It all started with manager Aitor Karanka storming out of a team meeting midway through Friday, having allegedly told the team he didn’t want to manage them anymore, which is a phrase that seems more at home in the mouth of a sulky six-year-old than a forty-something former Spanish international centre back.
He was then relieved of first team duties for the weekend game away to relegation certainties Charlton, whose fans seemed hell-bent on cancelling the game – holding a mock funeral beforehand, throwing beach balls onto the pitch from the first minute, imitating the referee’s whistle, setting of flares, and, obviously, staging a pitch invasion.
Boro wish the game had been abandoned, as, despite facing a side whose fans didn’t even want to see them win, turned in a worst showing of the season and a 2-0 defeat.
No points, no manager – no hope surely?
Not quite – in an unprecedented turnaround in recent English footballing history, Karanka was reinstated as manager on Monday after a twenty-minute meeting with Boro chairman Steve Gibson, before speaking to the press and telling them, and the fans, absolutely nothing about what had been going on.
He took charge of the team on Friday night’s home game, a crucial encounter against fellow promotion challengers Hull, where defeat could have been the death knell for their automatic promotion hopes.
Boro kept their hopes alive with a 1-0 win, thanks to a last minute goal, despite playing no better than they had against a Charlton side 19 places lower in the table than Hull. Funny old game.
So what, if anything, have we learned from all this? One lesson springs to mind – no matter how big for their boots the players get, fan power will always win out.
On Friday night, the Teesside Gazette ran a poll, asking fans if they wanted Karanka to continue as manager. 94 per cent of fans backed the former Real Madrid player and assistant manager – a result which would have surprised even the staff at the paper I think.
If the Boro fan forums are to be believed (which, even if they are, must be taken with an enormous pinch of salt), certain players had not taken well to his rotation policy and had been texting mates about not wanting to play for the club – star players, fan favourites for much of the campaign; not any more judging by the language used to describe them on said forums.
On his reinstatement, a solid 94 per cent of fans were commenting their delight, celebration, and that Karanka had done the right thing – his dressing room, his team, and his rules.
The fans sang his name from the off on Friday – fan power had won.
I have a spurious un-researched feeling that Steve Gibson may well have seen that poll, and realised that even in this most unusual of scenarios, the chairman staple of sacking the boss was not an option.
This, combined with the Premier League finally reducing and capping away ticket prices after months of supporter pressure, tells us that it is not just a tired punditry cliché that fans are central to the game.