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Middlesbrough 2007

Written by Nathan Judah

This year's Football Aid match raised more than £10,000 for charity. Here's an account of the ultimate memory never to forget from mfc.co.uk's own NATHAN JUDAH...

It is without doubt the best job in the world - playing football for a living. Boro fans can only imagine one day playing on the hallowed Riverside pitch surrounded by 34,000 seats.

My first ever Boro match was in 1994, I was 13-years-old and made my first trip to Ayresome Park.

I watched then Division One Boro beat Swindon Town 3-1. I was completely hooked on the atmosphere, the fans, the players and the action.

The goal scorers that day were Neil Cox, Paul Wilkinson and John Hendrie. So when I found out that Mr Hendrie and fellow Boro legend Bernie Slaven was going to be playing alongside me in the match, it was quite surreal.

Every year a home and away team consisting of diehard Boro fans play one another to compete in the ultimate experience.

Each team have two former greats who coach and play with their selected team.

This year it was certainly a story of attack versus defence as we were up against Curtis Fleming and Steve Vickers.

As I arrived into the home dressing room, the smell of Deep Heat and nervous banter was evident to all.

A quick introduction to each player was made as I headed to my changing area. There it was, hanging up on the peg, with socks and shorts immaculately folded below - JUDAH number 5!

I let slip a sly grin but that changed into a quick frown as I didn't want to make out to my fellow team mates that I was being overawed by the occasion!

I looked over to my left and caught a glimpse of my brother doing the same thing.

Then in came Mr John Hendrie, Captain John Hendrie, Sir John Hendrie! The dressing room was silent and clung onto his every word as he explained a few team tactics and wished us all well.

At this point I just wanted to get started. My feet were itching to get on that amazing pitch that had looked so fantastic all year round.

But the time came quick enough! We had 30 minutes to go and have a warm up.

Again there was a smirk as I walked onto the hallow turf as the 34,000 cheered me on - okay, well it was an hour before and there were about 34 people in the ground!

But my family we there so I had to impress. A few passes later and I was bringing out all the tricks! Back heels, step-overs, keepie ups - the whole repertoire! And at the same time knowing full well I'd never do it in the game! But so what? There aren't many times you get to play at the Riverside.

As we headed back into the tunnel after a brief circle of stretches, we were met by the infamous Bernie Slaven, still half dressed, who was just as keen to get a warm up on the pitch.

"Shooting practice! That's the only warm up I need," bellowed the Irish international, much to the amusement of the other players.

But before we knew it, the bell had rung (yes, there is a bell!) and we were lining up in the tunnel against our opposite numbers.

There were many nervous glances across to the opposition as we tried to work out exactly what we were up against.

I was starting to feel pretty confident as the centre-back until the team-mate behind me said.

"Watch those two strikers, they scored a hatful in the game last year and one of them got the Man of the Match!"

Fantastic! I was marking superstars! But there was no time to dwell as the adrenaline soon turned to goose-bumps when the famous Pigbag music bellowed around the stadium.

I walked out, shoulders back, head tall and took my place on the pitch, facing the West Stand for the photographs and handshakes.

First Half

And so to kick off! The ball followed me about quite a lot in the first five minutes but I was more than happy to get a few early touches under my belt and not create a howler!

As the home side, we were definitely on top. With Bernie shouting the directions from the sidelines and John Hendrie looking very comfortable in the middle of the park, I thought it was only a matter of time before we scored!

But the longer the half went on, the more concentration was needed as it soon developed into a very tight game.

My moment of the half was watching my brother's 20-yard shot acrobatically saved by the away keeper, much to the disgust of the screaming family who were willing it in!

An excellent save by our keeper just before the break kept things level as the game was surprisingly goalless at half-time.

Half Time: Boro Home 0 Boro Away 0

A half time team-talk by Slaven and Hendrie consisted of the latter congratulating us on a wonderful defensive display and to keep up the good work whilst Mr Slaven had other ideas on his mind.

"Right boys, I'm on now. Get the ball to me and I'll do the rest!"

Second Half

Twenty minutes into the second half and we were up against it! The tide had turned and it was backs to the wall defending.

The loss of Hendrie in the centre of the park had left us a man short and as the legs grew more tired by the minute, the clock ticked down slower and slower.

Five minutes left and a thundering shot from 25-yards whistled past our post. We'd worked so hard that we deserved at least a draw.

Two of the players had gone off for cramp while the referee kept looking at his watch as if every kick was the final one.

Then the whistle came - the game had finished 0-0! The first ever goalless draw in seven years of Football Aid - and it came at the Riverside

But the drama was not over - a nerve-wracking penalty shoot-out in front of the North Stand followed.

Now I might be a confident person but when we were asked who wanted to take a spot-kick, I was at the back of the queue.

I take my hat off to the 10 lads that stepped up to the mark - it is a long walk from that centre circle!

Arms interlocked, we could only watch the drama unfold. And after the away side missed their first and fourth kicks, we knew we had the game won.

We eventually triumphed 4-3. Cue the team running the full length of the pitch and sliding on our fronts just to get those extra Riverside grass stains. It was as if we had won the Champions League!

Handshakes and celebrations followed before a presentation ceremony and photographs

It was one of the best days of my life and I can genuinely recommend it to anyone interested in competing next year.

You don't have to be a superstar, you don't have to be lightning quick - just a Boro fan who wants to live the dream and raise money for worthy causes

The total money raised was split between Football Aid's charity, Field of Dreams towards diabetes related projects and Boro's nominated charity Teesside Hospice.