Friday, 28 November 2008

Just Typcial

There are many words, most unsuitable for a family fanzine, to describe last weekend's grim capitulation to Bolton. Surprising is certainly not one of them. The “typical Boro” tag is an infuriatingly negative attitude on the one hand yet sometimes it is hard to find suitable words to explain our consistent travails against the inept and the mediocre. I’m not suggesting it would be bad idea to start playing before the last half hour of home games or to start marking opponents on set pieces. Yet maybe we need to examine our expectations first.

Middlesbrough Football Club has changed enormously in the twenty years since this fanzine began. Having made my own Ayresome debut on New Year’s Day 1991, I’ve never been entirely sure whether I should consider myself fortunate or not to have missed the tumult of the 1980s. The number of fans who went to games and never returned, victims of violence and/or dilapidated stadia, is shocking. The responses from authorities were rarely anything other than depressingly reactionary. Squeezed by hooliganism on one side and a Thatcherite government on the other, the ‘80s cannot have been an easy time to be a football fan.

On top of that, its hard to imagine the club, the area or indeed the domestic game being at a lower ebb than was reached that summer. To achieve what Bruce Rioch then did would be remarkable anywhere, but to do so under such perilous circumstances is an achievement of scarcely credible magnitude. It was perhaps inevitable that, having achieved such rapid success, a small and youthful squad would feel the pressure. A cruel last-day relegation was almost followed by another.

Rioch achieved near miracles with a club with no money, no ground and barely a squad with a belief that things had to get better. Gibson dragged the club forward in the 1990s because he recognised that investment in new players and a new ground were essential if Boro were not to be left behind by the growing commercialisation of English football. In 1986 or in 1994, the goals were clear if ambitious - promotion in the short term, stability in the top flight in the long term.

In 2008, those goals have been comfortably achieved. Premier League status has been maintained since 1998 without any major scares. Most of you reading this have seen Boro win a trophy and play in a European final. The club operates on a different level - where painful defeats in the latter stages of the FA Cup used to occur once a decade, they now seem to happen once a season. That is progress of sorts. Having come so far, what counts as success now?

Safely positioned in mid-table Premier League, you could reasonably argue Boro are now just battering their head against a glass ceiling. Looked at soberly, this is a golden era, even if it may not have felt that way last week. There may not be much more distance this club can travel upwards. Having grown accustomed to rapid progress, you don’t need to look far at the Riverside on a match day to find fans harbouring unrealistic expectations. There is a danger when a club’s image of itself becomes divorced from reality. We need only look at today’s visitors for an example of how self-defeating this approach can be.

There’s nothing wrong with ambition in itself but if it becomes unconstrained, that can be counter-productive. We shouldn’t abandon hope but we must accept the next chapter could be Boro’s hardest yet.

This article is from Fly Me To The Moon 431 - the 20th birthday spectacular