Yer Joking Aren't Ya? Review
By Robert Nichols
Thursday 16 Apr 2020 17:50:00
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It was Boro's epic season. To borrow the old cliché it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. A season of a lifetime. Ultimate drama. Exceptional excitement but ending in disaster.

Yer Joking Aren't Ya? The Story of Middlesbrough FC's 1996/1997 Season by Tom Flight

First we were in dream land, next we were passing through nightmares. Then we were bouncing between the two states as we defeated all comers in the cups but lost points for fun (no fun) in the league. It was emotional. It was exhausting. Afterwards roller coaster was the most usual term, over used. But it was a roller coaster with a crash landing. And although we ultimately bounced back I wonder whether some of the glitter had gone for good. Maybe, in the massive, crushing disappointments Middlesbrough people lost the ability to truly let themselves go again and believe that dreams could come true.

Or am I being over melodramatic? How can you be with a story like this.

So, for me this book is a bit like a very welcome reset button, reading through the ten matches singled out by Tom Flight is like therapy. Like so many others I have never been able to face thinking too long and hard about this campaign. After watching every game live it left me exhausted and to be honest I was pretty ill at the end. So, goodness knows what toll it exacted on the players.

Through the pages of this book I rediscovered the excitement of the early days. Starting with the dream time of Ravanelli's hat trick unveiling, shirt above his head. Emerson striding around like a colossus. Juninho, the twinkle toed Brazillian genius. The author was a young boy experiencing the excitement first hand, no doubt going home with his shirt over his head, copying an idol. When we took apart West Ham and Coventry we actually believed we could take on the world, beat the best in the league.

Tom is really clever in not turning this into the inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. Instead he studs the match by match, month by month account with on the spot quotes, contemporary with events and not weighed down with the benefit of hindsight.

There are insightful back stories to the main characters. We learn about the source of Rav's attitude to training, training, training back at Juve. But we also look on as football culture clashes on Teesside but remember this as a turning point year when Arsene Wenger changed the face of professionalism in the Premier League.

The Blackburn 3 points affair is dealt with in the round. Ultimately so costly and something that has been pored over so often and dissected again and again. Tom Field tries to be fair to all sides but he has to acknowledge that any mistakes were punished very harshly.

We have Emerson's wanderings, the constant defensive frailties. Bryan Robson even having to pull on the boots one more time to steady the ranks. I hadn't realised at quite what personal toll on his body that was.

Boro ranks rocked once too many times when Ravanelli and Neil Cox clashed on the eve of a Wembley showpiece. The late John Pickering attempted to bring peace, decorum and sanity to an FA Cup Final in which Ben Roberts admits he was still a rookie and standing a little bit too far off his line. It is all in this account.

But then there was that match of matches v Chesterfield. Worth watching again and again. Tom Flight paints the picture so vividly you do live it all once more in bewildering semi final technicolour. It had it all. And on the way to it we broke through the Boro glass ceiling, in a season where so much was happening on and off the field we had finally beaten our Quarter Final hoodoo.

Injuries to Pearson, Schwarzer, ultimately Ravanelli, all at key times were exceptionally costly. As Tom shows all those replays and extra times meant the injury-strafed squad was ultimately worn down at the sharp end of the campaign.

But if you are dreading reading the ending to this story then think again Tom Flight offers some perspective. There is no disguising the defeats in two cup finals and one relegation funeral, yet, we can celebrate again when all that glittered was gold. We can now look back with a sense of pride and re-live the thrill of that opening 3-3 draw with Liverpool. The buzz when Juninho took on an entire team and left them trailing in his wake. The insane roar when Rav scored at Wembley.

Tom Flight has taken on the season of our lifetimes for his debut book but has proven equal to the task, like Ravanelli he has scored a hat trick on his first start. The Boro fan writer guide has once again opened up a season when Boro dared to live the dream and for one time only threatened to turn the world of football upside down. Am so thankful to Tom for allowing me to dare to savour the moments again.

Wow yes I was there, I am going to start telling people about it again. Thanks so much Tom.

Up The Boro

Hardcover: 224 pages Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd
ISBN-10: 1785316311 ISBN-13: 978-1785316319 RRP: £16.99




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