NUMEROLOGY: ancient systems, traditions or beliefs in mystical or esoteric hidden relationships between numbers and physical objects or living things; systems regarded as pseudomathematics by modern scientists. Often associated with the occult.
So, are the black arts of the necromancer at work as Boro’s provisional squad numbers for the season are released? Well Andrew Taylor will certainly feel the powerful dark hex of the cursed number 26 weighing him down as he contemplates his bleak fate in the coming season. And he won’t need to search too far for hidden messages.
For Taylor the new shirt numbers spell out a bleak equation. In old fashioned top 40 countdown fashion, the Hartlepool-born strutting stopper and would-be website wizard is the biggest and most obvious loser in Strachan’s first formal squad selection.
The out of favour full-back has had the number three shirt that shouts “automatic choice at left back” brusquely taken off him and slipped 23 places in the post-Southgate pop parade to take the shirt vacated by John Johnson. Now he is wearing a fringe digit that pokes fun and whispers “your days here are numbered sonny” slyly behind your back.
Last season Tayls slipped from Premier League, UEFA Cup and England Under-21 regular to Boro’s fourth choice left-back behind a teenager, an uncomfortable centre-back and Justin Hoyte. Ouch! And now the number three shirt has been left blank. That means a specialist first choice left-back is coming in. And with Matthew Bates also doing well in that position in pre-season Tayls may not even get a game in the reserves.
It is decision time for him now. The harsh reality of the numbers should hammer home the message that he has no real prospect of featuring for Boro under Gordon Strachan.
It is time to cut his losses and leave. It may mean a pay-cut, possibly even a hefty one, because right now he will be one of the biggest earning full-backs in the Championship. He needs to price himself back into the market to get a club and kick-start his career.
If he stays and festers and takes the money – a lucrative dead end – then next summer he will be out of contract and on the market as a former Premiership prodigy that hasn’t played first team football for the best part of two years. That could be a rude awakening.
Meanwhile Boro’s departure lounge trio have been slipped the black spot. If there is anything more damning than being given a number higher than th enumber of games you have played for the club (or your own IQ) it is not being given a number at all.
In an unequivocal statement of intent misfit Mido, glass-legged French midfielder Didier Digard and abandoned project Marvin Emnes have all been airbrushed from the first team squad. No number, no future. The club want all three out. It is the most significant snub since Mendieta was frozen out in 2007. Last season even Afonso Alves was given a number – and he was on strike!
Black hole box-to-boxer Josh Walker is also without a number but is not such a pressing problem financially. He barely featured last term under Strachan and finished the season on loan at Rotherham. He is expected to move on a free very soon.
Strachan’s key summer signings have all been given numbers in the first XI, which you would expect. Kris Boyd, all time SPL record scorer and the man brought in to add teeth, has been given the No 9 shirt which means Leroy Lita slips down to No 15. Kevin Thomson is handed the No 8 of Digard, Nicky Bailey gets Aiadiere’s ‘famous’ No 10 shirt and Eston hotshot Parmo Kink will wear the No 11 shirt of Emnes No 11. Fellow flanker Andy Halliday is rated a prospect at No 19… although that is “Stewie’s number” so maybe subliminally great things will be expected from him in that shirt.
A few changes at the back… Big Mick McManus has taken Poggi’s No 6 shirt after wearing 19 on loan last year while David Wheater has given up the No 31 he has worn since his surprise breakthrough from the fringes three years ago and will now turn out in No 5 after the exit of Chris Riggott. He will have to learn a new signature squiggle. Matthew Bates, rehabilitated and this years “like a new ÃÂ£5m signing” retains his No 4 and so it seems Strachan sees him as a major player…. let’s hope his knee holds up.
A few other odds and sods: Young Gun Luke Williams has been rewarded for his promising cameos and excellent attitude with a real squad number. Last term he was hastily added to the list when pressed into service and given No 35, a figure more than double his age. This time he gets the 22 vacated by Walker and his trajectory is upwards.
His peers Bruno Pilatos, Cameron Park and Ben Gibson haven’t got numbers and it is hoped this season the squad is big enough not to need to steal them from the Academy side on a Saturday. Jonathan Franks is also without a number but that is nothing sinister. It is hoped that he can be found a year long loan to gain experience.
Brad Jones gets No 1, so anyone hoping that Strachan was going out to buy Buffon – or even Speroni – can forget it. You’ll have to bite your nails. Brad is the first choice keeper this year with fans’ favourite Danny Danny Coyne the number two and Jason Steele poised to be eased in as the season goes on.
Shirt No 12 – Chris Killen last season – has been left blank. It would be a nice touch to leave it that way and list “the fans” as Twe12th Man in the programme .
Inexplicably Gary O’Neil (18) and Lee Miller (16) have swapped numbers. I don’t know why. If anyone has any ancient numerological explanations based on the measurements of the pyramids or verses in the bible, feel free to chip in.
That list in full:
1 Brad Jones
2 Justin Hoyte
4 Matthew Bates
5 David Wheater
6 Stephen McManus
7 Scott McDonald
8 Kevin Thomson
9 Kris Boyd
10 Nicky Bailey
11 Tarmo Kink
14 Willo Flood
15 Leroy Lita
16 Lee Miller
17 Barry Robson
18 Gary O’Neil
19 Andrew Halliday
20 Julio Arca
21 Danny Coyne
22 Luke Williams
23 Jonathan Grounds
24 Seb Hines
25 Rhys Williams
26 Andrew Taylor
27 Joe Bennett
29 Tony McMahon
30 Jason Steele
MEANWHILE Boro have announced the winner of the first month’s shirt front raffle…. *drum roll* …. and it’s Hartlepool-based specialist curtain walling and construction sector cladding contractor Deepdale Solutions.
Their boss, long time supporter and Derek Muirhead, said some nice things about “promoting our business nationally” and the rent-by-the-month shirt scheme proving Boro were “ahead of the curve” but it has failed to excite me.
No disrespect to Deepdale Solutions (should I ever need specialist curtain walling or cladding they will be the first people I call) but you would really have hoped for a bums on seats national name, or even a second tier one regional one, to launch what remains an unproven sponsorship strategy. Or at least someone you had heard of.
Let’s hope they have lots of other potential short term sponsors in the pipeline, that it proves to be a lucrative way of filling the shortfall from not landing a real, year long recognisable brand and that we don’t see “Your Name Here” at some point.
I think I might still be on for February.