Southgate And The Zen of Boro

GARETH Southgate is halfway to understanding the zen of Boro. Asked on Match of the Day 2 after the stirring 2-2 monstering of Manchester United “can you sum up the enigma that is Middlesbrough in less than 20 words?” he gave just one: “no – and that is 19 less than you offered.” That shows honesty, self awareness and humilty and a certain level of insight into the inpenetrable nature of the riddle and reveals that he is coming to terms with the question.


After eight years as player and boss he has seen it all, the frustrations and the glories, the coupon busting wins against all the odds and the inexplicable craven capitulations at the beckoning open doors of success – Cardiff, Steaua, Eindhoven, Cardiff again – and has had to cope with the turmoil of the terraces that goes with that too. He has broken down the intellectual and emotional impact of that and reduced his experience to one word. That is good.
But all true Teesside zen masters of the Holgate know the true essence of the dichotomy is actually summed up in two: “typical Boro,” a knowing phrase that pronounced correctly is spat out like an obscenity that combines disgust, betrayal, righteous anger, world weary cynicism, bloody-minded defiance and a kernel of hope, an eternal flame of perverse optimism that can be fanned into glorious life by defeat as readily as victory. We shall overcome. Erimus. The nature of the club, the strength, is derived from a unity in moments of despair.
Southgate is starting to understand the depth of the enigma which is a start. Steve McClaren and Bryan Robson – the two most successful managers in the club’s history – never even acknowledged there was a question, let alone tried to grasp the answer.
I like Gareth Southgate. He is honest and open in answering even the most difficult questions in a way that is rare with managers and even though that opens you to quite vicious attacks from supporters and sneering ones from the press when things are going wrong he has never retreated from that during the tough times. He has a dry sense of humour, a dignity in defeat and a willingness to accept that he is still learning. His post-match interviews are articulate, frank and press a lot of emotional buttons that suggest he is acutely aware of how the supporters are reading the situation. On the Beeb after the Man United game for instance he touched on the impact of the Cardiff game in way that suggested he understood its political and emotional impact beyond the result on the day.
One day he could be a true zen master and unravel the enigma. What about you? Can you do it in 20 words? I’m bloody sure I can’t.
Some observations:
“Boro Goal Machine” Alves is a Brazilian blend of Bernie and Ravanelli. He has the uncanny and uncoachable Slavenesque ability to be in the right place at the right time allied with the power, poise and clinical finishing of the ruthless Italian finisher. For both goals he made the right runs before the ball broke and was on the spot to ram them home in style. It was inspirational.
There is an argument that it is a learned response, that he has studied Boro in recent weeks, has absorbed the way the team play, has anticipated the kind of moves and the nature of the knock downs and through balls but that is far-fetched over analysis. He has qualities that can be coached: movement, strength on the ball, first touch, finishing … but what will make him worth the £13m is an instinct to be where the second ball lands, an innate ability to be in the right place in the right time. That is something Boro haven’t had since Slaven and is an incredible asset. We have said all along that he will come good. Most of us anyway.
His ability to rattle the woodwork last week was noted and seen as a plus. He was just getting his eye in. Now with fitness levels up and galvanised by a goal or two there will be no stopping him. Now, if only he could head the ball….
MotD2: The BBC branch of the Boro Supporters Club? At times it sounds that way. Both Lee Dixon and Gavin Peacock were gushing in their praise for Boro, which is nice. Both were excited by Boro’s positive approach, pace getting forward, willingness to take the game to United and the number of chances created. And they didn’t even even pick out a couple of individuals to slag off. They would get slaughtered on Teesside for being bloody ra-ras.
Mad Dog Bites the Granny Botherer: Well, he didn’t bite him, it was worse than that – he laughed in his face. Wayne Rooney was giving the lip readers in the armchair audience apoplexy with his foul mouthed invective after being unceremoniously brushed aside again, effing and blinding and looking for trouble and the uber-cool Alpine hardman looked at the emotionally incontinent spud-faced Scouse, sneered and laughed in his face. Quality. It left Rooney incandescent and charging around in an undisciplined rage and put Poggy well and truely in control in that particular battle.
**OVER TO YOU – can you answer the Beeb’s Boro enigma and sum up Boro in 20 words? Or get with the zen of the club and answer in haiku form?

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75 thoughts on “Southgate And The Zen of Boro

  1. Never heard so much rubbish on here,southgates the saviour after a 2-2 draw against Man Utd.
    We are in 14th place after a shocking season and all of a sudden two players and we will be in Europe. Have results against the lower teams in the division blinded everyone again,and boro’s performance when McClaren won against man utd was on another level from what we saw on Sunday.

  2. Like the team, many of the posters to this blog are also inconsistent (I include myself very much in this category)
    As I said previously Boro would not be Boro if they ground out wins most weeks ala Chelsea.
    So perhaps its time to start enjoying performances like the one against Man U, rather than dwelling on the non performances such as that against Cardiff.
    Hopefully we will experience the good times again with a Cup final win and European football.
    Boro have come a long way since Ayresome Park and the green shoots of success maybe just be beginning to blossom under GS.
    C’Mon Boro!

  3. While re-programming the culture at Boro from ‘inevitable failure’ to an expectation of success is a big but possible ask within the club itself, to change the default position of the fan base from ‘typical Boro’ to an expectation of success is a task of an order of magnitude harder.
    It will only be achieved (in my opinion) by several seasons of finishes in the upper reaches of the prem. and a trophy room with significantly more than one trophy in it.
    It can be done but I despair sometimes when I read what the ‘chicken runners’ and glass half full brigade post.
    I agree that the bench mark to measure progress this season will be the performances of Boro against the likes of Bolton, City and Portsmouth, when there is nothing left to play for.

  4. Richard,
    A very articulate and accurate post. All PL players have skill but they don’t all have the mental fortitude to perform week in week out.
    For a period Bolton were Arsenal’s bogey team, out muscling them with their physicality but never by playing with more skill. Their players began to believe that they could always win and this spilled over into results. Equally, Arsenal knew they would have a battle at the Reebok and probably weren’t fancying it at all.
    No-one, however demented, would suggest that Bolton, man for man, were better then the Arse but other factors kicked in.
    How to instill the winning formula is a magic art known to some managers but not to others – not just in football but in business as well. Compare Winston Churchill with John Major – both did the same job but who would you have gone over the top for?
    After my initial disappointment that we got Sothgate when O’Neil seemed to be available, I’m increasingly warming to him. He seems to be low on ego (in a good way) and high on common sense and patience. I guess Mr Gibson knew him better than any of us and could see something which we weren’t party to.
    I wish him well for the future and am starting to forget about the Cardiff game – although I’ll be glad when the Final is out of the way. Just hope Cardiff win for JFH’s sake – he deserves a winning medal!

  5. I just looked up on Wilkopedia and found the following definition of a sports fan.
    QUOTE
    Sports fan can describe enthusiasts for a particular athlete, team, sport, or all of organized sports as a whole. The Sports fans are often seen attending sporting events or following them on television, as well as through newspapers and internet websites such as ESPN.com.
    The mentality of the sports fan is often such that they will experience a game, or event while living vicariously through players or teams whom the fan favors. This behavior manifests itself in a number of different ways, depending on the venue.
    At a stadium or arena, sports fans will voice their pleasure with a particular play, player, or team by cheering, which consists of clapping, fist-pumping, or shouting positive exclamations toward the field of play and ultimately, the favorable object.
    Likewise, displeasure toward a particular play, player, or team is met by fans with jeers, which consist of booing, the shouting of expletives, and in occasional, extreme cases, the throwing of dense objects onto the field of play in the hopes of injuring a particular participant. This end of fan reaction may often degenerate into hooliganism.
    It should also be noted that lighter, more harmless objects are also occasionally thrown onto certain fields of play as a form of celebration of a favorable sports feat. This is most common when a member of the home team scores a hat trick in hockey.
    Other, more mild forms of displeasure shown by sports fans at sporting events involve simple groans of disappointment, and silence. These actions often denote that the favored home team is being outperformed by, or has lost to the much less-favored road team.
    UNQUOTE
    Having lived outside of the Boro for the last 18 of my 44 years, everytime I return and go to a game I am dismayed by the pessimism, negativity, jeers, groans, and constant whinging and lack of confidence in the crowd. That I believe is the Boro mentality that is dragging the team down and that is why I think Boro’s away record over the last few years has been better than their home.
    Until We all start supporting the team in good times and bad, and sticking by the team, how do you expect the players to have a winning mentality. In fact the town.

  6. Mr.J Harvey, Get over yourself man its a football blog not a Somalian humanitarian crises blog.

  7. We shouldn’t complain as it was almost a great season – It was just a few mental problems since the 17th of February that stopped our season from being truly great…
    …If on that day we’d taken an early chance against Sheff Utd we wouldn’t have needed a replay…
    …Then if we’d not gifted 2 goals to Liverpool the run would have continued…
    …And without that replay and extra time we’d have been fresh enough to beat Reading…
    …And confident enough to get past Cardiff…
    …Then without the dodgy decisions of a penalty and corner we’d have won against Villa and Arsenal…
    …And on another day the woodwork might not have saved Chelsea from another famous victory.
    …We’d have then enjoyed the trip to Wembley that never was while putting on hold the deserved victory over Man Utd…
    …Then we would have had 15 points more with a chance of a top 6 finish – along with a FA Cup final to look forward to.
    Yes, we nearly did it…
    SO CAN WE JUST HURRY UP AND FIND THAT DAMN ELUSIVE WINNING MENTALITY

  8. Nigel:
    You just posted, …” It can be done but I despair sometimes when I read what the ‘chicken runners’ and glass half full brigade post.”
    Sorry to be a bit literal, and if I read between the lines I think I understand your position, but isn’t “despair” an attribute that chicken-runners display?
    Stronger supporters – stronger anybody, in fact – will fight the feelings of despondency and despair and rise above them. That’s what we’re asking our team to do and I can’t help but feel it’s only fair that if we’re asking them to do so, then we, the club’s supporters should try to do the same!
    You probably didn’t realise you are an oxymoronic paradoxical genius, (that’s a compliment!) but you’ve illustrated the point for me beautifully with your last post. That’s precisely the point I was trying to make. WE need to contribute by trying to believe a bit more.
    Our positive reactions as supporters will hopefully transmit to the players and vice versa and we may get a “virtuous spiral” effect. They’ll be encouraged and do better and transmit that back to us.
    I agree entirely with you that it’s orders of magnitude harder to get through to the “chicken runnersâ€? or the “glass half empty (?) brigadeâ€? as they’re called.
    But, as Mao Tse Tung said, “The longest journey starts with one small step”
    (Jeez! Don’t you just hate gratuitous wisdoms and threadbare cliches?!)

  9. Richard ,
    Your post needs reading by as many Boro fans as possible as I think it encompasses what Southgate was trying to say when he was asking the crowd to do their bit at the Riverside.
    As a crowd we have the power to amp up the players with adrenaline but it works both ways . The crowd almost need kick starting by some good play as the vibrations going round some parts of the ground this season have been very negative and that transmits to the players.

  10. Us lifting our game for the big games is no different to Man City lifting their game to do the double over Man Utd, or Cardiff beating Boro, or Barnsley beating Chelsea or winning at Anfield.
    We have had hidings from these teams in the premier league teams over the years.
    The true Boro is somewhere in the middle, hence why we are 14th in the league and unable to beat teams from 5th down to 13th. most of our wins have come from Birmingham, Wigan, Derby, Fulham ( 6 out of the 8 league wins)
    Playing the top four is like our cup finals, the chance for players to impress some big teams and managers watching. Players know that we have no chance of winning the league but against the top four they can make an impression

  11. So what defines a chicken runner and half empty.
    Is it discussing and debating ways to improve? To hope that the team and club actually learn from mistakes and move forward?
    I never boo the team when I go to matches, I support them through thick and thin, I praise the good things and criticise the nonsense. I dont have foam hands and I dont contemplate suicide when Tippy and Tappy squander possession just outside our box.
    I turn up positive for every live match I go to, sometimes Boro turn up as well. Half full or half empty?

  12. Isn’t it the case that we can’t have Boateng and Arca in midfield together, It completely messes up the system.
    We need Boateng there to mop up the mistakes that Arca makes – but he wasn’t there and vice versa, so my advice is give George a new contact and ship Arca back off to Sunderland for a few more bob.
    Accomodating Arca and Boateng in midfield is a pointless task. Prefer if the Boro essentialy played a 4-1-3-2 system. The “1” obviously refers to the Boat. Give him a new contract and make sure Pog has the captaincy. Boateng i’m sure wouldn’t be miffed with Pog have the the captaincy. Lose Arca – he can’t play in a winning system.

  13. Hi AV,
    Very interesting debate. Shows that the fans care.
    As there is now 70 comments here what is the all time record for a blog?
    **AV writes: No, we’ve had well over 100 a couple of times – transfer deadline days, when our neighbours have dropped in, collapsing at home to Cardiff, that kind of thing.

  14. Some good comments here but I am concerned that the enigma challenge has not been fully exploited by posters on this blog.
    On my long drive into work I set myself the task of explaining in less than 20 words the enigma that is Middlesbrough Football Club.
    Magnificent
    Infuriating
    Dazzling
    Dissapointing
    Lazurus (the greatest comeback since..)
    Exasperating
    Sensational
    Boring
    Rewarding
    Over achievers
    Under achievers
    Gripping
    Home Town Club
    An enigma and an acronym – I have far too much time on my hands!
    COME ON BORO!!!!!

  15. I enjoyed reading Anthony Vickers’ thoughts on the enigma that is Boro but it is something that I have known for the past sixty years.
    When I was a lad I heard a man who had watched Boro when they had Steve Bloomer say that they were just the same then. So if it is to be solved it will take some doing.
    However, I think that the basic problem is self-belief. When there is something that you know that you can do you do it and it is easy no matter how hard it might be for somebody else.
    That I think is the key and so yes it is all psychological but the psychologist must believe that a solution is possible and he might not. It would be much better for the current squad to work it out for themselves and with a little guidance I am sure they can.
    I was not at the game on Sunday. I only saw Match of the Day but I have the impression that Boro players need to be better at anticipating the opposition’s next move and need to develop an ability to themselves deceive the opposition.
    If they can work on those two things they may get begin to get somewhere.

  16. THE
    M – maddening – YET
    I – ingenious
    D – dilatory – THEN
    D – dynamic
    L – lacklustre – THEN
    E – elegant
    S – simply
    B – breathtaking
    R – rollercoaster
    O – OURS
    U – unpredicatable
    G – goalshy
    H – hopelessly unlucky
    ENIGMA – IN LESS THAN 20 WORDS

  17. All this Haiku stuff has just given me the obvious answer to Boro’s inconsistency!!!
    Boro should be playing 5-7-5 every season!
    Easy!
    **AV writes:
    blinding flash
    of oriental insight
    hastens triumph

  18. Ian – My definition of a ‘chicken runner’ is someone whose criticism is destructive and not constructive, someone who takes an opportunity to have a pop at the players/manager/ chairman/club because they can and with no objectivity.
    The Boro supporter base has a high percentage of them and they are well represented on this blog. I used to respond to their posts now I just ignore them.
    Nothing wrong with constructive criticism but some of what I hear and read just makes me think ‘why do you support Boro at all, what do you get out of it?’ If you see no hope what is the point?
    Richard – I dont think the chicken runner mentality is a way of expressing despair its just an opportunity to have a moan. Such supporters would moan if we won the European Cup on the basis that we won’t win it next season!
    PS – Its a long time since I’ve been called an oxymoron, but if its a compliment I’ll take it!

  19. playing Arca and Boateng together is far from pointless, in fact they should (and have) dovetail together perfectly.
    Boateng can sit deep and break things up, giving Arca the licence to go forward and look to play his killer balls/support the forwards.
    Arca’s form dipped as he was playing a more defensive role in the partnership with Rocky, which could never work long term as they are both attacking midfielders.
    Give Arca the licence to roam once more and he will thrive. He might start popping up with the odd goal again as well.

  20. I wonder what a Martian coming down to Earth and reading this blog to try and understand something about football would make of it all ? Even discounting the Haiku Schmaiku stuff, there isn`t much about good old tactics, formations and the subjects we normally banter about.
    Maybe this is a good sign and we are finally getting to the nub of the issue, or is it another passing phase buoyed up by four or five games where a bit of resolve has been shown ?
    We are in danger of getting carried away by the Man U result, but let`s face it, if we had had a line up from game 1 this season which incorporated a striker who could hit a barn door with a banjo, we would have been at least 15 points better off by now.
    Southgate is definitely getting the effort out of the players, but neither they NOR the fans have had the confidence to take the team forward. If Alves continues to show what he showed on Sunday (and maybe learns that it is acceptable in the Premiership to score with the head), the confidence will flood into the Riverside.
    The real test of Southgate and the players will, for me, be how we approach the last five games. I`m sure I`m not the only one who is heartily sick of seeing us give up the ghost as soon as Premiership survival is guaranteed.
    It may not totally exorcise the Cardiff experience, but treating the rest of the season like their lives depended on it will earn the players and the club some valuable brownie points–and they need those to put plent of bums on seats next season.

  21. Nigel
    I tend to agree, when I go to a match there are always people around me having a go right from the start. I tend to see more away matches and it is not so bad at those.
    You hear it when someone plays a poor back pass to Swarz and he clears it the best he can. If it comes from a chosen one and Swarz doesnt manage to land it on a sixpence over the fullbacks head for Stewie to run clear then there is a hail of abuse.
    I am not sticking up for Swarz, most players get punishment at some time in the season.

  22. Susan Harrison and teamunster
    Thanks for those brilliant enigma acronyms! Are you related or did you come up with these quite independently of each other?!
    I’d like to offer
    ENIGMA – Exasperating Negativity inhibits Gareth’s Middlesbrough Artists, but I fear that may be more a reflection of what he inherited than what he has built now.
    Maybe we can conjure up the future with AFONSO – Astonishing Football Offers New Season optimism. Let’s hope so!
    Stewart Moffat – Did you go to Acklam Hall in the 64 club??

  23. Clive Hurren
    Thanks for comments. As far as I know we are not related and came up with the enigma acronyms totally independently of each other.
    Love the AFONSO acronym. Beats the one for MIDO – Much Indigestion Doughnut Overload.
    COME ON BORO!!!!

  24. teamunster
    MIDO -LOL!
    Has anybody else noticed that Mascherano failed in his appeal but didn’t get additional games? No doubt this wasn’t considered frivolous, even though Liverpool had already fined him, because they are after all one of the elite and it would never do to offend them, would it?
    Yet again the FA lives down to its reputation.

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