Sunday, 10 March 2013

Daring To Dream... And Paying The Price

A rather poisonous atmosphere existed amongst Boro fans before we had even kicked off at Ashton Gate yesterday. Never mind that our smash-and-grab at the same ground last season (Malaury Martin, where are you when we need you?) was a distant memory, let alone our quadruple EIO over the same opponents more than two years ago. No, the ninety minutes hadn't even begun yet, and already members of our crowd resembled Chelski fans, clamouring for the manager's removal despite the fact that he was, and still is, doing his best in an impossible job.

Forget that the above image was more than likely photoshopped - that it was on Twitter at all is absolutely shameful. More shameful than even the humiliating team performance, but we'll get to that at the end.

Those who are not directing their venom at poor Tony Mowbray - and I mean "poor", because it appears that no matter what team he puts out these days, the fans complain - find themselves asking, how could this have happened? How could Mogga go from hero to villain so quickly? How could Boro go from being such a force in the Championship to being so powerless now?

Of course, free falls, minor or major, are part and parcel of being a Boro fan. I've become more than a little familiar with them over the last two decades. But is the pain we feel over the most recent free fall really Mogga's fault?

Or has it just built up because we dared to dream yet again, and have once more been brought back down to earth?

Two years ago, I wrote the following words for ComeOnBoro. And I find they still ring true today.

"There's never been an easy answer to the Boro Question (i.e. Why the repeated rises and falls?), but much of the blame can lie with Bryan Robson and the two Steve's, Gibson and McClaren.

It was Gibson's money and Robson's high profile that enabled us to build a stadium and facilities worthy of any club in the country, allowed us to sign players who we would never have dreamed of signing in the Lennie Lawrence years and played a large part in three Wembley appearances.

"In addition to Cardiff and Eindhoven, McClaren took us to the last sixteen of the UEFA Cup, two FA Cup semi-finals and a League Cup quarter-final. That's six times under him that we dared to dream. Even the much-maligned Gareth Southgate has three FA Cup quarter-final appearances to his name, even if we fans would prefer not to be reminded about one of them.

"The tragedy was not that these men failed, but that they succeeded beyond any pre-Riverside Boro fan's wildest dreams. They helped make the impossible possible.

"More significantly, they helped create a new breed of Boro supporter. This supporter saw a small club trying, and apparently succeeding, to play the big boys at their own game."

Now, ask yourselves: why were we all calling for Southgate's head at the beginning of 2009/10, even though, when he departed, we were one point off the top of the Championship with a young team and no money? Simple, really; we modern day Boro fans had known no worse than the "unjust" relegation of 1996/97 (let's be honest, we nearly succeeded that year in spite of ourselves). The fact that a promotion immediately followed enabled us to forget how stressful that season had been.

And also ask yourselves: why are we now calling for Tony Mowbray's head even though he has done a more than admirable job under the circumstances? Is it genuinely because we believe someone else could do a better job, or is it because we are weary of having illusions (or delusions, you name it) of grandeur created then shattered, season after season? Lest we forget that as far as building our hopes up goes, Mogga is far from alone amongst Boro managers.

As empty and Strachan-esque as the performance and result against Bristol City felt yesterday, a consistently negative attitude amongst the fans is equally as inexcusable as the lifelessness exhibited by our players. The season is just one mini-revival away from being salvaged. Vent your anger directly after each game if you must. That's what Twitter and phone-in's are for. But everything else should be directed towards inspiring - if that word can be used - our manager and our players to turn around this dying season. If we are to be let down, it is far better that the team goes down fighting rather than limply sleepwalks to failure.

Now, I'll leave you all to enjoy Mother's Day...


Neil Johnson IC Writing said...

More than admirable? On present form we are the second worst team in the entire football league! What the hell is admirable about that?

Mike said...

It's a case of being careful what you wish for, isn't it? I would have been content pre-season with top ten, mainly because I know there are too many high earners still on the books and the club needs to 'bottom out' in replacing them, but I've had my expectations raised by that great run up to Christmas and it's by these standards that I'm tempted to judge the team and the manager now. So they haven't turned out to be anything like as good as that run of good form suggested - no real surprise there, and it looks as though a top ten finish is indeed about as good as it's going to get for us. But is replacing the manager really the answer? Probably not, just as much as Mowbray signing Kieron Dyer was far more about getting a player he could afford rather than snapping up the answer to our prayers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Neil:

Thank you for your comment.

Note, though, that I said "more than admirable under the circumstances". That takes both money and raised expectations into account, and also considers results throughout the whole of Mogga's reign and especially the entirety of this season, not just results in 2013 itself. You have to look at the situation from a long-term point of view, not just short-term, which is what I have tried to do.

Anyone who has been a Boro fan for even the last twenty years will have feared that a slump like this was on the cards when 2013 began... we just all chose to believe it wouldn't happen again. But it did. And wouldn't it be better to stand by the manager and players while the season and club can still be salvaged, rather than consistently clamour for scapegoats and saviours?

Finally, IMHO, it's kind of sad that, as good as Luke Williams and Adam Reach may be, we've elevated them to the status of miracle workers, easy sticks to beat the manager with. A poisonous attitude around the club is far more dangerous than a slump in form. One would think that quelling the former should play a major part in halting the latter.

Hi Mike:

Thanks again for your thoughtful, as always, insights. (Smog Blog is much missed!) I would also like to point out that I completely understand the frustration amongst the fans - I'm feeling it myself. But demanding the removal of the scapegoats even before our promotion hopes are mathematically dead - surely that's a stretch too far? Isn't it? I guess it's the hope that's killing many of the fans, as always - the raised expectations multiplied by the realisation that, as you pointed out, we aren't anything like as good as we thought.