The Red Army’s Green Brigade

THE GREEN Howards brand is to disappear in a single enlarged Yorkshire military entity as part of a massive retrenchment of the army. Of course, your first thought may be, like mine, about the clear and obvious threat to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of a now defenceless People’s Republic of Teesside in the face of an aggressive military massing on our border by the armed wing of a brooding White Rose nationalism. Or maybe not.
Discussions about the rebranding and resizing of the army are probably best left for another time and place, but it is worth pointing out there is a long and rich historical connection between the Catterick-based regiment and Boro. Over the years – especially in times of war and in the years of national service – the Green Howards has been the default cap badge of a long list of Ayresome heroes who got some in. Wilf Mannion, Harold Shepherdson and Alan Peacock are among those who wore both shirts.
While the debate over the regiment’s demise rages on, here’s my contribution. I’ve dug through the vintage video vaults to find some classic footage of Boro-related retro Green Howard action.


First here’s some brilliant old school footage of the last serving Green Howard to play at Ayresome Park – the infamous Boro Bugler from the ill-fated 1989-90 season. Initially recruited to blast out inspirational pre-match rallying cries and celebrations whenever Boro scored, as a laboured campaign ground on and net-busting action grew rarer he started piping up if we won a corner. It was a short-lived sarcastic soundtrack to a sour season. But the image lives on a fondly remembered as a peculiarly Boro bit of kitsch.


And here’s some equally evocative local news scenes from old football, a bemused Boro team being put through their paces by the Green Howards after Sgt-Major Rioch sent them to a pre-season boot camp. Wheezing through assault courses, watching team mates being given a good kicking during unarmed combat sessions and firing big guns… fantastic fun. Although proto-pacificist Bernie Slaven shows some early ill-disciplined tendencies to react badly to being given orders. I think. His accent was really thick then.

Any former Howards on here do National Service square-bashing with Cloughie? Or hitched to watch Boro on a 48 hour pass? Maybe you tried to follow Boro game’s in Europe via Skype from Iraq? Come on, speak up you ‘orrible little man.
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MEANWHILE, here’s a hidden bonus track, an abridged version of this week’s Big Picture column from the steam driven paper Gazette….


Art And Soul: ‘Boring’ Spain In Style Wars


ZZZZZSPAIN are “boring”. That was one of the red hot topics that dominated the European Championships.
After German keeper Manuel Neuer’s defensive diving header deep in the opposition half, the raging debate over abstract Iberian art has been the most entertaining and engaging aspect of the whole month.
Laboured group games against Italy and Croatia, then knockout grinds over France and Portugal with possession stats high but goal-mouth action low, the football coroner was called and pronounced tiki-taka dead at the scene.
A consensus slowly evolved that Spain were past-it, over-hyped and boring. Germany were the hot new thing.
Yet after their resurrection in a glorious and historic final Spain have been installed in the Pantheon of all time greats and the experts all love them again. Football’s end-to-end public opinion is very fickle. Watching it swing from side to side has been both entertaining and educational.
Public and pundits alike were deeply divided over the artistic precision of the eventual champions and there was a lively philosophical debate over the nature of the beast.
Was this awesome approach of slick and fluid high-speed purist passing a supreme expression of the distilled essence of football to be universally and uncritically applauded and immediately imposed on junior footballers far and wide?
Or were the long spells of deep and patient technically proficient possession smothering the competitive nature of the game in a smooth but soulless shroud of soporific success?
The studio panels were split, often along passport lines, columnists traded stat-laden missives while the internet snarled as rivals blogs and twitter-snipers let loose.
Even Arsene Wenger, himself a technocrat criticised for a lack of cutting edge and the personification of a high-brow European ideal, went public to say he thought Spain were overly artistic in approach.
Interestingly, the most illuminating and informed debate came away from the mainstream media and the small screen studio sofas: the internet was aflame with passionate polemic. In a reflection of the dismay at the woeful quality of ‘expert’ punditry, the audience are thinking for themselves and starting to shape the wider agenda.
A position on Spain became an article of faith among football’s congregation – and anything that makes people animated about the history and theory of the game, anything that makes them challenge the consensus and formulate their own theology is a good thing.
Art or labour? Skill or spirit? Technique or passion. Tricky Fancy Dan foreign tiki-taka or high-thrills British blood and thunder? Mesmerising patterns around Iniesta or quick ball forward to Andy Carroll? And with the two approaches on opposites sides of a grand cultural chasm, is it even possible to find a middle way?
It is a debate that goes right to the very heart of football. It certainly transcends one performance, no matter how good. It is fundamental issue that not only raises questions about how the game should be played but also about how it should be watched and experienced by the masses.
Yes, Spain clinically dismantled ten man Italy in the final and scored four superbly engineered goals to rewrite the history books in exquisite style and finish with a fragile consensus on their side. Hurrah for Spain! The Greatest Team Of All Time – Official!
But by then plenty of people had already decided. It was all a little bit, well, dull. Worthy, but dull. Don’t get angry. That’s not a bad thing. Plenty of spheres of human endeavour can be described like that.
Even before the tournament began there were questions being raised about the ‘death’ of the Spanish way by Philistine dissidents. After all, Chelsea had ‘parked the bus’ to squeeze past Barca to reach the Champions League final while a more utilitarian Real Madrid had won the title.
The “boring Spain” bandwagon trundled through a largely unimpressive group stage then the chuntering gathered serious momentum until it reached a crescendo of condemnation in the snoozy stalemate against Ronaldo’s lads.
Against Portugal remember, Spain were as dull as ditchwater before winning on penalties. God it was dire. There is no other way of describing it.
Sorry, they were precise, artistic and masterful in possession; they probed and picked their way forward while recycling the ball for lengthy spells in which the opposition were forced to work hard, press and chase to close down space and pin them back. A classic.
It broke the resistance of the crowd not clever enough to appreciate it though and they turned to repeated Mexican Waves for entertainment while waiting for rare moments of exciting potent penetration?
It was hard work watching. You could feel the armchair audience dozing off with only a hard-core of wide-eyed disciples oohing and aahing over yet another 23 pass move that gained one yard. Even the cutaway shots to hot babes on chick-cam showed them yawning. Or texting. The old lady knitting at Wimbledon would’ve slotted straight in.
I broke off from shouting “put it in el mixer” at the screen and amused myself by picking fights with tiki-taka zealots on twitter. And I wasn’t alone. It was a war-zone out there. And it was more entertaining – and intellectually stimulating – than watching the game.
One wag said Spain are like Michael Bolton singing soul, all the right choreographed shapes and moves and pitch and note perfect – but without an ounce of passion. Which sums up the dilemma.
There’s an natural intellectual urge to appreciate and admire the exquisite technical aspects of the Spanish style but an equally powerful primeval desire to see warriors get stuck in at tempo. We like a crunching tackle. We want a battle as much as a chess-match.
In some ways it is like music. We all admire the virtuosity of the string section of the LSO and the harmonic orchestral interplay of a huge opus we recognise from the adverts – but the long quiet bits and the oboe solo are strictly for the classic FM cognescenti. Most of us still prefer to get drunk and dance to rock to roll, disco, r’n’b or dubstep. #Dench!
The Spanish style may be technically on a higher plane and leave the professionals purring – but it can leave some people cold. Perfection is not always exciting. Art doesn’t always engage. Especially high art.
By contrast, the flawed drama the thud and blunder Premier League puts far more bums on seats and is the biggest small screen draw across the world for a very good reason: it delivers unpredictability based on the fact that the best team doesn’t always win.
Football is not an art. Or a science. There is no Platonic ideal. It is about conflict and competition and – as even Mark Lawrenson acknowledged – about entertainment. It is about action and physicality and direct intent as much as passing precision. It is about error and imperfection. It is infinitely more human.
And football is cyclical too. The current vogue will be countered by smart tacticians – not from England obviously – and systems will evolve to manipulate space and personnel to contain such fluidity. Bus parking will be fine-tuned and codified and soon every U-16 team in Europe will know exactly how to stop it.
Meanwhile we shouldn’t beat ourselves up that the English game is light years behind. It is, but that has never stopped us loving the club game before now and by the time the new domestic season looms tiki-taka envy will have faded.
Our isolation may harm the national side but who cares about that? In the club v country stand-off real fans know exactly where they stand.
Besides it can’t be imported successfully. We know from experience that when an English team try it – long strings of passes across the middle third, retaining the ball and patiently looking to unlock a defence – the crowd quickly get restless and increasingly tetchy and after a few minutes start to yelp anxiously then demand their heroes “get it forward.”
It goes against our cultural norms, generations of Pavlovian conditioning. Maybe Steve McClaren was right: we ‘need educating’.
But can Boro – or any English team – afford the luxury of making mistakes while they learn and we are being rewired to be more sophisticated

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13 thoughts on “The Red Army’s Green Brigade

  1. AV said: ” It is about action and physicality and direct intent as much as passing precision. It is about error and imperfection.”
    It’s ultimately about winning and I can’t imagine the Spanish are too worried about the manner in which they achieved.
    Watching the highlights of the final again, for the first goal the Italian full back fails to track his man allowing for the cut-back where the centre half is failing to challenge the man he’s supposed to be marking.
    For the second goal Alba starts his run from his full back position and scores inside the opposition area. Without a challenge from the defence or a tracking run from the midfield.
    Both these goals (I register the excellence of Spain’s movement and passing) are down to Italian players’ failure to take responsibility. Systems will not as important to success as individuals taking responsibility for what is happening around them. A system will never be able to execute a tackle. If as a defender you are neither tracking or challenging, you’re probably the manager.
    Regardless of the system the opposition use, sticking your body in the way (to check Alba’s run 40 yards from goal for example) and taking a yellow card is a player taking responsibility. Who would have thought the Italians would be so naive?
    And don’t get me started on zonal marking…
    **AV writes: It is about winning… and yet even when managers deliver winning with robust, functional, physical route one stuff there is always a deep sense of simmering angst among supporters, if not overt disatisfaction. We’ve been there with McClaren. Would would actively want Allardyce or Warnock in charge?
    I think deep in the heart of all fans there is a struggle of opposites going one. They want it both ways. And they want the tension between the two. And most great teams somehow bridge that gulf, even if only for a brief moment. I think Spain’s technical excellence has bypassed that. I appreciate them but can’t love them.

  2. Hey, good article on the spain debate. I believe the possession stats so regulary churned out are pretty meaningless at times. Who cares if the opposition have 75% possession as long as it’s your team that wins?
    I do admire some of the pretty neat passing movements of the spaniards but its all pretty meaningless and, well, boring if there is no incisive cutting edge at the end of a move that results in an exciting attempt at goal.
    At times, the pundits, particulary the BBC were ridiculously over the top in their fawning over Spain .. even when, as you say AV, they were actually pretty dire! There is just as much skill in good solid clean defending and hitting teams on the break. Personally, I’ll take Boro having 25% possession as long as they win the three points every week thank you very much!

  3. Nice footage of the Boro at Catterick.
    The PTI in the clip demonstrating unarmed combat is Mick Tarmey. Mick was coach of British Forces Hong Kong when I was there in 1987. He took us to the Second division of the Hong Kong League, semi professional level. Fantastic coach and motivator unequalled.
    The last time I saw him was a picture of him on the back page of a national newspaper doing a lap of honour at Wembley when his beloved Barnsley reached the play off finals. He was physio or assistant physio for them as i recall.

  4. Personally speaking…I would “walk a million miles” to watch Boro play like that.
    Spain played in the final the way Football should be played. To me they were sublime..the passing, the willingness to win back possession. It was poetry in motion and broke the opposition, nay wrecked the opposition. It may not be possible to carry it off every game…but a one in three performance like that is worth the wait.
    English Football and the HOOF mentality will never come to terms with that style of football. “Get it up to the big man”.
    England are technically inept. the complete lack of midfield creativity, skill required to retain possession and probe defences consigns us to lumping it forward whenever the one of two options the man in possession has is in danger.
    I know which type of football I prefer, give me it any day of the week. It beats watching English football..in any division.
    Ahh well…..HOOOOOOFFFFFFFF !

  5. Nice article, Vic, and part of me wants to reply about the importance of the Green Howards to Yorkshire and Teesside, whilst another part of me wants to comment about Spain. But I think your piece is about to be deluged by a tsunami.
    Watergate, Woodgate, Crockliffegate, Pay-as-you-Playgate, WTFgate, AprilFoolsGate, HaveImissedsomethingate? There will be a lot in your in-tray tomorrow!
    If he could have stayed fit then, barring any unforeseen lifestyle issues that could crop up in the development of many young sportsmen, he must have had the chance of being the outstanding centre-back of his generation. Smooth, good in the air, deceptively quick in movement and managing to be in the right place to stick that long leg out to make a clean tackle… Wish he was 21 years old (but still available on a “free”)!
    I think you’d better get in early tomorrow, Vic….
    **AV writes: I’m always in early. And up late. I’m a 24 hour multi-media machine.

  6. Vic, this is off topic but Woodgate to meet Mogga today to discuss return to Boro according to SSN. Plans to discuss a long term deal. Surely not at 32 years old and with his injury record. Coaching role maybe after a one year playing deal? Any inside knowledge?
    **AV writes: yes, we broke the story exclusively on-line last night. That’s where Sky got it from. You all really need to follow me on twitter @untypicalboro.

  7. Sorry off topic but is it April 1st,Woodgate i dont believe it.
    Lots of skill and know how but they will kick him to pieces in this league.

  8. Jonathan Woodgate? I didn’t see that one coming! If he can play 20 games for us this season I’ll be happy.
    It’s a pity we can’t merge Woodgate and Bates together. Between them presumably they have two good knees!

  9. WELCOME HOME WOODY
    Jonathan is a player who could and should have spent all or much of his career captaining the Boro. Our wonderful youth system personnel knew better than to take him when they had the chance and the Beagleholes stole one of our gems
    Jonathan went down the road to Leeds, not to our academy.
    When he did come home, Southgate drove him out again. However, the Great news is Jonathan Woodgate is coming home. Yes, he’s 33; yes, he’s had a bad history of injuries.
    However, by no means is he a gamble. Star signing Mogga well done. His presence alongside Rhys or Seb or whoever he plays alongside will be invaluable; Remember the influence he had on Wheater. He made the lad look like a world-beater constantly talking him through the game.
    With Boro having so, many young centre-backs on their books now for them to learn from Jonathan will justify the wages paid over and over again. He has that coolness that Bates applied so well last season. I wonder where Batesy learned it from.
    His influence on the team will be immense and his signing will encourage
    Others to sign for Boro, Great signing, Great signing.
    So Mogga has been busy and he’s done well to date. If he manages to bring in a left back, a winger, a goalkeeper then we are about set.
    UP THE BORO WELL DONE MOGGA

  10. I stick to my previous comments about Spain, they rely on everyone else playing with fewer numbers in midfield.
    They park the bus but it is the other side of the half way line not on the edge of their own 18 yard area. If you are going to make a mistake, make it five yards outside the penalty area and make it the opposition penalty area.
    Technically very gifted but you do tend to drift off whilst watching them.
    It appears the second coming of Woodie is imminent. Any views on whether this is a short term move to get playing time then move on or is he here for duration of the Moggalution?
    A quick thought on McManus and Scottie. Once the ban or Rangers newco transfers, how about donating them to Ali McCoist?
    It is heaving it down here, I hope evryone is ok with any flooding problems. Thinking of which, how does it affect Crockcliffe?

  11. “The way football should be played”
    Who is anybody to make that statement?
    There is no one way football should be played. What makes it so interesting is that a team that is inferior in terms of skill, technique, speed etc. can still win the game with the right tactics, attitude and fighting spirit.
    In terms of entertainment, passing the ball 20 or 30 times along the halfway line does not entertain me. I prefer to see goalmouth incidents, lots of shots on goal, saves, chances, end to end action between two equally matched teams both going for it.
    When Spain play you usually end up with two teams that are both defending. Spain by keeping the ball and the opposition by dropping deep.
    Spain-France was the most boring game in the whole tournament. More happened in the first few minutes of England-Italy than in the whole of Spain-France. Although I quite enjoyed Spain-Portugal. At least Portugal tried to attack and make it difficult for Spain. Then as Portugal tired in extra time, Spain created some good chances.
    Best game was England-Sweden, it kept swinging backwards and forwards. And the opener, Poland-Greece. Two goals, an unfair red card, a comeback with 10 men, another red card, a saved penalty. Now that’s what I call football!
    Spain wasn’t all boring. of course. They were obviously good in the final. Take their second goal. A long pass from the goalie over the midfield straight to the attack. Then a quick interchange of passing, a blistering run by Alba and an inch perfect pass by Xavi into the box. From back to front in just few seconds. Now that was entertaining.

  12. It stinks of another last pay deal for one of the boys. I thought mogga was going to be a good manager but he’s just signed a has been. Very disapointed.

  13. Well where are all these signings Mr Mowbray? The lad from Walsall+ the one from Bristol Rovers? You are indeed a joke TM. I for one was extremely disappointed when SG signed you up but as MFC is indeed probably the worst run club in the country. No ambition lack of any passion, all this about the club wanting promotion is for the mugs, I mean fans, to buy season tickets. I feel fans are in tune with the hype now and I fear home crowds at an all time low since moving to the Riverside, a ground with a capacity of 35,100. It will seem like a morgue .

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