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++++NEW ARTICLE: Knowing Me, Knowing You........MIDDLESBROUGH++++

New season, new interviews. Anthony Vickers covers Boro for the Gazette Live, and was kind enough to give up his time to discuss all things Boro ahead of Saturday's clash at The Valley.


Boro really impressed at The Valley last season, yet seemed to fall away as the season progressed. What went wrong ?

It wasn't one thing, more like a cocktail of underlying issues compounded by events. The squad was probably too thin to start with and weak in key areas. Despite that Boro had a good starting XI and they got off to a flyer, top two until New Year. But as the season wore on, injuries took their toll and the team lost momentum, a bit of fizz, a bit of belief and gradually lost their way.

Injuries forced a lot - too many - positional and tactical re-jigs and there was a lot of chopping and changing, especially at the back. Fringe players came into a struggling side and often asked to play out of position, and were found wanting. A couple of key players had a slump in form. In a young team there were very few battle-hardened older heads and no natural leaders to settle nerves.

Boro got into a pattern of dominating for 30 minutes and getting a goal, then crumbling under pressure as the opposition fought back. A wobble became a slump became a head-first plunge down the table. Luckily the season finished when it did. Two more weeks and Boro were in serious trouble.

And with a disappointing start to this season, are the fans starting to get a bit twitchy already ?

Oh yes, very twitchy. A sizeable minority had already declared themselves against the manager last season and booing on the whistle was the norm at home during the long slump. It has been a hard couple of years, with a long tail of despair after relegation and the failure to bounce back, and the dominant emotion is a simmering frustration. Fans on message boards have spent most of the summer scoring points, taking sides and drawing up battle-lines and every set-back this season will lead to post-match blood-letting on-line and on phone-ins. It's toxic and explosive. If Boro don't start well I can see fisticuffs between factions.


What is the feeling on the squad changes from last season. Does the squad seem improved or weakened ?

Right now it is weaker. The summer saw 10 of last years first team squad exit, and while most fans would agree most of them (bar Scott McDonald and Nicky Bailey who were eased out because of finances) had shown themselves not to be good enough anyway, the perception is that they have not been replaced and the squad is alarmingly light on numbers.

On the other hand Boro have signed Dean Whitehead and Hungarian international Jozsef Varga to beef up the midfield, right-back Frazer Richardson and Albert Adomah (tbc) and are publicly announcing they are chasing "three or four" more core first teamers so it could be a different prospect come September. Boro need to get those players in to head of rising discontent about the direction the club is heading in.

How tough do you see the Championship being this season ? Who do you expect to be threatening the promotion spots ?

It is always tough. Last season the division was condensed into such a small tight area that astro-physicists were alerted to the possibility of a black hole being created. This term a couple of the relegated sides could struggle (and we all hope that includes QPR) and a couple of the sides that have come up could adjust quickly, just as Charlton did, making the gap between relegation and play-offs even more condensed.

However, I think Reading and Wigan will lead the way with QPR plus the usual suspects - Watford, Forest, Leicester, - just behind but if I have to pick a couple of outsiders to gatecrash the top six, Mick McCarthy knows what he is doing at Ipswich and dirty Leeds have got a good manager, have spent money and have the fans back on board after the exit of Bates so could be a factor.

How will the forthcoming FPP rules impact on Boro ?Does there appear to have been any preparation done towards it ?

Boro have spent two or three years now desperately slashing the squad size and trimming the wage bill and this summer have shipped out the last three or four of the millstone big earners left as a legacy of the ill-fated Strachanovite Jockification. The club are consciously prudent, debt free and stable, and are probably ahead of the curve on FFP compliance.
Chairman Steve Gibson put in £10m last year to balance the books, but the departures this summer mean Boro will probably come in under their target this year. The real problem is gate money: Boro's crowd is shrinking and the club have one of the lowest takes per head in the division so their is very little ability to generate the extra cash needed to splash out beyond what the chairman can put in.

Do Boro need to be a Premier League club to survive long-term ? Can they become self-sufficient outside the prem ? How reliant are the club on Steve Gibson for its survival ?

Obviously being in the Premier League is where the financial action is and everyone at the club still believes Boro is "a top flight club in all but name." It haunts us, But over a painful three-year cycle of financial down-sizing, the club have now completed the traumatic transformation into a stable mid-table Championship side. There is no external debt, no pressure from banks or creditors or shareholders or investors. The club have found a level - but it is the level that Steve Gibson is comfortable with. Unless he decides to gamble and put money in or crowds improve markedly Boro will be treading water for the foreseeable.

The good news is that Gibson is a determined and stubborn Teessider who really was a home and away supporter in his youth, and despite periodic rumours of mysterious cash rich Arab white knights, has no intention of either selling up or pulling the plug... although it seems likely the current constrained investment levels will become the norm. The big spending days are over.


Having stood on that away corner at Ayresome, I can't believe it's already been 18 years since the move to the Riverside. What is the general supporters relationship like with the Riverside ? Does it successfully carry the soul of the club ?

Its a strange beast. Ayresome will always be the spiritual home of fans of a certain age. It is where they learned how to suffer and paid their dues. But the Riverside is the ground where all the success came, the Premier League era of money-no-object international household names, of European glory nights and a time when, for a very short spell, it looked like anything was possible, The Riverside Revolution brought unprecedented sell-outs and success and is tied up with as many emotions now as Ayresome ever was. But the sight of it half empty now and generally flat and tense taunts us and makes the current slump more visible and tangible.



  • edited August 2013
    That period between 1997-2006 (League Cup winners, runners up twice, FA Cup runners up, UEFA Cup runners up) must have been an unbelievable time to follow the club ?

    Yes, Unbeliveable. Crazy. Not just from 1997, but from 1986 when the club was padlocked and liquidated and 37 minutes from disappearing. From there to Eindhoven was incredible. I don't think any club in the country has lived through such a dramatic period.

    It was the ultimate football dream come true; Generations of Boro fans stoically enduring being the archetypal nearly-team for a century, and then suddenly everything possible - not just the success but also the relegations and that whole Three Points thing (Boro were deducted points for not fulfilling a fixture, and subsequently relegated)- was packed into a pulsating spell where the club went from provincial obscurity to so close to grabbing a seat on the top table, whilst buying players from Real Madrid, Barca and Juventus. Hollywood would reject the script as unrealistic.


    Reading through the squad lists for that period, it is so easy to forget just how many top names had spells with Boro. Who are the ones that left the most lasting memories ?

    There is a semi-mystic, quasi religious cult of personality around Juninho, who is on a completely different level from anyone else. Big, hard steelworkers go all wobbly at the thought of him in a Boro shirt. The memories are clustered around two spells. There was 1997 when the Riverside Revolution exploded and Boro got to Wembley three times in 12 months with the likes of Juninho, Ravanelli, Emerson and Merson. Then there was the second wave in 2004-06 when Boro won the league cup and played in Europe two season running with players like Juninho again but also Schwarzer, Mendieta, Viduka, Zenden, Yakubu, Hasselbaink, Downing, Southgate, Ehiogu, Boeteng... that second group were by far the better balanced, more solid and more successful side.


    How do you see Saturday going ? Who should we look out for ?

    If you ask any random fan on Teesside, Boro are going to get battered. Morale is low. Cynicism is high. And to be fair, the stats of this calendar year - just three wins in 23 - support that. But this is the Championship and I am an eternal optimist so I think Boro can get something. Chaos theory and probability suggest we will spawn one soon. A lot of hopes are resting on Mustapha Carayol who has pace and can beat a man to create chances but Marvin Emnes, a zombie figure last term, seems to have his head back in the game and he can turn a game while Lukas Jutkiwicz puts himself about a bit and has looked the most likely scorer in pre-season.

    And the season as a whole ?

    A lot of Boro fans fear relegation after last season but I don't buy that. If Boro can get the four or five first teamers in they want before the window closes then who knows? A better balanced Boro, with a slightly tighter defence and a a slightly more prolific front-line could easily barge into the gaggle of sides hoping to clinch sixth and get the fans back on board. But if they don't quite get the people they want and have to patch it up then they could be treading water in mid-table amid in-fighting.

    Well i suppose they could always bring back Joseph Desire-Job. Many thanks to Anthony for giving up his time. He can be followed on Twitter at @untypicalboro
  • great set of questions and great answers. really interesting article.
    thanks Anthony.

  • great set of questions and great answers. really interesting article.
    thanks Anthony.

    seconded. Hope no one is complacent about Saturday.

  • Really, really good piece.
  • Boro seemed to have been on a similar journey to us, just with better highs !
  • Yep - blows the normal preview outta da water

    Three win in 23! I will only be compacent in the second half once we are 2-0 up :)
  • I won't relax until at least 3-0 ;-)
  • edited August 2013
    Excellent article, btw.
  • this really adds to the anticipation of the next match, thanks AFKA
  • 18 years since Ayresome Park

    Scary I really am old

    good article
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  • Excellent article.
  • Fantastic article. I've always hated Boro as our matches were legendary for their dullness, and on the off-chance it wasn't boring, they beat us. That FA Cup replay still hurts. I never realised quite how similar our journeys had been though. I'll relax my opinion if we beat them on Saturday
  • Our high never matched theirs in recent years but very familiar tale up to date re the need to balance the books and a weaker and smaller squad this season. Gibson put £10m in last year and there are still some of them saying it's time or him to go and make room for someone with deeper pockets? Deary me, they need a very strong cup of coffee or an injection of something from ICI. Always good to hear what the opposition mood is ahead of the match - thanks for the post.
  • The main difference is that Gibson is SERIOUSLY rich so has been able to absorb their losses for much longer than Richard Murray for us who is merely in the VERY rich category - although not as rich as he once was!
  • F'in hate Boro......................
    It's personal, had a gran in Redcar, went to see then play while on summer hols as a kid, got done over badly by a group of them heading for the bus stop after the game.
    The place is a sh!thole, one club I would love to see go to the wall.
  • Really enjoyed reading this
  • So thinking about it a bit more, i'm going for a Prem team Boro of:

    Mark Schwazer

    Gareth Southgate
    Jonathon Woodgate
    Gianluca Festa
    Christian Ziege

    Paul Merson

    Mark Viduka

    But i could easily pick a completely different eleven, bar Schwarzer
  • Good article and good team listed above too apart from lack of pace.
  • True on the lack of pace !

    When you think though at left mid alone you could have played Juninho, Zenden, Downing, Adam Johnson, Barnby etc, you can see my point about the amount of quality they have had in that period.
  • Very good article. Thanks. couldn't understand Boro's collapse last season. For about an hour they were mesmerising against us at the Valley (bad though we were). Could've scored seven or eight. Astonishing that we finished above them.
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  • Used to love watching Ravenelli play, my favourite Boro player. Got given a free ticket to watch them away at Wimbledon at selhurst one time. Hated the thought of rocking up to that shit hole, but the thought of seeing the silver haired hitman in the flesh tipped the scales.

    He was suspended.............................. :-(
  • I don't remember Middlesborough evet selling out in the Premier League days. Or getting more than 20,000 for that matter.
  • In our premier league days we sold out pretty much every week
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