posh part of Ayresome Park. Alan Next-Door had a couple of season tickets in there and on the occasions when his son had other plans he very kindly took me with him.

It wasn’t hospitality in the way that it would be seen now. In fact, along with the rest of Ayresome Park, I suspect that they didn’t even serve alcohol. What I do remember was coming out of the cold at half-time to be greeted with tables covered with cups of tea and plates of pork pies that had been cut into quarters. I think a second cup of tea was served at full-time to accompany Final Score on the telly.

It was all a lot posher in the Middlehaven with a much more extensive buffet and plenty of drinking choices. Tom and I were shown to a table and watched the end of the Newcastle game on the telly whilst we had the first of a few pints of Amstel.

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They have matchday hosts in these lounges and today’s turned out to be John Hendrie and Gary Pallister. I’ve never met John Hendrie but I’ve known Pally since we were kids. We grew up in the same street and played together in the same primary, secondary school and sixth-form football teams.

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I overheard a few of the conversations that Pally was having with some of the other people in the lounge. Invariably they tended to focus on what it was like to play against Romario in the Nou Camp or the perils of sharing a dressing room with Roy Keane.

I’ve not much interest in those sort of things and so when we had time for a chat it soon gravitated towards the health of our respective elderly parents and the bungalow versus stair-lift dilemma. Not, I imagine, a conversation that many match-day hosts would get to have.

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As for the game itself, we watched it from padded seats in the North West Corner. It was odd sitting down for a Boro game these days, although we were able to join in with a couple of the North Stand chants. We got beat, as you’d expect, but it was a decent performance that didn’t spoil what was an excellent day. I’m sure I’ll be back in a lounge before long.

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