it would, look you see, be something of a considered understatement to suggest that an awful lot of rubbish gets written and published about football in England. many business operations, be they newspapers or websites, base their model for success on the production of tosh being written and committed to publication. as there's a thriving, indeed robust market which consumes this, there you go. that's how commerce works.
normally one can quite happily stand aside from this junk and let them get on with it. there is, however, one bit of nonsense perpetuated by it which should be drawn to a close. that is the frequent derision and dismissal of the FA Cup, the contest i believe to be the oldest such organized sporting endeavour.
i shall liberally pepper this blog with comments about the fallacy of saying the FA Cup isn't important as we go, but for now, yes. yes indeed, the above picture shows the boys in the vicinity of the Riverside stadium, eagerly awaiting to go in and experience the magic of the Cup.
for those unfamiliar with it, for many of you around the world for some reason read this blog, the FA Cup is a football club knockout contest. The magic stems from the fact that any registered club in England may compete. the first weekend of January sees the 3rd Round take place, which for many is the first round of it proper. this is the stage at which the teams of the top two divisions in England enter. Middlesbrough is, of course, one of them.
yes indeed, ladies and gentlemen, or if you like dear readers, there before you, or if you like above these words, are and is the 75% of my family that you all like a great deal more than you like me. which is totes fair enough, i cannot fault you.
in terms of entering tradition, this was William's first ever football match and thus first ever entrance into the legacy and tradition of the Cup. in respect of the latter, it was also the first for my (considerably) better half. she had of course been to see the Boro before - as recently as December 2002, in fact, when she and i, along with some dear friends (hello Norman and Andrea) witnessed Middlesbrough record a triumphant 2-2 draw of a victory over West Ham.
James? this was his third taste of the magic of the Cup. previously i had taken him to see us record a sensational 0-2 home defeat to Hull, and then a hard fought, well earned 1-2 home defeat to Burnley. and yes if you click on the coloured text you will be whisked back to the past to see those magic experiences.
needless to say, James was rather hoping to a better result this time around, but was somewhat resigned to the idea that Boro just might be something of a "3rd round specialist" team.
that's a shot of the players warming up a bit, and indeed of the ground filling up, some ten or so minutes before the scheduled kick off. and fill up the ground did - attendance was just slightly north of 23,000, which was most splendid to see.
a lot of that attendance is in thanks to our guests and opponents that day. in that far corner where you can see an awful lot of blue are, is or were the fans the team we played against, Sheffield Wednesday, brought along with them. it was magnificent to see so many of them travel up, and for large chunks of the game they were in good voice. i won't apologise or say sorry for the result, but i am somewhat saddened that the team did not at the least give up a performance worthy of such loyal and dedicated fans.
in terms of tradition, legacy, heritage, etc, it was not just the FA Cup in that regard for us. no, far from it. on our travels to the stadium, to rewind a bit, we went passed one of South Africa's finest exports.
yes, Nando's. there is one very special, other, dear friend i think of as and when Nando's comes to mind.
no, we didn't eat there, the boys wanted McDonald's. Nando's is quite strange in England, anyway. whereas in South Africa it's mostly known for being a quite fancy takeaway, here they've turned it into some sort of fancy, if you like bespoke restaurant. as in they give you a knife and fork to eat with, which goes against the tradition of how Nando's should be enjoyed. also, the chickens they serve here are far too scrawny.
of course i followed the Boro whilst i was living in South Africa. they were, are, and always shall be, my team. one of the things about following them so far away from home was, if you shall please forgive the sentimental hygiene, that i could always picture friends of mine at the match. aaah.
nice, then, to be at the match with them, rather than listening on the radio or watching on tv some several thousand miles away.
yes, people, that is indeed the legend who is Payney. we, to my joy, bumped into him as we exited the Boro club shop, in which William purchased a fancy hat that you shall see shortly.
whilst i have my rather celebrated new "Thug Life" beanie on, that is indeed an Aerosmith branded baseball cap Payney is wearing. when i quizzed him about since when was he a fan of Steve Tyler and co, he just looked at me blankly, said he had no idea that that's who the cap was of, and had it only because it was going cheap. if he'd nosed around he probably would have found an even cheaper Sammy Hagar one, then, but just as well he did not.
the FA gets a lot of stick and criticism for many things. some of it quite rightly. in many cases, though, they do things right. like, for instance, encouraging families to get to the FA Cup games by capping the cost of tickets for the early round games.
for this match, as non-season ticket holders, the cost of tickets was £15 per adult and £5 per child. for perspective, to attend a league game the cost is normally between £30 and £37 for adults, £17 to £20 for under 18s. hence us not going to many league games.
indeed the above is a family selfie, and indeed it is done with the camera facing in such a way that you get a reversed or if you like mirror image. i could have flipped it but i quite like the way this has come out. that we are in the wrong order here is important to remember for a little later in the blog.
back to the rubbish written and spoken of the FA Cup? sure. some have an agenda to belittle it, to say that it's not important for "big" clubs and should even be scrapped. in this day and age of Champions League football, some commentators - and a couple of clubs - believe the mediocrity of battling to finish 4th in the league is more important than trying to win the FA Cup. financially it no doubt is. but for fans and footballers it decidedly isn't.
let's look at this, shall we. some have an idea that certain clubs "try to lose" in the early rounds of the FA Cup, so that they may free their schedule to concentrate on the league. i would say concentrating on the league after elimination is a bonus, but nothing more. if anyone at all associated with a football club, be it a player, manager or member of staff, believes anything other than their team should be out to win every game they play, they should get out of the sport, now.
i am reminded of an interview with Roy "Boom Boom" Keane, i believe at the time when he managed Sunderland. a journalist asked him if the next match was a "must win" game. Roy looked at him angrily and said "what other sort of game is there? must lose? must draw?". there speaks a man of football.
a picture of me and the boys, the right way round, taken by my (considerably) better half? sure.
if you do not want your team to win every single game they play, no matter how unlikely or unrealistic it is from time to time, then you might want to give yourself an easier life via stopping supporting them.
comment on the match itself? after a decidedly dodgy, and rather dull, first half, Middlesbrough beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0. with us having but 10 men for a lot of the second half thanks to a reckless challenge and a justified red card. this meant that, at last, after 3 years of going to select games, James saw Boro win for real. and William's first game was a win.
the second goal was special for all sorts of reasons. the biggest reason, no doubt, was the fact that the BBC's coverage of it on Match Of The Day meant that images of me in my yellow shirt and "Thug Life" beanie celebrating the goal were broadcast to the nation and beyond.
that's just class, that is! i, and as you can sort of make out my family, have been on Match Of The Day! normally you have to be a very talented player or coherent former player to get that honour.
the goal we were celebrating was just sheer comedy gold. it was nearly as funny an incident as that classic Peter Enckelman incident in the match between Aston Villa and Birmingham. that one you can see by simply searching for the name of the goalkeeper, or by clicking here.
here, for those of you who can play video on this blog, is the rather amusing goal we scored and what you can see all of us celebrating with some passion.
yes, we all make mistakes, i guess. but not all of us get paid several thousand pounds a week to make mistakes, and nor do we have them broadcast to the nation.
the 3rd round of the FA Cup is not the only defining characteristic of the first weekend of January. no, far from it. another one is that it is cold. as such, we availed ourselves of some items which were available to purchase from the concessionary stands within the ground.
a bit of a rundown on what we bought, and the costs involved? certainly.
unspecified brown liquid labelled hot chocolate - £2
one half of one small potato worth of chips - £2
unspecified murky, stringy liquid labelled as tea - £2
very lovely bar of clotted cream fudge - £2
there are all sorts of patterns to be read in the above. i will let you weave whatever images you so wish to do so from the above information.
an image from the end of the match, then. with the Boro players huddled in congratulations and celebrations for winning a game that, perhaps perversely, some commentators and critics suggested they should try and lose in order to focus on Premier League survival.
and so into the hat our name went for the 4th round draw. and for our troubles in the next round we have drawn Accrington Stanley, a team more famous for a couple of Scouse lads referencing them in a milk advert in the 80s more than anything else, really.
will we go to the next game? don't know. maybe. we surely had an absolutely mega ace totes amazing day out of it at this one, to be sure.
once again a round of applause for the Sheffield Wednesday fans who made the journey up to come and watch. what a wonderful bunch, and i do hope your team delivers better than that for you more often than not.
and to all those who say that the romance and the magic of the FA Cup should be seen as an irrelevant thing of the past, rather just don't go, don't comment and get on with your life. or, you know, remember what football is all about, go along, cheer on your team and enjoy it.
my thanks, as ever, to you for reading.
be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!