It’s now almost sixty years since I saw my first Middlesbrough game – a 1-1 draw against Plymouth Argyle in which ‘Boro keeper Bob Appleby saved a penalty.
My family lived near Durham City then but my parents were both from the Pickering /Rosedale area of North Yorkshire and every holiday we ever had began with a five hour bus trip from home to Pickering. Part of those five hours was always a half hour wait in Middlesbrough bus station for the next stage of the trip to Helmsley, and as a little lad at the time I was always fascinated by a huge Northern Echo poster acclaiming the pictured Middlesbrough football team to be ‘The Pride of the North.’
At school in the Durham area, of course, everyone either supported Sunderland or Newcastle so my assertion that I was a Middlesbrough fan led to considerable scorn from friends and classmates. I have since had many opportunities to get my own back, especially as ‘Boro remain the last team to win a major trophy – albeit sixteen years ago!
I’m telling you this because I have often surprised myself that my resilience as a ‘Boro fan has been sustained despite many occasions like the present when we have not performed anywhere near our potential and the dreaded drop once again looms. Our next two challenges are Leeds and Nottingham Forest and since we’ve just taken one point from the games against the bottom three in the division, playing those at the top does not augur well for our chance to stay adrift of the relegation places. One thing those sixty years have taught me, however, is that you can never rely on Middlesbrough to do what you expect, so a couple of good results against these promotion contenders would not surprise me at all.
It was fairly inevitable after being forced to play midfielders at centre back and kids in other important positions that Jonathan Woodgate would revert to his more experienced players once they proved their fitness but that most certainly backfired when we were faced with the ‘six pointers against Wigan, Luton and Barnsley in which it is difficult to remember a clear cut ‘Boro chance or indeed a shot on target. Sloppy defending in each of the games led to the opposition goals and while it’s always hard to blame the Manager for individual player errors, Jonathan Woodgate is going to have to ensure that the performances over the festive period can be resurrected and we can once again stop looking nervously over our shoulders.
I suppose the only good thing to be gained from looking back at ‘Boro’s history shows that our only previous dips into what is now known as League One in 1966 and 1986 only lasted a single season each and became a catalyst for much improved and more enjoyable periods as a Middlesbrough supporter.
I obviously hope it doesn’t come to that, though, and that Jonathan Woodgate can work the oracle and deliver us into the realms of safety over the next few weeks. I remain a fan of his regardless of recent result but the knives are out once again and he and his team have simply got to return to winning ways sooner rather than later.
I wait with baited breath!