I TAKE it all back. Far from being “bungling Boro’s own goal shut up lettergate cock-up” it turns out the Block 53 gagging order was actually a cunning PR masterstroke!
In a classic example of applied reverse psychology the Riverside spin machine have used the default defiance of Teessiders to kick-start the season. By instructing bloody-minded supporters to sit down, shut up and stop banging the plastic sheeting the club engineered the best atmosphere in years and helped galvanise the slumbering crowd.
If Boro now spark a great escape the terrace folklore in years to come will record the letter and the ‘singing ban’ as this season’s Red Book Chucking, a watershed moment that jump-started a flagging season, united the fans and ignited the passion.
Sue Watson may just have saved the season with her syntax shredding letter. It has provoked a fantastic response. Before Saturday’s cack-handed dictat no-one had even heard of The Red Faction bar those who complained, a few geeky gamers and lovers of message board point scoring. Now they are the new heroes of the Riverside Revolution, noisy dissidents who have helped bring back the noise and turned the negative potential of the letter gaffe into an audible positive .
Long before kick-off they were a visible presence. Where usually there are 20 or so at the back, new recruits had swollen the group until it took up the whole ‘V’ of what should now be known as the Sue Watson Singing Section. They had become a magnet for those who are ‘up for it’, those determined to show that football is about making noise, about showing passion, standing up if you love Boro and about “driving people mad” with banging, singing, chanting, taunting the away end and generally creating a racket.
And the crackdown on the subversives has only served to spread their dangerous creed. Before the letter most people didn’t even know that there was plastic sheeting at the back: now it is the hip percussive soundtrack to every song and the leather lunged loyalists are all making for the back row. During moments of tension and drama the driving rhythmic beat was coming from the back of every stand, even in the normally more reserved West Stand Upper -although the lads immediately in front of the camera gantry are sure to be in the next batch of Watsonian correspondence if there is the slightest hint of lens wobble in the live pictures.
And standing too! The whole of the naughty corner and almost all of the other focus of passion in Block 17 directly opposite them looked to be on their feet pretty much throughout with no incursions from the dark forces of the feared Freddie Boswell Hi Vis Posse. Standing and singing unmolested? It was like these subversive elements were away fans. No doubt the stewards were (sensibly) told to take it softly-softly and avoid provocations or the PR disaster of ejections for this potentially volatile fixture.
The atmosphere was fantastic. All hail the Red Faction! All hail Comrade Watson!
Of course, that the team turned in a supersonic show helped Boro fans break the sound barrier. How could you not be on your feet and cheering after the team finally delivered. On the attack from the off, playing fluid high-tempo passing football that didn’t falter when the lone striker fell over the ball, using the width to pull wobbling West Ham out of shape and creating a string of excellent chances in an emphatic 2-0 win to book a place in the quarter-finals for the fourth year running .
There were two excellent goals with FA fifth round goal machine Stewie Downing scoring a cracking early free-kick and then teeing up Tuncay for the second with an exquisite cushioned lay-back. But he wasn’t the only one on fire. Tuncay burst back into life after months of sullen hibernation to suddenly make his flicks and deft touches count, fit again French forager Jeremie Aliadiere (unfairly a snipers’ scapegoat) caused chaos with his pace while Gary O’Neil, who seems to be slowly refocusing, put in an inspired display full of industry and dangerous deliveries into the box. Matty Bates and Julio Arca did well too with the yongster getting forward quite a bit in a lively last ten minutes.
Yes, there were a few rocky moments in the second half when West Ham were chasing the game and caused a couple of scares in the box and Brad Jones had a couple of butter fingered moments before recovering but the Hammers were scrappy, disjointed and lacked a cutting edge and never really looked like getting past a hard working and composed defence. Easy. Now let’s do it in the league.