December 2006 Archives
I WON'T DO the mandatory review of the year if that's alright. We were all there and we know all about the incredible highs - Basel, Steaua, Eindhoven up till kick-off - and the lows - Villa at home, the Villa Park semi-final, Eindhoven after the game started, and the sinking feeling in the Summer that with no incoming and yet another rookie boss installed in the dugout a golden chance to build on the unprecedented platform of reaching a European final had been lost.
But I do want to look back at a watershed period of compelling drama, political intrigue, turbulent emotions and seismic shifts in the power balance that signalled the beginning of the end for Steve McClaren and threw the whole future of the Riverside Revolution into the balance. The subsequent quest for glory in the UEFA Cup may have disguised it but in January and February of 2006 the club was coming apart at the seams.
PHEW! That's a relief. Defeat would have been unthinkable and would have raised some damning question-marks over the boss and the players and left Boro in the bottom three for Christmas. It may have been a PR own goal as thousands of wide-eyed quid-a- kidders trudged home from their first ever game nursing emotional wounds and resolving never to go again.
HAVE Boro got the bottle for the battle? We are about to find out with four fixtures in ten tense days that will shape Boro's destiny. Gareth Southgate's struggling side play three of the bottom six in high-stakes basement battles in which all finesse or pretentions of total football must be junked in favour of a snarling streetfighting approach.
IT'S SATURDAY 11th August 2007 and a new look Boro "that Teesside can afford" start their Championship campaign at home to Leeds. There are just over 19,000 in the ground thanks to 2,000 or so visitors boosting a slimline Red Book army of 14,000 plus a few thousand hopeful pickers-and-choosers coming along curious to see Tony Mowbray's young lions in action.
SO CAPTAIN Clipboard has gone and fast learning rookie boss Gareth Southgate has asserted his ideological control over the club. That can only be a good step. It brings tactical clarity, removes the dysfunctional potential for office politics power struggles and gives the boss an opportunity to put his own men in the key positions behind the scenes.
Far from being a seismic shock, the departure of Steve McClaren's disciple in chief over "a difference in philosophy and ideas" had an air of inevitability about it. From the moment Gareth South went public with his desire to play open, attractive and attacking football and by implication attacked the entire culture of the past five years Steve Round was doomed.
MIGHTY Boro picked up their first trophy of the season as Gareth Southgate lifted the coveted Evening Gazette Sports Award glassware for Team of the Year earlier this week. And rightly so. For middleweight Boro to make it to the final of the UEFA Cup in such dramatic Hollywood- scripted fashion was a brilliant achievement of seismic significance that will live in Teesside legend for generations. We can never understate just how fantastic reaching Eindhoven was.
But winning the award was far from a foregone conclusion. There really were serious rivals for the prize. There is an arrogant assumption that just because the cash fuelled football juggernaut has a media monopoly and puts more bums on seats than the rest of competitive sport put together, that somehow it is intrinsically the best and most important, as if athletic excellence can be measured purely in economic terms.
In fact, some of the people up for these awards - people you have never heard of - demonstrate a steely dedication, a bravery, a willingness to make sacrifices and a 'professionalism' in their voluntary training regimes that should shame many of the bench-warming millionaire mercenaries who bring the game into disrepute with their half-hearted and aloof attitude.
IT'S CRUNCH time: the next six games include four six pointers that will shape the season. In the next month Boro play Charlton home and away, Blackburn on the road and Sheffield United at the Riverside in a New Years' Day clash that will demand more than just resolution.
The signs are not good. No matter which way you slice the statistics Boro are a side deep in trouble. The one dimensional team have now taken 17 points from 17 games to clock up what appears to be an unspectacular but solid one point a game average but the seasonally adjusted trend is markedly down: two points from the last 12, three from the last 15. That is a significant drift towards trouble.
IN MANY former Warsaw Pact countries the once despised and recently deposed Communist Parties have returned to power. Capitalism has brought with it as many losers as winners and so there is a wave of popular yearning for the stability of a command economy that offered full employment, cheap and cheerful housing and access to health and education services for all.
The worst deprivations of the long dark night of Stalinism have been blocked out, along with the old regimes' unpopular tendency to spin a grey, drab and creaking system as a triumph of technocratic systems over individual creativity. This irrational East European trend to escape from the problems of the present by retreating into the past is called "Ostalgia".
And that it came to mind as an angry acquaintance - a long time committed and vocal Macophobe - today uttered the ultimate heresy: "I wish we still had McClaren in charge."
"YOU LEARN a lot from your defeats," said rookie boss Gareth Southgate after his soft centred team suffered another blow at White Hart Lane. After a lot of bruising dug-out education the Gate is looking increasingly world-weary and frustrated as his tinkering with personnel, culture and tactics struggle to transform a pedestrian side.
So what lessons have we learned from this defeat? Sadly, very little we didn't already know.
WE ARE not supposed to refer to players as cheats in the written press. Ever. But I am going to anyway....