Over and out

Fly Me To The Moon fanzine v Sheffield Wednesday, 26 December 2018

“Because of the situation with the goals – us not scoring goals – I think the team is trying their damndest to score.”

Those were the reassuring words of ‘proper football man’ Tony Pulis – a man who properly understands football, not like us – after Boro were outclassed at QPR. A few days later we were outclassed by League One’s Burton Albion at home in a cup quarter final, in one of the most abject displays seen at the Riverside since the departure of that other proper football man Gordon Strachan. Against Burton the team tried their damndest to score so much that they failed to register a meaningful shot on target. Our attempts at attacks were predictable, difficult on the eye, and the players looked devoid of inspiration and confidence. In short, we witnessed the inevitable consequence of letting Tony Pulis run your club.

Tony Pulis was, is, and always will be a bad managerial appointment for Boro. His arrival was a hugely depressing change of direction from a chairman who seems to be increasingly out of ideas and out of touch. When Steve Gibson sacked Gareth Southgate in October 2009 with the team one point off the top of the league, he said he did it because he felt the team were in a “false” league position and performances didn’t reflect the results. You could very easily transpose that analysis to this season in terms of Boro somehow managing to hang around the top two between September and November, despite that being a period when performances were unfailingly mediocre and even the wins were unconvincing and ultimately joyless. Now we’ve fallen away, that false league position seems a distant memory, and anyone watching the team regularly can see things are going backwards. It’s unclear how long Pulis will be here, particularly given the length of his contract is a bizarrely kept secret, but in my view each day Gibson allows him to remain in post will be an exercise in saving face rather than objectivity.

You have to suspect many of the players will be counting down the days, too. Reduced to aimlessly lumping the ball forward for most of the second half against Burton, they looked uncomfortable, panicked, and bereft of any confidence a goal would come. Perhaps the manager’s fondness for talking down the quality of his squad and singling out individuals for criticism has, in many players’ minds, crossed the line from old school man management to borderline bullying. A case in point is Britt Assombalonga, by far the best finisher left on the books since Pulis inexplicably cleared out Patrick Bamford in the summer in order to bring in yet more pedestrian midfielders. Britt has repeatedly been singled out by Pulis for missed chances and his workrate, even in post-match comments after his wonderful equaliser rescued a point against Blackburn. It’s true that since Pulis arrived Britt has looked half the player he was when he first signed, but that’s perhaps not surprising given the roles he’s been asked to fill (left wing anyone?), the style of play being opposed to his strengths, and the manager’s regular and public undermining of him.

It’s also notable that things have taken a turn for the worse on the pitch since the November international break, when Pulis packed the players off to RAF Leeming for several days “to bring them out of the bubble they live in” but declined the invitation to join them and took himself off to Barbados for the week instead. I’m led to believe the irony of this was not lost on certain senior members of the squad, and there were no doubt raised eyebrows in the 12-man dorms the players were forced to share while the boss was topping up his tan on the other side of the world.

Pulis pictured in Barbados in November 2017, shortly before being sacked by West Bromwich Albion.

One of the strangest things about Tony Pulis is the free ride he gets from most in the media, especially for a man who left a trail of destruction and discontent at West Brom and had also been forced to pay £3.7m in damages to his previous club Crystal Palace after the High Court ruled that he had deceived them into paying him a loyalty bonus early (he resigned from Palace a day after the bonus was paid, and on the eve of the new season).

In this scenario you might expect Pulis taking his next job would arouse some degree of critical analysis of his management attributes, not to mention his personal integrity. Instead, his arrival at Boro was met with an unfathomable consensus across the national and local press that this was a good, solid appointment. Proper football man. I doubt a foreign manager with the same recent track record in England would have had it so easy.

I fear if Pulis is given too much more time to shape the club in his own image, he will cause lasting Strachanite damage which will take years to undo. I miss the romance. I miss having something to believe in. Merry Christmas.

Over and out

Tis the 2016/17 season to be jolly

With Christmas looming on the horizon like a disheartening period bereft of home fixtures, it’s time to turn your attention to the gawdy Boro gifts you will foist upon your loved ones in the name of Christ. This year MFC Retail is sparing none of your expense with a truly remarkable range of new festive products.

There’s babywear. There’s adultwear. There’s matchday steward fancy dress outfits (£10.01) and promotion-themed sets of ladders (£89.89). There’s even kitchen utensils for heaven’s sake, the highlight of which is a meat thermometer (£4.99) which will prove invaluable for confirming any E coli suspicions when collecting your pre-match burger from a van outside the ground. This year also sees the introduction of an innovative portable MFC bottle top (£6.99) which can be used either as a replacement bottle top for your half time fizzy pop after the original bottle top is inexplicably confiscated by staff upon purchase or, remarkably, as a makeshift pitch divot to fool goalkeepers.

Turning to the player-themed range of gifts, the new kitchen spoon rest emblazoned with Carlos de Pena’s smiling face (£15) is sure to prove popular among any fans middle class enough to think it’s important to avoid getting baked bean juice on the worktop next to the hob. Grant Leadbitter mousetraps (inhumane, £2.99) are also available as part of the club’s refreshed range of anti-rodent products, following on from 2013’s very popular battery-powered untrasonic rat repeller featuring audio recordings of Kei Kamara screaming with laughter.

Turning now to the club shop’s naughty erotic range, fans will be thrilled by the new George Friend speaking clock (£149.99) which greets fans with platitudes in dulcet Devonian tones every hour, on the hour. Beginning the day with mild pleasantries such as “do enjoy your breakfast won’t you?” (7am) and “mind how you go now” (9am), as the hours pass George’s messages become increasingly suggestive towards the clock watcher, even going so far as indicating that they “slip into something more comfortable” (8pm). From that point on things descend into outright farming smut such as “these are the udders” (9pm) and finally “it’s harvest time” (11pm).

Also in the club’s new erotica/mental health crossover range is an Adam Clayton stress ball (£20.99), modelled artfully on the loose testicle the ball-winner displayed so proudly in the team’s post-match photo after victory at the Stadium of Light earlier this season. MFC commercial manager Dave Customer-Footfall said: “The Adam Clayton stress ball means fans can recreate the soothing feeling of victory over our close rivals, and it also happens to be very realistic to touch.”

Fly Me To The Moon issue 570 (v Chelsea, 20 November 2016)

claytonbollock

Tis the 2016/17 season to be jolly

Inside The Riverside #1 (August 2016)

Insider news, gossip and intrigue from our man in the concourse, Paddy Dillon

Fly Me To The Moon, issue 567, August 2016 (v Stoke City)

PREMIER ARSES

As you return to the stadium today, be sure to look out for the luxurious car seats which have been installed in the home and away dugouts to protect and pamper the top flight’s greatest arses. Premier League rules stipulate that all grounds must meet minimum arse comfort thresholds, so the club was quick to crack on over the summer. The new dugouts certainly take the ‘s’ out of ‘swanky’, and seeing the seats graced by all those world class Premier League arses is sure to be the moment when promotion finally sinks in – much like when an actual arse sinks in to the soft and heavenly fabric of a brand spanking new car seat.

car-seats

Putting aside the obvious concerns about Carlos de Pena’s half time crisps debris becoming embedded in the upholstery or Dael Fry’s discarded 7-Up bottles impeding the mechanism which lets him slide the seat back, the main source of consternation for tonight’s Match of the Day audience is sure to be the inexplicable gap between each car seat. This initially prompted whispers of divisions in the Boro managerial team, but a source close to Steve Agnew’s arse has moved quickly to slap down rumours and tells me the gap is in fact a cunning measure to allow maximum tactical input from the technical area. A car handbrake and manual gear stick have been installed next to the manager’s seat to allow Aitor Karanka to literally take the handbrake off and get the lads’ arses in gear when it’s time to push on for an equaliser or a winner. Cheeky!

JAMIE REDKNAPP LOUNGE

Another exciting development within the stadium is the new Jamie Redknapp Lounge which adorns the south east corner for live Sky Sports broadcasts. Top flight status means the game’s sharpest mind will occasionally be winging his way to the Riverside to wing it through his job as a pundit; a job for which he is paid actual money, according to Murdoch insider and my close confidante Jerry Hall. In addition to a new and unnecessary VIP staircase, the Redknapp Lounge has also resulted in the creation of a new and enlarged ‘broadcast compound’, which sounds suspiciously like a Guantanamo Bay-style area where stewards will drag alleged miscreants from the South Stand to torture them with enhanced interrogation programmes involving audio of Jamie Redknapp describing an offside trap on a loop for 24 hours. “If that’s not enough to find out where all the smoke canisters are kept, nothing ever will be” Safety Officer Sue Watson told me in hushed tones, despite not even being an MFC employee any more.

FINANCIAL MARKETS

As investors offloaded risky equities, they sought safety in government bonds and gold. Yields on top-rated debt in the eurozone hit new record lows as signs of stress in the UK’s commercial property market dealt a fresh blow to the pound. Meanwhile, despite a windfall in the region of £180m prices for new Middlesbrough season ticket holders surged to unforeseen levels, outstripping demand and raising concerns about ongoing market volatility. An Evening Gazette spokesperson said the increases were “not that nice” but that “everyone should just get on with things, really”.

Inside The Riverside #1 (August 2016)

26 football managers who look like Coronation Street characters

blanchewengerHEADING

It all started when Ken Barlow went to little Harry Platt’s christening dressed as Aitor Karanka.

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Then it quickly became apparent the Famous Cobbles™ have plenty in common with the dugouts of the Beautiful Game ©.

Les McClaren

lesmcclaren

Audrey Pellegrini

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Phil Barlow

philbarlow

Roy Baldwin

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Chesney Monk

chesneymonk

Blanche Wenger

blanchewenger

Avram Duckworth

terryavram

Norris Pulis

tonycole

Craig Bruce

craigbruce

Keith Phelan

keithphelan

Curly Adkins

curlyadkins

Bryan Bradley

alanrobson

Frank Shearer

alanfoster

Bruce Hillman

brucehillman

Des Cotterill

descotterill

Dick Duckworth

dickduckworth

Gary O’Driscoll (a real slave driver)

garyslaveman

Derek Venables

terrywilton

Michael Ferguson

siralexdennis

Sam Quigley

gezallardyce

Roberto McDonald

robertomcdonald

Phyllis Hughes

phyllishughes

Jim Warnock so he is

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Percy Tisdale

percytisdale

Jerry Evans (not to be confused with Sinbad Evans of Brookside fame)

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Harry Schmeichel

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With thanks to @DomShawGazette, @pmforster, @TomMullers, @1Easterbrook, @RobSc0tt, @engelsthecat, @GeorgeTSOliver. Original Twitter thread starts here.

26 football managers who look like Coronation Street characters

The politics of pitch invasions

This is a dark summer of discontent, and for sanity’s sake Boro fans need to banish Wembley memories in favour of better ones from the promotion push.

The thing keeping me going is the joyous pitch invasion at the Riverside after beating Brentford to reach W***ley.

Apparently pitch invasions aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but that rhapsodic gathering of euphoria will live long in the memory for me.

Stewards helpless, players mobbed, bodies everywhere on electric green turf beneath floodlights and a shroud of red smoke. Incredible scenes.

pitchinvasion_playoffs

Strangely, it was the first mass pitch invasion at the Riverside since it opened 20 years ago. You have to wonder what we’ve been playing at.

Surely the heart-stopping UEFA Cup comebacks and reaching Eindhoven should have prompted spontaneous breaches of the advertising hoardings? Promotion on the last day in 97/98, maybe? The Liverpool cup semi that same year?

Nope. Each time everyone stayed in the stands. Maybe it was because we were more accustomed to (relative) success back then. A sniff of glory feels more novel after five years of Championship mediocrity.

The politics of pitch invasions can be quite divisive.

In March the FA Cup celebrations of Aston Villa fans prompted an unofficial media inquiry led by the BBC’s Jonathan Pearce and Mark Lawrenson who, in an impromptu Old Gits sketch, blasted fans for “souring the day” and “taking us back to the 1980s” by cheerily jogging about on some grass.

The reaction was preposterous, of course, but the consensus was the fans had crossed a line. Well, how else do you get on the pitch?

It was symptomatic of the disdain for fans from sanctimonious TV pundits and those running the game who regard the paying supporters as an inconvenience. Stuff them: it’s our game really.

Who am I kidding, though?

The reality is that not even all fans like pitch invasions. At full time against Brentford sizeable chunks of the Riverside crowd booed and queried the attendance records of those who had run onto the pitch.

Their evidence-free suggestion was that only part-time fans were pitch invaders while the die-hards remained in the stands. Strange, and clearly not true.

Anyone outraged by fellow Boro fans celebrating a play-off final by running on the pitch needs to give their head a shake and lighten up a bit. You can enjoy your sanitised law and order the rest of the year.

If Mark Page was to be believed, even the manager will have booed the fans. “Aitor Karanka has asked fans to stay off the pitch.”

That seems highly unlikely. There’s absolutely no way Leo Percovich would be friends with someone who didn’t enjoy a good pitch invasion.

Getting on the Riverside pitch was like entering Narnia and Wonka’s Chocolate Factory rolled into one. A dream fulfilled.

See you on there again on 7 May 2016.

For @GazetteBoro, June 2015

The politics of pitch invasions

Confessions of a Uruguayan on a gap year

You wait years for a Uruguayan to play for Boro, then three come along at once. And as anyone who follows our three-wheeled Latin omnibus on social media will know, Cristhian Stuani, Carlos de Pena and Gaston Ramirez appear to spend every waking hour in each other’s company.

One theory is that they are literally joined at the hip, making club physio Chris Moseley’s job that bit more difficult before each match when he has to surgically separate them so Carlos de Pena can be positioned either on the bench, in the stand or – when away from home – folded up inside a bag in the the luggage hold of the team bus. When they’re reunited after the match, the three of them love nothing more than a photo opportunity. In the space of the month since Ramirez’s arrival, the trio have repeatedly shared group photos in the changing room, on the train, in the airport departure lounge, on the golf course, by the pool in Marbella, and at a till in the Dundas Arcade stocking up on discount crisps*. In nearly every photo at least two of the trio are giving a thumbs-up, which is either obligatory under a little known Uruguayan byelaw or a subtle tribute to the king of the double-thumbs-up, Chris Riggott. Either way, a lovely touch from the lads.

carlosandfriends

The most intriguing photo, however, is one of the three of them inexplicably enjoying an outdoor barbecue on – wait for it – the 7th of February. It’s a mystery whether this was some kind of brutal Teesside initiation ceremony for Gaston or just an indication that Uruguayans love nothing more than a hot toddy and a slab of meat in their throats (wahey!) on a grey and freezing winter’s day. They’re all smiles as they crouch proudly around steaks bigger than their own faces, but in this particular photo there’s a disappointing lack of thumbs-up activity; presumably owing to temperatures being so low they’re incapable of even erecting a digit. We’ve all been there.

uruguayanbarbecue

While half of me despairs when I see Boro players only mixing with teammates of their own heritage and becomes worried about Dutch Euro 96 squad divisions being replicated at Rockliffe Park, the other half of me lets it go and recognises neither half of me has ever had to move 7,000 miles away from home on my own and settle in a low profile industrial town where I’m required to learn a new language with the added burden of a bizarre regional dialect where you’re expected to say ‘gadge is in a radge’ with a straight face. It sounds like a great gap year though, and funnily enough, as each day passes it seems increasingly likely that’s the real reason Carlos de Pena is here on Teesside. He saved up throughout his degree in advanced camera operation skills at the University of Montevideo so he could embark on the trip of a lifetime to trace the history of the UK iron and steel industries while, typically, ‘finding himself’. However, unfortunately the chances of him finding himself on Boro’s left wing are currently slimmer than unfunny right-winger Roy Chubby Brown.

While Carlos should be given great credit for eschewing Niagara Falls in favour of High Force when choosing his gap year destination, you can’t help but think the flow of this particular Uruguayan’s career is dropping off a cliff even more than the quality of the tortured metaphor in this sentence. But seriously, it could be time for Carlos to get a proper job. For his sake I hope one on Boro’s social media team comes up soon.

Fly Me To The Moon v Wolves (4 March 2016)

Confessions of a Uruguayan on a gap year

From Despair To Where?

The wheels have come off, the engine has blown up, and – judging by the fact nobody can see what’s next – the windscreen is shattered too. This weekend we have descended into a soap opera, and it feels like Eldorado without the sunshine. How did it ever come to this?

We cruised eight points clear of the play-off places eight weeks ago, and yet now the whole promotion campaign is on a knife edge thanks to stuttering form, behind the scenes flare ups, and a manager seemingly walking out on the task in hand. That pathetic performance at Charlton has to represent rock bottom, or we’re in big trouble. It’s been an emotional weekend. No wonder our heads are all over the place like we’re in the Bohemian Rhapsody video.

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We may never know the full story of what prompted Karanka to leave the training ground on Friday, but whatever it was, surely he has to take the lion’s share of the blame for the farcical situation we find ourselves in. Players causing trouble and showing dissent is nothing new, and most managers have to deal with it at some stage. The question is whether they can assert their authority, deal with the troublemakers, and cement their position as the boss. Maintaining control is a fundamental part of the manager’s job description.

Karanka seemed to do this expertly with his handling of Albert Adomah earlier in the season, but on this occasion it appears he has failed spectacularly. Some players may well have been completely out of order but, if it’s true Karanka stormed out of the training ground on Friday after telling them he didn’t want to manage them anymore, he took a difficult situation, doused it in petrol and threw a lit match over his shoulder on the way out the door.

Where next? You would think it’s almost impossible to repair relations and carry on as we were before, but who knows. Steve Gibson has to make what is surely the most pivotal decision in his time as Chairman, and only he will have all the facts at hand to be able to get it right. His huge investment this year should have guaranteed automatic promotion, and the whole club is geared around being in the Premier League next year. The town needs it, too, and Gibson, Karanka and the players have all spoken about the importance of giving the area a boost by finishing the job.

Whatever Gibson decides, it needs to be designed to restore unity and turn hearts and minds back to the task in hand. Forget Eldorado… this feels like a Crossroads.

From Despair To Where?