LET’S see what you could have won…
As a neutral and eager observer I’m enjoying the Sky Sports trailers for the looming Championship play-offs: four top teams in a tense tussle for the ultimate prize. High-stakes home-and-away encounters leading to a winner-takes-all £170m shoot-out under the iconic Arch. It looks like a brilliant cut-throat competition full of action, and drama and colour and heightened emotion.
Thank god we are not in it.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved Wembley. As an experience it was something we had never done as a club. We’d been up through the play-offs by beating Bradford and Chelsea in 1988 in a different format but we’d never done it at Wembley. As a ‘got, got… need’ completist I fancied ticking that one off. Just think: Winning at Wembley…
And the whole package was exciting. Remember the Boro Snake; the logistics of 40,000 people marching on the capital from all points of the compass against the background of a looming rail strike; the Instagram filtered super senses sight of the boozy basecamp at Trafalgar Square; the star-studded MSS party; seeing red shirts absolutely EVERYWHERE but barely a glimpse of yellow; the feeling of mounting cultural power; the sense of inevitability of the coming victory; video evangelism; #Believe….
It was all fantastic until the traffic delayed frozen, stuttering start and the soul-sapping slow-mo salvo from the Canaries and the resulting dental damage and shards of broken dreams. Then came the numbed silence watching powerless as Boro laboured through the game and the long painful, heartbroken and empty-handed retreat from the national stadium. Again.
No-one wants to go through that again. God no.
Of course, had the result gone badly against Brighton we would now be down on our hands and knees looking through the debris and desperately trying to piece together bits of shattered morale.
We would all be trying somehow to emotionally rewire ourselves ready to travel to a baying, packed Hillsborough on Friday night with Wednesday hungry to restore the Hillsborough hoodoo and Boro trying to regain some momentum after four without a win.
Morale would not have been high in the crowd – I know plenty of people who had vowed that if it came to it, they were not going to Wembley – and the players have looked spent after super-human efforts in the past few weeks.
That nightmare scenario doesn’t bear thinking about. So we won’t.
We can kick back and watch on the box. We can put that to bed. Yesterday we had the annual office ceremony to formally cancel the Wembley hotel bookings. That’s it, the season is officially over.
Do we care about who wins the play-offs? Not really. *Meh*
The main concern for most will be logistical rather than any deep partisan passions. Just somewhere in the north we can get to if the game is shunted off into Sky coveted contractual obligation Monday night slot.
Until Saturday there seemed to be a lot of goodwill on Teesside towards Brighton. It’s a friendly club, a great away trip, we usually win and there isn’t any great historical grudge to be patiently nurtured. And promotion would be a great story following years playing at their version of Clairville Common after near terminal chaos under a chancer owner.
Some of the reactions from within their camp in the aftermath may well have changed that and a lot of Teesside’s proxy support may get behind the Owls.
As to the other game, I’d prefer Derby – a “proper” football club – to succeed rather than Hull, the second – or even third! – team in their own town and the plaything of yet another arrogant overseas owner who doesn’t respect the traditions of the game or the emotional stakeholder of supporters.
Pride Park is always a great place to go, there’s a cracking atmosphere and we’ve had some great games there. Hull always feels to be a chore, going to a second cousin’s wedding you barely know out of a sense of obligation.
Whatever, I’m not bothered. We’ve done our bit. Boro are in the big league and I don’t begrudge anyone else joining us.
It will just be nice to watch the play-offs without palpitations.