Before the Boro v Watford game I bumped into a Boro friend Mick standing outside the Riverside. I asked how his season had been. “Terrible,” he replied and what followed was a catalogue of public transport nightmares that had stood in the path of this fellow veteran home and away regular. I then wondered whether this was something others have experienced this season. On this weekend when Boro is one of 80 clubs taking part in a Green Football Weekend could lack of public transport be hammering a big spoke in the wheel of all the eco friendly efforts?

Mick lives in Greater Manchester and relies on train or bus to get him to and from matches. This season with strikes and cancellations it has not been a happy time to travel across country. But what I didn’t appreciate is that both National Express and Megabus have cancelled their Saturday evening service hooking up Middlesbrough and Manchester. If you want to get home you have top miss the second half to catch the last bus at 10 to 5pm.

Friends told me recently that the express service north to Newcastle now calls in to two stops in Billingham and in central Peterlee after leaving Middlesbrough,. Stockton and Norton. So for the benefit of Marks and Spencers senior management if we want to shop in their north eastern mega store it will take us twice as long by bus as by car. And don’t mention the trains.

Mick then recounted problems returning from London midweek away games. He has mobility issues and so can struggle to make it to his city rail or bus terminal in time after the match. The 1am coach from London was his fail safe but not anymore. Gone. When Mick asked why. Answer. Covid. Which sounds a lot like Convenient to me.

I made an appeal on social media this week to see if Mick’s bad experiences were shared by others. I was told constant engineering works as well as strikes and of course the exorbitant pricing makes trains to London and the south now out of the question for many. John Peach has recently returned from living in USA but didn’t expect it to be quite so hard to travel to and from Darlington to watch Boro.

“The last Arriva bus to Darlington now leaves at 9.25PM midweek. Completely ruins it when there are no trains. Think I've missed two games that way.”

It is all too familiar story for many unable to get back after matches because there is no longer public transport available. Not just for Boro fans either, a Burnley fan told me despite only living 2 miles from Turf Moor there are no buses after midweek games.

One fmttm poster called Clay is a Boro fan living in Liverpool.

“It is an absolute nightmare.”

He posted on
“I get the National Express coach up from Liverpool because it's more reliable than TransPenineExpress, but it means leaving home at 7:45am.”

He then continued
“I have to get the train back because there's no coach option in the afternoon/evening. Every time, without fail, something is cancelled. It's often manageable (e.g. just change plans and go via Darlington) but there's sometimes an hour or so sat on a platform somewhere.

There have been a few games this season and last where I had a match ticket but didn't attend because of delays and cancellations.

Away games are much less of a hassle, either because I can get the coach both ways, or I don't have to risk TPE trains.

Train ticket prices are a disgrace too, thanks to the lack of availability of advance fares. Last season I'd spend about £45 on a return to Middlesbrough; this season it's more like £70. At least I usually get a chunk back on Delay Repay.”

I messaged Clay for some more details. Remember like Mick he lives in a major city, not a village or hamlet. This is how he replied.

“Missed the first two games of this season that I had tickets for (Morecambe away and WBA at home) due to cancellations. Also missed our final home game of last season as I was stuck on a broken down train.

Turf Moor is 50 miles from my home. Took over 7 hours to get back.

Train back from Euston after the QPR game was only four carriages long. Absolutely crammed in like sardines. Caught COVID from that trip.

Spending much more on hotels than I'd planned for. For example, I'm staying over in Sheffield in a couple of weeks, but in previous years there was always a train back to Liverpool that I could get after an evening game. Similarly, I'm having to take more time off work.

The biggest problem with the trains is "p code cancellations". Train companies use this loophole to cancel trains up to 10pm the night before, and if they do then the best you can get is a refund of what you paid; there is no obligation for the company to get you to your destination, or to pay compensation for any delay. Before these rules were changed, you at least knew that once you had a ticket they would have to get you home, even if it meant putting you in a taxi (had that a couple of times!). Now you wake up in the morning to discover you can't go to the game and your match ticket is worthless.”

The biggest single contribution to the carbon footprint is fans, particularly home fans travelling to games in cars. It is a major indictment when worsening public transport provision leaves supporters with absolutely no option but to drive to games. MFC Foundation are doing wonders with their £2 buses for East Cleveland fans. This has to be a way forward but we need the major public transport providers to play the game also. If they don’t and we are serious about getting green then surely government will need to act.
How many more supporters will be forced to take to their own wheels if they are not to miss out on football.

Clay like Mick is seeing his options shrinking; sadly he has few options left.

“I'm finally starting driving lessons after trying to avoid it all my life, because there is simply no alternative now.”

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