This is probably the wrong thing to say to a set of fans when you’ve failed to win after being 2-0 up, but I went to your game at Fulham on Tuesday night and it cheered me up considerably.
I’d watched two desperate, horrible Premier League matches in two days – my lot Boro in the flesh against Watford on Sunday, then that “Red Monday” abomination on Sky on Monday, and I desperately needed to flush my brain by watching some real football.
I’m sorry you didn’t hang on for the win, and I hope you go up (not least because I have a financial interest, as some of you may know) but I’m really starting to wonder whether the Championship isn’t altogether a more enjoyable place to be.
Boro v Watford was one of the worst games I’ve ever seen. Gamesmanship, diving, time-wasting and almost no football – not helped by an abject refereeing display from Roger East, which prompted a comment in questionable taste from a friend of mine that he’d sooner have had Fred West in charge.
It wasn’t that West/East was biased – he was even-handed in his ineptitude. He somehow failed to spot a second, third and possibly fourth clear booking for Boro’s hapless right-back Barragan, at least a penalty per team and ludicrous serial time-wasting for most of the second half by Watford.
To be fair to the bloke, the players on both sides didn’t help him and it was cringeworthy to hear our coach claim afterwards that there’s some kind of refereeing conspiracy against Boro. Of course, he was Mourinho’s assistant at Real, which may explain it, but doesn’t excuse it.
Speaking of Jose, yes, there’s no rule against parking the bus, but please don’t insult our intelligence by moaning and pouting next time it happens against you, old chap. And maybe warn us when you’re going to do it on live TV, so we can watch University Challenge or Cold Feet instead.
Anyway, as a neutral, Fulham v Norwich was a miles better spectacle than either of the aforementioned top-flight stinkers. Yes, I know you gave away a sloppy equaliser to an ex-player which is always annoying, but having watched Boro throw away a half-time lead at the Cottage a few weeks ago in the League Cup when Fulham had rested eight players, and having also seen their opening win against Newcastle, I’d say Fulham are a decent team, and a draw there is no disgrace.
It was also a pleasure to watch a game featuring very little cynicism. I’m not a big one for that “In my day, men were men” stuff but the double dose of PL nonsense really had got to me. On Tuesday, by contrast, Aluko absolutely clattered Wes Hoolahan for the game’s first booking, Hoolahan got straight up and made no fuss, ran away then limped a bit once he realised it actually hurt, long after the card had come out.
On Sunday, a challenge 2% as fierce as that and most Boro or Watford players would still be rolling down the A19 now, encouraged by their managers. If it had happened on Monday, Mourinho would have advocated capital punishment on the spot. Assuming his player was on the receiving end, obviously. He wouldn’t have seen it if his player had dished it out.
Then Scott Parker was kicked firmly in the head by Graham Dorrans right in front of where I was sitting. An accident of course, but no histrionics, up he got, Dorrans made sure he was alright and the game restarted. As it should be.
What else? Oh, yes, Norwich forced five corners after the 88th minute. Can you imagine that happening in the Premier League if Boro (or Norwich next season) are drawing away from home against a decent team? No chance – it’s run the clock down and hang on for grim death time.
Most of the time in the Premier League, unless you’re playing fellow strugglers you frequently go away and just try to keep the score down. Similarly, you won’t often see a mid-table Premier League team fight back from 2-0 down at home to the leaders like Fulham did.
You might not have enjoyed that very much, but objectively it’s good for the Championship that you never know what’s going to happen in any game. You’ll probably beat Preston on Saturday, but they’ve just drawn at Brighton, then beaten Huddersfield, so you really don’t know for sure.
By contrast, in a moment of madness, I’ve bought a ticket for Arsenal v Boro on Saturday – and some Boro fans are saying they’d take 0-3 now. The way they played in Europe, it could be 5, 6 or more. I hope not, but the sense of anticipation was a lot greater over the last couple of years, when we expected to win plenty of games and enjoy away days where you’d usually at least score.
Last time we were at the Emirates in the League, it was so one-sided, predictable and boring that I’m afraid the Boro fans, knowing there was nothing to say about the football, started singing songs in the second half about London property. I can remember “A million pounds and you live in a flat”, and “You’ll never have a garden” making me laugh, but I can’t remember the final score. Nil to Boro, obviously, and lucky to get nil, and maybe three or four to Arsenal.
The excitement when you do somehow get something at a place like that – we’ve never even scored at the Emirates, but did win at Highbury once – is stratospheric, but routine defeats aren’t much fun, particularly if they become a regular occurrence.
Two more things: well done to Norwich fans for the superb turnout a long way from home on a midweek evening. Lovely ground though it is, it’s generally up to the away fans to generate an atmosphere at the Cottage, and you did. And thanks to the team, for turning up in your proper kit.
As I’ve said before, you’re blessed as a club to have such distinctive colours associated exclusively with you – other than Lithuania, and that weird Man Utd protest period – and you should wear it whenever you can. Being called the Canaries makes little sense otherwise, but it didn’t stop the Hornets of Watford turning up at the Riverside in an all-white number (albino insects, anyone?) which clashed far more with Boro’s red and white than their proper kit would have done. A marketing decision, presumably, and yet more Premier League twaddle.
Furthermore, Hull should have ten points deducted for the third kit they wore at Bournemouth at the weekend. They want to be renamed the Tigers, then turn up in something called “purple cactus”. At times like that, you wonder whether the game’s finally eaten itself. At least they lost 6-1.
I have no idea what conclusion I’m drawing here – I don’t want Boro to be relegated and you rightly want your team back in the top flight – but after seven years’ absence in our case, during which time the gap seems to have widened and yo-yoing looks like becoming the norm for both our clubs, just remember the Premier League’s not the be all and end all.
Nor is it all it’s cracked up to be!