Monday, January 14, 2013

14 January 1997 - Boro Gets The Wrong Kind Of Penalty

On 14 January 1997, the FA docked three points from Middlesbrough for failing to appear for a match against Blackburn, a decision which ultimately sealed Boro's relegation.

The Premier League match had been set for 21 December at Blackburn's Ewood Park. But the day before kick-off, Middlesbrough manager Bryan Robson canceled, claiming that a combination of illness, injuries, and suspensions left him unable to field a side for the game. Although club chairman and owner Steve Gibson claimed that he had gotten prior approval from the Premier League, neither Blackburn nor the Football Association were aware of the cancellation until Robson announced at what was intended to be the pre-match press conference.

Blackburn manager Tony Parkes was incensed, claiming that Boro had canceled the match to avoid a certain defeat, depriving his side of a needed three points (on the originally-scheduled match date, Rovers were in 17th, one spot behind Middlesbrough).

The FA instituted an investigation and determined that Middlesbrough's decision had been illegal. On 14 January, with Boro having since dropped into last place, the FA announced its decision, docking the team three points, fining them £50,000, and--adding insult to injury--ordering them to pay the costs incurred by the FA investigative commission. Upon hearing the news, Boro striker Fabrizio Ravanelli claimed the decision doomed the club to relegation.

He turned out to be correct, as Middlesbrough finished the season in 19th place with 39 points (including a point earned against Blackburn in the rescheduled match). An additional three points would have lifted them up to fifteenth, safely out of the relegation zone.

They spent only one season in the second division before returning to the Premier League for the 1998-99 season. But in 2009, they were relegated again and currently remain in the Championship.

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