THE puzzled expressions on the face of the Middlesbrough supporters said it all – this is not normal.

For those of us fortunate enough to have been on the past two pre-season trips, it would be easy to take the relaxed mingling of players and coaching staff with U’s fans for granted.

At least 500, maybe as many as 700, had structured their summer holiday around watching their team in a pre-season friendly.

By contrast Boro, a Premier League side last season, were backed by only a few dozen – a far more typical turnout from sides travelling to Europe for warm-up games.

The Teessiders stood by and watched United’s get-together for a few minutes, before slipping away quietly into the night.

Their reaction was a timely reminder of how special these annual trips have become.

Whether it is the access provided to supporters, or the travelling media, United should be applauded.

Want a photo with Pep Clotet? No problem. How about Marvin Johnson signing your shirt? Happy to help.

The goodwill it generates is priceless, but it is an all too rare occurrence across the leagues.

And the good news is we get to do it all over again tomorrow against Hull City.

It will also be another chance to experience the Ferreiras Stadium’s fantastic PA announcer.

If you’ve not seen him yet, check out the video on our blog of him reading the teamsheet.

You won’t be disappointed, just like the U’s fans who have made this trip.

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