“Everywhere we go, everyone will know. We are Middlesbrough.”
If you’re a Boro fan, you’ll recognise those words.
They’re sung religiously at The Riverside every time Middlesbrough Football Club play at home.
And every fortnight or so, the message spreads far and wide, spilling out of coaches and trains and cars to be delivered at football grounds across the country.
But the passionate support of our football club doesn’t begin and end on our shores.
Because almost 3,500 miles away, in pubs, bars and even front rooms across the North American continent, a loyal group of fans are gathering to cheer on our team, live the highs and lows, and export a little bit of Middlesbrough.
Middlesbrough isn’t just a “small town in Europe” – a taunt from delusional rivals which we adopted as an ironic source of pride – we are truly everywhere.
Ellen Sowerby, who founded Boro North America, keeps the flag flying for the club in the States and Canada.
Ellen proudly flies her New York Reds flag on 6th Avenue
“The supporters group was started about eight years ago in Toronto, Canada, and we were officially recognised by the club in 2015,” said Ellen.
“We have around 300 members based all over the US, and in Canada, so it’s a good mix.”
Ellen moved around as a youngster as her dad worked in the oil industry, living in Stockton, Aberdeen and in the US.
And family loyalty led to a life-time love affair with the Boro.
She now lives in Brooklyn, New York, working in TV production and film – but started her career at Boro TV, one of the first specific club television channels, which launched in the 1990s.
The Football Factory pub became the local of choice in Ellen’s New York, with meet-ups in cities across the vast continent.
Boro fans celebrate in the Football Factory
“A lot of our members are Teesside ex-pats, or the children of ex-pats. They either grew up watching the Boro or they grew up supporting Boro because of their families,” continued
“That’s maybe 85% of our membership – but we do have some random Americans and Canadians that have just caught the bug, and they love it.
“There was one guy, Rob who lives in Cleveland, Ohio. He came into one of our Zoom Happy Hours and he started with the American happiness and positivity,” Ellen, with a lifetime of ‘Typical Boro’ experience behind her, recalls.
She adds with a smile: “We soon beat that out of him.”
Ellen in Herald Square, New York
Pre-Covid, Ellen and the Supporters Club would often receive messages from tourists, wanting to meet up with fellow fans to watch Boro matches.
But the pandemic did, of course, slow down the ability for the different chapters of the group to meet in person over the past 18 months.
Instead, social media brought everyone together with regular Zoom calls.
The ‘Happy Hour’ parties saw Boro heroes such Bernie Slaven, Franck Queudrue, and Neil Maddison all drop in virtually – along with former manager Neil Warnock.
“It was nice to stay connected, to be involved with people. Teessiders are tough, we are self-deprecating, but the pandemic was hard,” continued Ellen, 42.
“People couldn’t travel, ex-pats couldn’t get home to see their family. Having something there really helped.”
We are words: Mike Brown
We are pictures: terje.us