Blaming the Boro

Yesterday I went to one of the more enjoyable games to be held at the Riverside in recent months.

The enjoyment was nothing to do with the quality of the football, which was about as high as we had any right to expect given the sub-Arctic conditions, but much to do with those conditions themselves. It was good to see a bunch of professional footballers outside their comfort zone, being forced to improvise a bit, and generally making a decent fist of it, with the honourable exception of Nick Barmby. It was also good to see that Boro appear to have found the spirit to come from behind – not once but twice – which was a quality which seemed to be lacking until the recent change of manager.

Impending snow

What has slightly irked me, though, is the publication in a national newspaper (or at least on its website) of a short comment article attacking Middlesbrough for failing to postpone the match because of the weather.

It’s not so much the actual sentiment in the article that annoys me, if I’m honest. Many Boro supporters have expressed the same feelings on the fanzine messageboard. What I’m slightly more concerned about is the justification that the author, Brian McNally, uses for his ire.

First he states that “Police advised North-East motorists only to drive in emergencies”. This is reinforced by the headline which adds the capitalised word “ABSOLUTE”, to make clear that equivocal wishy-washy emergencies do not qualify. I would have thought that any such police warning would have made its way into the local media on Teesside, but I don’t recall hearing it on BBC Tees at any point in the run-up to kick off, and the only online police warning I can find is this one in the Evening Gazette, which merely gives the sensible advice to slow down and not put yourself in a position where you have to rush.

It’s possible that the warnings were stronger wherever Mr McNally was travelling from, but if that’s north of Teesside then again Northumbria Police’s “Advice To Motorists” only goes as far as asking motorists to assess whether their journey is necessary, which is not quite the same thing as restricting themselves to “ABSOLUTE emergencies”.

Then there’s the bit about the A19 being “littered with crashes”. I can’t speak for the stretch north of the Parkway, but the bit from Thirsk to Ingleby Barwick was distinctly unlittered both before and after the match. In fact, I only saw one broken-down vehicle in that time, and no evidence of any kind of crash. Again, it may be that the County Durham stretch was much worse, but that’s the kind of thing that normally at least makes the Northern Echo, and Google News can’t find me any reference to accidents on the A19 for yesterday at all. (Well, it can, but only Mr McNally’s article). And the article doesn’t focus on traffic from the north anyway – it goes on to express sympathy for the Hull fans who were forced to negotiate the A19. Well, that’s the bit I CAN speak for, and it was fine. Lane 2 was a bit damp – literally, no ice or anything – as far as Thirsk on the way back, but apart from that it was running at normal speed.

Finally, there’s the statement “many senior football people I spoke were both surprised and angered that this game was given the go-ahead”. I don’t know who the senior people Mr McNally spoke to are, otherwise I would ask them why they were surprised and angered, and what action they intended to take against Boro as a result. I’d be surprised and angered myself if I thought that the club would yet again find itself answering to the authorities for a decision regarding a postponement, this time based on the condition of a trunk road some miles from the stadium.

It may be worth noting at this point that I believe only the football authorities can sanction the postponement of a fixture anyway, as Boro are well aware from previous experience. Given that fact, you wouldn’t necessarily expect an article which appears to take a tone blaming the club for the decision to proceed and accusing it of being blind to safety considerations. Brian McNally appears to be aware of the fact as well, if the relevant paragraphs of this article from some fourteen years ago are anything to go by.

I thought it only fair to check a couple of these points with Mr McNally before I wrote about them, so I asked him a few questions via Twitter earlier today. The article is plastered with requests to follow him, so it’s not as if he’s not open to interaction on the matter. Unfortunately, despite being able to thank me for a (genuinely helpful) suggestion about how to use Twitter, and engage with several other users on the subject of another article he wrote, he’s not (at the time of writing) been able to answer the questions.

For the sake of completeness, these are the questions I asked:

• Good afternoon @McNallyMirror – please could you tell me which bit of the A19 was littered with crashes yesterday?

• .@McNallyMirror Also – which senior football people were unhappy that the game was played?

• .@McNallyMirror Also, please could you point me to police advice re “absolute emergencies” – can only find this: http://bit.ly/eApnHm

I did also offer the opportunity to reply by e-mail if he felt that Twitter was too restricted a space in which to answer, which I could quite understand – I’d have preferred to ask the questions in one message rather than three.

I’m not one to start chucking accusations about; people’s personal choices about travel and safety are just that – personal. All I know is that I managed to get there from 200 miles away with no major change to my normal matchday schedule, and that the press box was not obviously under-populated from what I could see. I have no idea why Brian McNally couldn’t make it to the Riverside, but without answers to the points above his use of a national platform to blame the Boro does seem a bit harsh to say the least.

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