Well, that hurt. It hurt a lot in fact.
For anyone who read my last piece http://thefootballfaithful.com/forget-hope-thats-gone-lets-look-forward-championship/ – you could be forgiven for thinking that I’d mourned already, that with me accepting our fate and making peace with it that last night’s confirmation would barely bring a flicker of emotion. I’ll be honest, I thought I’d dealt with it entirely, turns out I hadn’t.
Watching us hopelessly outclassed at the hands of champions-elect Chelsea I felt a strange sense of detachment as to what was going on during the 90 minutes. That was probably down to my feelings prior to kick off that we had zero chance of any sort of escape, but come the final whistle, well I realised that perhaps I hadn’t completely grieved for what has been a truly awful season.
Once referee Craig Pawson brought an end to proceedings it finally sunk in. The emotions flowed, I’ll admit I shed a tear or two; in fact I’m welling up now just writing this. It hurt, it still hurts today, and it will no doubt hurt for a long while.
You’re probably confused, let’s face it; I’ve been prepared for this for weeks now, looking forward to the Championship, being positive, why now am I feeling so low? I knew it was coming right? Well yes, I did know it was coming but I’d not had that moment where it was final, finished, dead. There was no capital ‘R’ next to our name, no physical evidence that we’d gone, just acceptance. Last night however brought that moment.
The league table has made for grim viewing for some time now, but last night was as grim as it gets. Bolded in red with that ‘R’ finally making its appearance, our club was now officially relegated. I sat there, misty eyed, casting my mind back to Christhian Stuani gleefully tapping in from close range, fans going wild, pitch invasions, Leo waving the Boro flag whilst hanging out of his sunroof. I got goosebumps (or duck skin if you’re Jelle Vossen) just thinking about it. Then Ben Gibson appeared on screen, I was back in the moment. Bang, back to reality.
In an interview that I can only describe as first class, the skipper came out clearly raw with emotion and proceeded to give as honest an account as possible. Refusing to use excuses or shirk responsibility, he spoke like a true leader, like a fan, like a passionate and proud Teessider, which is what he is; you could see the pain and hurt in his eyes. He spoke for us all; we all feel what he feels. Knowing that he’s most likely going to be on his way this summer made it all the more heart-breaking.
After all, player, captain he might be, he’s also a fan. It felt like one of us in front of that camera getting asked questions he probably didn’t feel like answering, yet like the true hero he is he fronted up, he put himself out there. I sat there, almost in awe of how someone so close and connected to the club could come out so soon and hold it together. Inside though there’ll be doubt he was crumbling inside, and whilst we could all crumble and shed a few tears, he had to keep it in, suck it up. That right there is the true definition of a hero.
I’ll admit, I crumbled, I reached for the tissues. I wasn’t sobbing, I’ll save that for when we go straight back up, I look forward to sobbing tears of joy. But there were tears nonetheless. I’m only glad I was sat on my own at this point, the missus clearly realising what was coming disappeared off to bed with 20 minutes of the game to go, a wise move. Not sure she’d have enjoyed consoling a 32yr old grown man over the fact his team had just gone down.
Those who know me well won’t be surprised by the above admission; in fact they’ll probably be surprised I wasn’t calling them asking for some comfort in my hour of need! Thankfully for them, they were spared that nightmare.
I guess where I’m going with all this is, despite all the talk beforehand, the ‘come on let’s look forward to the Championship’ stuff, is that even when you know it’s coming, it’s not until it actually happens that it really hits home.
We may only spend one season back in the Championship, we can only hope for that, but I remember the 7 years prior to this season that we spent longing for the glory days to come back. Now we’re back down there again are we going to have to suffer a similar period of depression? Are we going to endure promising starts, only for them to fade so achingly away? Will we end up with a Strachan type appointment that, on the face of it seems great, but when the reality hits home it’s actually bloody terrible?
It’s the uncertainty that I can’t stand now. This time last year I was looking forward to a sustained period of relative success. We’d survive this season, go on to consolidate the next and then after, who knows? Yet it hasn’t turned out that way, we’ve gone on a rollercoaster ride, except it hasn’t been a long and windy one with incident aplenty. There’s barely been anything of note, no redeeming features of a season seemingly wasted. If the last year was a rollercoaster ride it’d be Oblivion; a climb to the top, hang around for a little while up there, and then come crashing down.
But Boro’s season is in stark contrast to the thrill and enjoyment of a theme park. It’s been average at best, downright awful at worst. The last few weeks have felt like a funeral procession, yet there’s been no burial, until now. I didn’t think we could top the dullness of Southgate’s class of 08/09, but we have, and then some.
But now, we need to move on.
To do that, what we all need is a statement from the club, for Steve Gibson to come out and give us some clarity. I think that once that happens, once we know where we’re heading from this (other than down a league obviously), then we can finally put this season to bed, box it away and forget it ever happened.
We need a message that everything is going to be ok, that this is just a mere blip in the long and eventful history of this great club. We need to be assured that everything will be done to get us back up at the first attempt, an understanding that anything other could spell years in the footballing wilderness. The fans’ frustrations, questions, anger needs to be addressed by the club, acknowledged by the powers that be. Only then can we begin to move forward and forgive all concerned for what has been a massive waste of an opportunity.
You hope that the message comes soon, it just has to. It’s the least we as fans deserve after what has been such an emotionally draining time. No doubt the chairman is hurting badly too, he’s quite possibly the biggest Boro fan out there, but we need to hear his words and feel his anguish. Only then will we all begin the healing process.
I still stand by my previous thoughts, but with the benefit of hindsight perhaps I hadn’t already mourned and grieved as stated, clearly not given what emotions I’ve gone through this last 24hrs almost. I do, however, stick by the reasons to look forward though.
A potential new manager (has to be a new manager), new players, fresh start – all this brings excitement and anticipation of what might lie ahead. We’ll have new grounds to visit next season, ones we haven’t been to in a while also. There’ll be game after game. The Championship is always on the go, midweek fixtures aplenty, more home games. It’s a wonder why he ever wanted to get promoted in the first place?!
Those kinds of thoughts are what’s keeping me positive today. Despite the depression and sadness felt at relegation I’m consoling myself with those thoughts on Championship football. Oh, and this too…
Cheers to @DanJForrest for such a light-hearted view on what is currently a painful and heartbreaking process. Certainly brought a smile to my face last night.
And on that note, I’ll be watching this on repeat until pre-season starts.