February 2007 Archives
BORO'S spot-kick kings have shown Teutonic efficiency in blasting their way into the FA Cup quarter-finals and keeping up their awesome unbeaten record. Given that so many crunch games are settled in the pressure cooker of a high-stakes shoot-out such ruthless ability adds a powerful weapon to the side's armoury and suggests a reassuring steely resolve.
The old club lost their one shoot-out in a Milk Cup game at Chesterfield but that was old football so it doesn't count. Since Boro's resurrection after liquidation in 1986 Boro have won six out of six including, for all those omen fans two in quick succession - against Everton and Spurs - on the way to Carling Cup Cardiff glory in 2004. The history of Boro's deadly twelve yard net-busting prowess was covered in depth by Phil Tallentire in the Gazette after the Bristol game last week.
It is an indication of English football's backwardness in so many technical areas that such a record is written off as simply good fortune. "It's a lottery now," said Bernie at West Brom, implying that somehow Boro's FA Cup fate was going to be decided completely randomly in a game of chance. But that is not true. It is not just down to luck. Penalty taking is a vital skill that can be learned, fine-tuned and practiced to Germanic perfection.
TONIGHT'S CUP clash is a far bigger game for Boro than for West Brom. The Baggies still have promotion to aim at if it all goes Lee Dong for them at the Hawthorns but if Boro slip up we are looking at a hard slog up a very steep slope towards a far from certain seventh spot.
The FA Cup can keep Gareth Southgate's debut season crackling with hope and nurture infant hopes of a quick-fire dream return to Europe. If we can polish off West Brom then we are just 180 minutes away from Wembley. Sorry, this is Boro, 240 minutes. Plus pennas.
But Boro can take no chances. We can't afford to take the complacent approach we did against Notts County, Hull and Bristol City and rest key players because of big league games on the horizon. We must go in all guns blazing and with a ruthless desire to win the game.
WHAT little Teesside knows of Down Under's colourful history of working class populist banditry was encapsulated in Alistair Brownlee's excited stoppage time ejaculation on a momentous final match of the season at Manchester City on May 15th 2005. "Mark Schwarzer: He's the greatest Australian hero since Ned Kelly!"
Deep into added time the big Aussie shot-stopper went full length to his left to deny a Robbie Fowler penalty and seal a watershed 1-1 draw that was enough to take mighty Boro into Europe through the league for the first time ever and send Teesside into a frenzy of celebrations. First the miracle of Cardiff, now a second successive qualification. Could it get any better?
FOLLOWING on from the petrol heads attempt to clog up Tony Blair's in-box with an on-line petition, the Football Supporters Federation are looking to cyber-space to show the depth of feeling against the game's exhorbitant pricing policies.
Now they the FSF have launched a petition to be delivered to all the club chairman as a way of making concrete the concerns of supporters everywhere. It will also be used as part of the presentations they make to government, sporting bodies and the media so it is a numbers game too: the more names on the petition the greater the weight behind their arguments.
It is important that we make our voices heard at this watershed moment in the game's financial development. If we do wield our collective consumer power now next year's TV bonanza will go directly into already cash bloated players' and agents' pockets or will be siphoned off by the new breed of profiteering businessmen who do not care about our game.
DIRECT Bolton have broken ranks with clubs trying to hold the line on pricing and announced they will slash season tickets by an average 10% next year.
A lot of clubs have made one off concessions this term to put bums on seats for those games most affected by the downward drift in crowds. Wigan, Blackburn and Bolton have all cut prices for the visits of less glamorous opposition (yes, that means Boro) while Riverside chiefs sensed which way the wind was blowing and slashing prices for the visit of Charlton, the televised game with Liverpool and have pegged ticket costs for the FA Cup games against Bristol and Mogga.
They are to be commended for that. But now it is time for Boro to bite the bullet, stop tinkering around the edges of the pricing structure and follow Bolton in announcing an across the board reduction in season ticket prices too.
CONSPIRACY theorists who think the Twin Towers were taken down by CIA trained six foot shape shifting kamikaze lizards acting under cover of holgraphic projections designed to look like airliners have nothing on football fans. We can watch the mundane and mathematically predictable happen live on TV and immediately reject emperical evidence in favour of believing the sinister unseen hands of Brian Barwick and Rupert Murdoch are manipulating events.
Within seconds of the under-fire ever smiling England boss Steve McClaren and loveable fingers-in-many-pies merchant and one-time Teeside Houdini act Terry Venables jiggling their balls about in the full glare of the cameras the internet was buzzing with rumours of foul play.
It's obvious really. The FA and Sky got the draw they wanted. The big three were kept apart so we are bang on track for a bums-on-seats superstar showdown to open the new Wembley. How do you explain that other than Mossad designed remotedly activated miniture magnetic sensors that send signals to chips planted in Mac's teeth? Don't you watch 'Spooks'?
PUBS that show live Premiership games via foreign channels have been shown a yellow card. After two years of cagey manoevering around the legal grey area Premier League and Sky Sports chiefs now feel strong enough to make their move and landlords with the offending satellites and decoders could face prosecution.
Several previous attempts by the Premier League and Sky to enforce their copyright through prosecution failed with a string of landlords being acquitted in civil courts after judges decided variously that equipment was legal, licensees had not been "knowingly dishonest" and the exclusivity of the Sky deal could not cover broadcasts made from abroad.
Now PL and Sky enforcers are ready to step up a gear - but is their strategy fatally flawed? Can they stop the broadcasts? And even if they win, will bar stool regulars return to the Riverside?
TONY, TONY Mowbray! Tony, Tony Mowbray! It is bizarre but some of the most blinkered, passionately parochial and unforgiving Boro fans I know are planning to chant the name of the opposition manager with real affection, respect and pride tomorrow .
Such goodwill is unnerving and a quite clear breech of all known football supporting protocols. Returning heroes normally get a polite ripple of applause when their name is read out, maybe a nostalgic half-hearted name check from Block 17 and then the whistle blows and normal service resumes as niceties go out the window and war is declared.
But Mogga is different.
BORO in "doing it the hard way" shock! Our heroes gifted the minnows a goal with a dysfunctional offside trap, then hit the post, hit the bar, came from behind and then missed a penalty before going ahead in extra time only to throw a comfortable lead away at the death. Extra time and pennas to beat a team that should have been dead and buried long before the 90 minutes were up.
Here's a few observations:
STANDING at football matches is back on the political agenda. Ambitious Tory boss David Cameron is trying to drum up every last voter behind his bid for the title so the Old Etonian toff is making a populist appeal to the soccer loving common man, while relegation threatened Labour MPs in marginal constituencies that are home to top level teams are desperately looking for the tactics that can see them safe.
With an election looming your freedom to watch games in the traditional way is set to become a political football once more. An Early Day Motion submitted to the House of Commons by Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock on the subject has attracted wide cross party support and a hefty crowd of 125 signatures, more than enough to secure precious time for a debate in Parliament.
Cynics may point out that the issue has come up before. It has. Well organised fans groups like the Football Supporters Federation and Stand Up, Sit Down have been persistently lobbying MPs, ministers and the media for almost a decade and have several times almost made a breakthrough only for political support to ebb away at the crucial moment. But things seem different this time. Has the tide turned on terracing?