Click here to view a larger version of the above photo

CHAMPIONS League heroes! That's Boro's big-hearted first team stars, who trailed only one other top-flight club in terms of the number of community appearances they made last season.

Riverside players did the club proud by taking second place in an analysis of community and charity work carried out by footballers in the four divisions. It's the third successive year Boro have finished in the top two.

Boro's widespread community activities included time spent in the classrooms with the club's own educational programmes, charity launches, health promotions, hospital visits and work against racism.

Give me five! - Afonso Alves with young Boro fans at Eston - Photo-North News and Pictures

Click here to view a larger version of the above photo

Conducted by the Professional Footballers Association, the survey studied the number of community appearances made by players at every club in the Barclays Premier League and the Football League.

And the figures showed that the Boro squad hit a new high of almost 400 appearances in 2007-08, 17% up on the previous year and seven times the number carried out by one top division club.

Table-toppers in 2006-07 with 318, Boro's tally of 374 community appearances last season was topped only by Chelsea, with Newcastle, Manchester United and Liverpool next on the list.

Leading the way was David Wheater, who received the club's Community Player of the Season award in recognition of his heartfelt commitment in support of good causes across Teesside.

Others who regularly gave up their own spare-time to make a difference in the local community included Stewart Downing, Emanuel Pogatetz, Ross Turnbull, Julio Arca, Andrew Taylor and Tony McMahon.

Boro stars have not only supported MFC's own hugely successful educational schemes, but have also given inspiration and publicity to organisations such as Teesside Hospice, Abbey Hill Special School, Reading Stars, Butterwick House Children's Hospice, Community Integrated Care and Show Racism the Red Card.

Tony McMahon makes life a little happier for a young fan in James Cook University hospital in Middlesbrough - Photo-North News and Photos

Click here to view a larger version of the above photo

Boro Chairman Steve Gibson said: "It is my belief that we have a responsibility to harness the power of football and the profile of Middlesbrough FC as a force for good.

"Many people are quick to condemn footballers when they commit relatively minor indiscretions, but what you don't read enough of in the newspapers is the way some of our players go beyond the call of duty. We are proud of them."

Diane O'Connell, Boro's community liaison officer, said: "We couldn't make the same impression without the support of the players. As role models to so many young people, they are our wow factor.

"As a player, Gareth Southgate was always committed to giving up time for those less fortunate than ourselves - and it's clear that his beliefs have rubbed off on others now that he is manager."

TABLE TOPPERS

Boro squad's community appearances year on year:

2004-05 220

2005-06 256

2006-07 318

2007-08 374

COMMUNITY CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Total community appearances 2007-08

1 Chelsea 422

2 BORO 374

3 Newcastle 342

4 Man United 327

Click here to watch a high resolution free video shot at the Riverside last Monday when Boro players played host to a party sponsored by Nestle for under privileged children. Includes a free interview with Adam Johnson.

And here to watch a low resolution version.