Why promotion means much more to Middlesbrough than just the £170million cash boost

It was billed as the most expensive game in football, £170 million was the reported figure.

Friday, 20th May 2016, 3:28 pm
Updated Friday, 20th May 2016, 4:36 pm
Middlesbrough head coach Aitor Karanka and Grant Leadbitter

Yet before Middlesbrough’s 1-1 draw with Brighton, in the match which saw Boro end their seven-year spell outside the top flight, manager Aitor Karanka said there were far more important things than the extreme riches that promotion to the Premier League would bring.

In his pre-match press conference, the Spaniard had voiced just how much the achievement would mean for the fans, the chairman and the players, and just how much they all deserved a place back in the big time.

The Middlesbrough players celebrate promotion

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After agonisingly missing out in the play-off final last time around, failure to gain promotion this campaign would have been catastrophic for a town where football is a huge part of people’s everyday lives.

Yes attendances did drop and there have been times in the last few years where the sight of empty seats have made painful viewing, compared to the electric scenes during the UEFA Cup run back in 2006.

That has partly been down to the financial cuts in the area which has been more recently hit by the closing of the Redcar steel works, despite huge protests in October last year.

Yet the fans have never stopped caring and never lost touch with their local team, who have experienced some difficult times in recent years.

The Middlesbrough players celebrate promotion

When Karanka took charge in November 2013, Boro were 16th in the table and looked far from a Premier League outfit in the making.

If you cast your minds back further, you may remember the dark days when Gordon Strachan was the manager between 2009 and 2010, though those times are long gone now.

As Karanka expressed this promotion was for the fans who have travelled up and down the country throughout this campaign, and sold out away allocation after away allocation throughout the season.

Off the pitch the town has also been hurt by the death of their much-loved commentator Ali Brownlee, who tragically lost a short battle with cancer in the middle of February. Supporters have sung his name at every game ever since.

But at last the long seven-year drought is over and supporters can once again look forward to away trips to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United, as well as weekly appearances on Match of the Day on Saturday nights.

When promotion was confirmed on the final day of the season, a sea of red shirts flooded onto the Riverside pitch, while red smoke billowed and an atomic boom of sound echoed around the ground.

There hadn’t been scenes like it since the Teessiders’ famous UEFA Cup semi-final victory over Steaua Bucharest ten years ago. In the Premier League they will surely surpass the 30,000 mark at most home games.

But as Karanka expressed this was about far more than the financial rewards and TV deals which continue to rise year-on-year.

Besides the supporters this was also hugely deserved for the chairman - and fan - Steve Gibson, who has backed the club heavily.

As a man from the area, Gibson knows more than most what Premier League football means to the town, and he hasn’t hesitated when bringing in the likes of Stewart Downing, David Nugent and Jordan Rhodes for sizeable fees.

Karanka, too, deserves huge credit for the remarkable turnaround he has produced during his two-and-half-years in the North East. Some may point to the money spent, and there’s no masking the fact that the Spaniard has been generously backed by his chairman.

Even so, Karanka has transformed the team from Championship stragglers to promotion winners in less than three years.

His astute tactics and quick understanding of the English game have worked wonders for the Teessiders, who finished with a total of 89 points to earn promotion.

There were clearly fall-outs along the way and it is still unclear what exactly went on when Karanka wasn’t present for the game against Charlton at The Valley in March.

Yet Boro re-grouped and were able to go the rest of season unbeaten to finally secure promotion.

The financial rewards may be astronomical but the celebrations at the final whistle against Brighton will have been priceless for the Boro fans.

They have waited seven years for this but at last they are back in the big time.