WEMBLEY: an iconic venue that has been central to the dreams of generations of Boro supporters. School yard yearning were left unfulfilled by near-misses, freezes and failures through a barren century. Then, when the finals suddenly came thick and fast, we have been left powerless and impotent as those dreams turned into nightmares.
Tony Dorigo’s free-kick killer that spoiled our debut in 1990 (although you never forget your first time). Emile Heskey’s stoppage time sickener after stroppy striker Ravanelli had briefly ignited emotions with our only goal at the Twin Towers; A cruel 43 second Roberto Di Matteo stunner that killed off our first ever FA Cup appearance before it had even begun and hammered in the final nail of a traumatic season. And Chelsea again just 12 months later in the League Cup.
The mystique of Wembley had so long taunted us and been so painfully unobtainable – then we finally got there it turned out to be a haunted hell-hole that laughed as it crushed our souls. Now Boro have a chance for historic redemption. Believe…
On Monday Aitor Karanka’s well drilled unit have the chance to put those nightmares behind us and write their names in neon across our hearts. This team have a chance to become eternal heroes and heal old wounds. This spirited side can make dreams come true for the long suffering legions of loyalists who will march to the Arch.
They can ignite a renewed red hot pride and passion – and one hell of a party – on Teesside if they can finally make always the bridesmaid Boro winners at Wembley. That would exorcise the ghosts of past disappointments on the big stage.
But beyond the short term sentiment and symbolism, powerful and joyous though that would be, there is a solid core of compelling financial necessity if victory.
Winning would and take us back to the promised land of Premier League.
Victory would be an epoch-shaping moment for Middlesbrough.
The pivotal play-off clash with Norwich is arguably the biggest and most important game in Boro’s modern history. It is bigger than all the cup finals because the prize is bigger – and the risks of failure are far more frightening.
Losing in the previous cup finals hurt like hell but defeat didn’t fundamentally change the status of the club inside the game nor dramatically change the direction of travel. Winning at Cardiff was fantastic and opened the doors to exotic European adventure and gave us a temporary high and feeling of invincibility and possibility. But it didn’t ultimately engineer a new future for the club.
But this one game has the ability to totally transform Boro. The stakes are high. It is a winner-takes-all showdown with the eye-watering £100m prize of a place in the top flight.
We know exactly how hard it is to get to the play-offs after the sobering shock of six frustrating and fruitless campaigns where we have fizzled out and faded. And we know how hard it is once you get into the pack to pull away after being squeezed out of the automatic spots in the final furlong this term.
Now we have been presented with a one off shot at a back door elevation at Wembley . And we must make it count before the financial landscape changes dramatically around us and makes it far harder in the years to come.
As an already bloated Premier League prepares to add a nought to the figures when the new TV deal kicks in, it could be now or never for Boro.
Steve Gibson has maxed out in pumping money into the club. He has supported Boro to tune of £1m a month since the toxic shock of relegation and managed to make sure the club have always had the structure and resources to compete against sides still packed with financial muscle after their stint at the top.
But the already yawning gap between the Championhsip and the big boys may soon be unbridgeable. Relegated clubs already come down beefed up by massive parachute payments that give them a huge strategic advantage. That reward for failure is about to be trebled. In just a few year time it could be next to impossible for the likes of Boro to compete with the juggernauts who fall from the gravy train only to bounce back up unharmed, cushioned by an air-bag of cash.
This could be our last and best chance to claw back onto the top table. We must take it.
Enjoy Wembley, play your part in urging the team on to history.
COME ON BORO
I THINK we’ll win. I’ve been totally convinced this steely team was on course for promotion since about the end of September. Brighton away when they went toe to toe and showed they had bottle. Mind, I had hoped to be on a sun-lounger by now toasting a top flight return but these things are never straight-forward and so we are taking the scenic route.
We’ve beat them twice. They – the players – think we were lucky. They – the bookies – think they are favourites. They – the fans – have fallen for the strange recent media narrative that Boro are limited bus-parkers and time-wasting kickers. Good. Let them. Boro at their best can beat anyone in this division. If Boro start at a high tempo and wrest control of the game, if they impose their shape and dynamic, then they will win. I’m going 2-0. And if we do then I will probably cry tears of joy while writing the match report.
Usual drill: let’s have your scorecasts and predictions on how the game will pan out. Season ticket-holders first, then Pride, then anyone else on general posting. Then let’s have your post-match celebratory assessment afterwards. I’m not sure how soon I will be able to get my own stuff done. I may be busy after the whistle.
If you are going, enjoy the day, don’t let it pass you by. Get behind the lads. Glory beckons.