Mackems’ Wembley Woe Was Boro’s best Result Of The Season So Far

SUNDERLAND losing the League Cup final at Wembley was by far Boro’s best result of the season so far.
And that is not just a sad, small-minded Schadenfreude. It’s not twisting the knife.
It’s just pointing out that the result leaves Boro still well placed in the delicate balance of power that is the Tyne-Tees bantersphere.


Let’s be clear, I’m not revelling in the pain of our near neighbours. I wasn’t sat all night rewinding and replaying the anguished reactions of a crushed crowd or laughing cruelly at the tear-tracks in the toddlers’ face paint.
Yes, I wanted them to lose – I was hoping we would need an abacus to keep count – but I wasn’t willing them to suffer en masse in public in pursuit of some warped collective punishment for stinging semi-derby defeats down the years.
I was accused on twitter of being “bitter,” “jealous” and “a so called journalist” (and having “extra digits”) but I’m not from the militant wing of the Teesside terrace taliban. I’m not part of that faction hat festers with historic hatred over past battles, active combatants in the on-going war of words . It wasn’t one of the ones who hoped not only that they were humiliated but that it rained on them leaving along Wembley Way and their coaches broke down as they returned heart-broken and empty handed.
In fact I think you’ve got to have some sympathy with our Mackem mates who were put through the mangle. Some. A little, surely? Come on, don’t be so stone hearted. After all, we’ve been there many times over the past few decades and know only too well the emotional pain of the historic enamel-shattering size nine in the gnashers.
And Sunderland is a ‘real’ club; a Northern, working class vehicle for the cultural identity of an hard working industrial town and whose short spells of success and longer ones of failure echo through and shape the daily lives of its passionate supporters.
It is a club very much like Boro. There has to be an element of empathy with people whose supporting experience and total engagement with their club is so similar to or own. So I certainly don’t ‘hate’ them. That would be ridiculous.
And, it has to be said, in the wider terms of football’s social and economic landscape, had it been any other middling/struggling Premier League club bar Our Friends In The North then I would have been roaring them on to ” do a Wigan” and beat money bags City.
The bloated Etihad vanity project is an insidious megapetrocash fuelled juggernaut that has shattered the status quo, dramatically raised the financial bar to levels unattainable for all but the oligarchy and further distorted the badly dented notion of competitive balance in the English game. It is a bad thing.
But sometimes the immediate needs at the sharp end of parochial politics over-shadow the intangibles of big picture principles. Like now.
I think most Boro fans would have welcomed the Wearsider’s Wembley woe. It’s not bitterness. It’s nothing personal. It’s just pragmatism.
In terms of the regional real-politik over the banter barricades, Sunderland’s stutter was a massive strategic victory for Boro.
Sunderland lost. They made decent a fist of it but ultimately no-one will remember that. They didn’t win the trophy. But Boro did. We won. We lifted the League Cup.
It may be a decade ago but the bottom line is that we remain the current cup kings of the North-east. It’s official. No one can take that away from us.
Boro supporters can say proudly that, whatever the bleak slither into the mire have been forced to endure in recent years, that “when Gate went up, to lift the Carling Cup, WE were there.” And that’s important.
Most fans – apart from the plastic glory-hunters who refer to remote giant pocket-money hoovers as “we” – spend their supporting lives dealing with a purgatory of failure and mediocrity so the few brief and rare moments of delicious glory are to be savoured.
It is a collective cultural experience that energises the community and boosts the flagging emotional batteries of supporters. They are the pay-off for the thankless thousands of miles and pounds and hours watching dismal goalless draws with Doncaster or frustrating 1-0 defeats at Sheffield Wednesday.
Victories are validation for the club choice imposed on you by geography, history and family. They are a visible symbol of success, a tangible mark in history for all to see. And in a world where increasingly the silverware is carved up by a cartel, they are rare.
Rarer than they have been in the “hotbed of football” for a barren generation and longer.
And that precious success at Cardiff gives Boro supporters a vital and undeniable edge over their bigger, richer, better supported and – currently – higher placed rivals.
Most Boro fans have seen their side lift a trophy. In colour. And that is important.
We’ve got the t-shirt, the tattoos, the ticket framed on the wall; we can watch the DVD without flinching and – calendar conspiracies aside – can celebrate the anniversaries through reliving a wonderful and fulfilling personal experience.
That transcendental triumph can insulate supporters through dark ages of failure.
Grainy cuttings and folk tales handed down are no substitute. And whatever footage is available in the Pathe News archives of twenties or thirties title winning open trammed victory parades through the cobbled streets of Sunderland and Newcastle, it would be a very select band of ageing stalwarts to have tasted that in the flesh.
Sunderland’s last trophy triumph was the FA Cup in 1973, over 40 years ago and only a small minority of their active supporters will have been there for that.
Newcastle’s last trophy was the Fairs Cup in 1969, an invitation trophy of dubious pedigree and prestige – although you can’t blame them for elevating it in status because for years Boro fans gloried in a victory over two legs (courtesy of an own goal) over mighty McFulham in the Anglo-Scottish Cup and reaching the final of the ZDS Cup, a meaningless competition completely contrived to create top flight fixtures while English clubs were banned from Europe.
The Magpies last domestic cup win was in 1955. How old do you have to be to have that seen that? No matter how impressive the historic role of honour, very few among the current crowd will have known the joy of seeing their team actually winning something.
That’s why Boro fans sing: “Have you ever seen a Geordie with a cup?” And that’s why the ‘Trophy Virgins’ banner cut to the quick when it was unfurled at the Newcastle game.
Because it points to a painful and unavoidable central truth: winning cups counts.
That the offended Magpies spluttered indignantly over that banner and fulminated about a cabinet full of titles won in the twenties missed the point: that it is about personal experience. It is about consummation.
The trophy triumph at Cardiff gives us a glow that has kept us warm through the current ice age of ineptitude. It meant that whatever their current lowly status, Boro fans can stroll with a swagger through the highly charged minefield of regional rivalry.
Every time our stripe-shirted rivals (either colour or monochrome) go on a frenzy of seat-counting or point to the league table, Boro fans can smile and point to the names engraved on the three handled cup.
To be fair, the region hasn’t got much to be smug about. We boast about a hot-bed and talk of giant clubs – one of them apparently among the biggest in the world – yet there has been one domestic trophy won in 40 years.
And Boro won it. It was great. And we were there.
Sunderland’s failure means Boro retain that historic trump card. Which is fantastic news for us. Petty and parochial? Maybe. But these things are the everyday currency among fans in the factories and offices, pubs and clubs along the football fault-lines of the region. And anyone who seriously thinks that mischief making fans from north or south of Wheezekeezeshire’s cultural borders will not be gleefully using Sunday’s result to taunt their rivals is touchingly naive.
At a time when they are emotionally raw the poor Mackems will be absolutely slaughtered over it. That’s football. That’s part of the cut-and-thrust. It’s cruel but not only will they have to deal with a crushing defeat just when they had ‘dared to dream’ but they will have to do it to a soundtrack of work-place laughter.
Not least from relieved Newcastle fans who will have been TERRIFIED at the thought that the evil twin other half in their vitriolic embrace may taunt them with silverware. That was their nightmare scenario. It was bad enough that little Boro – a peripheral figure in their cultural universe – were able to laugh at them. The prospect of Sunderland opening up a second front would be unbearable.
Boro fans were already a little bit miffed before the game as the gushing media out-pouring about the Mackem success in reaching the final – achieved by winning the worst penalty shoot-out EVER! – revealed exactly what their pecking order is.
In some quarters the Mackem trophy quest was being portrayed as the greatest sporting event in the region since 1973 … so that puts actually winning the bloody thing AND reaching the UEFA Cup final into perspective.
Some in the regional media lost all sense of perspective and gushed over what appeared to be a unique and earth -shattering achievement and Boro fans rightly got a bit uppity that their own record since football was invented in 1992 (three League Cup finals, one FA Cup final and one UEFA Cup final) appeared to have been airbrushed from history. Newcastle fans weren’t happy that their own two FA Cup finals hadn’t happened either.
That may well be part and parcel of football’s shrinking collective memory span – which now seems to extend back about a month – but it still stings.
Still, Boro fans can now allow themselves a smirk at the shape changing nature of the League Cup. In the space of a few short weeks it has been elevated from a worthless Mickey Mouse Tin Pot trophy that was barely worth clearing cabinet space for this Collosus of domestic knockout silverware.
Suddenly from being a minor event it was a credible and prestigious trophy. At half-time on Sunday it was briefly on par with the Champions League.
Alas, City won, so now it is just the third most important trophy again – and even then trails finishing fourth in the Premier League (and 17th for some clubs).
But at least Boro have won it.

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24 thoughts on “Mackems’ Wembley Woe Was Boro’s best Result Of The Season So Far

  1. Living comfortably insulated from the regional hype you suffered, I for one wanted Sunderland to win in what you rightly describe as a battle between a real football club and an insidious megapetrocash fuelled juggernaut.
    I think expressions of Schadenfreude just make us look small.
    Now, back to the weekly grind of the Championship an antidote to delusions of grandeur if ever there was one.

  2. AV, I always applaud your articles as being fair, rational and well thought out.
    This one disappoints me however. I wanted Sunderland to win. Why? Because they are a north east club, and also the other team was money bags City, as you called them.
    The NE gets very little to shout about, forgotten in the National Press, and this would for a short time at least given a few lines to a team outside of the top four or five.
    Back to the Boro, I am really surprised at the Hignett choice. I do not mean that he will not turn out to be a good one, just that whole episode of Mr Gibson insisting on a English/British Assistant Coach is rather strange in some ways, and does question AK’s standing in all of this.
    Maybe SG has one eye on the future, and our next manage/coach??
    **AV writes: It might not be fair but I think it is rational and well thought out.
    You might not like the psychology of parochial rivalries but you can’t deny that for many, and no matter what the clubs involved, it is a very powerful driver – especially at clubs that don’t win much. In the absence of concrete success, divining relative success becomes very important.

  3. Fact :
    Boro : Still the last of the N.E. teams to play in a European Cup Final .
    Moan :
    BBC : A five minute soap drama every night on ” Look North ” about the forthcoming walloping last Sunday .
    Glee :
    BBC Look North : No doubt a ” sharp exit Left ” now the dream is catatonic , and ” its only a cheap trophy anyway ”
    Hope :
    Remember Boro you Mackems ” cup finals in the same year ( both lost ) and we got RELEGATED . Can history repeat itself ( here`s hoping ).

  4. The ultimate goal of MFC should be to finish above both Newcastle and Sunderland every season. In these days of fickle transient football fans, the team at the top will attract more and I want to see a full house at the Riverside,
    Strange one the Higgy appointment. For the past ten years he’s been doing media work,and coaching U10s, We know hes applied for lots of management jobs but never considered under Southgate, Strachan or Mowbray, What has changed?,I do hope its a positive however
    **AV writes: I’ve just had a chat with HIggy. Some interesting stuff in tomorrow’s paper about how he can be the missing ingredient in the dug-out.

  5. In the old days, the manager/head coach chose his own backroom staff to work with him, usually people he had worked with before and trusted. They also only signed players that they wanted.
    Karanka doesn’t appear to have had any input or say since he arrived at the club, people and players arrive that I can’t imagine he wanted or knew anything about
    ie Ayala,Tomlin, Danny Graham, Craig Hignett.
    Higgy might do a good job but I thought Boro were trying to cut free from the “jobs for the old boys” days when Gibson had a clearout after Mowbray.

  6. In the global internet social media age, what is local-rivalry these days anyway? it’s every virtual fan for himself now.
    Personally I also wanted Sunderland to win as they were the underdogs with a couple of our academy graduates thrown in – plus I’d have been pleased for all the Stockton lads watching.
    Though as Big Dave said the infamous Boro treble is still on for the Mackems – though it still wouldn’t equal our achievements unless they can contrive to get three points deducted too.

  7. In the aftermath of our cup final win I realised that the phrase I had so often heard and repeated just wasn’t true. The cruellest experience in football is not to lose in a cup final. It is to believe in your own heart that you will never live to see your team win one.
    Mr S McClaren deserves the credit for changing that.

  8. Like many I wanted both teams to lose on Sunday for different reasons but whichever one won so be it.
    I won’t taunt when I speak to Mackems over the next week or so but I can have a wry smile – that cup win worked wonders.
    Same goes for the trophy virgins but it is more of an inner glow that a visual gloat.
    My views have been posted many a time that I don’t want fans coming on here to insult us nor do I want Boro fans going on their boards to do likewise.
    I remember the sullen looks from Look North (of Teesside) TV when the team that Jack built got promoted after a double over Stokoe’s Mackems.
    There again I recall an horrendous spell of North East failure at Wembley including three trips from ourselves.
    As for Higgy, his summarising alongside Ali was always wanting some energy up from front, maybe he will have an impact. We all hope so. Maybe his bubbly character will have rub off on to the players.

  9. It’s pretty obvious that Higgy was far from 1st choice, having taken so long. After all he was hardly a stranger to start with, left only a few months ago and was just up the road. If he had been the chosen one then he would have been here before Xmas.
    Any word on how many were sounded out and weren’t interested?

  10. I think you are slightly maligning the Inter City Fairs Cup AV. It was the fore-runner of the UEFA Cup and I think that in 1969, the year the skunks won it, there were some pretty handy clubs involved.
    I have to fess up that I have close rellies in Newcastle and got the opportunity to see three Fairs Cup games at Sid James Park, no chance for a Boro fan back then to get any European exposure.
    I saw Setubal, Rangers (amazing fans, seen nothing like it, I seem to recall fans with battery powered record players on the terrace)and the first leg of the final. Would not have missed it for anything as a great football experience, but there was not a cat in hell’s chance I was going to convert!
    Good to see Higgy back, probably one of my top five favourite Boro players, hope he can make a difference.

  11. 45 days and counting. Boro’s early devotion to Lent is admirable. Any chance there could be a goal before Easter?

  12. I wasn’t particularly bothered about the Mackems on Sunday either way but deep down I suppose I wanted them to win rather than the grotesque offensive face of media gorged excesses that the greed fuelled circus at Eastlands has become.
    The fact Sunderland got beat didn’t distress me but equally had they won it would not have been particularly painful. The way the game has gone of late a Sunderland win would have been more gratifying for me.
    Just think of the relief at Sky/BT/ITV central now that they have more chance of an Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs or Manure on the telly next season on a Thursday night instead of one of those remote North Eastern outposts with red plastic seats on display. The effect on their advertising revenue would have been disastrous.
    I would rather the good old fashioned sport of football won the day rather than the marketing men, it would have been better for sport in general and football in particular.
    Onto the Boro, Higgy’s appointment looks like a Plan B to me, and a very welcome Plan B at that. Many times I have hoped that the club would take more heed of the fans in general and “most” of the posters on here in particular.
    Higgy is reasonably close to being just that. It could be the perfect balance to Aitor’s apparent extremes, I suspect that things have been discussed behind the scenes and it’s clear to me that there needs to be a go between, someone who has the fans onside, someone who can talk to the players as one of their own, an elder statesman who can provide an advisory word or two when needed to keep things in perspective with the Iceman.
    Higgy’s enthusiasm, down to earth pragmatism and knowledge of the club, it’s recent history and of the area I hope will bring common sense to proceedings whilst Aitor can indulge in his much needed longer term construction plan.
    The defence is very much an Aitor lookalike at the moment which is great and much to his credit but unfortunately the attack is equally as mean. Hopefully Higgy’s arrival will lighten things at the sharp end and see sanity restored along with some goals.
    I must admit I was struggling to see the point of going to the Ipswich game on Saturday to come away £50 lighter and frustrated afterwards knowing that I should have had more sense.
    The immediacy of Higgy’s arrival tells me I perhaps wasn’t the only one!

  13. If Higgy can persuade Karanka to play 4-4-2 and ditch this awful continental garbage formation we’ve been playing for the last two years it could be our best signing in ages . Lets hope he can turn Tomlin into the new er …Higgy

  14. “It is to believe in your own heart that you will never live to see your team win one.”
    After losing to Chelsea the second time at wembley I certainly started to feel like that. The pensioners just below the boy’s end used to tell us that they had waited all their lives to see Boro win summat so Steve Mc was certainly a hero, and that crazy European joy ride will never be forgotten.
    I have both DVD’s and my little boy (now four years old) can watch Boro in colour being successful and can dream that one day he too may get the chance of watching the Boro win something again.
    However, coming from Stockton, I did want Sunderland to win it too, Strange that isn’t it.

  15. Phil, Norton –
    4-4-2 with two strikers is fine but not if the two wide men are Kamara and Main and the second striker Butterfield.
    It would work with Carayol/Ledesma/Adomah wide and say Tomlin as the second striker. Generally teams with two strikers have one up front and one dropping off and linking play.
    As I posted on the previous thread it is who you play in the forward positions that is more important than what you name the formation.

  16. Boffins working at the LHC (Little Hartlepool Club) have announced that they have discovered the last remaining piece of the theoretical jigsaw.
    The ‘Higgy’ as it’s known is responsible for transmitting the gravity of the situation between the players and manager. It is now hoped that this will lead to a better understanding of the standard 4-3-3 model.
    **AV writes: The so-called Higgy “Boss” particle?

  17. AV:
    Any ideas what the plans are for the club in the summer regarding the front four attackers?
    Emnes- out on loan to drum up some value. Im not sure on his contract length, SELL – value £1-1.5m?
    Juke- Out on loan to drum up some value. SELL – £600-800k?
    Luke Williams – gone or cheap one year deal. NO DEAL
    Carayol – will he be allowed off the naughty step? Does he want to remove himself? £250k buy plenty of value on a resale. £1m asking price? KEEP but attitude might make a SELL
    Adomah – not for sale unless silly money flops on the table? KEEP
    Butterfield- has played more recently, is he a keeper (not literally, calm down Steele)? Possibly not. For sale money back please £500k-700k? SELL
    Ledesma – out of contract i think. Unlikely to be offered new deal not a first teamer? NO DEAL but might be CHEAP DEAL
    Kammara – Recently signed, for sale (as all players are) but not being pushed out? KEEPish
    Main – not sure on contract length, low resale value, most likely stay. KEEP
    Tomlin – best number 10 we have ever had not to play. Not for sale unless we get our £1.5m back. KEEP.
    Graham – back to Sunderland and off to a promo championship club next season.
    Past Targets
    Becchio – long standing interest – two years of bench warming and rotting legs. Norwich could be in the Championship anyway. Seems less exciting a prospect now. MISS
    Ross Badge Kiss McCormac – off to the prem (transfer not promotion). MISSED OUT
    All teams in the Championship need a 20+ goal scorer. Only one or two actually have them. We havent had one for years, and years. Dukes, Yak and Ravanelli are probably the last highest scorers with decent totals.
    Any clues on the solution for next season? Higgy up front with Coops getting a recall to cover for Woody at the back?
    **AV writes: I think everything is up for grabs in the summer and every single member of the squad is playing for their place. I expect a massive turnover.

  18. I think you’ve got this completely wrong Vic.
    Most Boro fans wanted Sunderland to win. It was the Newcastle fans who were attending the ‘blue moon’ themed pub afternoons. This is because the parochial rivalry just doesn’t exist between us and either of those two, as it does between themselves.
    Good to see Higgy in place, plumping the cushions for Sooper Cooper’s arrival.

  19. Vick says winning cups counts.
    It does indeed to the fans at least, but Newcastle’s several appearances in the top four in the last 20 years have far more relevance and meaning these days thanks to the numpties of Sky TV. In fact finishing 17th in the Premier League these days is more noteworthy than winning either of the “big two cups”.
    It’s all wrong but that’s the state of play these days. You only had to look at the teams Hull and Sunderland put out in the 6th round of the cup to see that winning a cup is not a priority for most teams anymore. Staying in the league or getting a top four finish and all the megabucks that come with it are what the Premier League is all about.
    In fact the Championship play off final is now more prestigious than winning the League or FA Cup. The cups nowadays are nothing but an interference and a nuisance for the clubs owners.

  20. Winning the league cup can no longer be considered as winning a major trophy.
    Never mind though, let’s see if Middlesborough FC can win a real cup in the next 128 years unlike the first 128 years.
    **AV writes: Football started in 1992. Boro have done alright since then for a little club.

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