RELEGATION. The worst away form in living memory replaced by the worst home form. Letter Gate. Mackem Gate. A summer of fire sale chaos. Not sacking the boss at the right time. Sacking the boss at the wrong time. Over 10,000 shaved off the gate in seven months. Slipping behind the play-off pace. Getting caught out massaging the attendence figures. An epic misjudgment of the market on Man City ticket prices. What a pathetic 12 months for bungling Boro. Worst year since 1993-94. I can’t wait to see the back of it.
There are few redeeming features. Here’s a look back. If you can face it…
DJ Stewie D hands in a transfer request because he wants to man the wheels of steel at a bigger club. Gibbo says no.
Marlon King signs on loan, several nails are hammered into the coffin lid as Boro crash to a fatal 3-0 defeat at West Brom and settle into a costly habit of nervously eeking out draws at home to relegation rivals.
Boro big wigs stick their fingers in their ears and go “la-la-la” as the national media laugh at the club first put their size nines in their mouth then shoot themselves in the foot with “Lettergate.” The defiant reaction was one of the few highlights of the run-in.
Boro’s quandry and transfer policy is crystalised as Catts knacks glass legs Digard in a pivotal moment in a derby (and relegation battle) that was there for the taking.
Boro stun the world and themselves by beating Liverpool. And West Ham in the cup.
Boro get Teesside fashion cognescenti onside by announcing a switch from Errea to Adidas. They also trim season ticket prices in the marketing equivalent of slamming the stable gate shut.
The Gazette launch a “Keep the Faith” campaign and the ever suspicious club – initially at least – are reluctant to sign up as they circle the wagons with us on the outside. The fans think they “only have one player” as Tuncay (who had gone missing in the winter after thinking Chelsea were after him) suddenly decides he wants to play.
Pessimism increases as Boro get battered 4-0 at Bolton but a chink of daylight appears with a 3-1 win over Hull and we all get our calculators out as somehow the rest of the trapdoor dancers fail to put us all out of our misery.
In the celebrity gossip pages the Boro squad are caught up in the global pig flu panic after Matthew Bates WAG Channele Tunnel gets a bit of a sniffle. And my bid to scrap the Gazette Player of the Year gong is rejected.
The ultimate humiliation as Boro are barring a statistical freak Boro are put down by a spineless capitulation at Newcastle, followed a financial disaster as main asset Downing breaks a foot at Villa.
The club celebrates three years since Eindhoven by being relegated without a fight, a move Steve Gibson goes live to says they didn’t see the car wreck relegation coming and insists Gareth Southgate wasn’t to blame then just to throw petrol on the flames the media savvy and previously untouchable chairman brands Stockton a town full of Mackems and offers ‘blind faith’ as the chief reason for renewing.
“We’re were found out,” says Keith Lamb to the sound of a giant penny dropping. He also reiterates Boro’s ambition to maintain a promotion winning wage bill and bring in experience but admits the priority is to get the big earners out. Meanwhile reality hits home as the fixtures come out and Scunthorpe is the Boxing Day biggie
Southgate’s time to get roasted on Radio Brownlee as an angry callers says to his face he won’t return while he is still the boss, Stewie leaves and Mido goes AWOL.
A flying start. Four successive clean sheets. Blimey how did that happen? But on deadline day the squad is holed below the waterline as the Berlin Wall is dismantled and Tuncay joins him in the escape pod to Stoke but the one we needed to get shot of most is still left as a ghost when the window closes…. only to find a red tape escape hatch and disappear with his taunting banner to Qatar. has he scored yet?
Boro peak with a sizzling show at Sheffield Wednesday and highly rated international defender Sean St Ledger joins on loan (wink, wink). makes his debut at home to West Brom…. the slow slide towards mediocrity starts and soon gathers pace. Booooo!
Southgate given the bullet at midnight after a home win and one point off the top because Gibbo is not sure we have what it takes to stay the pace and results against the sides at the top have been poor. Never mind, GS2 will save us with his little list. Starts with a home defeat to basement boys Plymouth. Greeeeeeen Armmeeiy.
A bleak and soulles month of defeats and demoralising month of water-treading and horse trading. Marcus Bent, Dave Kitson and Isaiah Osbourne arrive on loan while some others disappear into the Black Hole. Digard is injured. When isn’t he?
Boro do that false dawn thing again, you know, look fantastic in a five star display at QPR and then follow it up with successive spineless surrenders to Blackpool, Cardiff and Newcastle then, pausing only to beat 10 man Scunthorpe, capitulate at Barnsley too.
Happy New Year! Let’s hope next year is nowhere near as draining, frightening, damaging or soul-sapping.
IT IS the end of the decade too (the media love these easy shelves to stack pundits opinions on during the skeleton staffed lull between seasonal binges) – and what a dramatic, fantastic, breath-taking emotionally demanding decade of unprecedent success, double-edged dreams and expectations it was.
And what a toxic sting in the tail as the bills came in and Boro succumbed to football gravity, dragged screaming back down to their natural station, back where they were the daty before Bryan Robson walked through the door. Only with a bigger ground and posh training complex and complementary hotel.
World class stars, daring to dream, unshackling the heavy chains of ahistory at Cardiff, Schwarzer’s penalty save at City, Lisbon, Rome, Basel, Bucharest, Eindhoven; all against a sound-track of breaking hearts and booing. Can it really be that so many people have missed the magic and moaned all the way through. How tragic would that be? To have been denied the joy of a Golden Age through self-inflicted cynicism.
I have enjoyed every minute of the ride but am now braced for the shrinking pains as we slowly creak back to our former status, crowd levels and expectations and Teesside gets the team it can afford. And to be honest, I’ll probably enjoy that too because football is not about success (although that is nice) it is about dissolving your self into some collective identity and experience. For me 1986-90 was better and more enjoyable than the current purgatory even though the horizons and expectations were more limited.
Anyway, as it is the end of the decade all newspapers will be exclusively revealing their best and worse team of the noughties etc
Schwarzer, Young, Southgate, Woodgate, Queudrue, O’Neil, Ince, Zenden, Downing, Yakubu, Viduka.
You will no doubt notice there is no Juninho. Or Tuncay. I’m not one for fancy Dans who only play for a couple of months a year, no matter how many tricks they’ve got. Zenden only just edged Boateng in midfield so he wouldn’t get in there and next best up front was between Boksic and JFH. Maybe a place on the bench along with Ugo, Jimmy, Mendieta, Carbone, Mills and Mrs Karembeu, the most glamourous signing of them all. You may also notice the problem at right midfield which has persisted all decade.
The worse, Jesus wept… where do you start.
As a snapshot of the decade here’s the Uncle Eric/Evening Gazette star man table toppers of the past ten seasons and a reminder of just how often our top scorer has either been a midfielder or failed to get into double figures.
Top scorer: Tuncay 8
Top scorer: Downing 10
Top scorer: Viduka 19
Top scorer: Yakubu 19
Top scorer: Hasselbaink 16
Top scorer: Juninho 9
Top scorer: Maccarone 9
Top scorer: Boksic 8
Top scorer: Boksic 12
Top scorer: Ricard 14