“HE’S ONE of our own. He’s one of our own….”
That was an important unifying refrain weaved through yet another frustrating “should’a, would’a, could’a” stalemate that ultimately no one will be happy about. The result was frustrating and will deepen the in-fighting … but there were some positives to take from the game that should strengthen our spirit and resolve.
Boro desperately needed a win to relieve the mounting pressure on the boss and to kick-start a stuttering season but instead had to be content with yet another scrappy salvaged draw that resolved little and served only to intensify the atmosphere next time.
The fighting spirit shown by Boro as they battled from behind, the chances created and the hunger on display in the final flurry should probably all be put in the credit column even if it felt ultimately unsatisfying and the simmering tensions and burning questions will now just be carried forward to Saturday’s showdown with Yeovil.
But putting all that aside, the game really should go down in our collective cultural memory bank as one marked primarily by the touching tribute to old school terrace legend Frankie Bam Bam.
Bam Bam was a larger than life figure was well known to most fans – especially those who travelled away during the 70s and 80s – and by most of the players of the Ayresome era. He was not averse to ringing up Steve Gibson for a chat. Mark Proctor summed up his gregarious and ubiquitous nature in a nice tribute in the Gazette. and Tony Mowbray added some nice words of his own as well as hailing the “true fans” for sticking with the team through some frustrating times of late.
Bam Bam was really “one of our own”… a typical working class Teessider who liked a pint, liked a laugh and loved the Boro and made it his life mission to support them as passionately – and loudly – as possible. Here he is holding court and expounding his simple approach from early 90s documentary Marching On Together.
It is important that the contribution of supporters – as individuals and collectively – is recognised. Especially when the supporters are so visible. So the simple but heart felt tribute was respected and celebrated by everyone in the Riverside. It is little symbolic acts like that and the moments of reverential private musing on the Boro Brick Road that help bind us all together. Threads in the great Boroeux Tapestry of our history.
A hastily organised fitting fans’ salute in the 65th minute revolved around an amateurish bedsheet banner that spoke of 70s cup finals and the naive joy of the original Ayresome Angels rather than modern designer computer fonts on well cut treated textiles with full risk assessments and safety certificates.
The DIY daubed banner proclaiming Frankie as Boro’s No 1 fan was unveiled in the 65th minute – his age when he died on Saturday night – to a roar of approval and a round of applause that engulfed the ground. It was a genuinely touching moment.
The tribute had been organised on-line and it wasn’t really official although club staff had given the nod and agreed to turn a blind eye to the flagrant health & safety infringements and the need for three weeks notice but then Frankie never really did things by the book or recognised ground regulations so he would have liked it.
As the banner started its progress around the perimeter from the North Stand it magnetically attracted the eyes of the entire crowd – not much was happening on the pitch at the time – and dragged a ripple of respect with it.
It made its way past the Family Zone leaving dads and grand-dads to explain to the next generation about celebrity status, the rough and ready nature of the Bam and about the less polished but perhaps more passionate fandom from days past.
These things are important to reinforce our shared identity. That a crowd can so openly display affection and respect for a fellow supporter restores a bit of faith in what sometimes can seem like a soulless and shallow past-time.
But the old and new worlds of football fandom collided as the banner reached the away section and killjoy stewards showing an alarming lack of diplomacy and sensitivity to those ideals moved in with joyless efficiency to block its progress.
What did they think was going to happen? That the banner bearers were going to attack the away end? That Huddersfield fans would be inflamed by the provocation and stage a pitch invasion because they suspected it wasn’t fire-proofed? Sometimes you despair.
The entire crowd were booing loudly. A lot of Riverside regulars will have known the Bam and been kissed and cuddled by him in pubs and service stations and grounds all over the country and across Europe and will have been incensed at the crass and cack-handed intervention. Even the away fans were jeering the stewards.
At this point I have to admit I wasn’t watching the match. Anything could have happened. Did I miss anything? Probably not. It was a stodgy spell. Most people were watching the tense touchline stand-off.
There were some hasty discussions and no doubt terse crackling walkie-talkie instructions from higher up and quickly the banner was up and moving again with the away fans applauding respectfully and cheering as it went past.
There was a roar as it went past the Red Faction in the South Stand Boys End and then as it completed its circuit in front of the West Stand both the Boro dug-out and Steve Gibson in the directors box stood and clapped. That was a lovely touch.
The crowd chanted “One Frankie Bointon” and “He’s one of our own”. That is an important statement that, in good times and bad, Boro fans are all in this together as part of a small but vibrant community with a shared passion and shared objectives.
There was another loud chorus of “one of our own” soon after as Ben Gibson powered home the headed equaliser that grabbed a late lifeline.
Gibson is the chairman’s nephew and a proud Teessider and Boro fan who states at every opportunity his desire and hunger to wear and play for the shirt and who has more than justified his place. He is exactly the kind of parmo-powered passionate player the fans demand in the team.
He was most the impressive defender in pre-season and certainly the best player in the team that slumped to a meek surrender at QPR on his first league start.
Against Huddersfield he was the biggest on-field positive. He reads the game well, is strong in the air and in the tackle and he points and shouts and takes responsibility in an often creaky and porous backline.
In the short term he looks like Boro’s best bet to beef up a problematic department. In the long term he looks like a future captain. And it was a cracking goal. A real thumping header.
There weren’t too many people ready to start a chant “He’s one of our own” towards Tony Mowbray though.
A sticky start to the season has failed to achieve escape velocity from the grim gravity of last season’s sorry slump and that has piled pressure on the boss and chipped away at his local legend status. Which is sad but probably inevitable three years into a long hard slog in a results driven busines.
One win in 10 this term. No wins and no clean sheets at home. A string of disappointing draws dragged from winning positions … it doesn’t make great reading.
Now large sections of the fan-base are losing faith and patience and desperately need a victory to boost flagging morale.
And while many – most? – understand the financial restraints, see the logic of the summer recruitment and appreciate the framework of the team Mowbray is shaping and that has started to emerge at times with flashes of real promise, ultimately it is a results that determine the mood and results have been poor.
The atmosphere is strained if not yet toxic. We haven’t reached the stage of fisticuffs among fans that marked the last days of Lennie Lawrence. The manager doesn’t have to hide down the tunnel yet as Steve McClaren did. He hasn’t alienated both ends of the supporting spectrum as Gordon Strachan did. But the atmosphere is volatile and the mood simmering. And it isn’t going to go away without a dramatic upturn in results.
The crowd could have turned masty when Boro went behind but didn’t – how much that was due to the galvanising effect of the Bam Bam banner is hard to say – and they got behind the fast and furious late assault with an impressive intensity. But that is fragile.
The whistle was greeted with a short and half-hearted bout of booing but there was little vitriol. It is habitual now but there is plenty of apathy about too. A lot of loyalists are too heavy hearted to jeer openly. Some have left before the whistle.
And, in truth, it is hard to boo after a 15 minutes of stirring all out attack. As an individual match viewed in isolation it wasn’t great but it neither was it the worst you’ve ever seen. Or endured, depending on your perspective.
It was just more of the same. It was a typical mid-table Championship side giving it a good go but falling short : Boro worked hard and did most of the attacking but couldn’t score then an error at the back gave away the goal and the strategic advantage and the chance to haul people back from the shroud of despair.
After a sloppy start Boro fought to take a precarious hold but it was nervous and error- strewn for long spells – understandably given the ticking sub-text – and for all the flurry of chances they couldn’t force the goal that would ease the pressure.
Huddersfield ‘looked’ dangerous on the break but they weren’t really. Adam Hammill did his stepover, stepover, dragback thing and incredibly didn’t fall over then clipped the bar with a chip but apart from that rarely troubled Boro’s net … until they scored with their first effort on target… after Jason Steele failed to come for a cross and then a rebound off the post and a glanced deflection off Vaughan from the second stabbed effort.
Boro showed spirit to hit back. No really, they did. If team spirit and confidence was a bad as some suggest they would have folded. In fact they stepped up several gears, made some changes to the shape and upped the intensity.
They hammered the visitors’ goal and their keeper made three good saves in a minute as the pressure built. Even Huddersfield boss Mark Robins admitted he was glad to escape from the barrage as the home side threw the kitchen sink at his side.
But the goal wouldn’t go in. Boro couldn’t get the win to spark the season and galvanise flagging hearts. The game did little to change the political dynamics of the situation.
And we have to sit through the tension all over again on Saturday when Yeovil visit.
Another “must win” match.