BORO: Everyone’s favourite other team? Don’t be preposterous. It will take more than consecutive script-ripping four goal thrillers to break generations of instinctive hostility and have us dubbed the new ‘Entertainers’.
And yet there seems to be a wave of goodwill aimed at Teesside from all points on Planet Football. The pulsating UEFA Cup miracle fightbacks have cracked some ingrained prejudices and won a lot of friends. And you can see why. We live in an age of stultifying, soperific, predictable, user-unfriendly ultra-cautious football that has dulled the nation’s love for the game with a diet of televised top flight tedium that has medical science invesigating possible use as a sedative
So Boro’s galvanising blend of nerve tingling drama and cavalier to-hell-with-tactics passionate all-out attack is a powerful Roy of the Rovers antidote to the satelitte dark age of dull, dull, dull matches.
That is why Boro’s UEFA Cup adventures have gripped football. That is why the world’s media went to town on the story, why fans from other clubs who have previously shown only contempt for Boro were queueing up on the Fly Me To The Moon message board to offer warm congratulations and why the ordinary spectactor was so thrilled.
And the reason for the upsurge of good will was not just the drama of the fight-backs against Basel and Steaua and the romance of this Small Town In Europe reaching a final normally reserved for Europe’s elite.No, it was also because Boro opted to rip up the coaching manuals and go for all out attack. They defied football logic and the instincts of everyone with a UEFA B badge – Steve McClaren included – and they went for it.
That appeals to something deep in the psyche of all football fans. We sophisticated football consumers know that these days you need to keep it tight, squeeze the middle third, close them down and hold the line. We know that clean sheets are the building blocks of successful campaigns and that football is a game of chess-like mental strategy and negative text-book tactical counter-moves. We know that.
But we also know that nothing gets a crowd roaring more than a valiant hell-for-leather gung-ho blitzkrieg. Tactically naive maybe – not just naive but potentially suicidal – but can you ever remember more exciting football? Despite the veneer of sophicated technical knowledge of the terrace cogniscenti, at heart that is what most fans want to see: Goals. Passion. Attacking. And goals.
So crusading Boro have suddenly become identified with a dissident swashbuckling style. After years of carefully creating a culture of professional caution the most glorious moment of Riverside history comes from a footballing ethos more in tune with that of a school playground. It must horrify McClaren and go against all his more conservative instincts. But it was fantastic.
And even if it never happens again – and in truth, no one really wants to be in a position where they need four goals to win – it has given us brilliant memories to cherish. Boro, the entertainers, torch bearers for attacking football and champions in the quest to kill the nil-nil draw.
* Picture: Rapid Bucharest fans proclaim their gratitude to Boro before yesterday’s 2-0 win over Steaua.