Friday, 29 August 2008

Boro Must Harry Potters

Be afraid

In the increasingly homogenised Premier League, its not very often we get to welcome a new team from outside the cabal of perennial yo-yo clubs. Yet you have to cast your mind back to August 1997 for Stoke City’s last visit to the Riverside.

Boro had an underwhelming victory over Charlton under their belts before that depressing afternoon. Paul Merson was still making a very sluggish start to his brief Riverside career. Fabrizio Ravanelli marked his final appearance in a Boro shirt with a display of breathtaking lethargy that went unmatched until Yakubu’s leisurely stroll around the JJB twelve months ago.

There had been difficult moments during the relegation season when goals were hard to come by for Rav, chiefly away games and when it was a bit wet. However, he’d still retained enough motivation to deliver the occasional stream of vitriol at passing linesmen or Mikkel Beck. Even Wendy’s belated appearance couldn’t goad Rav into life.

It was the kind of flaccid, bloated display that crept up with alarming regularity through the Robson era. We were horrifyingly, gruesomely bad. Inevitably, with half an hour to go, Paul Stewart scored the only goal. He managed a further two goals that season. In the six years that had passed since leaving Spurs, Stewart’s goal count had barely crept into double figures. His incompetence had stood out in a Liverpool squad containing such luminaries as Torben Piechnik and Istvan Korma. Even Sunderland had washed their hands of him.

It was a fairly unremarkable game but it had a profound influence on me. I’d seen dross before - one of my earliest games was John Gannon’s infamous corner-taking master class against Tranmere. I’d seen ludicrous defeats to cloggers before - it was barely a year since Bolton had scored their only away win of a dismal relegation season with a preposterous 4-1 win at the Riverside. Yet, through a mix of youthful naivety and a blind refusal to accept facts, I’d been able to write them off as isolated incidents.

But this time, as that greying doyen of mediocrity tucked the ball past Ben Roberts, I wasn’t surprised. I half expected it - this was ‘typical Boro’. I’d turned into a miserable old gadgie at the age of 13.

Since then, the ‘inner gadgie’ has never left. I approach games such as today’s with blind panic. Over the years, the list of unexpected nemeses has grown - for every Paul Stewart, there’s another Trevor Benjamin, Gavin McCann or Luke Moore. I really don’t like the look of Richard Cresswell, although that may be to do with more than just the football. I’m also disproportionately concerned by Rory Delap. Sure, we can keep Fernando Torres quiet, but what about a gap-tooted simpleton launching endless throw-ins in the vague direction of goal?

The optimism generated over a bright start to the season only heightens the distance from which we can fall flat on our faces. The battering of Yeovil on Tuesday was a good start - it does suggest some progress when you recall the Notts County fiasco in Southgate’s first season in charge. I’d love to be able to leave my irrational fear of the inept and mediocre behind. After all, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t win comfortably today. Is there?

This article will appear in FMTTM 425.

You can read more of my drivel at

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