Boro Can Save The Soul Of Football
FOOTBALL is back! Football is back! Whoa-oh. Whoa-oh! Football is back. Whoa-oh.
Brazil are in town on Friday for the Olympic warm-up with Jason Steele's Team GB and then Boro travel abroad - well, Scotland - for their first friendly on Sunday. Great.
Boro are away at mighty Falkirk in a cross-border silverware showdown for the prestigious Ramsden's Cup. And it's live on TV. That's real football: the action, the drama, the skills, the magic, that stuff with the ball and plenty the goals - hopefully. Thank God for that, because we sure as hell need a break from the other, darker side of the game.
The return to action comes after a soul sapping spell in which the off the field chicanery behind the mask, the grasping opportunism of officialdom, the shoddy backroom deals and the infantile squabbling of star players have been thrust into the spotlight.
And I for one can't wait to get back down to the real business of football: jeering our flawed heroes for missed sitters and general ineptitude on the pitch but enjoying the honest endeavour and integrity of the action.
Last week was an alarming glimpse of the routine self-serving venality and amoral, systematic rule bending at the top levels of the game's administration and the endemic foul abuse regarded as normal on the pitch. It was hard to escape the conclusion that the game was rotten. Morally bankrupt. And very hard to like.
And it starts right at the very top. Documents that FIFA have trying to keep under wraps for a decade were finally made public by a Swiss court after long legal wrangles and they revealed quite clearly that the world governing body's own marketing arm - ISL - were scattering massive bribes around as a normal part of their business practice.
Kick-backs and sweeteners were part and parcel of deals around the globe when it came to selling broadcast rights. Among those who took millions of dollars in 'commissions' were ex-FIFA president Joao Havelange and former executive committee member for Brazil Ricardo Teixeira, the man who has been in charge of preparations for Rio 2014.
Sepp Blatter - FIFA king-pin and long time protege of Havelange - knew of the payments, knew there had been complaints and legal action and actively prevented both disclosure and any sanctions against the pair, the court papers showed.
When the court forced disclosure and Blatter was quizzed on the toxic case he casually admitted as much with a shrug and pointed out that while such sweeteners are criminal now they were not technically illegal back in the day. Well that's alright then.
Blatter fought off a concerted challenge to his regime last year in which corruption on FIFA's top table was made a key electoral issue. Three executive committee members were caught in a British newspaper sting offering to deliver votes for cash while elsewhere the CONCAF federation - North and Central America - was ripping itself apart with claim and counter-claim over the dodgy practices of long-time leader Jack Warner, a man dogged for a decade by legal action and accusations of nepotism and corruption.
Blatter came out fighting, completely denying all the accusations and - upping the ante - accusing the trouble-making bitter London media - both the Times and Panorama - of lying and smearing good servants of the game as part of their flailing World Cup bid, chastising the isolated English for refusing to accept his grey centralist opaque dictatorship was for the good of the game.
Blatter was re-elected last June with 186 of the 203 votes cast after an English FA motion to delay the poll was thrown out on a technicality. And with a sinister laugh too no doubt as the arch-fixer sat stroking his white cat in his palatial underground bunker.
Meanwhile Scottish football is doing its best to shred any vestige of integrity as its top officials rip apart their own rulebook in a bid to protect the derelict shell of Rangers.
The old club is dead and buried and rightly so after fiddling the taxman and collapsing under a debt mountain. But a summer long attempt to resuscitate the corpse and help Rangers wriggle out of any significant, lasting punishment has been a shabby, undignified and dispiriting display of naked greed.
Officials are terrified of a top flight without the Old Firm engine to drive bums on seats at grounds and in the cash-cow small screen audience and have shown a brass-necked determination to short-circuit sanctions and insert any new club at the highest possible level through a combination of threats, bullying, blackmail and carrot dangling. It has been a master-class in cack-handed, transparent and amateur opportunism that leaves the positions of the leadership looking untenable.
While clubs have repeatedly voted for the new set-up to join the league at the bottom tier - the only solution possible under the rules and a move that polls show even Rangers fans support - the leadership of the Scottish game has been engaged in ever more chaotic attempts to cobble together an unprincipled deal and along the way have abandoned their own credibility, honour, any sense of judicial fair-play or morality. Only the supporters superb and relentless battle to expose the chicanery on twitter and the blogosphere and the actions of lower league clubs who have refused to be brow-beaten has given any hope for the future of the game across the border.
The saga has more twists and turns than a sack full of snakes and without some detailed knowledge of accountancy, tax law and the shifting quicksand of sectarian and Scottish football politics it is almost impossible to follow - but the pioneering Rangers Tax Case blog is probably the best place to start... if you want your brain to explode.
It is of course all under-pinned by 'financial realities'. It comes down to cash and the fear of losing it through the Sky TV deal, the SFA's chief source of funding. Scottish football's problems stems from the massive financial imbalance between the Old Firm and the rest and structures have grown around that that protect the status quo. As in England, the bottom line has formed a noose around clubs dependent on crumbs off the top table.
It is all very embarrassing - but you just know that it would be exactly the same South of the border should Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool be in a position on the edge of financial implosion. In fact, in England it wouldn't have been dragged out this long. The Premier League would have been dissolved back in May with a new invitation only body set-up as part of a radical restructuring. Maybe with guarantees of future security of the league's economic drivers. The end of relegation maybe. You know it makes sense
As if all that wasn't bad enough for the game there was the depressing but in no way surprising infantile asterisk spattered court case featuring the de facto England captain.
John Terry was cleared of a racially aggravated public order offence over a caught-on- camera foul-mouthed spat with Anton Ferdinand in which neither came out with any credit. Terry admitted using deeply offensive and vile phraseology - without any obvious sign of shame or contrition - but insisted it wasn't actually racist terminology, merely heavily nuanced satire. In fact it was so heavily layered with complex cultural context and semiotics it could have been a masterful snippet in a script from Kafka.
After three days of unedifying, obscenity laden he said, she said squabbling the case ended in a predictable clumsy fudge with a confusing judgement invoking sarcasm, semantics and a deeply unsatisfying lack of closure. We were left with the notion that such foul exchanges are matchday routine and any responsibility for them leaves the scene in the ubiquitous ethical escape pod of 'just #banter'.
What a shameful spectacle the entire episode made: six months of back-biting, toxic twitter storms and divisive poisonous recriminations on the terraces from fans of some of the game's biggest clubs; police taking action over on-field offences at the very pinnacle of the game; paralysis by the powers that be leaving a racial time-bomb ticking when a swift resolution was demanded; the exit of an England manager over the frozen FA's handling of the case; an impasse with an impact on the composition of the Euro squad leaving rumours to fester; and now the prospect of choc ice 'afters' on club and racial lines spilling over into this season. What a nightmare. Football was definitely the loser.
At times it is hard to escape the impression that much of the professional game is rotten to the core. There is very little to admire in the conduct of the leadership off the pitch or, often, the players on it. Especially right at the top.
Which makes the cathartic return of mundane, honest action a cleansing opportunity.
Boro are at Falkirk on Sunday. It doesn't get more back to basics than that. No bungs, no behind the scenes structural wrangling or, hopefully, no foul slanging matches.
Ironically though, although it is as low-key a fixture as is imaginable, it is LIVE on foreign TV, with the potential to be the most exciting foreign language friendly since star-studded Boro lost 2-1 to mighty Real Madrid in the shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar back in 2001.
Bizarrely the Ramsdens Cup final that pits Boro, sponsored by the Teesside based pawnbrokers, against Falkirk - the winners of the Scottish lower league knockout, the McJohnsons Paint Trophy - on BBC Alba, the Scots Gaelic language service who have a broadcast rights deal with the competition. Alba is on Sky channel 168 and Freesat 110.
Or, ball-coise beò le geama càirdeal eadar an Eaglais Bhreac agus sgioba bho Fharpais an Lìog Shassain Middlesbrough, as the Alba listings helpfully explain.
So stand by for some incomprehensible consonant mangling and misidentification microphone action. With English sub-titles. It'll be like having Bernie back again.
You may need to know these these handy phrases:
Faigh rèidh (get rid);
Dall air (get stuck in);
Gun fheum asal (useless donkey);
Bocsaig ri bocsaig (box to box);
Meadhanburgh neoni (Boro nil);
A tha de a tha (it is what it is.)
***THIS is the Soul-Destroyaz ft Choc Ice remix of this week's Big Picture Column