THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Tuesday 24 February ~

Middlesbrough are currently one point off the foot of the Premier League. A club who have been established in the top flight club for a decade, and reached a UEFA Cup final, are enduring their worst league season since they last went down in 1997-98. For several reasons, however, their downturn in fortunes has been met with a fairly muted response, both on Teesside, and elsewhere. It is difficult to be hugely critical of a relatively well run club, with a likeable, generous chairman and strong youth policy. Boro supporters have been critical of the club's PR in recent times, particularly around the introduction of a new club badge in 2007. Now the growing sense of dissatisfaction caused by the team's form has been further fuelled by a letter handed to fans before the game against Wigan last Saturday.

Signed by the club's safety officer, this letter concluded with the words: “I am receiving more and more complaints from our fans... about both the persistent standing and the constant noise coming from the back of this stand. Please stop, make as much noise as you like when we score, but this constant noise is driving some fans mad.” This, quite understandably, received an angry reaction from fans and many protested by turning their backs on the game. In the end they didn't miss much and their team are “Woefully weak and in danger!” according to the local paper.

The irony of the request for noise following a goal (but not at other times) is that in their last nine league games Middlesbrough have scored just once – it has been eight hours and 15 minutes since Boro fans last saw their side score in the league. Their last victory, courtesy of defensive errors by Aston Villa, was on Sunday November 9, a win that took them to eighth in the table. It seems unfortunate now but Gareth Southgate described this as his best result as Boro manager.

The 13 games since have seen a dramatic collapse in form, with the inability to score goals an obvious and fundamental problem. In the Fly Me To The Moon fanzine, Boro fans have called for unity among the support and fretted over the home crowd's apparent resignation to the club's fate. This could be the only option to open Middlesbrough supporters, however – Steve Gibson is unlikely to sack Southgate before the end of the season and unless Afonso Alves manages to convert some of his numerous chances in the 12 games remaining Boro seem destined for the Championship. The club would prefer that the fans remained quiet.

Comments (5)
Comment by ipswichdave 2009-02-25 02:54:45

Hmm...this does seem ridiculous, however I think in fairness you ought to have mentioned the sections in the letter that say that 'the club encourages noisy passionate support' and that the 'constant noise driving some fans mad' is banging, not shouting. For the club to send this letter out when so badly worded is a PR disaster but asking people not to bang (which IS annoying) is very different to asking them not to shout.

Comment by sw2boro 2009-02-25 09:50:24

And bizarrely there was almost an atmosphere at the Wigan game anyway.

Comment by StanBowles 2009-02-25 10:45:36

Why is the cartoon of Ricky Sbragia?

Comment by yahata 2009-03-03 10:49:51

Have to agree with ipswichdave. Yes, this letter is embarrasingly badly worded but that headline "Boro fans told to shut up" looks like a bit of a tabloid-style distortion to me.

I'd heard about this letter but not seen it until now, and even without seeing it suspected that it was likely that, if it wasn't a prank, poor English or some bizarre typo had to be the culprit as no club is ever going to ask its supporters to "shut up" during a home game.

Indeed, having now seen the letter, I have to say that anyone who seriously interprets it as a request to fans to "shut up" probably has English skills even more embarrasingly poor than the writer of the letter. The main point of the letter is clearly about prolonged standing in a seated area. The last part about noise is admittedly dreadful from an adult native speaker of English, but it IS pretty clear that it's the banging noise (presumably on part of the stand) that's being referred to, not any vocal backing of the team.

As dave said, you omitted to mention that the beginning of the letter thanked and "encourage[d] noisy passionate support". You also rather conveniently misquoted the letter by leaving out the rather important word "banging" in the part you quoted to support your headline above.

A bit naughty, really. Perfectly fair to give any major professional football club some stick over a letter to the public which is that badly written, but there shouldn't be any need to distort it any further.

Comment by yahata 2009-03-03 10:52:32

Oops! How embarrassing to spell 'embarrassingly' incorrect when I was commenting about embarrassingly poor English! Where's the edit button?!

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