WOULD you trade Boro’s Premiership place for FA Cup glory? I would. After all that is what all those playground dreams were about weren’t they? Climbing the steps, wiping a sweaty hand across a mud-spattered shirt before shaking the queen’s mitt, then raising aloft the famous old trophy to ecstatic cheers, not playing out the season in grey spirit-crushing mediocrity but with a massive cheque for surviving the annual top flight cull. It is about heroes not accountants.
The Gazette posse talked about the key dichotomy in the modern game – sporting success versus financial success, or more accurately the fear of the spectre of financial failure, and how a club like Boro can square that circle – with famous football fundamentalist philosopher Bernard J Slaven on the long haul back from London after the Arsenal game.
I recognise the vital need for clubs to compete financially, to have their noses in the TV trough or be left behind, to exploit every possible revenue stream and to be inside the Premiership money bubble at all costs but there is an equally compelling dynamic in that clubs must give supporters a reason to believe, they must offer hope, ambition and excitement and for the crowd there is little to stir the heart in water-treading number-crunching.
To that end, losing against Cardiff was an unmitigated disaster that could yet be an epoch defining moment. Having been teased with the glint of glory and come within hotel booking distance of a childhood dream come true, a mid-table finish and the chance of another next year and the one after and so on and so on ad infinitum until Boro morph into Coventry, cemented into 12th spot for eons will be hard to sell as a vision of success.
If the surrender to Cardiff snuffs out the narcotic flame of passion then thousands could walk away, disillusioned and infected fatally with the corrosive cynicism that gripped a lost generation after the defeat at Wolves in 1981. It is a problem that the club must think seriously about now and tackle head on in the summer.
Fans need the prospect of glory. That is what will electrify the crowd, stir hearts and help the club push on. The die hards will dig in through the mid-table marathon of a league campaign in any division but it is only the realaistic prospect of silverwear and tangible success that will set Teesside alight with passion and bring back the Riverside Roar. Which is why missing out on Wembley is such a kick in the teeth. I wrote as much in the Big Picture column in the steam-driven paper Gazette this week.
“Only a late Ã¢ÂÂhandballÃ¢ÂÂ shout at Villa denied Boro a win at the UEFA Cup hopefuls then an Arsenal corner that should have been a Boro free-kick led to the GunnersÃ¢ÂÂ leveller after an inspirational defensive display at the Emirates. With two industrious performances and two bonus points Boro have restored some pride, taken a step towards rehabilitation and raised hopes of not just avoiding the drop but doing so with ease.
But I would still willingly trade the two restorative displays for victory over Cardiff. In fact, I could easily have accepted bruising defeats in those two games had we now been gleefully planning a semi-final trip to Wembley.
And – yes, I know this is heresy in an era when a turgid 12th place in the money machine of the Premier League is the Holy Grail of Boro sized clubs – I would go so far as sealing a Faustian pact with the devil and trade relegation for a guaranteed FA Cup final win.
After all, the pre-Cardiff big cards display spelled out exactly what the club should be about – and what chairman has repeatedly said it is about – the pursuit of Ã¢ÂÂSporting GloryÃ¢Â?, not Ã¢ÂÂAnnual Survival By The Skin Of Our TeethÃ¢ÂÂ. Ultimately, it is glory that supporters want. They are willing to put up with the interminable years of failure, under-achievement and habitual mediocrity if that pergatory is to be rewarded by the moments of ecstacy that come with success, to be there as history is shaped, to have a Ã¢ÂÂCardiff momentÃ¢ÂÂ… when that meant a good thing.”
Of course it is hypothetical. The FA won’t let us do the trade – but if we could would you? So far posing the question has brought responses falling into two distinct camps: either “yes, of course, I would willingly give up my right testicle to see Boro win the cup” or “no, don’t be a doyle – if we go down we may never get back – look at Forest and Leeds.”
I understand the fears and appreciate that the club big wigs will see that the preservation of top flight safety and the continuation of the generous revenue streams it brings is the priority – but that does not quicken the pulse does it? For supporters having the money to have another tilt at 12th next year is not ‘Sporting Glory’.
Again, it is hypothetical. I don’t want the club to go down. I don’t want to play Barnsley in the league. *Shudder*. I am not one of the puritanical faction that would welcome the Championship as an antidote to the Mammon of the top flight, some kind of spiritual born again simplicity. No thanks.
But if such a a relegation came with a copper bottomed promise of winning under the iconic arch come may then I would certainly accept the consequence in return for glory. It is NOT the end of the world. After all, we are all battle scarred survivors of relegations past. We have been there before and come back and powered by Premiership parachute payments the odds would be stacked heavily in our favour.
But we have never won the FA Cup. We have never had our name engraved on the knockout trophy that we fantasised about on the playground. We haven’t tasted that particular glory.
Life outside the Premiership may be frightening but it does exist. And there is no saying that it would not be the galvanising, inspirational moment the club need: the FA Cup in the cabinet, Thursday night UEFA Cup football and exotic trips abroad again and the almost unknown quantity of playing week-in, week-out in a competitive league and one where we were actually among the big boys. A saluatory spell outside the myopic Premiership may have recharged the batteries, given us a fresh perspective and relit the fires of passion.
Or maybe I am just a romantic fool.