My name’s Daniel Cochran. Long-term season ticket holder at Middlesbrough FC, singer-songwriter in various folk-horrorish bands such as By Toutatis and Belly of Paris, travelling journalist (Time Out, The National) and blogger at @northeaststatues.
After leaving England and my beloved Boro behind in 2013, I realised that I was going to have to reconcile myself to picking a team in my new home on the island of Bahrain.
I’d never had to choose a team before (having Boro cruelly foisted upon me as a youngster), but short of stumping up the £400 quid flight home every other weekend I was left without much choice. I missed going to games. I missed the cynicism and camaraderie, the moments of joy, even the post-defeat bus ride home. I needed a substitute club. It wouldn’t be cheating. I wouldn’t get too involved. Just a dalliance – nothing more.
A few things were clear right from the off. First – and most importantly – I couldn’t pick a “good” teams. That might sound a bit patronising, but in truth it just meant not hopping on the bandwagon of a perennial league-winning juggernaut.
Secondly, no teams with trophy wins since Boro’s one and only conquest – the League Cup – in 2004. I wanted my new team’s fans to be as hungry for any kind of success as I was. These two rules worked in tandem – the cup win was the highest of highs for any Boro fan because it was earned over years of failure. Supporting a winning team would mean nothing to me, and I had a feeling I’d despise being a part of that sort of community where a few dropped points and sub-par performances brought the spoiled terraces to the point of revolt.
Al Shabab – Bahrain
In Bahrain, that team was Al Shabab (meaning “The Youth” – but subsequently having a very different connotation in the West due to the rise of the identically named terrorist group). They were based in the second division of the Bahrain Premier League. I went to a fair few games but it was hard to click without much information on hand for a non-Arabic speaker such as myself. It mattered little, as I soon found myself moving to Japan and discovering something else…
Tokyo Verdy – Japan
Formerly a massive team in the 90s, Verdy were very much not by the time I arrived. Whilst local rivals FC Tokyo filled out stadia, Verdy’s smaller but still impressive support had only J2 League football to console them. The Japanese matchday experience is like nothing else. Endlessly choreograped chanting that continues even when goals are scored, well-run and organised grounds, lots of heart and the odd overfed Brazilian striker in the twilight of their career (Verdy had two). During my time there they would stay resolutely in mid-table until a late season push got everyone’s hopes up. This would inevitably end in last-minute disappointment.
Vasas – Hungary
I moved to Budapest in 2017, and Vasas were an obvious pick for me among many of the cities teams. A struggling ironworkers team in the shadow of larger and more obnoxious clubs (*waves at Ferencváros*), Vasas were relagated soon after I started watching them. This was very much the sealing of the deal for a Middlesbrough fan. I bought a season ticket soon after.
I’m now back in Bahrain, aiming to visit every stadium here, and a fair few in the wider region.