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.
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