Signs Of Optimism Amid The Wembley Debris

WELL, we all arrived home knackered, emotionally drained, hungover and gutted by the result – but the better team won on the day so there can be no complaints.

They did to us what we did to them. Twice. They were sprint starters and subdued Boro were sluggish and were punished for it then never had the nous, energy or penetration to claw it back.  Norwich played well when it mattered  and good luck to them next year.

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We were numb and dismayed on the whistle and had the heart-ache of trudging away empty-handed from Wembley for a fifth time – but once we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and regain some sense of sober perspective it is clear there are still plenty of positives to take from the campaign as a whole.  And as we sift through the debris of Wembley there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic for the future.

Continue reading Signs Of Optimism Amid The Wembley Debris

Wembley: Boro Stand On The Cusp Of History

WEMBLEY: an iconic venue that has been central to the dreams of generations of Boro supporters. School yard yearning were left unfulfilled by near-misses, freezes and failures through a barren century.  Then, when the finals suddenly came thick and fast,  we have been left powerless and impotent as those dreams turned into nightmares.

Tony Dorigo’s free-kick killer that spoiled our debut in 1990 (although you never forget your first time). Emile Heskey’s stoppage time sickener after stroppy striker Ravanelli had briefly ignited emotions with our only goal at the Twin Towers;  A cruel 43 second Roberto Di Matteo stunner that killed off our first ever FA Cup appearance before it had even begun and hammered in the final nail of a traumatic season. And Chelsea again just 12 months later in the League Cup.

The mystique of Wembley had so long taunted us and been so painfully unobtainable – then we finally got there it turned out to be a haunted hell-hole that laughed as it crushed our souls.  Now Boro have a chance for historic redemption. Believe…

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Wembley: More Cardiff, Less Eindhoven Please

“SHUT your gob Vickers. I’ll have a beer if I want to,” was just one of the responses to my column in the Gazette today calling for fans to be ready to play their role and create an awesome roar in our potentially epoch-shaping showdown at Wembley.

I had committed the heresy of suggesting that at Eindhoven a lot of Boro fans drunk themselves into oblivion and were in no fit state to “sing your heart for the lads.”  On that day Boro were out-flanked and out-sung by the passionate and spectacular Sevilla crowd. They took control of the high-ground and were building a wall of noise while thousands of thirsty Teessiders were still necking ale in the Boro square.

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                            Red Square: Things getting lively in the Boro Fan Zone 

Walking up to the ground two hours before kick-off there were bedraggled Teessiders crashed out on grass verges looking like the tattered retreating remnants of a defeated medieval army. Meanwhile a sea of Sevilla fans were greeting their team coach like conquering heroes. mobbing it and chanting and pointing at the window. They were buzzing. It felt like they had come determined to seize their destiny.  It felt like they had a massive psychological advantage long before kick off.

We can’t let that happen again at Wembley. We need to be more focused, more determined, more united and noisier. We need the Red Army to be more like they were at Cardiff- and against Brentford –  than they were at Eindhoven.

Of course, have a beer. Or two. Three even. Enjoy the occasion.  Be in good spirits – but don’t get smashed and miss the intensity of the moment.  Play your part. Boro supporters this season have been brilliant and the players and manager have queued up to say how much they have aided the team at important moments in close fought crucial matches.

Wembley needs to be the best display of the season from the Red Army.

What do you think? Fair comment? Or am I a ‘killjoy doyle’?

Believe: Boro United In Wembley Dream

WEMBLEY-bound Boro’s semi-sonic boom blasted second best Brentford to bits as Aitor Karanka’s historic March To The Arch continued.

Red hot iron, white hot steel: the atmosphere was molten and magnificent and  Teesside was totally united in pursuit of the promotion prize.  A club united like that is hard to beat. Everyone was on their game.  Every single person in the ground from battle-scarred diehard to wide-eyed youngsters  was energised and totally engaged in an emotionally intoxicating evening, a memorable “I was there” moment , the best night since Steaua.

Continue reading Believe: Boro United In Wembley Dream

Boro’s Iconic White Band Is Marketing Open Goal

BORO’S new shirt is red. With a Liverpool/Forest/Aberdeen  retro eighties echo pinstripe and polka dot lace effect collar and trim … but let’s put the fashionista design considerations to one side for a moment.

I don’t mind it. Even if you instinctively think there is something missing, that it feels alien and there should be an eye-catching white flourish somewhere, we’ll soon get used to it, most diehard supporters will by it irrespective of design, manufacturer or price. And some clearly love it already and queued to buy it so they could be the first on their block. And what ever your opinion and it’ll look much better with Premier League badges on.

And generally I find it hard to get in a froth over a new shirt so long as it isn’t an historic aberration – and this isn’t.  Historically Boro have worn plain red far more often than they have the “traditional” white band: in 53 of 108 seasons compared to 15 with a band or even the 28 – mainly between the wars – with dashing epaulettes, or shoulders and another nine with a yoke or swirl or sash or some other neat flourish.

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                             The breakdown of designs over 108 years of league football

But there are other important factors that should be considered and every time the shirt is plain red it feels like a marketing own goal.

Branding is the key to success in the cut-throat modern marketplace.  Ask any switched-on businessman in any field from fashion to football and they will tell you the power of a product to be instantly recognised among its rivals in a hectic hard-sell shop front scrum is paramount to on-going success and expansion.

The ability of a simple, unique visual device to stamp an image in the sub-conscious is key to winning the battle for the hearts and minds.  A distinct logo helps build an identity, develop loyalty from existing customers and entice new ones. It allows ‘synergy’ the cross promotion of a wide range of products that can be instantly identified as part of the brand.

That’s why companies pay slick spin-doctors and image consultants fortunes in a bid to replicate the almost mystical global market pulling power of the three stripes, the swoosh or the arches.

So it has always left me slightly bemused – and slightly deflated – when a company has just such a visible and recognisable device on their hands they should fail to maximise its branding potential.  Boro have just that: our Above Average White Band – or a flourish of some sort on a red shirt – and they have parked it.

When Boro are plain red they are just that – plain.  It is an off the peg manufactures template: it a Southamptonkits from two years ago and also available in blue as Sunderland’s away kit.

With a plain red shirt Boro enter an identikit division of teams that blend into the background… although the red shorts mitigate that a bit this time round.

For some it will be a return to tradition. There has been resistance from high up in the club in the past to the popular clamour for the white band.  There is an argument that Boro DO wear plain red calculated by the number of seasons.

But measured by media and market recognition, supporters’ self-identity, media recognition and branding the plain red is an own goal. 

The band – although historically not the most frequently used – is the one most vividly associated with the club by the majority of supporters. Red hot iron, white hot steel. It is a symbolic colour scheme to unite the Teesside crowd.  Every straw poll throws up the same response: the fans favoured home strip design is one with a white chest band.

In last “best shirt poll we did at the Gazette the Charlton era chest band came top with three other banded styles following and the white Heritage Hampers yoke before a plain red shirt popped up in the listings. That’s not scientific but it is a powerful indicator of where’s supporters’ feelings are on this issue.  And that is marketing gold dust.

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              A gallery of greats: Boro recent shirt selections. Which ones stand out?

The most-wanted away strip is harder to call as there is not such an obvious historic emotional template but generally the old blue and black stripes has the edge – although second strips are different and a maverick departure is easily accepted (that white with blue tyre track cross from 1996-97 for instance).

Maybe there is an element of rose-tinted nostalgia involved in a design that echoes Charlton’s Champions, promotions and European campaigns – but sentiment is a powerful marketing tool. 

But so is a striking simple design in a vibrant colour combination.  It is easy to adapt to modern marketing needs – and not just on shirts. Look around the stadium, the family zone, the club shop, the tunnel. The white band is everywhere.

The red shirt with a white band is a unique ensemble in English football that is instantly recognisable across the country. And beyond.  The design is simple. And that’s a good thing. A child could reproduce it accurately and quickly and it would not just be a proud parent that could approvingly identify the subject matter. Look here’s one I knocked up yesterday in five minutes flat. How hard can it be?

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A shirt with a white band  or similar striking splash  stands out proudly from the crowd – and from a distance. Even in grainy black and white tabloid pictures from the past the design leaps from the page and the heart swells.

With the band, or yoke or even sash, Boro are definitely not just another sub-Liverpool wannabee.  Wearing an ersatz Anfield ensemble or mock Man U mode, they could just as easily be a nondescript Barnsley or Charlton or Bristol City.

Perhaps more crucially, in a world increasingly driven by the bottom line, the design is easily co-opted in other arenas.  It has easily been adapted by MFC Retail in shifting mugs, flags and leisure wear to boost income.

The image of the white chest band is burned indelibly into the psyche of their potential local customer base as being symbolic of success. The band harnesses the cultural power of Big Jack. The bib or yoke echoes the Rioch revival and the escape from liquidation and Wembley for the first time in the ZDS Cup final.  The band was reworked for the first time in 1998 for the Magic Merson promotion/Coca Cola Cup final campaign.  And it was the uniform of success as Boro stormed Europe and reached the UEFA Cup final.

It is a striking image. It IS Boro. Marketing men couldn’t ask for better raw material to work with. Or shirt designers.  And to be fair, Boro have done well in recent years on that score. Since 2007-08 there have been bands, swirls, yokes and a sash on the shirts. They have all ticked the right branding boxes.

This year Boro have reverted to plain red.  I’m not outraged by it. I don’t think it is an insult to our history. And I’m not one of the catwalk cognescenti so have no opinion on on the design, fabric, collar shape  or width of the pinstripes.

But it is a disappointing and frustrating that such a powerful and evocative image – and subliminal branding tool – has been set aside so casually.

Nando’s Timely Tasty Treat For Hungry Boro

SIX yellow cards in a red hot frenzied, urgent atmosphere under lights and with a passionate partisan support roaring their heroes on: this was cup football at its best.

The high-stakes semi-final shoot-out at Griffin Park was electrifying, pulsating and absorbing. The error-strewn affair may not have been “one for the purists” but it was a fantastic spectacle with two evenly matched sides going for it hammer-and-tongs.

Battling Boro were brilliant. It was an away leg tactical masterclass of soaking up pressure and hitting on the break.

Continue reading Nando’s Timely Tasty Treat For Hungry Boro

Statistics, Spin And The Play-Off War of Words

THERE’S a phoney war going on with selected statistical snapshots being used to prop up positions that are more based on faith than fact. And I’m not talking about the election.

No matter how much you point to the data, the numbers, there is very little science about how individuals will perceive them . Those double-edged things – ‘facts’ – are all very well if they reinforce your own prejudice but can be easily dismissed by the entrenched opposing camp if they prove too awkward to square. They can be routinely countered with predictably scripted sound-bites and mantras.

That’s just like the on-going well rehearsed debates among football fans and the time-honoured tension between the opposite poles of perspective.

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Last Day Draw May Give Boro A Play Off Edge

SO, Brentford: Boro ended up with what may well turn out to be the most favourable of play-off opponents – but despite some strange dynamics and off field orchestration in the closing stages of the Brighton game,  that is more by accident than design.

A frustrating, flat final fixture saw Aitor Karanka’s team dawdle lethargically and slouch back into fourth place and as a result they are now pitted against the Championship’s real surprise package this term.

After the mounting chuntering about the lacklustre limp over the finishing line on a day when an explosive leap from the play-off launch pad was the pre-match minimum demand, being paired with the Bees was generally well received.

In fact, in the nuanced post-mortem it almost felt  like Boro had been rewarded for their failure to beat Brighton. The camp was happy. It felt as if it that was desired outcome.

Continue reading Last Day Draw May Give Boro A Play Off Edge

Flat Boro Need To Bounce Back After Dead Rubber

I’M BUSY. (On a Saturday night? What is going on?)   I’ll get back to you soon. But briefly…

A lack-lustre and laboured leap from the play-offs launch pad fell flat.  It may have turned out to be a dead rubber but Boro will need to bounce back quickly. They will need to add real teeth and tempo to beat Brentford.

It was an opportunity to put in an up-lifting, entertaining display and record an emphatic win in front of a rammed Riverside to get Teesside buzzing and go onto the two-legged shoot-out on a high and with momentum. But Boro barely got out of second gear.

Continue reading Flat Boro Need To Bounce Back After Dead Rubber