Several of England’s Lionesses have been joined by head coach Phil Neville in their praise of the atmosphere at a record-breaking Riverside on Saturday.
29,238 supporters watched England’s women play against Brazil in what was the biggest ever crowd for the team in a home fixture away from Wembley.
No fewer than five of Neville’s starting line-up have roots in the north east, and the it was the locals who led the ringing endorsements of the supporters.
Arsenal’s Beth Mead, originally from Hinderwell, near Whitby, was a childhood Boro fan and studied at Teesside University, and says she relished the occasion.
“It was amazing,” she said. “That’s why us girls have been saying, ‘Get some games up in the north east’.
“Everyone loves the football here, it was a great crowd and a great atmosphere.
“I owe a lot to my time in Middlesbrough, on and off the field, and it holds a big place in my heart. The reception we got was amazing. It was a really enjoyable game for me - apart from losing.”
Mead revealed in an interview printed in the matchday programme that she had spent many an afternoon watching on the terraces at the Riverside, so to be out on the pitch was extra special.
“When I went out onto the pitch, I said to all the girls, ‘I used to sit behind that goal and watch the games’,” she said.
“So, it was special for me to play here and special for my family to watch me play here considering I used to be a little girl watching from the stands.
“We say we want to inspire a generation, so it was nice to see so many young faces in the crowd. We want to inspire young girls to play football.”
A cruciate ligament injury had prevented Stockton-born Jordan Nobbs from participating in the World Cup over the summer, with the midfielder instead involved as a pundit on the BBC.
But Nobbs is now back in the fold, and echoed Mead’s comments on her returning to the starting XI on Saturday.
“It was a nice moment to be back playing,” she said.
“The support we’ve had up here in the north east has been one of the best we’ve ever had, and it’s nice to hear the northern voices when you’re signing autographs at the end of the game. It was also nice to see my family and friends in the crowd.
“It’s pretty incredible the way times have changed really. Hopefully, the young kids that are seeing us now will, in ten, 20 years’ time, say they were here watching the game at Middlesbrough, watching the Lionesses, and there was a time when that wasn’t possible.”
32-year-old Manchester City midfielder Jill Scott, who hails from Sunderland, is one of the more experienced heads in the England dressing room, and said Saturday’s atmosphere will stand the squad in good stead for competitive action.
“It replicates being at a major championship,” she said.
“Having 25,000 in home games when it’s not a Euros or a major championship, makes all the difference. The great atmosphere helps us get used to that environment before heading into tournaments and not getting freaked out when you get there.
“It’s great to see how well-loved women’s football is in the north east. That’s where I got my passion, and that’s why you now see about seven girls in the squad from the north east.”
Head coach Phil Neville added that the Riverside atmosphere was “the best he's ever witnessed” at a women's game.
“It felt like a proper atmosphere. It didn’t feel like a carnival, it felt like a proper football atmosphere,” he said.
“There was a buzz in the air from the warm-up and you could feel the atmosphere in the air. I think that really inspired our players, and that’s the type of atmosphere we want to play in.
“I’m sure they’ve gone home convinced they’ve seen a really good football team play unbelievably well, but just not got their just rewards. They’ve seen a good game of football.”