An update from the Promised Land: Boro Paul gives us the latest from the north east and the parallels persistTue 14 Feb 17 by Paul Armstrong
As a Boro fan, and occasional contributor to this site, I’ve been watching with quiet amusement as you all prove to me that our two clubs are more or less the same: owned by wealthy fans, yo-yoing between the top two divisions for most of the last half a century, a cup win and a taste of European glory apiece, young managers feeling the heat, and so on.
And because we didn’t show up at Wembley two years ago, you went up, we had to wait a year and now we’re in the Land of Milk and Honey – until May at least – while you’re trying to get back to Wembley and make the opposite journey once again.
I just looked back at my contribution to this site in August and am pleased to see that I dismissed Villa and Derby’s bizarre status as the bookies’ joint-second favourites in the Championship, and was also rude about Ross McCormack.
My football soothsaying isn’t infallible, though – I thought Newcastle might find the slog of the Championship difficult, which was probably just wishful thinking, and I suggested that Norwich might go up automatically. I’d still fancy you in the play-offs even now, sixth with a late run is a good way to enter those and the experience of 2015 would give you a head start.
Apologies for my club selling Jordan Rhodes to Wednesday: he’ll always score goals in the Championship, and they’ll make it to the play-offs again, and Huddersfield and Reading probably will, too.
Leeds have over-achieved, and having narrowly avoided some of their grimly Neanderthal fans post-match on Saturday at York station, I’ll put my wishful thinking into practice and hope they miss out. One of the best things about the current Premier League is not having to go there anymore.
Speaking of Saturday, it occurred to me spinning through Channel 5’s highlights, that Norwich scored half as many league goals in one afternoon as I’ve seen Boro score all season. This is my record of Boro league games attended this season: P16 W2 D7 L7 F10 A16. 4 of those 16 – 25% – finished 0-0; four more were 1-0 defeats.
I think you probably enjoyed more pure entertainment in the first 20 minutes on Saturday than I’ve had all season. I don’t think we’ve scored a single goal from outside the box, while you enjoyed three in one game. Not that I’m in any way disenchanted with Boro.
Saturday’s 0-0 with Everton more or less summed it up: a terrific collective effort, well-drilled at the back, keeping Lukaku to one opening, a few electric bursts from Adama Traore (one day he’s going to score the best solo goal of all time, probably for someone else) but without quite creating enough to win the game.
31,000 applauded them off, and rightly so – they’re well-coached, and giving everything for the cause, but are one of the worst squads in the division, so are about where you’d expect them to be.
Same with Norwich last season, or next season if you back go up, although you were better up front and worse at the back than Boro. You were robbed blind by refereeing on the first day of last season; we were absolutely swindled at Leicester who were given a nonsense penalty at 0-1, then a correct one out of nowhere at 1-2 in the 94th minute.
I left that game thinking it could ultimately send us down, and more cheesed off following an away draw than I’ve been since that 4-4 you may remember at Carrow Road…
We should also have beaten Leicester at home, in which case we’d now be seven points ahead of them, and close to safety. Their title-winning miracle, which supposedly “gave us all hope”, could well prove to be the exact opposite: it’s probably the last time a moderate-sized club will ever win the Premier League.
One superb player was removed from that team and Kante’s absence has left Wes Morgan and Robert Huth looking like, well, Wes Morgan and Robert Huth. Vardy and Mahrez are clearly wondering why they stayed, and the whole thing’s collapsed like an overcooked soufflé.
I know there’s been some controversy about the ownership and running of your club – and here in cosmopolitan North London, I’m the last person to be suspicious of outsiders – but when you’re relegated, who do you want at the helm of your football club?
Steve Gibson, the Norwich hierarchy or a shadowy far-East consortium who suddenly wonder where the Sky money’s gone?
Just look at Forest or Charlton or Wolves, or at Blackburn under Sir Jack Walker, then under the Venkys, who (rumour has it) thought the Premier League was like the NFL and didn’t understand the concept of relegation when it happened to them.
For the first time in many years, there was talk of a buy-out at Boro recently with a Chinese attempt to buy a stake in the club. Steve Gibson met them, and has said nothing disparaging in public, but we were all relieved that the answer was “thanks, but no thanks”.
If we go down, as we have twice under his long chairmanship, he’ll still be the most popular man at the club, we’ll sell his nephew for £30m to Chelsea and one or two others to other top-flight clubs, roll our sleeves up and get on with it.
And the few dopey, bandwagon-jumping fans who’ve been moaning all season about wanting to be entertained - yes, good luck “throwing the kitchen sink” at Spurs – will disappear again.
That sense of realism and gratitude amongst the majority is probably the thing I like most about being a Boro supporter – I genuinely wouldn’t swap it for the empty, soulless success of a Chelsea or a Man City. Norwich are one of a tiny handful of clubs in a similar position and I think most of you appreciate that, too.
Bob Dylan once said: “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” Joni Mitchell once sang “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” I’m not sure how closely either grumpy, gnarled genius follows English club football, but between them, they were right.