When the fixtures computer is busily whirring and blinking away today’s fixture is one you would happily see scheduled for the Saturday before Christmas when other duties might take precedence over the football. It might come as a surprise, therefore, to discover that a match between West Ham and Middlesbrough, played almost 20 years ago, is still featured in the premier book of world records. But it is indeed the case and there for all to see in Guinness style black and white indicating the all-time world record for the most people simultaneously blowing bubbles:
“On May 16, 1999, a total of 23,680 people in the soccer stadium blew glycerine bubbles into the air for 1 minute. The mass bubble-blowing event took place prior to West Ham United F.C.’s home Premier League fixture against Middlesbrough F.C., at the Boleyn Ground, Upton Park, London.”
It is with a sense of pride that I continue to count myself as a world record holder but am equally surprised that the club’s PR department have failed, as yet, to mount a new challenge as another consequence of increased capacity. It seems that in the reported crowd of 25,902 for that 1999 end of season encounter there were 2,222 party poopers unwilling to stake their claim for posterity in the record books.
Today’s opponents Boro were elected to the Football League some 20 years before the Hammers but have pretty much kept their heads down ever since. Their one success was when Steve McLaren’s side triumphed over Sam Allardyce’s Bolton in the 2004 League Cup; what an enticing advertisement for the beautiful game that must have been.
“He (Zaza) is definitely a good player who came from a big club to a new country. New players need time. If we go back and think about Dennis Bergkamp, who needed – I don’t know – a year?”
– Slaven Bilic
Despite the lack of success, Boro have had some notable ex-players include Brian Clough who scored a phenomenal 204 goals in 222 matches for his hometown club, the little Brazilian Juninho and Fabrizio Ravenelli. Ravenelli is, I believe, still the only player ever to score a hat-trick on his Premier League debut (against Liverpool in August 1996) but despite his goals and Juninho’s trickery Boro were relegated in that same season; in part due to having 3 points deducted for failing to turn up for a fixture with Blackburn Rovers.
Head to Head
My initial instinct was that we would hold a healthy advantage over Boro in the head to head battle before remembering that we never travel well that far north. Accordingly it has been a fairly even contest. Our home record against them though is good having lost just once in the last 12 encounters (April 2000). A particularly depressing match sticks in my memory from April 1989 where Boro were 2-1 victors (a pair of Bernie Slaven goals) in a quintessential six-pointer that ended with the two clubs partners in relegation.
Still no sign of any of the long term injured with Nordtveit facing a late fitness test following a knock; I can tell you now he is not fit to play at right back and so I am hoping common sense will prevail with Byram making a welcome return. From what has been said it looks like we will be persevering with Zaza up front as Slav sees him morphing into Dennis Bergkamp; although I can only see this being achieved by extensive surgery. It would be interesting to know the details of the loan deal, and the mysterious must-buy clause, as there has to come a point where everyone recognises he is not a Premier League footballer.
It is critical today that we find at least some kind of order and organisation in the midfield; Payet and Antonio and 3 others is the best I can suggest but I do hope for a dedicated defensive midfielder.
The other unknown is how many are still hungover from the midweek outing. As the ‘Gareth Keenan Investigates’ style inquest into the fallout has yet to be commissioned all we have are twitter rumours to go on.
Stewart Downing struggled to make an impact in the Championship last season because he was too good for the division.
– Aitor Karanka
Middlesbrough have no significant injury worries which means a return for the timid one-season-wonder Stewart Downing. Boro also have City flop Alvaro Negredo leading the line and he will be pleased to pitting his wits against the League’s most generous defence.
The Man in the Middle
Today’s headset wearing, card waving, whistle blowing official is Neil Swarbrick from Preston. He was in charge during our visits to Sunderland (where he sent off Lens) and Newcastle last year and so must be seen as something of a North-East specialist. He is best known for the mistaken identity red carding of West Brom’s Gareth McAuley in April 2015.