I Heard It Through The Grapevine… (Reprise)

SUMMER… full of repeats. We even got the same League Cup draw.  Anyway, in that spirit here’s one I did earlier on the twitter tittle tattle and electronic pub-talk that is the annoying white noise that deafen and distracts us through the close season.

It’s from almost exactly two year’s ago when the rumour mill – a cocktail of fiction, wishful thinking and guesswork  that rushes in to fill the news vacuum – was in full swing.

Only the names have changed, the rest remains valid I think. And it will give you all something new to talk about.  I am genuinely interested in readers views on this corrosive trend inside the football bubble that reflects badly on society as a whole.

THIS time last year I was on the receiving end of a strange and angry phone-call from a reader who demanded to know why the Gazette hadn’t covered the story of Boro’s bid for Robert Koren. Everyone was talking about it. It had been in all the other papers. It was in your rival rag. It was all over the internet – it was even on Sky Sports! Was it because the Gazette was just a rubbish newspaper and had missed out on the big scoop of the day?
We didn’t carry the story because it wasn’t true I said. “That doesn’t matter!” he snapped back in a very instructive phrase that laid out the demarcation lines of the stand off .

That phrase – “it doesn’t matter” – reflects an emerging gulf in perspective. On one side there are sniffy misty-eyed old school pedants who see the role of newspapers as trying to sift fact from fiction and to cut through the competing agendas of interested parties to present the best possible representation of the truth at any given point.
And on the other hand there are those out there who don’t really care too much about veracity and who think the press and other media should just uncritically churn out the unsubstantiated meme of the moment irrespective of any basis in reality. I mean, its only a bit of fun.

Some – many? – have grown impatient with the slow and piecemeal assembly of something approximating a disappointing truth and would rather feast on fast food speculation. They see the rumourmill as a form of info-tainment that we should feed by trumpeting tittle-tattle . And if the Gazette is not joining in the Chinese Whispers we are inept killjoys. By not giving credence to gossip we are letting the fans down. That’s pathetic writing Vickers. Can’t you link us to to some decent players? Now! Booooo.

As I said to the caller, yes, we had heard the chatter and, yes, we understood the simplistic two-plus-two-equals five calculations and watched the cut-and-paste chain of rumour replicated by the gossip-bot websites. And yes, we had seen it then used as a throw away paragraph to pad out those hard to fill tabloid acres in the nationals during a quiet summer. These rumours gather whispered weight in the pubs and clubs and on messageboards until they acquire their own gravity of ‘truth’.

And yes, it would have been very easy for us to slap such a story on the back page (it would save us a lot of time and effort and give us an easy hit during our fallow month) and then presumably the irate caller would have been delighted that his local paper had used a morale boosting story with no substance because it gave an illusion of activity.

But we did what journalists are supposed to do: we tried to establish the truth. BORING. Maybe. But that’s how we work. We made the phone calls and spoke to the manager and the chief executive and the chairman and they all said emphatically there was nothing in the story. It was just paper talk. So we dismissed the link with a curt paragraph on the end of that day’s Boro story. We acknowledged the ripple in the Borosphere but said there was nothing in it. And we were right. That is not me being sanctimonious, just explaining the methodology. Most local papers are the same. It is what separates us from the websites that just churn out .unfiltered gossip.

We had that situation a few times last summer. The Gazette was slagged off routinely as being out of touch on messageboards and on phone-ins and by people – many of them our readers – in real life too because we didn’t deliver the “news” , that we didn’t follow the tide of rumour or get sucked into what was clearly a tune being played by an agent to drum up interest and I personally took quite a bit of flak on twitter for being “miles behind the story.” We were being blasted because we had somehow missed Boro’s imminent “bid” to sign, among others. Luciano Becchio, Martin Cranie, Ricardo Fuller and Gary Liddle, Boo. Come on Gazette. Get your finger out!

But are any of those at the club now? The rubbish old fashioned Gazette checked those stories out and poured cold water on them. Because they weren’t true. That’s what we do: We ask questions and try to get as close to the truth as we can at the point of the deadline. BORING! I’m sorry. And while all that tedious verification stuff was happening we missed all those BIG stories.

But we were first to bring you the news that Boro were signing Jonathan Woodgate, Stuart Parnaby, Jayson Leutwiler and George Friend. And we were just behind Sky Sports News on Mustapha Carayol – they went live with it while our story was on the page but hadn’t been printed yet.  That’s old fashioned dead tree publishing for you. That’s a sickener but it is part of the game. Grant Leadbitter came out in the Daily Mail via the Ipswich local paper.Hands up, we were behind on that one. You may not think those players, those stories are hugely impressive or bums on seats in a quiet summer. But they were true.
Fast forward a year and we are going through exactly the same arguments again. E-mails and tweets and a couple of phone calls have asked why we haven’t gone big on the Sylvan Ebanks Blake story. Because we checked it out and there isn’t one. We’ve asked. It is just his agent throwing a few club names around to the Midlands press to drum up interest. Boro insist there has been no contact at all with the player. So we have written that. We have been asked angrily how we missed the Javier Acuna story. Because there isn’t one. Mogga said he had never heard of him let alone made an approach. So we have written that. Robbie Keane? Afonso Alves? Seriously?

That doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes get a story wrong. We do. Everyone does. Sometimes we miss a story completely because it happens too quickly to fit into our old fashioned print schedule or because we haven’t been able to check with the manager (although we can catch up quickly on-line as soon as we firm things up).
Sometimes we fall for the smoke and mirrors of an agent generated story that seem to have substance “from the other end” with details apparently leaking out via the other club (although we always try to check with the local paper)

Sometimes we go with story that we are not quite happy with because most of the bits seem to fall into place and we haven’t been able to quite verify the final piece. Sometimes you have to make a judgement call and you hope you get most of those right. Once or twice in the past we have been misled by a player, or by a manager or people within the club. We’ve even been hoaxed.  Not on my watch I hasten to add.  But it has happened to far bigger papers than us.  But we always try to check.

I should add that when we get a story wrong, personally I am absolutely gutted. Seriously. Gutted.  Some reporters can shrug it off and dismiss it as tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappers but if we get a big story wrong on the back page I feel physically sick. It is a major blow to our integrity and credibility. And for a local paper that is our stock in trade.
And yes, there is even an argument that we should actually report rumours. People – readers – are talking about them, passing them on and swapping them in a game of tittle-tattle Top Trumps They are part of the zeitgeist . So maybe we should carry them. On-line. Clearly marked. Firewalled from our own work. Maybe. The market may decide that.

Meanwhile, to the point of all this, I’ve just come back from a big national brainstorming session on using digital, data, on-line and social networks in sports journalism.(It was great, wait until you see what I’m going to hit you with next season now I’ve got some bells and whistles.to play with on our new system.)

Among the data thrown into the workshops and the debate was a disturbing report from a focus group of young cyber-savvy media students, the hacks of the future. They echoed the sentiments of that original phone-call: they don’t care if transfer stories are true or not, they just want them out there quickly.  They want the buzz of being the first among their mates to pick them up and tweet them. It is a race to regurgitate.

The kudos of being an early part of the ripple of rumour through cyberspace was rated as more important to them than the story actually being true. In fact, they would rather clock up a couple of dozen quickfire retweets for something they knew or suspected strongly to be completely false than wait a while to get the story a bit later but correct. Second is nowhere. Even if it is the truth. There is no virtual credibility in that.

That’s deeply worrying. These are the people who will shape the agenda of papers and websites in years to come. And presumably – alarmingly – a similar mindset runs through their fellow trainees who will shape the front pages as well as the back.

And hey, they will probably all do well. They will no doubt have successful careers. They appear to be in tune with the times. They know that a virtual lie is twice round the world before the truth has booted up and see that not as a cautionary note but as a guide to working. They appear to think that is an acceptable, even desirable, landscape for ‘journalism’ to work in. And there is certainly an audience there.

There is now a large section of the football population that swallow – and pass on – every flimsy rumour without question. In fact, with a hint of glee. There is kudos for passing it on first. They want a fast flow of disposable gossip rather than any thing as stodgy and slow as old fashioned fact. They want to be entertained with a constantly buzzing virtual grapevine rather than face the tumbleweed horror of a few news-free cold turkey empty week of nothing on the yellow scrolling banner of breaking news. Or cricket.

I know the desire is there for activity. For action. And nature abhors a vacuum. With no news there is an innate drive to speculate and drift into daydreams and wishful thinking and indulge in a little Fantasy Football, assembling imaginary teams of transfers from the free agents and to seize on every scrap of unsubstantiated gossip.

And there is a fear that all the other teams are signing players and stealing a march. You know that because you see all the links and swoops and weighing up bids going on in cyberspace.  But you can’t expect the Gazette to play to the gallery and serve up stories based on electronic pub talk. No matter what people think and say, we don’t “just make it up to sell papers”.

But feel free to call up and tell us the truth doesn’t matter.


Oooh…  999. Exciting isn’t it?



135 thoughts on “I Heard It Through The Grapevine… (Reprise)

  1. Good news in the EG about season tickets sales now close to 14,000. That is 5,500 up from 8,500 this time last year, any business which sees a growth over 60% is moving in the right direction despite the disappointment of the play-off final.

    In the same article Jonathon Taylor says the Premier League’s £5 billion TV rights deal comes into play from 2016. With that being the case I’m thinking was it better for Boro to miss out in the play-offs and get promoted instead this coming Season. Rationale being that had we went up and come straight back down again then we would miss out on the new TV deal.

    I think we have a better chance of getting promoted this coming season than staying in the Premiership had we won the play-offs. Or is that “half full” skewed logic?

    **AV writes: The best time to get promoted is always “now!”

  2. In other news the Hammers new Olympic Stadium is going to cost £272m for a refit with WHU contributing £15m and something like £2m a year in rent. Where is the £272m coming from?

    Excuse my naivety here but how does FFP get its head around that peach of a deal. More seriously why don’t they just bulldoze the white elephant and sell the land to a developer, it will cost less and let the bubble blowers blow their own cash building their own Stadium the way SG had to.

    What if as an example Middlesbrough sold the Riverside Stadium to “Gibson developments” for £60m and rented it back for £1m a year. We could go out and buy 5 or 6 top players to virtually guarantee promotion and give the time honoured salute to FFP.

    Can you imagine what £272m would do for Teesside as a whole if it was ploughed into facilities around here and how far it would go? It would be staggering (so long as they kept the various Council noses out of the trough of course).

    **AV writes: It is a complete and utter scandal that the tax payer has funded a new ground for a top flight football club at a peppercorn rent. An absolute outrage. It has given one commercial concern a massive competitive advantage over their rivals. At public expense. The Prime Minister – keen to cut needless public spending in these times of austerity – should have a stern word with Hammers chief executive, recently elevated Tory life peer and Small Business Ambassador to the UK Government Karen Brady. Oh. Right.

    1. Cynical there, Anthony. But you’ve still hit the mark.

      Premier League football clubs are awash with money. What they choose to do with that money may well be for them to decide, but the poor taxpayer in these austerity times shouldn’t have to stump up £270M+ with the club putting in a measly £15M.

      And when I say it is up to the clubs to decide how they will spend the TV largesse thrown at them, let’s speculate, shall we?

      (a) lining the mink-coated pockets of the players and senior staff, and agents on the one hand, or
      (b) ensuring the supporters can afford reasonably-priced tickets and ensuring the “menial staff” get a proper wage, on the other hand?

      My money is one (a) being the more likely.

      On which point I noted in the last day or so an announcement that Norwich City intends to pay a “living wage” to all its employees. Presumably someone has realised that the club can’t run properly without laundry staff, cleaners, the people behind the food and drinks bars and various others who meet and greet the supporters. And probably the total cost will be only a small proportion of the wages paid to a single player. Well done, Norwich City.

  3. Interesting, seeing other people’s version of Southgate’s three year tenure in the premier league. Speaking personally, and it can only be a personal view, it seemed to be a very slow car crash, in that everyone could see the fifty ton arctic, with trailer, coming our way from day one of his tenure, but, and it is a big but, no one could get hold of the steering wheel.

    It seemed at the time that he stood pitch side in a very good suit calmly watching as things went from bad to worse. At the end of year one, speaking without records in front of me, I believe we finally dodged the bullet in our penultimate match. Within a week the fans were being told that we had never been in any danger and furthermore we were being silly. The next season was a clear case of déjà vue, again clawing our way out of the pit with one match to go. Again we were silly boys for panicking. The third season proved the wisdom of the James bond villain with his famous saying. ‘once happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action’.

    When the tears were shed, and the blame game had been played out, and a little bit of analysis was applied it turned out that five points from our last eight matches would have saved us with something to spare, we never had a prayer of getting them. I hope and pray that he will prove to be a wonderful manager of the national team, he won’t have to buy and sell players, nore coach them, nore motivate them, so all should be set fair. We shall see.

    1. I’d be interested in seeing a link to the article you’re referring to, if you have it Plato. I do agree with what you say about those three years though, and it seems such a shame. There was a great sense of optimism when McClaren left that we’d bring someone in who would take Boro to the next level, most likely someone with the ability to manage through a steady reduction in the club’s spending, but instead we went for a man with no managerial experience to speak of, and boy did it show.

      No criticism of Southgate intended there. I’ve always admired him as an articulate commentator of the game, thought many of the things he said whilst at the Riverside were totally in order and remarkably perceptive. And yet he was what he was – inexperienced, naive, could be pushed around, wasn’t able to deal with ‘problem’ players so sold them, was hopeless in the transfer market. Nice guy, really nice guy, probably one of my favourite Boro players in fact, but out of his depth as a Premiership club manager.

  4. Plato totally agree with your comments. When he was appointed I just screamed please no in my head, the last thing we needed right then was a novice…….

  5. Plato

    We should never forget that Gate was the little lad holding the football when the big lads ran away as Mr Angry looked for a culprit.

    I recall the view from the club that Gibbo and the Count had loads of experience to back up Gate, sadly it was against a wall.

    We have all seen the turmoil when executives ‘help’ the playing side of the club. Blackburn are a prime example, Toon are another.

  6. Personally, I confess I didn’t see Plato’s car crash from the outset of Southgate’s tenure. Certainly, I didn’t think it was a good appointment as it smacked of desperation. I also wondered whether his rank novice status was attractive to the hierarchy in making him pliable.

    I was far from confident but was nevertheless hopeful. After all, neither Keegan nor Robbo had managed before and both made a big impact. Southgate was a good guy, knew his football and might have been a winner.

    Sadly not. He never emanated confidence and looked out of his depth throughout. Within weeks he looked unlikely to be a success. Signings were poor and the structure of the team steadily unravelled. Within months I joined Plato behind the settee waiting for the crash.

    1. These days surviving in the Premiership is considered no mean feat. So at least by that yardstick he wasn’t a complete failure. In the end it was a very poor squad that did for him.

      1. Very interesting discussion but consider the following; if you are a club who run your affairs poorly then by definition you should copy the methods of the big clubs, who are by any measure you care to use, well run. If Real Madrid sign a manager with a great record and he starts with six straight defeats and no goals, they apply a little logic to the situation. One, his first season is dead in the water, two, what are they letting him carry on for, even if he won his next six conceding no goals, they would be in mid table, solution, the sack, with immediate effect.

        We made an awful blunder, knew it almost immediately and failed to act. We escaped our just punishment on season one, and again we failed to act. We staggered into season two with a weakened team, for all the usual reasons, good players leaving, pitiful signings, no motivation. The guilty were of course the higher management, who by now were saying we can’t sack Gareth because it’s our fault for making him our manager. And so the sorry saga wobbled on to it’s equally sorry end.

        The message is still be ruthless in word and deed, it’s a sport, so sport has nothing to do with it.

  7. Yeah, Southgate’s first two seasons have to be judged a success – he was obviously a novice yet he kept us in the Premiership pretty comfortably on a reduced budget. In retrospect (and yes I know some on here said it at the time) he should have gone in the relegation season after the West Brom game.

    But – he was let down horribly by the players (though motivation comes into it) – Downing didn’t have a single goal all season (and very few, if any assists) as well as missing a crucial penalty at Sunderland. Alves obviously went missing (Downing/Alves scored more v Man City in the 8-1 game than in the entirety of the next season).

  8. Yes, about eight goals a season by Alves would have saved us. Small margins, indeed.

    Let’s watch to the future. Where is the tonne? *cleaning a dress suit*

    Up the Boro!

  9. In reply to all those who commented on my post re. Gareth. It was meant to be a comment on the running of any football club. As the big clubs know, time is the most precious commodity and if they make a mistake they correct it ASAP. They do not listen to the press, they do not consider the feelings of the hapless manager who is not delivering the goods, they act.

    Regarding the fact that we were still in the Prem after year one, if we had tried playing without a manager I would have expected that team to avoid relegation, not by much, but just about. The real point about the entire affair was that higher management acted out the old joke about the man falling from the skyscraper. As they escaped the drop at the end of season one and were asked how they felt they said ‘absolutely fine so far’. Little realising that they still had twenty stories to fall.

  10. Plato’s philosophy is all Greek to me, based as it is upon an Ideal Well Run Club, exemplified by the real Real Madrid, who sack their manager as soon as things go wrong. As,of course, do Blackpool, QPR and any number of other basket cases on the skids run by authoritarians, proud of their ruthlessness in word and deed. There is probably something to be said for the Ideas of Continuity, Bedding In, and Giving the Manager Time.

    Those who claim to have had doubts about Southgate from the outset because of his lack of experience presumably felt much the same about Karanka and Robson, whilst being much more welcoming about the appointment of Strachan. Karanka was, of course, a complete outsider, who lacked not simply managerial experience, but knowledge of the area, the country, the club, the Championship, the language etc., and was far less knowledgable and experienced across a whole range of criteria than Gareth had been. But as I vividly recall, I happened to be one of only two on this blog who expressed any doubts about AK’s appointment and the mountainous task facing him when he arrived. I was proved wrong – much to my delight – but not about the magnitude of his task, and, by extension, his achievement.

    By contrast it would have been very odd if Gareth had not been a front runner for the manager’s job. The club would have looked foolish and been much the poorer had such an obvious talent been allowed to leave, given his distinguished club captaincy, his man-management skills (deserving of a medal for his work with Boksic alone) his tactical nous, and his obvious intelligence and unrivalled playing experience. Above all he was a known (and highly valued) quantity who offered the prospect of continuity from a solid base that no-one else could.

    What ultimately sank Gareth were the disastrous signings of Alves and Mido in particular. The degree of responsibility he actually should have carried for those signings given the collective nature of such activities is still a matter which has never been satisfactorily clarified. The same applies, of course, to AK’s ‘signings’ at the present time. Where exactly should the praise or blame for our transfer activity ultimately be laid?

    1. I’ve always been mystified with the whole Alves thing.

      Here was a player with a goal scoring record from the Dutch Eredivisie that had a better ratio than Luis Suarez, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo.

      This was a player who helped put Manchester United and Manchester City to the sword.

      Where did the sudden collapse in form come from? Why did he become a bad player almost literally overnight?

      Boro’s, Devon Loch and Nessie rolled into one.

      **AV writes: Well he certainly enjoyed his summer break. That’s all I’m saying.

      1. I think in the case of both Mido and Alves the fact that Greggs shares plummeted when they left was less than coincidental.

    2. Len –

      I think Robbo was an unknown gamble in getting us promoted which worked because of his own playing ability, contacts, charisma, and profile in the game plus huge assistance from SG’s wallet. Southgate was asked to to the exact opposite to Robbo in that keeping us up was paramount, not spending and cutting back, plus he had worked with various managers but not one of the best in Fergie, his profile wasn’t at the same level as Robbo’s at the time of appointment plus he had no idea that night in Eindhoven would be his last as a player.

      AK had served an apprenticeship first with the Spanish Youth team then sat alongside the chosen one (which he has benefited from in that relationship) plus was a few years older which makes a big difference. MacClaren too had served an apprenticeship at the highest level. If Gareth had been assistant to either Mourinho or Fergie for a few years then I am certain he would have been ideal to lead the Boro from the dug out after a few years learning alongside the best.

      Strachan was exactly as expected, the Jocktification of the club as he had done at Coventry with almost the same disastrous results until Mogga saved what was left of the debris. Interestingly that it is in the main Mogga’s signings that have been the backbone of our recent success and not AK’s (or our scouting team) signings. Transfer speculation is usually about Adomah or Friend and we know that Forest will likely be linked with Grant again. Even England’s U21 MOM last night Ben wasn’t a signing.

      If only we could take the best of all of them and create a Frankenstein Manager.

  11. Len –

    As I posted earlier, Gate was the little lad left holding the football, the Unholy Trinity became one when the ship sank.

    The squad needed to be rebuilt even when we were on the away to the European final. It was expensive and old, what is more it wasn’t keen on playing at Ewood Park on a Tuesday evening in February.

    The model seemed to be Arsenal-lite with a strong emphasis on Academy products. Over Gate’s tenure that seemed to unravel as the like of the players you mentioned came in.

    Summer 2008 did for us. Young out, Hoyte in. Cat, Boat, Rochembach, Mendi out and the one legged Digard in. Plus of course mysterious Marvin.

    By this stage we had lost Yak, JFH, Viduka and brought in Aliadiere, Mido and Alves.

    The heart was ripped out of the team and not replaced. Turnbull given the hook so Corporal Jones could be custodian.

    We will never know who was the driver of those fateful decisions but we all know who got the blame.

  12. Len’s response is excellent. Indeed if you go back further and consider a manager that many are comparing Karanka with, Big Jack was a huge gamble with no more experience than Gareth. I suspect in those days they didn’t have the same concerns over coaching badges.

    I haven’t looked up the facts (as AV has stated in the original topic…why waste a good story), but I’m not entirely convinced by Plato’s memory. I have a vague recollection of finishing mid-table in Gareth’s first year, possibly 13th, and there were plenty of reasons to be hopeful.

    At the time, Digard and Emnes were being hailed as more responsible signings after the excess of Robson and McClaren, younger and likely to have re-sale value (I seem to recall AV blogging about this). Of course, not all signings work out, although I think the club were unlucky with Digard. It’s easy to look back and say “I saw it coming”, but if managing a football club was easy then we’d all be doing it.

    After three novices (Robson, McClaren and Southgate) the cry from these pages was for an experienced manager…and the club delivered what they asked for. But that didn’t work either. Most people will say they predicted the failure of the ‘great jockification’, but I’m happy to hold my hand up and say I didn’t. If I recall the excited pre-season blog (something related to a smithy?) as we signed Robson, MacDonald, Thompson and Boyd…who if I recall correctly was going to score a ‘brutal’ number of goals, then I wasn’t the only one at the time.

    We should all reflect on our selective memories. I always felt Gareth has been unfairly cast in Boro’s history, and reflect on the fact we were close to the top of division 2 when he was let go. I suspect Steve Gibson doesn’t look back on that episode with too much pleasure either. I was always a bit disappointed he didn’t try somewhere else. I always saw him as a successful Palace manager…maybe he still will be one day.

    **AV writes: I remember writing at the time that Southgate first season – top flight 12th place finish and FA Cup 6th rd – would have been considered a very good season for 95% of the club’s entire history and I got absolute pelters. Even though it was demonstrably true.

    1. That’s spot on Vic. He also got us to the last 8 in the cup 3 seasons in a row. A feat no other manager here has achieved. In his first two seasons we were never in danger of being relegated. In fact for most of those seasons we were nearer to the Uefa cup spots than the bottom three. When we eventually went down we were just one result away from staying up. Fine margins. Gibbo’s worst decision was sacking him when he did and replacing him with Strachan.

  13. I think Gibson said that Southgate was sacked because he wasn’t doing his job as thoroughly as was necessary (or words to that effect) and not because of all the other reasons cited around the time (relegation, signings, performances, attendances).

    As everyone else is doing so I’d better hold my hands up as well – I have been upbeat about the appointment of every recent Boro manager at the time with the exception of Aitor Karanka, for whom I reserved judgement. Once I saw the style of play and string of nils in the early months of 2014, followed by a number of questionable summer signings (or so it seemed to me) I articulated my concerns.

    So there you have it. At least a decade of largely being wrong.

    1. I think you are right about the reason Southgate was dismissed as Gibson expressed that his main concern was that Gareth’s style of management was to delegate to his coaching staff and take more of an overview rather than get actively involved with the players on the training pitch in order to impose himself.

      It’s a style that many modern managers employ and in fact I think Clough even did this and used Peter Taylor to drill the players and kept himself more in the background until matchday for greater impact.

      But Southgate didn’t have someone with the experience and exceptional talent of Peter Taylor to impose his will and he even let Steve Round go (who was widely regarded in the game) – leaving himself with quite an inexperienced coaching team to run the show on a day-to-day basis.

      So I believe Gibson made the call that he thought the club wasn’t going to move forward in the attritional Championship and the danger was drifting. Although Boro weren’t far off the pace but also not far off mid-table either I seem to remember.

      But Southgate was a decent intelligent bloke who didn’t do that badly in his previous seasons in comparison to McClaren – and was probably the catalyst to our revival as captain under him.

      Incidentally, I was in favour of Strachan at the time as I thought we needed experience but in the end he was a Maverick that left too many players confused. Though I wasn’t in favour of Mogga when he first arrived as I thought his demeanor wasn’t very uplifting and his record was one good season one bad season.

      **AV writes: I thought Strachan was the right type of manager but he turned out to be the wrong type of man.

  14. I’ve already been into the confessional and admitted that I, for one, didn’t see the Southgate car crash coming. He wasn’t the proven manager I would have wished for but I could see no reason why he shouldn’t be another without any managerial experience who made the grade, just as Big Jack did years before.

    Similarly, just as Kookaboro has coughed to, I was hopeful when Strachan was appointed. He had the playing profile and contacts plus some managerial experience and a little success. I wasn’t at all worried with the subsequently much-maligned Jockification.

    After all, we could no longer afford to shop for decent English players, even ones past their best, so it seemed to make sense to go to a much cheaper marketplace. Yes, we knew that the Scottish league had dramatically declined but surely the better SPL players could cut the mustard in the Championship? Established internationals, players with a multitude of cups in the cabinets, all-time record scorers – it was all nailed on, what could possibly go wrong?

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

  15. Well if the pre season kit is sackcloth and ashes, I was positively agitating for Strachan before we signed him – and I had no idea AK was a possibility.

    My sister should choose the next boss – or at least have a veto. ‘If they give him the job, they’ll definitely go down.’ And that was about Bobby Murdoch. Possibly a couple of others since as well mind you.

  16. On how many other blogs do contributors post in order to tell the world how wrong they have been? Brilliant stuff, y’all.

  17. Next, in a laughable attempt to restore the tattered old garment that I like to think of as my reputation: How the Boro would certainly have been automatically promoted if only they had followed my advice.

  18. Anyone else like to ‘fess up to stuff they got right at the time? Forget the Trabbie. I’ll take a new mobility scooter.

  19. I thought Boyd and Macdonald would be fighting neck and neck for the honour of leading Championship goal scorer… and I put a tenner on each of them to hedge my bets. No wonder I’m excited about Karanka’s revolution.



    1. Jarsue –

      I have to confess that I was 100% confident that Boyd and MacDonald would bag 40 goals between the pair of them “nae bother”. From memory Boyd was the top SPL scorer for four out of the previous five years before he arrived and the only year he wasn’t Scotty topped the bill!

      Unfortunately Boyd suffered the same fate as Mido and Alves and ate all the pies in Greggs window. What came to pass is now ancient painful Teesside history although despite his moaning I think McDonald would work in AK’s set up but we will never know (Thank God I can hear a few posters including AV say).

      **AV writes: With his egocentric whinging McDonald wouldn’t have lasted five minutes under Aitor.

      1. Regarding the great jockification, I started off with mild curiosity as the first two were announced, after all what do I know about the finer points of building a team?

        When the great blanket signing of Scots took place, I tried to picture the scene in some low boozer in Glasgow, with Strach as the Irish gang boss and a stream of players bringing him a pint over before doing the deal. It was always an immense gamble, after all the flood of players from Scotland had long since ceased and no longer do every leading club possess a great Scottish player. One player pulled me up short when I first saw him on a football pitch, and that was Willo. If I have spelt his name wrongly then I apologise. Nothing to do with him as a person or a player, simply the fact that he was far too frail to cut it in the Championship, the muscle men didn’t have to break sweat to keep him quiet and as for the rest of them enough has been said.

  20. Len.

    I loved Robbo, and any hopes that his colossal reputation in the game and sheer confidence and drive would bring a lot of results and more important, happiness to the fans, were more than fulfilled. All the stories about his adventures outside football seemed to be a true reflexion of the character we knew and loved. Yes I know it ended in a scrappy fashion, he was never going to stay after Terry was parachuted in, and so it ended unhappily. By the way, the months that Terry was running things were the most solid and secure in my memory. Things were organised, confidence seemed to pour from the players and It was a most pleasant run in. On reflection I think we were shown what it is like when your club hires a top top manager.

  21. OK

    Before a ball had been kicked and the information coming out of the club, and faithfully reproduced by the Gazette, was about how superbly well-organised our preparations, scouting system, targeting of players, use of the latest technologies, contacts both in the UK and across the world etc etc were, I ventured the extreme view that we were more disorganised and poorly prepared to face the new season than at any other time that I could remember.

    We had a dodgy first choice Spanish keeper (having dispensed with a perfectly serviceable one who had been with the club since he was an 8 year-old), no right back of any description, seven centre-backs, only one striker (Spanish and untested), and one of our two possible creative midfield options (destined to become his new Championship club’s Player of the Season) shipped out as a makeweight in a transfer deal. Far from being prepared to hit the ground running, we were awaiting the pleasure of Chelsea and viewing the end of the transfer window as the time when we the shape of the team would finally become clear.

    So it was that poor planning and time management contrived to ensure that our season actually began one month and five games in. At Huddersfield in fact, on 30th August when many of our key players had the opportunity to meet each other for the first time. By which time we were 16th in the table, and, for the record, already 6 points behind Watford, 4 behind Norwich and 1 behind Bournemouth.

    That poor start certainly cost us promotion. Predictably so. It’s vital that we don’t make a similar mistake, in spite of all the pressures, over the next two months.

    1. Len –

      Don’t worry about us starting this season late because I have heard a rumour on a totally unsound basis that the Tea Lady at Rockcliffe has seen a stained tea towel with Lee Tomlins face on it but wearing a Leicester shirt and what looks like £6m underneath it where the coffee stain has bled into the tea stain. It will henceforth be known as “the shroud of tea urn”.

      She said “I was just tidying up and there was this strange glowing halo effect and it was St. Stewart of Downing being resurrected in front of my very eyes in the car park, I says there’s no way we can afford him and there it was, the Tomlin tea towel in my hand as if by magic”.

      She then asked who’s that Odegaard bloke from Madrid then?

      I hate rumours and would never cheapen this blog unless they were absolute dead certain tosh!

  22. They can’t say you haven’t warned them, Len.

    The league season is, what, 46 games long? It isn’t meant to be a handicap race. We are all supposed to start from the same place at the same time. There’s no case for the better funded and well-organised teams starting 10 yards behind the rest of the field in quarter-mile race (for those with long memories for Imperial measures), or for the supposedly weaker teams getting a 10 yards start. We should be hoping to hit the track running.

  23. The Great Tom Ince failure was not so much the failure of Tom Ince, but rather our failure to show any interest in him when he became available on loan during the January transfer window.

    I posted in January that in our final push for promotion we might have missed a trick by spending a couple of £million on a Wigan reserve rather than going for a more creative and attacking midfield option and competing with Derby for Ince on a free loan. That provoked many negative, politely expressed, reactions . Nigel thought I’d posted just to wind him up. Ian raised the spectre of Stephen Bell and other young players whose early promise faded all too quickly. Andy and AV envisaged ‘trouble in t’dressing room’. I embarked on a comparative game-by-game analysis of the impact Ince and Foreshaw had on their respective teams.

    After 10 matches, with young Tom leading 10-0, I stopped counting. In the event Ince, though primarily a creator, weighed in with 11 goals in 18 games. That was more than the combined total of Kike (3), Vossen (3), Tomlin(2) and Adomah (1) during the same period. Indeed, apart from Bamford, Ince scored more league goals from February than any Boro striker did during the entire season. You would be hard put, on that evidence, to argue that Boro would not have made automatic promotion with those additional goals. Particularly as Boro’s lack of midfield creativity, and cutting edge continued to be our Achilles heel to the end of the season.

    No disrespect to Foreshaw. I like him and he may well turn out to be an excellent signing. But he wasn’t the missing piece of the jigsaw, an essential part of our final push. He failed to hit the net, and rarely made the team.

    **AV writes: Generally when a very talented player gets through four teams in 18 months and doesn’t establish himself there is a reason. Likewise when a highly rated player spends 18 months glowering from the stands rather than playing, there is a reason. Often, not always, those players are not great for team moral. Especially when they are paid double what the rest get. Good individual players are not always good team players. The dressing room psychic cocktail is always the most important thing in team sports.

  24. Len

    Young Ince is a player of great promise, when he and Bent arrived Derby fans saw themselves as clear favourites for promotion.

    As their season unravelled they scored plenty but the team work went down the pan. You have to look at both ends of the pitch, there was clearly something amiss.

    There were schisms in the squad, we Yorkshire folk call it trouble at mill, tha knows. Not everyone was pulling in the same direction.

    Schteve had his part to play, cant all be the loanees faults. What is true is that both Bent and Ince have struggled to settle in to clubs. Ince does baffle me, he makes some odd decisions, he wants to get a place at a new club so doesn’t go to the U21 championships, surely that is a shop window?

    I do agree about the Forshaw purchase, if he doesn’t come good it will make the whole thing look odd.

    1. Who were the two players Ince and Bent displaced? Perhaps they were more Important to the team than SM realised.

  25. I agree with Len: the signing of Forshaw was odd, especially considering decent money was involved. It was more of the same when it had become all too clear that we had some gaping holes in creative MF and in attack.

    It’s all conjecture (but, hey, it’s close season) – but would we have been in the PL now if we had emulated Derby’s incoming business?

  26. Ince and Bent are both fine attacking players at Championship level but I don’t think either would have worked for us.

    Karanka demands a work rate and defensive responsibility that neither Ince nor Bent offer willingly. I suspect both would have found themselves benched, at best, for their training performances.

    If we want those kind of players then it will take a fundamental change in Aitor’s approach. Or possibly a different manager altogether.

    Forshaw is an interesting one. We are assuming that he was signed to push the team on to promotion in the same way that Bent and Ince were intended to for Derby. I don’t think that is the case. I think he was signed for the longer term.

    When I have seen Forshaw play he has not looked like more of the same. Technically, he looks superior to both Leadbitter and Clayton in my opinion. He looks a more forward thinking player with a touch of dribbling skill that his Boro contemporaries lack.

    What is interesting is that he doesn’t look like a natural fit in the deeper-lying central midfield positions of Karanka’s favoured 4231. To me, that explains why he was used sparingly and also strengthens my view that he is somewhat of a “project” player and was signed not for the immediate assault on the top two but as “one for the future”.

    The debate then is whether or not that was the wisest use of our available funds. We may not be able to answer that conclusively for some time.

    1. I think you are right there, I would hazard a guess he was signed with one eye on the Premiership but at Championship club prices….

  27. I agree Forshaw was bought with an eye to the future. I hope he will break through as a regular in this coming season. I think he looks better going forward than Leads or Clayton but we’ll have to see what develops there over the next 12 months.

    The key to next season is keeping hold of the players AK wants to form the basis of next year’s team, and the judicious signing of a few who can top up the general level of the squad (especially a goal-scorer and a centre-back and possibly a goalie). But what do I know…..

  28. I’ve missed much of the debate on here in recent days due to being on Teesside (ironically) for my Uncle Ted’s funeral, who was another mad Boro fan and who len played cricket in the back garden with many many years ago.

    The managerial debate is an interesting one, I always thought appointing Gareth was a high risk strategy because no matter how talented you are in order to be good at something you need to build your experience and learn from your mistakes. Appointing Gareth to manage a team that consistently finished in the bottom third of the prem and needing a team rebuild was a huge risk. He duly made his mistakes, not just Alves and Mido but the famous ‘tippy tippy’ twins are also good examples. The inevitable followed. He could still prove to be a good manager but we are still living with the damage of his appointment.

    I see Karanka differently because he had managerial experience if not front line experience when he came here, he also had the advantage of not having players in the dressing room who were his mates.

    Far more importantly are we really in the running to sign Downing and would coming back be a good idea? It would be a big risk for him and the club.

    **AV writes: There is obviously real interest there on both sides but it will take quite a bit of work to make financial sense for both parties. Steve Gibson is determined to completely rebuild the front end of the team and has some impressive (and expensive) targets. It will need some financial juggling to make it all work.

  29. I don’t think Downing returning would be good for either the club or player himself. He is no Paul Merson and I doubt he would be able to lift the side any further than they are now.

    The expectations on him would be overwhelmingly huge and not just because of his costs whichever way they would have to be structured. If he hasn’t scored 15 goals by Christmas, set up at least 10 others and we are not 8 points clear at the top he will be castigated in typical Teesside style.

    Worse still if we plough everything down the back of the settee into him and he goes off with a Damia type injury early in September then we are goosed presumably as it wouldn’t leave much cash for other incomings. I’m against Rhodes for the same reason. Imagine if Tomlin say or Albert is sold to finance one or either of those deals and they don’t immediately deliver.

    **AV writes: Rhodes is not in Boro’s thinking. They can’t afford that kind of cash up front.

  30. Maybe the tea urn is not so far from the truth. Given the way that he played this season for West Ham where he spent most of the time as an attacking central midfield player, Downing may well be the missing link. If you had to choose between him and Tomlin in a straight swap, which one would you go for. Downing also gives the option of breaking left and crossing the ball in a way that Tomlin can’t.

    1. Good point, selwynoz. But I don’t see Stewie fitting into AK’s defend- from- the- front policy.

      Though there was a time a couple of years ago when Brendan Rodgers believed that Downing might make a good left-back. Any Boro supporter could have relieved him of that particular aberration.

  31. I agree with RR that bringing Stewie back would be a risk all round, that said Downing on top form could rip up the Championship, he was one of West Ham’s best players last season playing as a no.10, so he’s clearly still got ‘it’.

  32. Nigel,

    Really sorry to hear the news about Teddy. I have nothing but the happiest and most treasured memories of him. Please give my condolences to the rest of his family. And thank you for passing on the sad news. I greatly appreciated it.

  33. Hairshirt in the Gill household?

    Southgates appointment didn’t have me hiding behind the Sofa, we were supposed to be moving to a vibrant team with youth to the fore but went down with a whimper.

    I wasn’t surprised Gate went despite the win over Derby, my tame Rams fan said he deserved to go for only beating a desperately poor team 2-0. When he left us close to the top only two points had been garnered from teams in the top half. We were flat track bullies, any team who had substance and a bit of skill did for us.

    Strachan said much of what I thought about the spine of the team. As the smithy coined by Vic got it’s furnaces up to temperature I was confident we would go up. Derby and Forest fans thought we were certainties but it never worked out.

    I had reservations about Mogga coming back because he was a legend. As my Rams fan is also a Rangers supporter and his nephew who worked with us supported Celtic I was well aware of the events at Celtic. The key thing was he would be given time for the club to stabilise after the previous problems, not just jockification, blame Strachan for what he is responsible for but remember why he came in and what happened before him.

    Karanka appealed because of his background. Little known is this country but well respected in Spain, believed in the work ethic. It is always a worry when someone new comes to the club but the early signs were good despite the results. Coming back from a goal down with ten men at Leeds and Derby was promising even though we lost both games.

    The coming season? All clubs are looking to progress, the division will be as tough as ever. I don’t expect we will have everyone on board for the seasons start, Everyone is after players to improve their squads, we are only one of many.

    Downing? Difficult to see a package that would attract him that wouldn’t wreck squad development. If he did come that would boost crowds but half would go to say he is still rubbish, get stuck in you wimp! We need Woodie to do a job on him. Will the love of the team draw him back.

  34. Whilst we’re in a reminiscing mood, or as len put it, discussing occasions where we have been proved right on our initial thoughts or expectations, I thought I’d share the tale of Franck “Spell-check Botherer” Queudrue.

    As soon as I saw Franck’s first poorly-timed, overly-committed, two-footed, yellow-carded lunge, I was in love. A manly, entirely appropriate and non-sexual love, but love nonetheless. Here was a man, a French man no less, with boy-band hair, a face designed to wear a Parisian waiters scowl, and shoulders that seemed as though they might spontaneously shrug at any time. His sheer fecklessness, his complacent disregard for the nuances of the well-timed tackle where immediately and spectacularly evident.

    I immediately knew that we had landed someone special. We had to make the deal permanent, because here ladies and gentleman was class – here was a legend in the making.

    Not long after the move was made permanent (swoon), I saw Franck in Portrack Asda, wearing a black roll-neck sweater and flip flops in February. He shopped in Asda! He was one of us!

    I’m glad to report that my thoughts were correct – we can look back on the Franck years with fondness. That mental game against Arsenal where Franck bustled through to set up Job and then scored an absolute stunner that had me out of my seat, mad with happiness, was one of the high watermarks of my time supporting Boro. See for yourself here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7Cxcuv4Tt4

    The only sour point of it all was the disgraceful attempt by the club to convince us that new signing, “Mad Dog” Pogatetz would be a fan-favorite in the same way as Franck was. I hazily recall an article on Boro World which could have been written by Pravda, it was such a clear attempt to persuade us that Franck’s time was over.


    The Franck years were amazing.

  35. Sorry Smoggy, I’ve gone for Ziege at left-back in the Gazette’s Riverside Dream Team.

    I’m afraid I will also have to apologise to many a poster on here as I’ve gone for a very narrow Christmas Tree (4321) formation, although the website has listed it as a 433.

    The Apologetic XI:


    Young (with apologies to Danny Mills)
    Ziege (with apologies to Franck Queudrue)

    (with apologies to Robbie Mustoe)

    Juninho (with apologies to Anthony Vickers)

    Viduka (with apologies to all of the other options)

  36. Let’s not forget Downing’s greatest attribute – his dead ball delivery is top drawer and would probably be worth at least ten goals a season in comparison to the Leadbitter monopoly of such things.

    Though I just can’t see the numbers adding up for Boro to make a deal unless he signed on some deferred bonus scheme dependent on promotion – but that may not even be legal under FFP rules.

  37. Andy R

    There are plenty of variations and yours is a valid as any but for one player. As Harry Pearson calls him, the Pizza Face Goat Boy http://harrypearson.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/pizza-faced-goat-boy.html

    He came to us as a German steeped in their wing back role. That was his best position, sorry BoroPhil, players do have a best position.

    Liverpool came after a left back and poached him. I told my Scouse colleague at the time that he wasn’t even allowed to mark his Bingo card on away trips. Sure enough he was a defensive disaster at left back.

    He did ok at Spurs where they played 352.

    Apologies but I think you need a left back. Franck it is

  38. Ian

    Ziege is playing as wing back in my team. As is Young on the other side.

    Think of the side as the anti-Karankanaught: 4 players have full defensive duties but everyone is expected to attack!

  39. Cracking post Smoggy -was smiling all the way to work this morning.

    To be fair to Pog though, once he was moved inside to his proper position he was more effective and popular.

    Still, Franck, *sigh*

    For the Gazette Riverside team I went with Woody and Big Nige at the back with Franck *sigh* and Mills.
    I would have loved to have seen Boksic and Viduka team up up front – it’s a mystery why Boksic wasn’t available for selection though that’s true for much of his time with us.

    Franck, *sigh*

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