Why do Middlesbrough get so much stick when they have better attendances than so many other clubs?
If any supporters could have used some festive cheer then surely it’s Middlesbrough’s.
When the club sacked Gareth Southgate – and how rash does that decision seem now? – the team were real contenders for an automatic return to the Premier League. Now they’re so far adrift they may as well be playing on a ship’s deck in the middle of the Pacific.
These problems are not necessarily irreversible. But it must be depressing being a ‘Boro fan who turns on the telly only to see your new manager refusing to answer any question asked him by the media, as if somehow playing silly-buggers with people who work in television – and bear in mind, Gordon Strachan works in television when not working in management – helps the fans gain any understanding as to what the hell is going on at their football club.
But the Championship is a tight league, and the season is only half over. Only a fool would predict with certainty that the Teesiders will waste their first season in the Championship by spending next season in the same place.
But what really aggravates me about Boro has really nothing to do with the club itself, but rather other people’s attitudes to it. Any footage from the Riverside Stadium these days shows banks of empty seating. Admittedly it doesn’t look good on the telly, and many commentators aren’t slow in pointing this out.
“There must be no more than 17,000 here today,” said one radio commentator, speaking from a recent match.
Okay, well let’s hang on a minute. Middlesbrough is a town – a town, not a city – of just 142,000 odd people. This means that at the aforementioned game more than one in 10 of the town’s population was inside the Riverside Stadium, watching a rubbish team.
Not only that, but they’d paid money to do so. And this is my second point. Like many medium size towns in the north of England, Middlesbrough is not a place overburdened with wealth. At a recent game, supporters gathered on the pitch to protest the closure of a local steelworks and the loss of thousands and thousands of jobs. In circumstances such as this, it’s difficult to justify the price of a match ticket, no matter how baron the empty seat looks on The Football League Show.
Yet Boro get better gates than Crystal Palace, QPR, Watford, and any number of clubs that play in better-off areas of England. But no mention seems to be made of this.
It seems to me that Middlesborough have it hard: they are not blessed with the romance of the Geordies and Mackems to the north, or the history of Leeds to the south. Because of this, I quite like them. And I wish them well.