Okay, so Liverpool was bad but let’s not dwell on it, think instead of Blunderland being beaten twice in the space of four days and thus condemning themselves to almost certain mid-table mediocrity. It was only an outside chance but we couldn’t have them emulating us with successive promotions.
Radio Cleveland listeners may well have heard two of our editorial staff being interviewed regarding fanzines and their current popularity. General consensus of opinion says that whilst one spoke like the babbling fool he is, the other made up for this by speaking with the eloquence of the Rioch fellow himself.
Grateful though we are of the publicity both shall be severely disciplined for not serving you with fanzines at our busiest time of a Saturday afternoon… it’s not just Trevor Francis capable of being a complete b*****d in dishing out punishment. Having said that we should all be grateful that it was radio and not T.V. seeing their ugly mushes on the box would have been unbearable.
Staying with T.V. having watched the European competitions this week i can’t help thinking that they must miss us as much as we miss being involved. Any of you potential hooligans reading should consider your actions and the harm they could do Boro and their European ambitions in the future.
Your recent articles concerning Gary Gill have forced me to offer the opinion – “it doesn’t really matter”. He rarely plays for the first team as he is not deemed good enough, that said he does a good job for the reserves, no more no less.
Surely a more pressing issue is the consistent failure of our classy midfield play-maker Mark Brennan. The master of the five foot back pass to Mogga, the only player rarely to be seen marking anyone in defence, a man with the ball winning prowess of Andy Crawford (who he? – Ed).
Brennan cost this club well in excess of £300,000 and i’m beginning to feel like we’ve been ripped off. He strolls about the pitch on a Saturday trying to look pretty with his Maradona turns. Executing defence splitting passes back to Pearsy or Pooley, looking like a slimmer version Butch Wilkins during his “i must pass sideways” England hey day.
My dad says he needs “fire in his belly” but it looks like the only thing residing there at present is Johnny Walker Black Label. So after careful consideration, i think id rather pick Ivy Brennan from Coronation Street ahead of him, at least she’d get stuck in.
Talking of big money signings, i couldn’t help noticing that the £1.1million pairing of Brennan and Dav against Newcastle was an absolute disaster, both men having the proverbial nightmare. To be fair to Dav he did get over a couple of good crosses in the 2nd half, but this serves to illustrate that the lad isn’t a striker, he hasn’t got the instinct to get into goal scoring positions. Bernie might not be the most skillful player at the club, but even when he’s not scoring goals he’s at least in position to do so. He has that ability to read the game, which Dav just doesn’t seem to have, i wonder how he managed it for Cloughie?
I just want to finish this article on a positive note, of the regular team which has played this season, nine of them were regulars in the Third Division days. Expectations may have risen but they’ve done quite well you know…
The first goal for a new club is always a special moment for both player and crowd alike and i shall long remember Trevor Senior’s first effort for the Boro against Sheffield Utd.
Trevor had been a big hit during his time at Reading, where he had a near goal a game ratio. His lanky frame and lack of co-ordination topped off with a ‘Worzel’ haircut and Yokel grin often brought derisive laughter from the opposition, allowing Trev to nip in, catch them unawares and bag a sitter. At Watford however he tried to act the 1st Division striker, all neat flicks and running into space. The result was abject failure and only a couple of goals. Now at Boro, he would once more opt for his original plan.
The Sheffield game began and Trevor was soon into his old routine, gangling about and looking every inch a threat to the crowd as he lined up a shot on goal. His distinct lack of balance when putting one foot in front of the other, as well as a serious vertigo problem that hindered his heading ability, soon perplexed the Sheffield defence to such an extent that after 10 minutes they decided the only damage he could do was to himself and duly left him alone. Trevor saw his opportunity, “What a bunch of mugs” he thought, “Falling for the old Kerry Dixon impression”. Trevor grinned an enormous toothless grin.
Suddenly a ball was thumped forward, Trev was on to it as soon as it hit him, bringing it down at the third attempt and turning on a tractor wheel. Still the opposition were unable to come to their senses. By now the arms and legs were pumping away as he propelled himself, like some kind of manic combine harvester, towards goal. On the edge of the box Trev winked at the crowd and pretended to stumble. The Sheffield defence, now realising the danger flung themselves at Trevor but it was too late, for the “Senior Scorcher” was already ambling its way towards the back of the net, via the scenic route of full-backs leg and keepers body. The crowd rose to applaud and once more the First Division beckoned for Boro and Senior.
Wilf’s supreme performance for the Boro was against Blackpool in 1974, known to every Boro fan over the age of 50 as ‘Mannion’s Match’. Twenty or Thirty Thousand of us sensed in advance that something special was going to happen as Wilf had just got engaged and it was said that his fiancee was in the stand.
It was a great football occasion, Blackpool were a real Rolls Royce of a team, comprising three England Internationals, Harry Johnstone, Stan Matthews and Stan Mortensen. They also had Wallace, the Scottish goalkeeper, who in the three previous months had let in only two goals. Not that Boro were far behind. We were a very good First Division side, usually in the top half of the table, built around Wilf as the General or the play-maker as they call them these days.
So there we were, a fine autumn afternoon, waiting for the off, a tense buzz of excitement, you could feel that there was something special in the air.
In the first half we saw Wilf at his very best, in his classic style you might say. There were no frills, he just played like the brilliant international he was. He was fast, direct mostly, but occasionally he would shove in the odd sway that increasingly un-nerved the Blackpool defence.
His passing was unbelievable, perfectly weighted for whatever distance, sometimes at extraordinary angles and always finding his man. He scuttled about like a jet propelled Hare, his blonde mop bobbing up and down, palms down and fingers pointing (his trade mark) a bit like Tommy Cooper. Nobody in the Blackpool defence could get anywhere near him. At half time it was 2-0 and they were shattered.
If nothing else happened in this game, none of us would ever have forgotten what we had seen, it was a perfect display of old fashioned inside forward play. Whilst the rest of the Boro team rose to the occasion; i’ll bet the likes of Ces MacCormack, Micky Fenton and Johnny Spuhler were just as pleased to be part of the proceedings as we the spectators were. But we had no idea what was to come in the second half. Wilf turned the game into his own scintillating showpiece. You’d swear the ball was bewitched, where HE was IT was. He did things with the ball you’ve never seen before or since.
As for the mesmerized Blackpool defence, he dribbled through them, round them, under them and over them sometimes, skipping past those forlorn white shirts in one’s, two’s and three’s. If his passing in the first half was text book, now it was sheer magic, with a bit of a three card trick thrown in. Passes like rifle shots were mixed in with the gorgeous lobs which again left Heyward the centre half rocking on his heels. Then he would show off his collection of crisp little chips, curvy ones, curly ones and those little stubby things that spun back to him. Wilf would control the ball like nobody else, we all knew that but there a few tricks up his sleeve that had everyone gasping.
Dear old Cliff Mitchell recalled one long high clearance out of the Boro defence that had Wilf chasing after it, keeping his eye on it over his left shoulder, as it arrived he took it on his forehead cushioning it about five inches away from his nose, trickled it down his chest to instep, to form an inch perfect pass to Ces MacCormack at inside left and WHAM another one in the onion bag.
Sometimes the magic happened when the ball was perfectly still. I can see him now, the ball motionless, Wilf swaying behind it. A bit of jiggery pokery with his left shoulder and right eyebrow resulting in Harry Johnstone seeming to throw himself, quite voluntarily, flat on his back. Poor Johnstone, he got up wearily looked up to the stand for his manager and threw up his arms in complete bewilderment (managers sat in the stand those days, only Charlie Cole with his magic sponge and galvanised bucket sat on a stool in the tunnel).
The atmosphere was absolutely electric. The roars were like bullfighter sounds when the Toreador is doing his stuff with the exhausted bull. It was a personal statement of football genius by Wilf Mannion, St. Wilf of Southbank, which had everybody, spectators and players, friends and foes gasping in astonishment, totally aware that we were seeing a once in a space age performance.
The final score was 4-0, Spuhlar, Fenton and MacCormack got the goals. A marvellous game, a majestic solo performance. When us golden oldies begin to reminisce you can bet your season ticket that before two pints are downed, someone will say…”Can you remember the Blackpool match?” Can we ever forget it? Thanks, Wilf.
With the transfer deadline looming it seems like a good time to take a look at one of this seasons problem areas… namely the midfield.
The introduction of Brennan was originally hailed as a master-stroke and as he settled in he showed his capabilities as a calming player with an eye for a 40 yard pass, and an ability to make forward runs from deep positions in the mould of Hodge at Forest. However, this year, apart from the Man Utd match when Marco got stuck into Robbo, he has looked a pale shadow of his former self; too ponderous on the ball and not strong or swift enough in the tackle to make his presence felt.
Paul Kerr too seems not to have recovered his form yet, his game relying on little touches and energetic running can be breathtakingly skillful when it comes off, but in a season when he has been plagued by injury he has been unable to develop the confidence in himself or the colleagues around him.
This has put a great deal of pressure on Hammy and even more so since the departure of Deano. But to his credit and every Boro fans admiration he has risen to the challenge. More than any other player he has made the step up to become a 1st Division player, competing with and bettering the McMahons and Hurlocks of this world. He has played in the true Boro spirit, comitted but not dirty and using skill rather than force to better his opponents.
The other plus point has been the significant improvement in Mark Burke, who has increased in stamina and consistency over the season. Delighting the crowd with his own genius and surprising us with his tackling (what about that last ditch effort against Palace). I still can’t understand why he was dropped against Liverpool.
Over all the midfield has not performed consistently as a unit, on many occasions we have been out battled as much as anything by the opposition powerhouses. We have the capability to exert authority as seen against Millwall or Man Utd so in these closing weeks the midfield must find their true form and pull together or else Bruce will have to get his cheque book out again.