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Monday, May 23, 2011

QPR Report Interview: The Middlesbrough Perspective

February 25, 2011

The Middlesbrough Perspective

QPR Report Q&A Interview with Middlesbrough fan Robert Nichols

Robert Nichols runs www.fansonline.net/middlesbrough fmttm.com/fly me to the moon (FMTTM) and is director of fansonline - independent fans site network www.fansonline.net


Starting simply: How long have you supported Middlesbrough? And how long have you been involved with the Website? How did you get to be the editor?

I've supported Boro since I was a young un. My dad got my brother and me season tickets with him back in 1975 when we had just been promoted to the top flight under Jack Charlton. Though would you believe my brother later defected to another team for a while. Guess who? QPR.

I took over Fly Me To The Moon fanzine in 1994 and have been doing it for every league match since then. From that people twisted my arm to start a website and we did that in 1999 with a message board a year later that has really taken off, pardon the pun. Fortunately technically minded people did all the hard work. But Boro has been my hobby and job most of my life now I guess. Well worth it.

How do you get on with the other Middlesbrough fan sites: Are there any serious inter-board conflicts (as there certainly are between certain QPR boards!)?

There aren't any other paper fanzines anymore but there are one or two other websites. For a time I was working with comeonboro when the Rivals network exploded but mostly I just do my own thing. The more sites the merrier I guess. Hopefully people know I'm at all the games, last missed one in 1999 so I'm speaking from the heart and the head. You might not agree with me but at least I saw the game it with my own eyes.

Do Middlesbrough have one (or two) special rivals? Is it an equal two-way rivalry? (I'm assuming it's Sunderland and Newcastle)? Which ranks higher?

Yes Sunderland and Newcastle are our main rivals though not according
to them. I always feel they protest too loudly about this. It depends who is in our league as to who the biggest rivals are. When I was a kid Leeds were the big rivals, we were in Yorkshire in those days and Leeds were this massive club still. Now we are down in the Championship that Boro v Leeds rivalrly has returned again.

What do you think of your current manager? What did you think of his predecessors such as Southgate. For a while you were very loyal after a fair amount of turmoil!

We couldn't have a better manager than Tony Mowbray - he was our captain colossus when we nearly went into liquidation and led us from the brink to the top flight. But he also a manager with a football philosophy, a deep thinker about the game, a local lad that cares, someone to truly believe in and Fmttm - Fly Me To The Moon is named after a statement made by late 80s Boro boss Bruce Rioch saying if he had to go the moon he wanted Mowbray by his side. Thats the way we all se it now. Mowbray has come back to guide the club through challenging times and hopefully a rebirth again someday soon.

Looking back I don't have much time for Gordon Strachan - I feel I was taken in and hoodwinked by his experience and battle plan. It seemed convincing but was so badly misguided, filling the team with expensively waged players from the SPL it has left us in a real mess. I think he has got off lightly with the fans. By contrast I think Gareth Southgate has had a far rougher ride than he ought to have had.

A rookie manager given no guidance and ordered to cut the wage bill year in year out. He was on a hiding to nothing. As a club captain that lifted our first ever silverware, as a gentleman and someone that thinks and cares deeply I greatly admire Gareth Southgate and wish him well in his career.

What do you think of the current Middlesbrough Owners? WHY are they involved? (Your Chairman Gibson, seems great - especially in comparison to some other clubs)What do you expect? Could they realistically have done more to boost your chances?

Steve Gibson is getting a rough ride by many fans at the moment but that is the reality of relegation and suddenly having to drastically down size as a club, you are not going to be thanked or praised. At the moment many are screaming at him to back the manager more or come out and make some public statement but I think he realises now is the time to let the manager and the team do the talking and then in the summer we recharge.

I think we are very lucky to still have a local chairman and manager and many local players all still in touch with the community and knowing what it is all about. There are very few football clubs like that these days. We could be unique in fact. I'm very thankful indeed.

How do you think Middlesbrough treats its fans? Appreciates them? Listens to them? Screws them?

Personally I think the treatment of the fans by the club has undergone something of a revolution in recent times. I think it is very difficult times because we are struggling on the pitch and off it and that often masks what is actually a pretty close relationship now. We have fan forums that come up with ideas and help make decisions from the food we eat to the music we listen to. Today I've just got back from VIP guided tours for the half term hols. Kids and parents can go round the ground behind the scenes and meet players and ask them questions etc. It was sold out.

But generally there is a lot of dialogue between fans and the club which has to be good. Nothing is perfect and it becomes twice as hard when the club is struggling but they generally try very hard with supporters. The chairman always describes himself as merely a custodian of the club and looking after it for the fans.

You are presumably a little - more than a little - disappointed with how Middlesbrough are doing this season. But in you heart of hearts, what were you expecting pre-season?

We were favourites for promotion if you recall. We gambled all the parachute payments on one big push and it failed spectacularly. I think with hindsight we could see the manager's plans had unravelled very early in the season and maybe the game at Loftus Road was a last chance to show if we still had it in us. But the decision to release two left backs and instead play a midfielder in Barry Robson in the role was our undoing in the game and pointed to one of Gordon Strachan's big weaknesses in his year at the club. His decision making was poor and appeared flawed by his personal hunches and grudges. He wasn't a popular man by the time he left, he almost totally failed to connect with fans or media and at a heart of the community club that was fatal.

Who are you Dangermen/Most valued/most overrated/most underrated players?

Well we have lost most of our names now but sadly not the big salaries. Nicky Bailey puts in a mega shift anchoring the midfield and has risen from scapegoat to fans favourite in half a season. Marvin Emnes promises to bring goals to his speed and skillful forward play. New signing Merouane Zemmama looks capable of having the vision to unlock the potential of the forwards. But the two outstanding prospects at the moment are England Under 21 graduates Jason Steele (keeper) and Joe Bennett left back - they could go all the way to the top. Strachan wanted to sell Bennett for £200 000!!!

Prediction for season promotion/relegation places - And how would that compare with pre-season prediction?

I was miles off I thought Pompey would go down and Hull because I thought they would both be crippled financially. Not sure whether it is luck or prudence that has stopped this. I did think Scun.thorpe would struggle and they Preston and Sheff U look likely to go down.

Going up I would have thought QPR and Cardiff are too strong not to I take Swansea to win the play offs because they play superb football and I think they now have more cutting edge. Forest and Leicester could have other ideas though. Both could end up going up.

What is your view and the general Middlesbrough view of QPR (If we even feature in your consciousness)? 25 Years ago, we had the famous come from 0-4 down to draw 5-5 at QPR under Jackie Charlton's Middlesbrough. [sic/update: As has subsequently been pointed out, it was Charlton's Newcastle NOT Middlesbrough that was the 5-5 result!] I remember QPR getting smashed 6-2 at Middlesbrough after being 2-0 in first five minutes. I think a John Hickton hatrick.

My view on QPR is based on years gone by when you had great entertainers - Bowles, Marsh, Thomas, then Currie etc and even Ferdinand. You were great to watch and phenomenal that year you finished 2nd in the league.

Yep that is right we have had some great clashes over the years. I remember you beating us 6-0 on the plastic pitch on Match of the Day - Malcolm Allison was our manager and his total football philosophy saw him play centre forward Dave Shearer at right back and he was taken to the cleaners. Half way through the game he chased the ball into the stand and took a breather sitting on the seats.

With my brother having followed QPR at one time there was a bit ofrivalrly in our house. But we both actually went to Wembley, our first time, to stand behind the goal in the drawn FA Cup final with Spurs. Tony Currie was sublime that day anchoring the midfield.

What are your past Encounter Memories - Best Memory/Worst Memory of Past QPR- Encounters? Who is your favourite QPR Player over the years? (And your least favourite)? Ditto any view of Neil Warnock?

Sorry I answered some of this above didn't I? But favourite players would be Stan Bowles probably a superb player. I also loved watching Dave Thomas dance down the wing, he later joined Boro and it was a privilege to watch his skills.

Neil Warnock - love to hate him - but actually he is a very good manager indeed. We first came across him when he took Notts County and not us up through the play offs to the top flight many years ago. Not sure I would want to be a 4th official when he comes to town but he knows all about getting out of this league.

Are you looking forward to playing QPR?

Yep certainly am - it will be great to go up against the top in the league. It seems to bring the best out of us, we beat Cardiff not long ago and were very unlucky v Leeds and Norwich. Looking forward to a good contest.

SCORE PREDICTION for Middlesbrough-QPR?

I think it will be a good game but I take us to win 2-1 - we can draw on the belief from fighting back from behind v Millwall last week.

Where, realistically, do you think Middlesbrough will be in five years time?

I hope we are back in the Premier league and challenging for Europe again. I feel it is possible. Even in these dark times.

Do you have any advice for QPR fans, in the event that we do go up? (Spend more/spend less; keep the manager; change the manager, etc)

You should definitely keep the manager and the players - guard against alienating the promotion players by making them feel 2nd class to a new group coming in. Blackpool are doing it the correct way - sticking to their principles and slowly adding ability and strength to the squad. Patience is what it is all about first season up and slowly building. Big change can see you going down as rapidly as you come up - even if you have got masses of financial backing. Oh and the fans need to get used to expensive away trips and to matches being rearranged on a whim for tv. You probably have that already.

What one or two questions do you wish I had asked you (and how would you have responded?!)

You've done well enough I think. We are in a kind of limbo at the moment hoping we can stay up this season before massively pruning the wage bill in summer - then we can try and kick on again. Looking forward to the game and hope we can turn you over.

Many many thanks to Middlesbrough's Robert Nichols of www.fansonline.net/middlesbrough Fly me To the Moon (FMTTM) and director of fansonline - independent fans site network

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