Wakey, wakey – Boro report

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Wigan Athletic 1-1 Middlesbrough
Sunday 18th September 2005

The Boro game was a perfect example of how ‘THE MOST EXCITING LEAGUE IN THE WORLD’ can just as easily be seen as ‘the league where everyone fears defeat more than they want to win’. Early signs were promising, but once they’d got the early goal Yakubu dropped right back on top of the Boro midfield and it was 4-5-1 a-go-go. This against an unproven set of new boys, who if we’re honest could quite easily have fallen over on Sunday if the opposition had gone for the kill. The game panned out from there. Boro attacks lacked purpose and energy and we yet again proved that after god knows how many years without, that we still don’t have the player with the cleverness to unlock a defence.

There you have it, a game of cat and mouse as we plugged away, and they waited for a mistake. Ultimately our hard work paid off and we took, what in the end was a deserved draw, across the course of the game we had chances to take the win, but on the other hand Boro had two guilt edge chances to kill the game off in the first half. It was hardly a thrill a minute, but overall it was a decent tussle between a side who want to continue their consolidation in the top half of the table and another who aspire to emulate them. All this was watched by over 16,000 people, a healthy turn out if not one to get the accountants jabbering.

Our crowds may be up this season, but across the Premiership, there have been enough empty seats to get people worried. A working party has been convened to see how ‘the product’ can be ‘tweaked’ to improve things. That’s fine if you view football fans as discerning customers. In some respects they maybe, but in others they quite clearly aren’t. At the start of the season any club can look at certain games; United for instance, and say they’ll sell out. For other games, I’ll be a devil and use us as the example, they know won’t. There’s more of the latter than there’s is of the first, and no amount of tweaking will solve that. Fans base their major choices on relatively few things (the teams playing, the cost, how successful their team is) and little else.

Take the crowd for the Boro game. It was played an hour or so after the Liverpool v United game had finished. The pubs in and around town will have been fairly packed for that one, but hardly any of those will have then left the pub to come to the game. These are your ‘discerning’ football fans, the ones for who the live experience means little, and will choose a ‘glamour’ tie on Sky, that you don’t have to put any effort into because Andy Gray will explain it all to you later, to actually going to a game. They are also the fans that are unlikely to turn up on a cold Tuesday in January. But to not turn up because the team is playing 4-5-1 is another thing, especially if they’re getting some success from it.

Doctor, doctor, my favourite waste of time and money is suffering; can you do anything for it? Unfortunately there isn’t a punch line to that one yet, and the way the media are going on about it, the joke isn’t likely to end up being funny. The Premier League is boring, no one is interested and it’s all going to come to a nasty end. This time last year, football was eating itself because it’s highly paid stars thought they were above the law; snorting and roasting their way to hell in a handcart and dragging the beautiful game with them. In the absence of any real scandal, it seems that journalists have actually had to watch some games and don’t like what they see.

This is extremely dangerous, tell ‘supporters’ that football is boring, they don’t turn up so you have ‘proof’ that fans think football is boring. I strongly suspect that the standard of football isn’t that much different than in previous seasons, things aren’t as bad as it may seem and that for a variety of reasons a few clubs are struggling to get the momentum going this season. Come Christmas something else will probably have caught the eye of the media and the picture will be much, much more rosy.

To be honest I thought Sunday’s game was boring, but I don’t think that is an omen for the season. Also the Premier League hasn’t caught my imagination too much either, but the season has had a stop-start feel to it so far, I’ve only managed 2 games but I’m expecting that to change as the momentum picks up. With the next three games being Everton, Bolton and Newcastle (albeit with a weekend off in there somewhere) I think that will be sooner than later. If not, who can’t say that the Liverpool, United and Chelsea over the space of a couple of weeks in December doesn’t get the juices flowing?

The football might not be what we expected, but the Premier League boring? No way! Maybe people should be learning from our attitude. It may be naivety, it maybe realism, but you can never be scared to go back.

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