Category Archives: Football

Thinking like a Norwegian

There was a very interesting article in the Guardian on Saturday, about how the inhabitants of Tromsø, in Norway, cope with living in a city which does not see the sun from mid-November to mid-January.  It seems that they cope with it well because of their mindset. The article said: 

“People who see stressful events as “challenges”, with an opportunity to learn and adapt, tend to cope much better than those who focus more on the threatening aspects – like the possibility of failure, embarrassment or illness. These differences in mindset not only influence people’s mood, but also their physiological responses, such as changes in blood pressure and heart rate, and how quickly they recover after the event.”

I have decided that I’m going to try to think like a Norwegian.  Watching Birmingham City play can be stressful but I’m going to try to think of it as a challenge to find something positive. After Saturday’s game I can say that we haven’t lost a League game this season and have scored twice the number of League goals that have been scored against us.

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Rotherham

Birmingham City have played two teams that were in the playoffs last season and got a win and a draw.  Today we are playing Rotherham, who were promoted back up to the Championship last season, and  I suspect I am not the only Blues fan fearing that we wll lose.  So often in the past, we have played well against good teams and then been beaten by a team that’s not so good.

I’m encouraged that Aitor Karanka seems to be aware of the danger of complacency.  In his press conference he said that it was a mistake to think you were better than your opponent. He also said that the Rotherham game was our toughest game so far. From what George Friend said in his interview, it sounds as if he is not complacent ahead of the Rotherham game and I hope the rest of the team feel the same. If Karanka manages to avoid losses against poorer teams then he will have achieved something important. If we lose today, I’ll think that it’s typical Blues. But if we win, then my hope for this season will be boosted.

Already, I am hoping that we will stay well clear of the relegation places this season.  I’ve tried to remind myself that it is the hope that kills me but I can’t help hoping.  It hasn’t helped to tell myself that you can’t forecast how a season will go from the first two games. I also know that it is too soon to judge if Karanka is a good manager for my team but I can’t help believing in him. I like the way that he is bringing in players who are good people as well as being good players.

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Blues News Poster

My copy of the Blues News Poster arrived yesterday. Buying this was a departure from my usual practice; I don’t usually buy any programmes, apart from the one for the last home game that contains most of the results. I think I must be missing Blues games more than I care to admit.

One thing I wanted to see was their list of players.  It was almost the same as my list but with two exceptions.  Connal Trueman was not on their list.  He’s been loaned to AFC Wimbledon to get more game time.  Click here to see his interview about this. The other difference was that they didn’t have Neil Etheridge on their printed list.  He obviously signed too late to be included.  

The back of the poster also included a nice message from Aitor Karanka, saying he was extremely happy to be head coach of the club.  I’m also happy that he is coach.  Somehow he has got past all my defences, built up to spare me from despair when things don’t work out, and I’m looking forward to this season. 

I’ve removed Connal Trueman and added Neil Etheridge to my list, click here to see what it looks like now.  I will add it as a cheat sheet when the transfer window has closed on  October 16.

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Smile

My expectations for this new season should be based on sensible reasons but they aren’t. I’m feeling hopeful because I like the manager and I like him because he has a nice smile. I’ve just watched his press conference and when he smiles, I feel he can work wonders. That feels like a stupid reason for a fan to hope but maybe it’s not as stupid as it seems. A manager needs to be able to encourage players and maybe his smile and some encouraging words can work wonders. Surely a manager who smiles can raise team morale more than one who looks to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And a team that hasn’t won a game since February, needs its morale lifted.

Aitor Karanka has already forged an arrangement with Xuandong Ren and seems to have more of a say in transfers than previous managers did. That’s an achievement. If he can also get the players to trust him then this season could be the start of something good.  I hope it is.

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New Season

When Saturday Comes has published its new season special and Birmingham City play Cambridge today in their first competitive game of the season.  I feel that I should be excited but it’s hard to get excited sitting in front of a computer watching a game being played with no spectators.

For me, going to a game is about more than the football. It’s about being part of a community that supports our team, a community that celebrates or cries together.  Football without fans at the game is not the same. 

When the squad numbers were published yesterday, I was pleased that Maxime Colin had swapped the number 5 shirt for number 2.  He is one of my favourite players and now he has the same number as my all-time favourite, Jeff Hall. I’ve been looking at the list of players and trying to work out who they all are.  You can see my attempt at a list here, but it was done in a hurry so there may be mistakes.

In WSC’s  new season special, the Blues writer predicts a mid-table finish, which seems possible to me.  However, I did think it rather unkind to suggest changing the name of the Tilton to the Marc Roberts Stand to commemorate a full season of “long throws straight into the keeper’s arms.” If we score from a Roberts throw today, I might get a bit excited.

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Hope

It’s the hope that kills you they say. And they are right. If I could stamp out hope and expect the worst before every game of football, I wouldn’t feel so crushed when the worst happens and there would be times when I’d be pleasantly surprised by Birmingham playing quite well. 

But I can’t help feeling hopeful about this season. It started when Xuandong Ren appeared at the press conference introducing Aitor Karanka as the club’s new head coach. When Ren said that he had been looking for a partner to take the club forward, I started to hope that he had found a coach that he could work with and whose views he would respect. He said that Karanka would  have the time and authority to build and lead this football club going forward.

My hope has continued to grow as the club has taken time to bring in new players and they seem to be the ones that Karanka wants, players who play in a way that fits in with his plan and have the kind of personalities that will contribute to a good atmosphere in the squad. The performances in pre-season have helped me to believe that we have a head coach who knows what he’s doing. And the three goals against Walsall were encouraging.

I’m not hoping for promotion this season or that we’ll win a cup. I’m just hoping for steady progress and that we’ll be well clear of the relegation zone at the end of the season. It takes time to build a winning side and I’m hoping that Karanka will be given the time he needs to do that. 

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Hugging Strangers

I enjoyed reading Hugging Strangers: The Frequent Lows and Occasional Highs of Football Fandom by Jon Berry. It is well written and many of his stories about supporting Birmingham City resonated with me.  When my dad took me to games, I was one of the few little girls there and it felt like being in a different, much louder and more exciting world.

I took a long break from attending games when I went to university and lived abroad but I always checked their results. I went to only one game in the 1980s, an end of season relegation escape on May 15 1982, in which Mick Harford scored the goal that kept us up. I enjoyed the game but what I saw of destructive fans and aggressive policing made me decide never to go to any other games. I changed my mind about that when I went to the Leyland Daf Cup Final at Wembley, on May 26 1991. I went to the game feeling apprehensive about the possibility of hooligans being there but my mind was put at rest by the friendly group of men sitting around me. And when a stranger, celebrating our victory, kissed me on the way out of Wembley, I didn’t mind at all. I started going to games again.

Cover of Hugging Strangers book

Reading Hugging Strangers is like chatting to a friend about Blues, except than none of my friends deliver such quotable expressions as Jon Berry writes. I liked his description of Blues’ story as  “great moments, dreadful half hours”.  He wrote that “Fry was quite mad . . . the perfect fit for us.” He also aptly described my habit of protecting myself “by starting off expecting the worst and then being happily surprised if it doesn’t happen.”

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Uncertainty

Uncertainty is one of the attractions of footfall; not knowing what the result will be adds to the excitement. But uncertainty can also be a pain. In seasons in which relegation is a possibility, I look forward to the last game and knowing whether or not we will be staying up.

This season is different. An EFL statement has said Wigan will have points deducted after their game but that they can appeal. So there is a possibility that we might not know tonight if we are safe or not. If Wigan get 12 points deducted and end up in 22nd place and Birmingham City end up just above them in 21st place, we won’t know if we are really safe until we know if Wigan’s appeal is successful.  If it is successful then I think Wigan would stay up and we would go down.  I’m quite good at thinking about things to worry about. I hope we win tonight but don’t expect we will.

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A sad ending

Pep Clotet left Birmingham City yesterday, after we lost 1-3 to Swansea.  He was given an impossible job and tried to do it. 

Brian Dick said in his article that he was given a hospital pass, a term used to describe a pass that makes it likely the recipient will get heavy contact from an opposing player and could end up in hospital.  He wrote,

“Yet it’s all sadly predictable. Clotet was chucked a hospital pass from Day One – thrust into the hotseat and an atmosphere of acrimony. Deprived of the club captain, leading scorer and record signing and told he would have little influence on transfers. ‘And while you’re at it get us playing attractive football, with young players in the top half of the division. Cheers’.”

I have no idea what will happen next. I’d like a good manager to arrive and save us from relegation. But I fear that no good manager would want to work under the same conditions that Pep Clotet worked. 

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Fulham

Craven Cottage is one of my favourite away grounds.  The walk from Putney Bridge underground station to the ground has to be one of the pleasantest approaches to a football ground in this country.  I enjoy going there even when we don’t win.  And when we win, like we did in 2015, the game is lodged in my brain as one of my favourites. 

I won’t be walking alongside the River Thames today, hoping for a good game.  I’ll be looking on my laptop, dreading another loss. At least nobody will see me if I’m crying by the end of the game. 

Whatever happens, I feel sad that I’m never again going to be in a stadium watching Jude Bellingham play in a Birmingham City shirt.  I hope that his move will work out well for him.

I’ll include some pictures from 2015 to cheer myself up.

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Hull

When I think about Birmingham City playing Hull City, two games come to mind.  The first was in September 2017, when I went to watch the game in Hull.  It was Lee Carsley’s third and final game as caretaker manager. His first game in charge had finished as a draw against Derby and the second was a win against Sheffield Wednesday. In the third game at Hull, we were beaten comprehensively, and the final score was 6-1. I spent a couple of nights in Hull and liked the place but not that game.

The second game was a home game in March 2018. I didn’t feel too hopeful when I went to the game as we had lost the previous 7 League games. Also, it was snowing and the game was played in atrocious conditions.  It was Gary Monk’s third game as manager and it ended in his first win. Blues put in 8 shots on target and 3 of them went in.

I have no idea how we will get on tomorrow but I was encouraged by our performance in the game against WBA. I expect I’ll feel the usual mixture of hope and fear before the game.

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Thank you

I’d like to thank Pep Clotet for what he has done for Birmingham City FC and wish him all the best for the future.  The headline for an article about media comments on him leaving included the words ‘Not been an easy club’ and I think that sums it up nicely. The impression was that he was given a difficult mandate. In an article on why he is leaving, Brian Dick commented:

“He was charged with implementing a change in playing style, based around young home-grown players while mounting a tilt for the play-offs. He’s made some progress towards the first two but perhaps the final demand was always going to be too high an expectation.”

I have absolutely no inside information on why he is leaving. But my impression is that it was a difficult job and he did his best. I hope his next job will be easier.

Thank you, Pep.

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Matchday rewind

The Leyland Daf Cup Final was a very significant game for me. It was the game that brought me back to Birmingham City.  My dad took me to games when I was a child but I stopped going around 1959. However, I didn’t stop checking their results and continued to check them when I lived abroad. I attended one game in May 1982, when Birmingham beat Coventry with a goal by Mick Harford and avoided relegation.  I was back in England with my American husband and wanted to give him a taste of British culture.

We went to Coventry cathedral in the morning and the game in the afternoon.  He received more of a taste of British culture than I had planned as we saw fans tearing the backs off seats and police with dogs to escort them back to the railway station.  I enjoyed the game but decided that I didn’t want to experience that sort of aggro again.

We were back in England again in 1991 and I didn’t even try to get a ticket for the game at Wembley because I knew I didn’t stand a chance, having not gone to any games since 1982. On the Wednesday before the game my husband said he was going to town and came back with a ticket to the game.  He had talked someone at the club into selling him one of the few odd remaining tickets.  

So I went to the game.  On the way there I wondered if I was being foolish to go on my own to a game where there might be hooligans. But I sat among a really friendly group of men who remained good humoured even when Tranmere equalised. When Gayle scored the winning goal I stood up and yelled like everyone else and went home happy but exhausted. I started going to games again the next season.

The rewind of the game reminded me of what a good game it was.  But it wasn’t the game that made me decide to start going again, it was the friendliness and good humour of the people around me.  I felt I belonged with them.

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Abide with us

Today was going to be FA Cup Final day but it may not take place until August. Singing Abide with me is one of the traditions of the day and some fans plan to honour that by singing it at 5.30 pm today, the time the game should have started. They have set up a Just Giving page, to give money for NHS/Keyworker families decimated by losing a loved to the dreadful C-19 disease. This page also has a video of these fans singing a socially distanced version of the song.

Five years ago they were part of the fans choir who stood on the pitch at Wembley and sang it.  Someone had the idea of getting fans involved instead of it being sung by one person. They had a competition to choose one fan from each of the 64 clubs involved in the third round. The competition consisted of writing a memory of the FA Cup and not testing the ability to sing in tune, which is how I managed to be the Birmingham City fan in that choir.  I wrote a post about it.

I don’t show up in most photos of the whole choir but if you look carefully in the gap bewtween the Arsenal fan and the tall Everton fan you can see part of me, including the BCFC logo on my shirt.

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Football after Covid-19

While nothing much is happening with Birmingham City, I have been reading some discussions on how football should change after Covid-19. An article by Mark Palios, the chairman of Tranmere Rovers, said, “The professional game cannot survive without fundamental reform in respect of its major cost: player wages.” Darragh MacAnthony, the owner of Peterborough, suggested factoring that would allow money due for the Sky TV rights to be paid to clubs earlier in exchange for paying a penalty. Parachute payments have also been mentioned. Over half of the money that the Premier League gave to the English Football League (EFL), £260m out of £400m,  went to the nine clubs that were relegated in the previous three years.  

For me, the main question is whether it is possible to get the richer clubs to share what they have. The Premier League was formed in 1992 so that it could do a deal with BskyB and get a bigger share of the TV money instead of having to share it out between all 92 clubs in the League. The raison d’être of the Premier League was to get more money so I don’t expect the top clubs to want to give any away.

I don’t understand football finance but it seems clear that something has got to change.  Players at Premier League Chelsea have not yet managed to reach an agreement on pay cuts.  Colchester United, in League 2, have released four first-team players due to financial pressure, including their club captain. There is a tremendous gulf between top and bottom Leagues.

In the early days of professional football there was some sharing of gate money so that the teams with big crowds didn’t have too great an advantage and the game remained competitive. Match gate receipts were shared between the home team and away team with the away side being guaranteed £15 a match in 1888. From 1919 to 1983 the away team was given 20% of the gate money.  Now the home team gets all the money in League games so teams with big stadiums and large crowds have an advantage. The gate receipts from FA Cup games are still shared, with each team getting 45% and 10% going to a central pot.

I think that the game is getting less competitive at the top. In the 27 years since the start of the Premier League, 6 different teams have won it and 4 of those were in the top 6 for matchday income per match in 2018-19. In the previous 27 years, there were 9 different champions. My personal preference would be for the game to be as competitive as possible. I think the way to do that would be to reverse some of the changes made so that income from gate receipts and TV is shared more equally.  I’m afraid that seems rather unlikely to happen.

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