EVERYONE knows Eric. Everyone who has ever spent any time on Planet Boro anyway: players, managers, people working behind the scenes at all levels of the club, a network of highly placed hacks across the country, fans, little old ladies who live next door to players. Everyone trusts him too. That is a very important commodity as a journalist.
FOOTBALL clubs are a lot like Trigger’s Broom.
Fans of ducking and diving, apples and pears entreprenurial eighties sit-com Only Fools And Horses may recall the episode Heroes And Villains in which Roger Lloyd Pack’s amiable but dim streetcleaner Trigger wins an award from the council for having used the same brush for 20 years. “It’s had 17 new heads and 14 new handles,” he explains proudly.
“How can it be the same bloody broom then?” asks Dave/Rodney. Trigger then produced a picture of him with his broom and asked: “What more proof do you need?”
AND we’re off! The fixtures are out and that is the official start of the speculation season. We can now actively impose own own preconceptions on reality and either pick out a path to glory as the #mogganaut powers Boro to inevitable promotion or see the tricky run of fixtures where the wheels fall off and we start to splutter and slip back into danger. And whack a few days holiday or shift changes in now ready for the juicy ones.
ONLY TWO sleeps until the fixtures are published and football speculation is officially back. From Friday nmorning we can whoop and holler like a demented quiz show contestant in over-optimstic delight as we pick out a sure path to promotion glory thanks to an easy set of showdowns in the final straight and/or see the unmistakeable bleak shape of a relegation battle loom out of that tricky run just after Christmas.
By now everyone will have heard the contradictory ‘my mate is a copper and he says…’ rumours and will be checking the AA routeplanner ready for that long trek to Southampton. Or Brighton. Or be all set for Steve McClaren’s return to the Riverside. Or Leeds. Paul Fletcher on the Beeb blog did a fantastic feature last year looking at the intricacies of the fixture computer and the complexities of the pressures of the man with the laptop.
The conclusion is that you can never call these things. Or can you? Southampton might just be a good shout. I’ve been number crunching opening day fixtures over the past 25 years. Here’s some facts and figures…
TABLES turned on Tees tabloid tub-thumper… I’ve just been interviewed by Steve Welsh, who is the curator of the excellent mini-boro.com, an invaluable new addition to our cultural history. The site is a painstakingly transcribed and uploaded archive of early editions of Boro fanzine Fly Me To The Moon and is a superb snapshot of a dramatic time of transformation not just at Ayresome Park but in the wider game.
Fanzines had sprung up as fans organised to express not just their love for their club but also their anger at ground conditions, aggressive policing, being demonised by police and government. They were given added impetus through the backlash to the Hillsborough tragedy – which threw questions of safety, fences and crowd control into sharp relief – and the resulting battle for the soul of the game.
Back in those days I was an activist in the Football Supporters Association and had helped set up a vibrant Teesside branch and was a regular contributor to the fanzine in a number of guises – hence the interview. Coincidentally the site has just put up a string of issues in which my familiar style is evident, denouncing the police and club over a crush in the away end at a Leeds match.
Anyway, here’s the interview in full. It’s a decent read, Any questions it raises, fire away. And please go to the excellent mini-boro and browse the other interviews and look back at where we have come from as a club.
IT’S quiet out there. Too quiet. Soon enough all hell will break loose in torrid take-no-prisoners, bargain-basement wheeler-dealing but for now we must wait. Patiently.
It’s football’s Phoney War.