As the dust settles, the smoke clears and Boro fans emerge from the wreckage of the past five months, we can look forward instead of back towards the new season with new found clarity and hope. Put kindly, last season was a write off. We were cruelly led to believe that we stood a chance of promotion for a large part of the campaign and then a horrendous run of results throughout 2013 left us languishing in the lower echelons of the table. It’s been pretty hard to stomach but it’s time to move on.
Personally, it has been really tough to enjoy football in general these past few months and watching the playoffs I just had an overwhelming sense of jealousy. I wanted to be happy for the teams that will make the final, the dramatic fashion in which Watford have made it is unbelievable, however I felt bitter, jealous and couldn’t enjoy the matches in the same way because of the tainted way in which Boro have made me view the sport in recent months. This has been true of all matches since January if I’m honest. I haven’t looked forward to the televised games as much as I used to and particularly with the playoffs I couldn’t help thinking ‘It should have been us’. No team has dropped so many points from such a high standing before and won’t for a while to come. You can probably sense the tone of the article is fairly dark and the self-depreciative humour that is synonymous with Boro fans I think has all but disappeared to genuine feelings of bitterness and disappointment over the past season. As I have said though, we need to move on and the pre-season affords us time to heal.
Usually I dread pre-season. As much as I will enjoy the Ashes and the Under 21 Euro tournament the fact is it’s not the same without football. Thank God for that! As a club, players, staff and fans I think we need this break more than ever. We’ve gone through some dark times at our football club and we are still going strong. We are financially stable and if rumours are to be believed our rather sizeable wage bill is getting sliced again. Nine departures already suggest a scope to bring in players of a better quality than those that are leaving. The past five months have been really hard to take, but it doesn’t get much worse than that. There will have been lessons learned in that time. We will know more about the young men in our squad, their bottle and their determination, than if we had continued to ease our way to results like we did in the first half. What we will know now is who has the heart and desire to put the tackles in and show that extra will when the chips are down. There will have been some players weeded out as a result of this poor form but at least we know now. Would I have loved a slightly more comfortable finish to the season? Of course I would, but what we have experienced now is football at its cruellest. Boys from the academy will have grown into men through this time and I will stress again, those who can’t hack it when it’s not going well will have been found out. It’s time now to use that knowledge to build a better squad with stronger character that can stand up to the challenge. Let’s not kid ourselves; it wasn’t through a lack of ability that we found ourselves in that position. We were nearly top at the half way point. It was a lack of mental strength that led to our dropping like a stone. We at least now know which players have what it takes mentally.
This summer will be one of change and our squad will no doubt have a number of new faces. There will be changing identities within the squad and an opportunity as a club to forge our own identity, one with togetherness between fans, players and manager. This is a relationship that has become fragile and fragmented over the course of this year. We need to decide how we want to play, our system, our style and stick to it. I couldn’t even name our formation last season, never mind our best eleven. Let’s establish an identity as a club and let people worry about Middlesbrough Football Club instead of pandering to their strengths and weaknesses. Together we’ll grow stronger because of the past season and if we can make the right changes, you never know what could happen next year.