Southgate’s Struggle With Boro Boos Culture

GARETH Southgate must start winning games – and fast – if he is to beat the boo boys.
The jeering at the end of Boro’s Championship curtain-raiser with Sheffield United was a political hand-grenade rolled under the dug-out. It is a taste of things to come in what may be a tetchy season of uncivil war in the stands. Tensions have reached critical mass. Very critical mass.


On the surface such a display of widespread discontent after the opener may seem a harsh and hasty judgement. Boro had fought out a goalless draw against exactly the type of physical team it was predicted would batter them at this level and shown a string of positives: a higher tempo than before, genuine width, a solid defence and the kind of passion, energy and – gasp! – tackling that, had it been seen in the final few weeks of last term may well have seen us kick off next week still in the Premiership instead of making the long trip to Swansea.
The team may have lacked a cutting edge but it certainly wasn’t lacking commitment, work-rate or endeavour, the normal prompt for jeering. On balance, a point against a side whose last game was a play-off final and who are among the promotion favourites again can’t be all bad.
But that was not what the booing was really about.
Neither was it about the players. No-one, not even the most cynical chicken-runner could seriously build a case for barracking rock solid Robert Huth and Wheater at the back; or new boys Mark Yeates and Danny Coyne who had excellent debuts; or makeshift midfielder Rhys Williams. Even scapegoat-elect Jeremie Aliadiere got stuck in. He even won a few headers. Against Chris Morgan! A press-room wag quipped Boro had pulled off a heart transplant that Christian Barnard would be proud of.
Neither is it just because there is a endemic boos culture gripping the game as a whole with impatient and overly demanding fans voicing anger at the drop of a point, as the gaffer has suggested, though there is undoubtedly some truth in that.
It is true also that some of the booing was the result of retrospective rage at Boro’s timid relegation. With no home friendlies this was the first chance at the Riverside to register a protest at the end of the Premiership glory years.
But what was central to the audible anger was the glaring lack of major change over the summer – on or off the pitch. On it the problems that most fans identified as the causes of relegation remain. Against the Blades there was plenty of pretty approach play but no teeth – two shots on target in 90 minutes at home – and simmering supporters are frustrated, mystified and angry this most pressing of issues has not been resolved and that has led them to question the entire direction and strategic thinking of the club.
But, and there’s no skirting around the issue – the key reason for the booing was that the key off the field change the dissidents are demanding has not been delivered: they want shot of Gareth Southgate. Nothing else will do.
And this is not the work of a small unrepresentative group of big mouth mavericks, nor of the radio moan-in ranters and bar room bores who are bitter and hostile as a default. It goes far wider and deeper and is now a potentially explosive part of the crowd.
There is now a large minority – at the very least – of supporters in the avowedly anti-Southgate camp who have decided that only his removal can put the club back on track. They do not accept the arguments about financial determinism, corporate restrictions and the boss having at least one hand tied behind his back, they do not buy into the notion of collective responsibility and reject the idea that Southgate should be backed ex-officio because he is Steve Gibson’s choice… and ultimately that is a direct challenge to the long established Boro status quo.
It must be stressed that the dissidents are loyal fans rather than habitual wreckers. They are sincere and passionate in their support of the club, many with a lot of years and several relegations behind them and often they are struggling with a role as reluctant rebels and the uncomfortable logic of opposing Steve Gibson. I don’t think anyone wants to slip into kneejerk Geordieism. I don’t expect any badly spelled banners.
The antis do not believe they are undermining the team by booing, just pushing the club and manager into a corner through the traditional mechanism of discontent, ultimately the only matchday muscle angry fans have ever had. It is a desire to save the club from itself that drives them and they find the loyalist position – the blind faith option – as being more damaging in the long run than speaking out. They think they are the real fans.
And there’s the problem. It is driven by strongly held beliefs underpinned by a firm commitment to the history and tradition of the club. When it comes to wild-eyed zealotry football fans are right up there with the Jesuits and the Taleban so having taken a stance they wlll not be easily swayed.
This will not go away. It is not a short term fit of pique that will fade with a win or two. For the dissidents the die is cast. Most have publicly declared themselves to friends and family, at work and in the pub and for them there is no going back on that. They want him out and will now agitate tirelessly for that end.
Southgate was told as much to his face during the live BBC Tees phone-in last month: “I haven’t renewed because of you and the club have no chance of achieving anything while you are in charge.” There was no mincing of words. Not a shred of embarrassment at talking direct to the object of the dissent. It was a political position in a nutshell.
The gaffer was articulate and reasoned in his response and respected the irate callers position and insisted he would do his best to win the refuseniks over. But he can’t. They won’t be won over. They won’t be won over by victory at Swansea or Scunthorpe because that is the bare minimum they expect.
But every defeat, every dropped point, every dismal display – especially at home – will be placed squarely at his feet, will strengthen their resolve and swell their numbers.
Every victory will be despite him, not because of him and will be credited to the players.
Victories will not win back a single one of the dedicated anti-faction, it will just buy a short respite until the next set-back when the battle will resume.
There is a large faction of fans who have been dead set against him from day one. Yet another rookie, no matter how popular a player, was not the ‘top drawer’ manager the chairman had promised in the aftermath of McClaren’s exit after the UEFA Cup final.
Others have gradually joined the fledgling opposition over the past three years as the post-Eindhoven hangover turned into a fully fledged post-Cardiff nosedive citing a crime sheet that includes “failure to manage big names,” “inept transfers,” “square-peggism”, “inability to motivate,” “clapping” and the damning inability to “learn lessons” and call for his own head in post-match interviews.
It is a depressing pattern we have seen here before with both Bryan Robson and Steve McClaren. Once people have made the conscious leap to publicly join the opposition they do not return. The political problem festers and spreads infects the body politic until the boil is lanced one way or another. It is the life cycle of a manager.
Robson ushered in an age of Wem-Boro-ley glory and brought in a string of world class stars to spark the euphoria of the Riverside Revolution but the early universal optimism quickly fizzled out as the pace of progress slowed and the last two years of his reign saw a situation develop that is very similar to the one Southgate finds himself in.
The crowd was split. It wasn’t quite the fisticuffs on the Holgate of the last days of Lennie Lawrence but tempers were running high. The fissure pre-dated mass internet access but the old pre-Rivals Fly Me To The Moon board had clear factions while Tim Lloyd’s excellent Hong Kong based mailing list (which brought the e-mail system and printer at the Gazette grinding to a halt most mornings as it spat out the previous night’s spleen venting) was divided into the Anti Robson Group and Pro Robson Group in an adversarial political fight to the death. There was little middle ground.
The arguments revolved around who would replace him. Should he be given a chance after what he had done up until then? Did he need a stronger, more experienced No2 (Ron Atkinson was the popular choice)? Was he only there because Steve Gibson had a misguided loyalty that would lead to disaster? Should we act or risk relegation?
Robbo was still in his job long after the critical mass had been reached because of Steve Gibson patronage but he was a lame duck after being booed on a final day ‘lap of honour’ following a 1-1 draw with Watford. That was the season before Gibbo started looking for Terry Venables’ number and that made match day atmosphere strained and fractious as every result, every selection, every training ground rumour and mooted transfer target set supporters squabbling amongst themselves again.
We went through the same cycle with McClaren too and his case even a trophy, a highest ever Premier League finish and successive ventures Europe could not stem the tide. Like Southgate he was up against it from day one and despite ushering a new era of scientific professionalism and success new layers of discontent were added regularly with his dour approach to tactics, his flirtations with first Leeds then Newcastle, his deliberate playing of weakened sides, a deadpan and dismissive media persona and digs at uneducated supporters who he appeared to regard as a neccessary evil. And to top it all he commited the cardinal sin of isolating talismanic Juninho and bundling him hastily through the exit door, a move which sealed his fate in PR terms.
Like Robbo the last two years of his reign were played out to a back-drop of booing and increasingly personal vitriol. It got the point where some supporters actively wanted Boro to lose games in the hope it would hasten his departure despite the chairman insisting that would not happen.
The position of his opposition became at times perverse, refusing to acknowledge his tangible success to the point where the real highs were trashed and debased in an attempt to square the ideological circle: the Cardiff triumph was ‘papering over the cracks’ and only achieved because Arsenal put out a reserve side in the semi, Eindhoven was only reached because of a crazy last throw of the tactical dice and besides, we should never have had to come from three down, the real measure of a team was the league where his had struggled blandly against the drop -although that measure was not enforced the year before when the team had finished seventh; that year the yard-stick was ‘entertainment value’ which was deemed close to zero .
For the anti-Macs the catalyst for the success in the UEFA Cup was not the manager, nor even the inspirational skipper who proved his leadership credentials by calling clear the air squad meetings in what was seen in some quarters as a dressing room coup. No, it was a tipsy terrace terrorist who beat the stewards and shot a Red Book at the dug-out and became the boo boys pin-up.
The entire UEFA Cup run was not celebrated with the unfettered joy it should have been because the crowd had gone beyond critical mass and many were watching the games grudgingly and looking for sticks to beat the manager with. The crowd had become dysfunctional and divided and estranged from the club hierarchy and arguably has yet to recover fully . There has been little since then to unite and galvanise us.
And now we are very close to tipping point again. The tide of discontent is rising and it threatens to over-shadow what is a watershed season. The booing will become an institutionalised feature as it was in the last dark days of the previous two incumbents and the post-match debate will not be about the match action or player performance or the potential for next weekend but instead will be about holding the manager to account. Even after wins. Every week will bring new demands for his head.
The anti-Southgate positions are entrenched. There is little point in trying to win those over. If the gaffer is to survive he must maintain and strengthen his support among the middle ground waverers and persuade his own bosses that he is still a viable prospect to take the club forward. He needs to buy time and to do that his team must win games.
While the declared dissidents are dominating the debate in the pubs, the phone-ins and on the message boards the battle is for the hearts and minds of the silent majority… if the undecided are still a majority. While there are now very few advocates willing to passionately argue Southgate’s corner most of those floating voters will be quietly willing and hoping to be persuaded quickly by results that the gaffer can deliver.
And he must. Relegation has heaped the pressure on the boss. At the lower level there is no wriggle room over our inability to compete financially. Now it will come down purely to results. Southgate must put a team out that are organised, motivated and, most importantly, successful.
Boro must start to win games and win them emphatically. Especially at home. A draw at home to Doncaster, say, will not easily be explained away as one against the beaten play-off finalists.
Promotion is the bare minimum needed to stave off a full scale revolt. And it must be achieved with Boro leading from the front. We must be up in the play-off places – at least – from off and stay there. A slow burn start will not be tolerated. The worst possible scenario is Boro doing just enough to stay in touch with the leaders but not enough to keep the waverers on side, deepening the divide and drawing out the agony.
It is down to the boss to silence the boo-boys and get the crowd back on song.
**THE ABOVE is an extended Chickenrunnaz remix of this week’s gazette Big Picture column.
**HERE are a few of the stories and snippets that have caught my eye this week and I think some of you lot will be interested but I haven’t had time to discuss at length. I have been pointing browsers at the links via the trendy/nerdy medium of Twitter. If you sign up and “follow” my “tweets” there is loads of this stuff for you to read when you really should be working.
*Proper journalist Simon Kuper reckons he could lead Manchester United into the Champions League as he argues it’s money and not managers that deliver success in the Financial Times.
*When Saturday Comes looks at the post-Seadogs squabble as former fans of Scarborough get bogged down in a pyramid civil war.
*Football and culture site ‘Sport is a TV Show’ explore how full blooded five-a-side sessions helped fuel the post-punk tour de force that was the Clash epic album London Calling
*And from the same site, a brilliant four letter peppered spoof of David ‘Damned United’ Peace previewing the new Premier League season.
All this and more plus 140 character long signposts to Boro ephemera available daily on the Untypical Boro twitter feed which you can find here.

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69 thoughts on “Southgate’s Struggle With Boro Boos Culture

  1. If proof were needed that Boro have not done a great job in the last few years of managing to make the best of our available resources then contemplate the following:
    Martin O’Neil has Luke Young and Stuart Downing and reportedly wants Wheater and Tuncay.
    Roy Hodgson has Mark Schwarzer and is close to signing Viduka and is reportedly interested in signing Huth and O’Neil
    Add to that the news that Cattemole has doubled in value in one year and James Morrison has also seen his value increase as clubs look to make bids.
    So except for a left back we have a complete Boro XI that is highly sought after that could well have been the team we played last season.
    Instead we are about to embark on a season in the championship with a new inexperienced academy-based team supplemented by lower-league bargains and young overseas hopefuls – it’s a bit of a reality check!

  2. AV
    The fact the message changed from ‘ins and outs not being related’ to ‘must sell before we can buy’ and then Downing and Mido off the books plus money in (and Turbull off the wage bill) only resulting in two free agents and a loose change purchase of Yeates tells its own story.
    The fact we still await the departure of Tuncay and Alves plus sundry departures of players we ‘want to keep hold of’ but ‘hope to keep’. Tells me that we may be heading for size zero rather than belt tightening.
    But, and a huge but, we must remember there are still 19 shopping days to the window closing. Who knows what rabbits will be pulled out of the hat – though Cat out of a bag wasnt the most cheering news of the summer.
    To add insult to injury we draw Forest away in the cup a day after I go on holiday (regular sufferers will know I live in Derby)
    Roll on Scunnie though before that Powls Snr and Jnr are braving the long journey from Reading to Swansea. My Leicester supporting buddy saw them at the Walkers and they played some pretty stuff, dont like it up em and have a powder puff attack.

  3. And yet another stick with which to beat?
    The papers are linking Chelsea with a £4m bid for Nemanja Matic today. This is the same player that we gave a trial to last year (albeit it was cut short due to an international call-up (maybe this was a sign that the kid had talent?)).
    No doubt we could have had him at that time for a fraction of the price and he would have fit into “our policy” of buying young and cheap players that we could then sell on for a profit (a bit like what Wigan do!!!). Saying that, Emnes was hardly cheap at £3m, so perhaps “our policy” isn’t working.
    On another point, my suspicions that O’Neil wasn’t doing us any favours by delaying his operation look pretty accurate now. It looks like it could have been an escape plan all along. At least he played against Sheffield though, unlike Tuncay.
    Maybe all the Tuncay lovers out there may want to think again about his attitude. That said, maybe he wants to play while he is still here (I doubt this) but the club aren’t letting him?? Why wasn’t Mendi tried when he was still here and the team were playing bad? These are the things we are never told!
    I guess all we really want is a bit of honesty from the club. I believe that the majority of fans would be a lot more forgiving if they knew what was really going on. No more pretend illnesses please. All this spin is the main reason why I didn’t renew this season (although a gorgeous baby girl and a 500 mile round trip helped make my decision too).
    I was still there for the opener last week. I didn’t boo, but understand and share the frustration about the way we are being taken for mugs at the moment.

  4. Ian Gill at 9.49am “…to Swansea. My Leicester supporting buddy saw them at the Walkers and they played some pretty stuff, dont like it up em and have a powder puff attack.”
    Some might suspect your buddy was describing our Boro heroes.

  5. Ian Gill’s scouting report on Swansea makes them sound like a mirror image of us. I’ll take 0 – 0 now.
    On your comments AV, I think many fans are entrenched in their views on GS now but that is because he has been in charge for 3 years now. He is no longer the rookie and he quite clearly stated himself that last season was the season to judge him on. It was his team, playing his way. We went down, dismally.
    I was, for a long time, a great supporter of GS. He appeared to be a principled advocate of attacking football, in tune with the fans and wholly unlike the majority of his ref baiting, long ball hoofing, whinging counterparts in the premier league.
    Some of that may still be the case. He has however turned out to be probably the worst manager we have had in my lifetime and I have been going since the early seventies. There are essentially three criteria by which to judge a manager; buying and selling players, tactical awareness and motivation. Unfortunately, by all three GS has to be judged a failure, the evidence is stacked against him.
    There is absolutely no good reason AV why he should suddenly start to excel when he has performed so poorly thus far. When you lose faith in the manager then all hope is gone. That is why fans feel the way they do and the booing will continue.
    For all of the reasons I stated at the beginning, I would love him to turn it round and prove us all wrong. But he won’t because he can’t.
    Pity.

  6. Swansea? I must admit that I burst out laughing when I heard the description of Swansea.
    I fear John and his lad will be dining on Nouvelle Cuisine – a trumph of style over substance. They did however score three in the Carling Cup with the unfortunately named Dobie getting a couple. They do like to play from the back so can be pressed – see England last night?
    With the gossip about Huth and O’Neill, let us hope Tuncaylitis isnt contagious.

  7. Stockport Wiggy said:
    “I don’t expect to see much money spent in this window, as I imagine Gibbo and the Count have already decided that Gareth is a lost cause.”
    What, on the basis of the Sheffield United game? I know a weeks a long time in football but I don’t think a U-turn has been made just yet.

  8. What do football fans want?
    1.They like to see their team win regularly particularly at home.
    2.They want to see some good games.
    3.They want to see their team score.
    At the end of the day it does not bother me if the person in charge is called Southgate, Mourinho or Joe Kinnear. I refuse to believe the majority of genuine fans WANT the team to fail simply because they openly question the manager’s ability.
    Start winning football matches and I can assure you the booing will stop – and that is from somebody with over 40 years experience of watching the game and listening to fans mouthing their opinions.

  9. With Afonso ready to be offloaded it would be interesting to know at what point GS had decided he was a dud ( for us at least).
    I recall several press releases last season from the coaching pew along the lines of ‘ he’ll score us the goals -soon’ etc etc. It was fairly obvious in the first 6 months he was here that he couldn’t cut it. Persevering well into 2008/09 must be one of if not the main reason we are travelling to Swansea this week.
    The damage of the bad signing mightn’t be so bad if we had addressed it but my viewing of the Sheffield game says we are as bad as I can remember in the striker department.
    John, Aus

  10. Bring on the next match. Only by playing we can judge the current squad. I think Tuncay must play on Saturday as he is well paid for doing that. And he should still love to play football – shouldn’t he?
    Also I wish the tranfer windows should close soon and we could finally consentrate on football. Still wishing Tunny to be here come January…
    Up the Boro!

  11. Various reports saying Alves is about to sign for benfica. Don’t know how accurate that is though, as one says he has scored two goals in 45 minutes this season. Should that be 45 games?
    If tuncay doesn’t play on saturday is it because:
    1. We don’t want to risk injury as we are desperate for cash
    2. He doesn’t want to ever play for us again
    If its the latter he shold have his player of the season awards withdrawn and awarded to….. .er …..um …. Ross Turnbull
    Richard, I’d love to read your thesis but I’ve only half an hour for me lunch and a life to lead.

  12. I like most on here do not rate Southgate as a manager. He was a dreadful appointment at a time we should have been pushing on with an experienced proven manager. He in his three years at Boro has done nothing to show he has what it takes to be a top flight manager.
    But I do not think that is all the problem. We were told by Gibson funds were available to sort the squad no matter who was sold… .not true and not happened!We were told that he had written off the Boro debt owed to him to put the club on a better footing but the debt has just been moved sideways into the rest of the empire.
    Basically every day we hear Southgate saying this player will be gone, that player will be gone…and also other players getting linked that we apparently wanted to keep.. this is not sorting the team, this is a fire sale and seeing whats left over, then you may see a few free transfers from lower leagues coming to fill the holes.
    The main point is this… Gibson said this year that the team would be pushing for promotion and that the funds to buy would be there.This obviously is not the case… all the best players have prices on there shirts and if we did manage promotion we would not survive one season back in the premiership. If we can’t afford to sort the team for the championship we stand no chance of surviving in the premiership.

  13. Now that the “Goal Machine” to Benfica rumours have resurfaced I asked my ‘fica mate over in Lisbon if he’d heard anything: “Nope. Benfica is running on 6 strikers now (incl. Saviola!!), so hopefully no room for more…”

  14. There is no doubt that GS is between a rock and a hard place, but the booing will stop if Boro start winning, if that doesn’t happen he will be sacked.
    No doubt if the winning habit returns and Boro have a successful season then those that have turned against GS will not suddenly start rating him, but does that matter?
    The only issue that is important now is how succesful or not this season is going to be.
    I agree the reason for the booing is pent up frustration and anger at last seasons debacle and it is hard to back GS as a manager when the facts from the last three seasons are analysed but continuity is a strength in any organisation (not at all costs though) and change is usually damaging so for the moment I’m content for GS to remain in charge, we’ll have a better idea of where we are at 10/12 games in.
    Although despite perceived pundit wisdom indicating that after a quarter of a season you’ve got a feel for how things will pan out for the rest of the year my recollection is that last season after ten games Boro were 8th!
    Changing the subject somewhat and trying to catch up after a couple of weeks away, the injury to Matthew Bates looks a little worrying to say the least, this must be a career threatening injury given it has recurred three times?

  15. Just to say Nemanja Matic is being linked with a £4m move to Chelsea in the national press. This is a guy we had on trial last season and could have signed for less than a million.
    Have watched him on youtube and he looks immense. Now I know that a video can be completely misleading and no true judge of a players true ability but if Chelsea are interested the guy must have some quality. Compare it to having Matthew Bates in the centre of midfield.
    Obviously time will judge if he’s a quality player but if he is and we missed out on him despite having him on trial i would be massively disappointed.
    **AV writes: I though the problem was that we COULDN’T sign him for less than a million. In fact wasn’t the price potentially quite a bit higher.

  16. Didn’t want him in the first place – and now he is proving conclusively I was right along with others.
    The charge sheet is long – and accurate. And I suppose fans feel audible dissatisfaction at the continuing demise of our club under him is perhaps the strongest tool to get action.
    I doubt it will – but frankly many,many fans believe it is time for mistakes to be acknowledged and action taken.

  17. AV – just how much do Leeds want for Beckford? You state we cannot afford him. If this is the case – and I have no reason to doubt you, then we clearly are in dire financial straits, something Gibson and indeed Southgate have not come clean about in all the rhetoric about promotion during pre season.
    I quite agree with Chris, we simply couldn’t afford promotion, and I cannot afford another season of heartache ending in relegation.
    **AV writes: I think the price-tag is £6m. Plus there are Premier League clubs interested and if Leeds accepted a Boro offer it would immediately be matched by them. Even we overcame the status hurdle it would then come down to a wages auction we can’t possibly win.

  18. Billy in Berks: if you can convert one in three chances (your post at 2.48pm) you are much better than any of our strikers.
    The other thing is that there has been mention in the past about Beckford and some character and/or lifestyle issues, and the odd injury or two, that might have dissuaded potential purchasers from the top tier. He may be a prickly character. But he is still scoring regularly when playing and surely it must be worth an offer?
    The worst that can happen is that the offer is rejected or raised by a Premier League outfit, in which case we will be in exactly the same position as now. We will have lost nothing. And surely we could match the wages he has been receiving as a player with Leeds in the third tier FOR SOME YEARS NOW (or are they still operating on a Toytown economic model?).
    I accept Newcastle maybe an exception (but even they have their economic constraints unless or until sold), but even though we might not be able to compete with the big boys from the Premier League, surely with our parachute payment we could match or beat the other Championship Clubs (accepting QPR are not splashing the cash).
    And to think a year ago people thought we were economic big boys whilst Hull City and Stoke were poor upstarts. Now we can’t compete with them! But it is another sort of reality entirely if we can’t compete with the likes of Swansea, Watford, Doncaster, Barnsley etc.

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