Saturday football fun with the Mighty Reds!
This weekend, our family along with two other families were lucky enough to be part of the Saturday Match Day experience at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium courtesy of Autism Parents Together and Remembering Rebecca.
Football is something that the boys enjoy yet I am aware that for different reasons both boys would struggle to tolerate being sat for a full 90-minutes watching a football match.
Back in the summer we attempt to go as a family to watch a home game at the Riverside Stadium. However, this meant explaining to the boys that they had to stay in their seats for a ‘very long time’, watching a bunch of grown men running and kicking a ball around a field, unable to join in. Also trying to ensure their bums remained on seats for the majority of the time with the exception of people jumping up and down for goals, red and yellow cards and of course half time.
The seating arrangements, coupled with the mass of crowds, singing, shouting and chanting, needless to say, our experience of going to the football as a family quickly became very overwhelming.
What started out as a family of four watching the afternoon football, by the time the half time whistle blew we had been up and down to the toilet about four times. As people took their seats for the second half, our family of four was two man down; a fraught mummy and son suffered a slow long and tiring walk back to the car.
Yes, it may not have been a great experience first time around and something I did not plan to attempt again in a hurry. This aside, I am a firm believer in trying something twice. Especially if the first time was not quite as you expected it to be.
So, when the opportunity came to put our names forward for match day tickets for this weekend’s Middlesbrough v Peterborough FA Cup Match at the Riverside Stadium with full use of the club’s Matchday Sensory Room (MSR), I decided it was time to brave the January cold winds…
We agreed to keep it as a, ‘We have a surprise planned for this Saturday!’ Something we generally try to steer away from, past experience ‘surprises’ evoke a mixed bag of emotions. However, to my own surprise, this weekend Saturday afternoon’s surprise unveiling on Saturday morning went down pretty well!
(That was once we managed to persuade our youngest that Yes, he would be wearing his football shirt but No, he would not be joining the players on the pitch and therefore, he most definitely did not need his trainers. We managed to distract the tears after a while…)
For someone who grew up enjoying football in the mid 1990s – midweek night matches and Saturday afternoon hustle and bustle. Having not attended a match properly for a number of years, (except the short 45-minute disaster last year!) it is easy to forget how manic and overwhelming match days can sometimes become.
The crowds of people that you often literally get swept away with, lost amidst the fast pace walking to the ground. Then there is all the different sounds and smells to take in – complete sensory overload!
Arriving early to miss the crowds…
Being able to arrive at the grounds early to beat the masses was perfect to alleviate any initial anxieties and provide a chance to familiarise children to the environment.
The afternoon begun by being welcomed by two members of club staff, our hosts for the afternoon and taken up to the Matchday Sensory Room (MSR). Once we had a family photograph taken, the children were given a tour of the stadium, a chance to meet the friendly Boro Mascot, Rory the Lion. There was even chance to take a look in wardrobe in the family enclosure and try on some of the fancy dress costumes, Batman, Buzz Light Year and Disney Princesses!
It was rather surreal being able to access an empty football stadium on a dark cold January afternoon, soon to be filled with people coming to support the teams. Walking on the astro turf grass that acted as a boarder around the pitch, looking up at the stands and pointing out the seats that spelt out the letters MFC and the big screens. Stepping over the cables of the television cameras that would soon be televising the match, it was easy to lose your bearings.
Before the game there was still plenty of time to make use of the fantastic Matchday Sensory Room with lots of things to explore and keep everyone occupied, whilst warming up with a hot chocolate. From having a kick about with the sponge football on the fake grassed football pitch in the centre of the room, lazing around on the bean bags to entertaining the children with the wooden train track, the wooden sensory train projecting lights onto the ceiling or watching the bubbles in the lamp. A range of books and jigsaws or even a chance to play a little Minecraft or Fifa on the computer.
After a bit time chilling out it was on with our hats and coats ready to be shown to our seats. But first a chance to parade around the pitch, this time waving Middlesbrough flags high in the air for all to see!
The seats around the stadium were now starting to fill up with supporters, footballers were warming up on the pitch, doing star jumps and relays and what started out as a dark dusky stadium was now streaming with floodlights, lighting up the pitch.
There was only one thing left; to take our seats and cheer on the Mighty Reds whilst enjoying the chicken nuggets and chips. The staff continued to be available throughout the match supporting us all to ensure we got to our seats and help us access the MSR at any point required throughout the afternoon when both children and parents needed to recharge their batteries before heading back out to cheer on Middlesbrough score not 1 but 5 goals in the second half!
As the final whistle blew, we all returned back to the Matchday Sensory Room; in from the cold, a final chance to get warm and take some time out from all the noise and excitement on the pitch and in the stands. Relax with the bubble lamp, catch up with the football scores or even have a snooze on the beanbags.
As we waited for the crowds of fans to leave the stadium and saying goodbyes to new found friends and to the staff who could not have been any more helpful and friendly throughout the entire afternoon. The children were all given one last surprise gift from the football club to take home; books, a signed picture and sweets to enjoy on the car journey home.
I know that our boys had fun this weekend and hearing all the children chanting and singing at the top of their voices ‘We want 6, We want 6!’ and ‘Come on Boro!’ as they marched back up the stairs to the MSR for the final time that afternoon brought a smile and giggle to a few faces of the staff and parents on the way. A sincere thank you to the team at the Riverside who worked extremely hard with all the families, making everyone feel at ease, you most definitely received a 5* rating from our family from start to finish!
Thank you to Autism Parents Together and Remembering Rebecca…
A special thank you to Nicola McBean, Karen Clayton and Amy Rowe in the short time that Autism Parents Together has been up and running, I know you will have encouraged and supported more parents and carers than you possibly realise. Along with Remembering Rebecca, as a team, you really do make a positive difference to family life and help in ensuring memorable days for children and families in our area really happen!
Until the next time… Come on the Mighty Reds!!