Shrinking Gates Or Second Shelf Norm? Historic Numbers Crunched

FORGET tales of impending Turnstile Armageddon. Boro gates are not in terminal free-fall. They are just bouncing along at their historic second tier norm.
Yes, I know agonising over attendance has become as much a part of the matchday routine as moaning about goal music and #haters hurling abuse at Hoyte. And that’s understandable. The stinging sight of empty acres reminds us of our painful rapid fall from grace and the steep downward graph is seen as a stark indication of the club’s ambitions and trajectory. It is a visible and unavoidable symbol of decline. It hurts.
But it is nothing new. Seriously. Current crowd levels are bad news for income streams, for supporters’ and players’ morale and for the mental health of those overly sensitive to seat-counting jibes from cruel neighbours. But it is not some unprecedented statistical quirk.
In fact, the current crowd levels are perfectly normal for Boro in this division. I know. I’ve crunched the numbers from every season since the war. We are bang on the curve.

With a new attritional campaign looming it is almost time for a masochistic cult of self-flagellating Boro fans to resume what has become a depressing and destructive cycle of bickering and recrimination over attendances. You can understand why. Relegation and retrenchment has been followed by a spreading rash of red seats, the matchday markings of our current lowly status, and by almost weekly outbreaks of uncivil war too as fingers are angrily pointed at the part-timers, the players, the boardroom and the pricing structure with every new Riverside record low. Someone must be to blame.
Now, after a season of relatively poor goal-lite fare on home turf – and that is being generous – and the first price rises in six years for non early birds, season ticket sales are believed to have slipped back to about the 10,500 mark and that will signal a renewed bout of belly-aching and tortured guilty moral mathematics.
We all know that for less attractive fixtures (and there are plenty in this league, and increasingly we are one of them) and for midweek games in wet weather, and on those now sporadic small screen showdowns that many season ticket holders don’t go. And that there is very little walk up. And that few visitors make the journey.
So naturally there are widespread mutterings about a criminal crash through that symbolic and psychologically important 10k glass trapdoor towards damning four digit gates. To hear the more alarmist and hysterical doom-mongers the club are in a terminal decline and experiencing a slump never seen before. Oh no! We are all going to die! Heads must roll!
But it is time for Boro fans to stop beating themselves up over crowds. There are external factors beyond your personal control or responsibility at work here. It’s the weight of history.
Far from the current dip being the expression of an unprecedented cataclysmic crash, current gates are bang on what you would expect.
Yes, measured against the mightily impressive monolithic matchday mathematics of 30,000-plus sell-outs in the glory years, some of last season’s crowds of 14,000 are a stark slap across the chops. And some of next season’s threaten to be more so.
But that bulging golden decade of a brand new ground jammed with zealous Red Book revolutionaries – and more on the waiting list – watching a star-studded team was the statistical blip not the norm and it has distorted our cultural expectations on crowds.
Put into historical context, the gates graph is exactly where the past would predict. In fact, it is slightly above where history suggests.
Last season there was much mandatory mumbling about crowds. That is natural. The long hangover from relegation and the backlash against the ill-fated Strachan cul-de-sac was a backdrop to a frustrating season that fizzled out at home. After the initial feelgood factor injected by the return of Mogga much of the season felt flat.
Yet despite that, and in defiance of the bar stool and Geordicentric Legends consensus, crowds were actually UP. By more than 1,200. Yes, looking at the gate figures from every season since the war, for all the talk of a club in the doldrums, it is clear Boro are actually pulling in gates HIGHER than their historic average in the second tier would suggest
In the post war years Boro have spent 31 seasons in Division Two with an overall average of just 16,365. The figure last season was 17,729. That is above the historic norm by a healthy margin. To put it in perspective, more people watched Tony Mowbray’s team grind through last term than turned out for goal machine Brian Clough’s last season. Or for the Bruce Rioch and Lennie Lawrence promotion campaigns in this division.
And even that second tier average is slightly inflated by the quirk of a promotion campaign in 1998 – the Merson year – backed by righteous anger at the three-point deduction and a sell-out season ticket crowd of 29,999. Without that the historic mean would be a lot lower.
Generally Boro have man marked that average figure just over 16,000 very closely, although there have been two obvious historical deviations from the norm.
The first six terms the club spent in division two between 1955 and 1960 noticeably bucked the trend – the average in that spell was a touch over 22,000 – but that was at the tail end of a post war boom when games everywhere enjoyed bumper crowds and when at Ayresome Park Clough was banging in 40 goals a term.
In contrast the four bleak years in the early ’80s distorted the figures at the other end of the spectrum – the average then was 7,442 with an all-time low of 5,135 in 1984-85 – but that era reflected a crisis club plunging towards oblivion, when Teesside was ravaged by recession and the national game in an historic slump with hooliganism and crumbling grounds driving down crowds everywhere. yes, even at Newcastle.
It should be noted too that the rise and fall in Boro’s historic gates are not aberration peculiar to Teesside but broadly track national trends closely. The game has had plenty of ups and down from the demob boom when there was little else to do in austerity Britain through slumps sparked by economic crisis and terrace violence and upturns with the World Cup dividend in 1966 and Euro boom in 1996.
In all those undulations and over 31 seasons of second shelf slump, in seven years Boro’s gate has been within 500 of the divisional average. Another six have been within 1,500. Four more within 2,500. We have kept pace with the national music.
Yes, Boro gates were well above the league norm in those three years in the late 50s when Cloughie was rattling in goals and staking his claim for a statue. And above the divisional average too for a spell in the late 60s when the Big John Hickton and John O’Rourke had the Ayresome Angels were in full voice and there was still a marked promotion dividend after 1966-67.
Naturally, promotion pushes are the biggest single factor in spikes in figures. In 1973-74, the Charlton’s Champions campaign, Boro were 10,000 above the divisional norm while gates in the Robson/Merson magic campaign were double the second tier average. There were smaller but still noticeable moves above the dotted line too for the Rioch Revolution and even the Colin Todd play-off push. And both third division seasons too were also well above the mean.
The lesson is clear: crowds are sensitive to success and that which division Boro play in – and their chances of winning it – are the key factor. Right now we are in the second tier and crowds are almost exactly midway between our historic average and the current divisional norm. We are on track. gates are not being determined by some peculiar topical crisis, just the underlying currents of history.
So, let’s not get embroiled in squabbles over crowds this term. We have nothing to feel guilty about. The crowds will be back. In time. With success.
***This is the Early Bird ft T-Styles remix of this week’s Big Picture column.
Squad Shirt Semiotics: It’s A Lottery

NUMEROLOGY: ancient systems, traditions or beliefs in mystical or esoteric hidden relationships between particular numbers and physical objects, powers or living things; systems regarded as pseudomathematics by modern scientists. Often associated with the occult.
Boro’s new squad shirt numbers have been released to the usual babble of conspiratorial two-plus-twoing and fevered speculation heavy with inference over the symbolism of the changes in exactly how the matchday laundry lines-up.
So, are the Black Arts of the necromancer at work? Scott McDonald may feel the powerful dark hex of the cursed number 27 weighing him down as he contemplates his status in the coming season. And he won’t need to search too far for hidden messages.
The top earning busy Aussie deep lying forward has nailed down the sacred number seven shirt in the past two seasons after arriving as a first team fixture under Gordon Strachan. He kept that place, when fit, under Mogga. Now, judging by the semiotics of the shirt sequence, he has been shuffled off to the orbital outer reaches of the squad.
A shirt number that screams “automatic choice” has been brusquely taken off him and he has slipped 20 places down the pop parade to take up the , er, famous 27 jersey, that points and whispers “your days here are numbered sonny” slyly behind your back.
Or, it could be more generously spun as saying 2+7 = 9, the cultural signature numeral of the true striker. We’ve done that before when Viduka and Hasselbaink argued over the number nine amd 1+8 came into the equation as a prestige berth.
It has been mundanely suggested that McDonald wore 27 when he first went to Celtic before being promoted to No 10. That may be the case – it is, I checked – but even if he has chosen that for sentimental reasons it begs the question as to why he didn’t do it in the past two seasons and besides, it is hard to believe a footballer – by nature an egocentric beast – would willingly surrender a badge of first XI kudos so cheaply.
McDonald’s number seven has been handed instead to Grant Leadbitter, Mogga’s first signing of the summer and a player who looks set to take up residence in the first XI. That could well be a signficant reshuffle.
The numbers dished out to the new boys are interesting. George Friend has been given the No 4 shirt suggesting a notional starting place rather than a figure high in the teens that would convey that he is just cover for Joe Bennett. On the other flank, newly resigned Justin Hoyte retains No 2, hinting he is the first choice while new old boy and right back rival Stuart Parnaby is given No 21.
Emmanuel Ledesma gets 11, which ominously was last worn (briefly) by ill-fated loanee Captain Dragback Adam Hammill. Flying left winger Muzzy Carayol gets 19, the number once worn by wing wizard Stewart Downing but last year glimpsed only fleetingly on the back of Andy Halliday. The young Scot may think his chances of action have improved slightly this term as he has inched one position up the rankings to 18. Only seven more years for a start.
And Jonathan Woodgate has opted for 39. That wildly out of sequence figure must be a special request. Possibly it is the number of games he is targeting this term. Or has played since his last stint at the Riverside.
The first team new boys line up at numbers 4; 7; 11; 19; 21; and 39 any or all of which may or may not have any deep tactical or status related significance – but either way, that’s my lottery numbers sorted this week.
There is a little bit of tinkering elsewhere in the squad – Arca is back at No 20 after a year at 18, Curtis Main nudges up from 25 to 23 and Adam Reach from a fringey 32 to a plausible player looking 24 – but the only other big mover is Lukas Jutkiewicz, up from 30 to 17. With a bullet. And No 12 is unassigned, leaving room in the rosta for a new second string shot-stopper. Jayson Lutwiler then.
If nothing else you can go and endorse your hero on your own shirt now. As a rule I would never advise anyone to get any name other than their own emblazoned across their shoulders. If nothing else you know you will not be flogged in January.
I’M BACK at work after 10 long days off….. YESSSS! Scunthorpe on Wednesday; Bury on Saturday. Boro are back! Bring it on.
That means it is time to step up a gear ready for the new season – you lot as well as myself and the team. So come on then, it is time to take the flimsiest of evidence of new faces and fixtures and faint impressions of the supposed strength of the rest of the division and impose your world view on it to predict how the season will pan out.
So let’s give those punditry muscles a work out. It’s only a bit of fun. It’s not as if anyone will write down anything you say and later use it as evidence against you in a court of internet law. Much.
Personally I think now Mogga has a squad that more accurately reflects his ethos, this season will be ‘better’ in terms of the balance and approach of the squad and the kind of football being played – especially at home – but I also think it is a tougher division this year with two or three more genuine contenders taking shape plus the usual suspects and the top flight refugees.
The bookies have us as tenth favourites at between 16s and 22s. That’s tempting. I know why Leeds and Forest have attracted money and are above us (new owners) and understand why Blackburn are there too after being in the top flight last season but I can’t see any of those realistically challenging. Which puts us in the same seventh spot we finished in last term. I can see that.
There can be no automatic assumption that even if we are better we will improve on where we were in the table last time. It will not be plain sailing. I expect a more problematic campaign this time. Last season there was a sizzling start followed by a gradual loss of momentum and cutting edge as injuries mounted and the opposition got wise. This time round I expect less of a sprint start but more solidity and consistency.
That said, last term started with low expectations. This time there will be more pressure as Mogga has his own men and will be expected to improve. That may be difficult as the slope gets steeper dramatically from base camp in seventh spot.
There may be a few more blips and slips and set-backs along the way so supporters will need to show more nerve as the campaign unfolds. I can see more of a slow-burning season as the squad gradually gels before Boro settle in the nip-and-tuck pack just outside the play-off places. From there what happens is anyone’s guess.
My own is that after some sticky spells a Teesside Spring surge will see Boro, as last term, needing a result on the last day to barge into the top six. That last game is at Sheffield Wednesday. which should scare some battle scarred old school campaigners.
I’ll elaborate on this later but for now, you can get on with your own forecasting. So, go on, nail your colours to the mast: where will Boro finish, what will be the tone of the campaign, who will be the key players and flops and who are the teams to fear?

45 thoughts on “Shrinking Gates Or Second Shelf Norm? Historic Numbers Crunched

  1. Squad building is a difficult art and is often what makes or breaks a manager. Squad building on the cheap or when you have nowt in the kitty is an almost impossible task – yet Tony Mobray has succeeded in this task where others have failed.
    A team is built around the spine two good keepers, four good centre backs, four central midfielders and four good strikers. The rest is the iceing on the cake
    Tony needs to choose his number two keeper. He has four good centre backs, four good centre midfielders and four good strikers now. This no doubt influenced his decision not to sign the two Brazilians.
    Thompson has been a class act and if he gets back to his best, he will tear up the Championship. Bailey was in my opinion the key player for us last season. Smallwood is a local lad with huge potential and Leadbetter was a class act for Ipswich last season and was a key signing for Tony.
    However, I think he will live to regret not signing the Brazilians. Both guys are class acts, are free and probably better all round players than what we already have. Plus
    the little maestro will soon get teed off sending guys over if they are sent packing, embarrassing him, the players and Brazilian football.
    I understand that Tony has a tight budget and can only give so many players a fair crack of the whip and improving the quality of the squad is a hard task, balanced against loyalty and offering kids the opportunity they need and the clubs ethos demands, however I think he boobed big time with these guys. Their skills of passing and ball retention would have been a huge plus. Shame we missed out.
    **AV writes: I don’t think we have seen enough of the Brazilians to make that judgement. Also, I don’t really think beefing up midfield is the next task (especially with people who mahy need a long time to bridge the culture gap).
    I think the next task is to resolve the keeper situation – that could be decided tonight – and after that he should turn his mind to off-loading one or two of the remaining big earning remnants of the Strachanovite cul-de-sac. That would free up some cash for fine-tuning that may or may not include a Samba element.

  2. I come with some track record (well, got it right last summer, anyway) in predicting our finishing place. However, I’ll keep my powder dry for now.
    I’m concerned about Steele’s lack of command of his area and, not unconnected, our vulnerability to crosses.
    Until the squad is a little clearer, let’s assess the opposition. The three relegated teams must be in the running. Wolves seem quiet but Blackburn and Bolton still have top flight quality and have clearly been building. Of last summer’s Premier failures, Birmingham and Blackpool made the play-offs so clearly have something left in the tank and still benefit from umbrella payments.
    Under-achievers so far, Leicester have considerable financial backing. Now with Big Nige, they look threatening.
    Is there another Southampton/Norwich who will pass straight through from League 1? Charlton might have the momentum for successive promotion pushes. Leeds looked like being another but then lost their way. However, Warnock knows this division and is an old hand at getting promotion.
    Finally, Cardiff are always there or there abouts.
    So that’s eight clubs to beware. Bolton, Blackburn, Blackpool and Leeds strike me as the favourites with Cardiff, Leicester, Birmingham and Charlton having play-off potential.
    Boro might yet rue last season passing up the chance to do well in a notably weak Championship.
    **AV writes: I think Blackburn are a chicken-in-a-basketcase. The manager’s position is fragile, the owners appear divided on strategy, fans are in revolt and the team is unbalanced and demoralised. They have swapped Yakubu for Leon Best and Nuno Gomes. If they don’t start well they could implode. I’m not scared of them.
    Wolves finished last season in disarray and have brought in a foreign boss with no experience of English football to patch up the carcass of a Mick McCarthy side. Kightly and Fletcher are leaving and while the new boss may have money he has very little time to acclimatise. I’m not scared of them either.
    I think Birmingham and Blackpool are entering dangerous territory: the second year after relegation with momentum fading and pressure mounting. Neither was outstanding last term and I think they will stand still or go backwards.
    Serial play-off bottle merchants Cardiff are a tinderbox after selling their soul and unless there are instant results I think fans will revolt and the club get bogged down in civil war. So I’m not scared of them either. And I don’t think the sides coming up are as good as the last few batches and they step up into a tougher division.
    For me Bolton are the ones who will set the pace with Leicester likely to emerge from the pack to challenge them. After that it is a scrum with nothing between six or eight sides. We are among those. Can we improve on last year? Why not?

  3. There is a lot we can all agree upon. It’s easy before a ball has been kicked, and things start to get complicated. If we do not finish above all of the following thirteen teams (give or take the odd exception), then the season will have been a disappointment:
    Bristol C
    Sheffield W
    This means that 11th place should be well within our reach.
    I see no reason at this stage why we cannot do better than Forest, Leeds and Brighton. So that’s 8th then.
    Bolton,Wolves and Blackburn will all fancy their chances of an immediate return, but there is every chance that one of them will implode. So that is 7th.
    Our main contenders for a play-off place will probably be Leicester, Blackpool, Cardiff and Birmingham. They all look as good as, if not better than, us.
    So it looks as though I agree with AV that the possibility of a play-off place will keep us interested until the last game of the season. If we assume that one of the teams we have discounted comes good, and that one of our play off rivals falls short, then it may be 7th place for us.
    But I wouldn’t bet on it. Not even with your money, AV.

  4. Welcome back AV. I think it will be a very tough season, and despite all the new signings, which I really welcome, I believe it will be a battle between the “B’s” … Birmingham, Blackpool, Bolton, Blackburn … and Boro, just scraping into the top 6.
    I will be sunning myself in Dubai when it all kicks off, and due to an unlucky fixture lottery, will miss the first home game but will on that plane on the 2nd Saturday with a mad dash from Newcastle airport to take my seat for the Palace game.
    Come On Boro!!!

  5. I will stick with a good top half finish. So much depends on how the new players bed in and how the team starts the season.
    I believe we missed a great chance last year with a settled squad who ended the previous season in storming form but we dont have that benefit this time around.
    We are told that Mogga has built a squad to play the Mogga way. If that includes quieting the crowd for the first 25 minutes at home as well as away we may have the same problems as last term.
    Get some early momentum and things could be exciting.
    My head says top half and promotion the season after.

  6. Hmmm, two number 18’s. That’s one way to beat the squad cap!
    We’ll let you off the, brains been disengaged for 10 days.
    Play off semi-final for me, automatic promotion the season after.

  7. Rumour has it that Thompson has been made captain, any truth AV? Also same rumour is that we are moving Bailey on.
    **AV writes: I think the captaincy will be revealed at today’s ‘meet the new boys’ press conference. I think Bailey would be available if there was a sensible offer – he is in his last year, is on relatively big money, is in a position fairly easy to fill – but I don’t think they are actively trying to sell.

  8. I rather agree with Nikeboro that the relegated teams are strong. But hope AV is right and the resent history has shown that promotion after the first year down is not that easy. Selling players and changing a manager is not always the solution (did someone mention Strachan?).
    So a lot depends on how the legion of new players bed in. I think Mogga should try to find the most balanced (which is not always the individually best eleven) side now – as soon as possible. Hence I hope he will try to play the same 11 on Wednesday as well as on Saturday in the Cup. We need every moment of time for bedding in.
    At the moment the possible starting eleven looks like this (with Juke injured and Bennett with a knock):
    Steele (not injured as beginning of last)
    Friend, Woody, Rhys and Parnaby (or Hoyte?)
    Reach (been superb), Leadbitter, Thomson (C) and Bailey (or Haroun)
    McDonald (or Ledesma), Emnes
    We should take more time to bed in the new guys like Carayol by using them as subs early in the season. Of course Rhys and Woody will be rested in one of the matches this week but in the league they should be the preferred CBs by far. They are the best pair in this division.
    If we sell McManus, we need a LB or a CB to keep competition intense. The same applies to McDonald – if sold we should make a “GHw-from-Shed-releasing” signing with a PL quality striker.
    All this considered, I will say we should finish 5th but hope for an automatic spot. So not expecting a top two finish but we should all dream about it and aim for it. Up the Boro!

  9. The colours I will nail to the mast will always be Boro.
    I think we will finish 4th. Yes I said it. I will stay on the tablets.
    A lot will depend on how many game Woodgate and Thompson play as I believe when fit they will control the defence and midfield. However I do believe this time TM has provided ample cover.
    I think there will be more home wins this season. So 4th.

  10. Very hard to predict as yet with so many new faces, but the squad looks much more balanced than last year, with cover in most positions. I really hope we have solved the problem of the one-paced, no-width, non-creative midfield. I really hope we now have a midfield that will get up into the box to support the strikers and score many more goal themselves.
    But as yet, we don’t know how they will fare in full-blown Champo competition. I’m not worried about the defence – plenty of quality and experience there. I do think that both Luke Williams and Adam Reach should have starring roles to play.
    I’m going for a play-off place for us. 3rd or 4th. Teams to fear? Leeds (boo, hiss), Charlton, Leicester, Cardiff, Blackpool and Birmingham. Blackburn have probably the strongest squad, but too many other major issues, as you say, AV. Bolton have financial problems and have released many of their Prem players.
    Really looking forward to the game at Bury. Bring it on! However, I genuinely don’t have a clue at this stage, squad number lottery notwithstanding, as to what Mogga’s side will be, or even as to what our strongest side is. Time will tell.
    Come on Boro!

  11. Like AV and others I think that our squad is better balanced and stronger overall this year.
    We’ve lost the match winning capabilities of Robson but that is always balanced against his equally prevalent match losing capabilities. I’m confident that Leadbitter will be a more solid and consistent performer, if less eye-catching. Carayol offers something different whilst the defence looks improved. Ledesma is still an unknown quantity but the strikeforce looks marginally better anyway with Juke perhaps now more settled once he overcomes his injury.
    What matters, however, is not the improvement of our squad per se but the improvement relative to our competitors. That is much harder to judge.
    Nothing is guaranteed but in my opinion the three relegated sides should all finish in the top six. That leaves three slots up for grabs with ourselves, Cardiff, Leicester, Birmingham, Leeds and Blackpool the most likely to be prominent in the scrap.
    I would expect at least one other side to have a significantly better than expected season, but equally I would expect at least one of the sides I’ve mentioned to fail.
    Where does that leave us? Anywhere from 1st to 10th!
    Ultimately all that you can ask for is progression. In a sense we have already progressed by improving the squad whilst still cutting our outgoings.
    What strikes me though is that there really is nothing to fear. I will split my 1st-10th prediction and say 5th. Consistentcy will be key as always.

  12. I don’t think there is much significance with squad numbers these days, Facebook tells me McDonald wore 27 at Celtic, and wasn’t Woody 39 last time he was here?
    I’ve only ever had one name on the back of my shirt and that was Phil Stamp in 1995-96!
    **AV writes: Last time Woodgate was here he wore No 8. He was 39 at Stoke though… maybe he has worked that particular squiggle into his signature.

  13. We will have plenty of mobility this season, I just hope we will overcome the “last ten minutes, long ball siege of our area” tactics that teams would beat us with.

  14. Hmmm..
    My heart says 2nd. My brain says find some other way of occupying my time.
    Lord help me but I can’t wait for the season to begin..

  15. I like the look of this squad: – no out and out ‘stars’, but cover in depth. If one player goes out, I can see the replacement coming in and not disrupting the team.
    As for squad numbers, I liked what Charlton did some years ago – the squad was numbered alphabetically.
    The anti-ego method.
    **AV writes: Argentina did that in 1978 World Cup and Ossie Ardiles was No 1.

  16. Listing the thirteen teams who seem distinctly inferior to us reminded me of the number of points we lost to many of them last season. It was this , above anything else , which cost us at least a play-off place.
    Most of our rivals were similarly inconsistent and tentative against these kind of teams. There is an obvious lesson to be drawn. We should go out with some confidence to attack these teams from the kick-off, particularly at home. The odd defeat will be quite tolerable in comparison with the timid drip-drip-dropping of home points via draws which we had to endure last season.
    I think that the loss of Robson is being underestimated in comments here. But we can compensate for this and do much better than last year if we adopt a more positive mental attitude. A good look at that list of teams who should finish below us should help us do just that.
    The aim of improving on last season’s home performances actually sets the bar pretty low. I am already more confident than I was this morning. I would now take that 22-1. With AV’s money.

  17. That attendances graph is fascinating. For most of the 60s, apart from the relegation dip in the middle of the decade, I vividly remember packed houses at Ayresome. As I recall we often had over 30,000. Crowds occasionally topped 40,000 and rarely dipped below 20,000.
    But the stats say otherwise. I would have put money that we averaged in the mid-20Ks but, in fact, we averaged 10K less. Funny thing dementia – you forget loads and what you think you remember turns out to be wrong.
    Good article, AV. Puts it into context.
    **AV writes: What is striking is the wild fluctuations from week to week. For instance, in the 1966-67 promotion season Boro had 39,683 (officially) in for Oxford – which is staggering in division three – and 32,000 for the previous game with Peterborough. But they also had five gates well below 10,000 and another clutch in the low/mid teens. It was only in the run-in that interest soared, which kind of proves the point.
    Look closely at some of the seasons and the differential between highest and lowest gates is massive. In 1958-59 the season opened with Brian Clough scoring five in a 9-0 battering of Brighton in front of 32,367. In March he banged in all four in a gubbing of Grimsby with a gate of 12,019. Charlton’s Champions were averaging well over 20,000 but in December – after eight home wins on the bounce there was a crowd of just 16,700 for Forest. Maybe it was belting down.
    Personally I remember plenty of low, flat crowds in amongst the packed houses at Ayresome in the post-Rioch years. In the 87-88 promotion season there were 23,536 for Blackburn on Boxing Day but that was sandwiched between 12,289 for Stoke and 12,597 for Palace. And we were top!
    I think back in the day, when you paid on the gate, crowds were far more sensitive to localised factors. If the weather was poor, the opposition was poor or the last result was poor or the board had put their foot in it then people would stay away. People could stop going in protest at the tactics, the manager or particular players. A friend suggested that with the Northern League being a far bigger draw than now ‘floating voters’ could be tempted to South Bank or Stockton if they had crunch games too.
    Now, with the tyranny of the season ticket, that price/result elasticity has gone. You’ve paid up front and to stay away would be to cut your own nose off to spite your face. I think that helps create some of the angst as people who in the past would have drifted off to chunter for a few weeks and get it off their chest before returning refreshed for the next big game now begrudgingly stay and simmer with resentment.

  18. In the promotion season from the third division in 66/67 crowds were low until Christmas then we kept setting record crowds as the season ended.
    Forgetting the debate of historical levels I have no intention of going to see puerile, subdue the crowds for 30 minutes at home followed by retreating to our own six yard box football.
    Why should I pay for a match ticket, travel 280 miles and waste a Saturday to watch utter dross. Having been to nearly 50 grounds supporting Boro I am no fair weather fan. I will continue to be part of the Parmo Army filling away ends.
    Who thinks the kids will get a chance under Mogga? Who thinks the extra two players on the bench wont be filled by retreads? Who thinks it matters who Mogga puts on the bench?
    I hate being negative but sometimes I feel the need to explode. Hopefully the coming seson will prove me wrong.

  19. AV, I was there for the Oxford promotion decider in ’67. I remember it well – what a match. The official figure must have been at least 10K under the actual attendance because it was the most packed I’ve ever been. Standing on the Holgate, I saw lots climb over the wall.
    I must have been there for the Charlton-era game vs Forest (I went to every home game). However I don’t remember that one, let alone whether it was raining!
    Coincidentally, it was another game against Oxford that was our ’74 promotion decider again. Now that one I do remember, along with the match at Luton with which we clinched the title.
    Happy days! Let’s hope that more are just round the corner.

  20. Here we go again…. I was miles out last year, I predicted 15th I think. This year I’ll go for 10th…so if I’m as far wrong in the same direction thing’s will be looking good!

  21. It’s a debate that has raged on Teesside for decades. As a Boro fan I’m proud that it has been this forum that has brought it to a wider audience…. how many ‘on’ or syllabels make a Haiku? As a traditionalist I know what I prefer. I think I’m right in saying that nobody is a fan of the ippon or Wazza-Harry versions.
    But if we must talk football. Boro to be better at home this season but finish lower in the table, a respectable eighth.
    AV did you know Leon Best has done an ACL and out until New Year.

  22. At the beginning of every season I read how tough the Championship is going to be. It wont be any tougher (or easier) than last year or the year before or next year.
    As for a prediction on where Boro will finish, that’s easy, first!

  23. Same prediction as last year for me – but for slightly different reasons: 8th if we get the usual range of suspensions and injuries. Scrape a playoff place if we get lucky.
    Most of all I want us to be consistantly better to watch.

  24. Second.
    Love this blog – my home from home. Keep up the good work everyone – great reading and love the way we can all live together. Now back to Aussie bashing: Ashes, cycling, rowing, sailing etc!! please let the new season start soon! And I will say no more until Xmas 🙂

  25. Just thought I’d let people know that the Boro Pride card has been reinstated. Same deal as before: £10 up front, £2/ticket off.
    It’s so new that it can’t be used on line yet but MFC Ticket Office were very helpful in getting me Palace tickets this morning. Let’s hope the return journey from Aberdeen is worth it.

  26. I think its important to take a sober and realistic view of Boro’s chances this season. It will take a long time for the new players to gel. I fully expect to see one or two of our best players leave by the end of August, I cant see Woodgate staying fit and if you ask me buying Leadbitter was a big mistake.
    My prediction is that Boro will only finish second………

  27. We can all watch the same match and have different views. We can justify our own standpoint.
    But I bet none of the contributors to this blog could find justification for England being ranked 3rd in the world by FIFA.

  28. “The crowds will be back. In time. With success.”
    Yep – no doubt of it. But not this term – depending on what you mean by success.
    If what you mean is season on season improvement in League position – and I do – then I don’t think that’s on the cards this time round, nor do I think we’ll finish as high as we did last season either.
    There’s still time for a few more changes to the playing squad – in and out – but, I guess, we’re nearly there now and I think we’re about on a par with where we were last time round but, perhaps, more Mogga picks – so we’ll see what difference that makes.
    Hopefully, it means a bit more width and pace from midfield – there’s been some evidence of that in the friendlies.
    Woody and Rolls Rhys as a centre-back pairing – if both can stay fit – is class at Championship level. Lets hope that means an improvement in defending crosses, though that problem has reared it’s head again in pre-season.
    The youngsters knocking on the door look ready – but will they be given their chance this season or continue to be ignored?
    I think that not going for a real challenger to Jason Steele as the third keeper is a mistake.
    So, overall, I think a solid top half finish – let’s say 8th as a punt. It would be good to get some entertainment along the way with much more of it at The Riverside than last season then there might be a little less ‘Red Plastic Canyon’.

  29. SSN reports meanwhile that Mido has done a hamstring and is out for 3 months. Did I laugh, or what? Punched the air with glee, I did,and not ashamed to admit it. This is true Schadenfreude, wallowing blissfully in others’ misfortunes! Nothing against Barnsley themsleves, you understand. Still, pie-shops in Barnsley can breathe a sigh of relief for a while – if he’s not training, he’ll have the time to visit!

  30. This is an interesting topic. I find it quite amazing how the average top division crowds have almost doubled in the last 20 years.
    It would also be interesting to find out how the crowds were split between away fans and home fans.
    Why do crowds drop so much when we play in the 2nd highest division? What kind of fans come when we play in the top flight and don’t come when we play one level below? Do they come to see the Boro or the opposition?
    Also, how have the fans changed over the years? In the fifties it was all grown men. Flat caps were compulsory. Then you had young lads coming, scarfs appeared. Nowadays it’s both sexes, young and old, whole families, replica kits, foam hands etc. etc.
    **AV writes: There’s some interesting questions in there.
    Top flight crowds have partly increased because of the relentless promotion of the Sky juggernaut selling the Premier League product, partly because of the star quality of some big name players and the magnetic appeal they have for youngsters with parents rich enough to indulge them and also partly because most top tier grounds now have bigger capacities than they did 10 or 20 years ago (although not as big as 50 years ago when they were crammed in.)
    Second tier crowds drop off partly because of the opposition. With the best will in the world not many floating voters will be excited by the visit of Doncaster, Peterborough, Millwall, Plymouth or some of the others side we have played in the last few years – and neither do they bring many.
    The changing demographics of the crowd with regard to gender, age range and headwear will take further investigation… and possibly a pie chart!

  31. “But I bet none of the contributors to this blog could find justification for England being ranked 3rd in the world by FIFA.”

  32. Came on to the Gazette site and a pop up appeared asking me to complete a qnaire about the website.
    Being a reasonable sort of chap I followed the link. Not suprisingly I was told that Internet Explorer could not display the page.

  33. On the crowds issue, it’s difficult to make comparisons pre-1990’s because it was a narrower demographic back then. Our crowds are basically disappointing and we need one hell of a season, and probably promotion to begin to turn the tide.

  34. Steveh –
    Quarter finals at the euros = 3rd in the world.
    Beaten by any decent side we play in friendlies.
    Does not compute. Barmy is the answer.

  35. Interesting to hear Steelies perception of other sports preparation and how fortunate he is to be a professional footballer. I was a club athlete for many years back in the day, and I also got dragged into coaching my sons footie team from Under 8’s up to his mid-teens.
    I was always concerned at the poor prep that was practiced by kid’s teams, that’s why I got involved. It’s no wonder we have so many injury prone players, their physical preparation from an early age is at best appalling. This stores up trouble for the future and I am sure the Matty Bates of this world would have benefitted from a more informed and disciplined growing up.
    I wonder if there’s any way to compare the likes of Justin Hoytes early years with Batesy, Hoyte of course comes from a family that has a sprint background, I wonder if this had any bearing on his early sporting life? I know he isn’t immune from injury at all, but there has to be a way to make our kids more resilient and his athleticism can’t all be in his genes.
    After being involved, I see no benefit shouty, over eager parents with little understanding of physical conditioning or coaching will have on our future players or their prospects in later life.
    When you compare the knotted short muscles of young footballers with those of almost every other athlete from similar ages, their lack of suppleness and endurance, then it’s no wonder they in the main don’t like to train either.
    It’s inbred in the whole structure of the game and until it changes then whole generations of talent are wasted.
    Athletics does not have the finances to compete, the coaching is underfunded, the facilities are crumbling and the competitors, apart from the elite, have to work to pay for their sport.
    Football is lucky that even at the lower levels it’s a professional sport. But its only pro in the respect of its a paid sport. I find it incredulous how badly run most clubs are in their sporting side. We are in the top tier, but for Steeley to make the comments he has made still highlights the enormous gulf still present.
    Its little things, I have said this before, but I wince when I hear a Boro player or coach use the word “hopefully”
    You might as well have LOSER tatooed on your forehead!

  36. I tried to do the online survey agin with the same predictable results.
    Uxter –
    It was interesting reading the views of Chris Hoy in response to the multiple whingers about the cycling success. As he put it, for all the talk of the technology how many got up and looked in the mirror and asked themselves if they had done all they could.
    Grabbarz after his high jump medal said he stopped messing about and took his training seriously, putting more intensity in to it.
    The problem I have is that I am no sports scientist so dont know the answers. I have teased Vic over the seasons about Crockcliffe but there has to be a link between fitness and performance as there is between availability and team performance.
    Stricken got lots of things wrong but he was right when he said that if you were fit enough you could execute the skills well in closing stages of the match.
    If mogga can keep the squad fit apart from the injuries all teams suffer then we will be in a stronger position. If we are scratching about week in week out, forever shuffling the pack then it will be a struggle.
    A final thought from the cycling. The french team chief wondered how the French would have got on if they could swap wheels with the UK bikes. Easy done because they are made in France and if they wanted they could buy the bikes off the internet.

  37. The main losses from last season were Bates and Robson. Leadbitter is a different type of player to Robson but I believe equally influential at this level. If we remove the rose tints we can all recall times when Robson’s fiery temper cost us points, granted he probably won some but the pluses and the minuses added together probably balanced out and thats before we factor in the games where we deperately needed him but he was unavailable through suspension. So my conclusion is that we will be marginally better off with Grant.
    Woodie in for Bates is as good or probably better if we can keep him fit but as he is likely to miss a few it probably balances but also allows Hines who was really coming to the fore his chance so I don’t see any weaknesses there.
    Steele was a concern and still is for many of us but towards the end of last season he saved our bacon on a number of occasions so I think we will be showing a positive on his performances over the course of this versus last season.
    Wth Ledesma and Carayol we have a bit more flair and creativity but granted unkown at this level. Reach, (L) Williams Park and Smallwood are pushing for inclusion with Reach in particular I think this could be his breakthrough season and our surprise package alng with possibly Luke W.
    Main I also think will leave Mogga with a selection headache when the Juke gets fit. Juke will have settled in more and should have better service and support than last Season provided he isnt played out wide so lets hope for a reasonable return on our investment.
    Wolves I think will cough and splutter as they lose players and adjust to their new surroundings and manager. Blackburn will continue to implode but Bolton I think will be Champions. As for Cardiff, Leeds etc.they have too many political issues off the field eating away at them and their supporters. Birmingham lost their talismanic manager and blew their chance last season, Leicester will do better but I don’t see anything special other than Big Nige, Hull will have to get over the Barmby catastrophe.
    The promoted clubs aren’t strong enough but I do think Charlton’s momentum and Chris Powell may possibly take them into the play offs. Forest have speculation on their side but I see nothing to fear other than blind unfounded speculative optimism, their Management appointment didn’t unduly excite me or their supporters.
    So for me I expect Boro to gain 15 more points than last season based upn a more balanced squad, more Mogganomics and an overall home improvement (which can not be worse than last year). Bolton 1st and Boro 2nd, there is just something about Bolton and Boro’s fate intertwining that I think will see us both back up come next May.

  38. Of course the attendences drop when Boro play at a lower level. There are the fans – who are in this site – and then the not-so-ardent spectators. They will go to the “big” matches – which happen in PL nearly every week because of the media hype.
    How many stories you hear or see about the Donny captain compared to a certain John Terry? All the visiting team players are familiar to the normal people at home and work. You go more easily the more players or teams you know.
    Last year when I visited the UK to see Boro live, I stayed in a local B&B. The owner was from Coventry: after I explained I had come to see Boro at Riverside, he told me proudly he used to have a season ticket, too. When I asked why not now, he said he really supports Covently City and does not want to go to every match now Boro are in the Championship.
    So not all – one third perhaps – are fans like you and me on this blog. We go to the matches in every division and some of us still do not go to every much as there was not many goals to be seen at Riverside last season. So it is not a suprise the attendances drop during the second tier time. But of course it’s disappointing.
    A 1-3 win at Bury tomorrow. Two by Emnes and one by Reach. Tommo to captain. Up the boro.

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