Category Archives: Birmingham City FC

Losing is not so bad

Losing a game is not so bad as losing your team. Birmingham’s 3-0 loss at Swansea on Sunday was discouraging but Bury being thrown out of the English Football League (EFL) on Tuesday was devastating. It feels as though the whole system is broken. 

The Guardian editorial on the collapse of Bury expresses how I feel in words more eloquent than I could write. I agree that “football is about more than money” and “That is why the end of Bury Football Club after 134 years is important. Before it was shut, 400 supporters had volunteered to mop and sweep the Gigg Lane ground hoping to show that the true value of their football club cannot be counted in pounds and pennies.”

One thing seems clear to me: the League is not doing a good job of regulating itself. The club statement mentioned the “extreme lack of communication from the EFL”.  That’s why I signed the petition calling for the government to legislate for the creation of an independent regulator for football and subsequently to oversee the implementation of such a body.

I will also support the Football Supporters’ Association call for supporters everywhere to applaud for one minute on the 27th minute of each game in a nationwide display of solidarity for Bury. “Why a minute of applause on the 27th minute? Because on 27th August a football club was expelled from the league for the first time in 27 years. Let’s show that we care and we are angry that this situation has been allowed to happen.“

I wrote a short post about Bury on the Blues Trust website and will finish with my football version of John Donne’s poem that I mentioned in that:

No club is an island, entire of itself; every club is a member of the League, a part of football. Any club’s death diminishes all fans, because we are involved in football. Therefore never send to know for which club the bell tolls; it tolls for you.

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We won

I went to the Barnsley game with low expectations and by half time I felt that Birmingham City might never score another goal. The atmosphere was flat so I wasn’t the only one not impressed by the performance.

The atmosphere improved in the second half.  On 50 minutes the crowd applauded in memory of Richard Burgess, a fan who had died, and that seemed to wake everybody up.  The noise level went up as fans encouraged the team to get into the opposition.  Then Wes Harding crossed to Lukas Jutkiewicz, who headed the ball into the net, and the crowd roared. I’m a pessimist so my first thought was, “I hope we can hold on to the lead for 20 minutes.” A few minutes later, Steve Seddon sent a great pass to Alvaro Gimenez, who controlled it and lobbed the goalkeeper. I relaxed. Jefferson Montero came on for the last 10 minutes and looked good.

I went home happy, the first half forgotten.

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We lost

We lost on Saturday and our performance was not too convincing. Birmingham City didn’t score any goals and Nottingham Forest scored 3. It doesn’t mean that we are going to be relegated; that will depend on what we do in the other 43 games. 

I can tell when something is not working in a game but can’t work out why.  So I’m not going to offer any analysis of tactics or team selection but I’ll note a few random observations.

Seeing Pep Clotet described as ‘Caretaker Head Coach’ on the stadium screen felt weird.

I saw Maikel Kieftenbeld posing for pictures with fans at half time. And I heard that Grounds and Mrabti were in the crowd also. I liked that.

I also liked the way some of our fans started singing after Nottingham’s third goal. Our support was not bad.

It wasn’t the best day I’ve had supporting the Blues but neither was it the worst one. And tomorrow evening, the team has a chance to do better.

(I’m disabling comments on this because I won’t have time to keep an eye on them.) 

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Hope

I can sympathise with Brentford boss Thomas Frank, who said his team did ‘everything’ better than Birmingham City during their 1-0 defeat at Griffin Park. The stats back him up.  Brentford had 76% possession, 15 shots, 3 shots on target, 6 corners and hit the woodwork 3 times.  Birmingham had 1 shot and 2 corners. Birmingham won because their shot went into the goal and none of Brentford’s did. I just listened to the commentary on Radio WM and probably shouldn’t comment on the game, but I will. I think we were lucky.

Pep Clotet’s interviews and comments have been interesting. My impression is that he has accepted the fact that he is not responsible for deciding the system the team will play and he follows the instructions given by Xuandong Ren.  However, he is keen to make it clear that it takes time to change the way a team plays. In an interview after the game he said,

“We want to keep the hard-working mentality of this Club, the defensive organisation. We want to turn into more of a challenger for possession, slowly build that more offensive type of football.
You can either do a major turnaround, or do it slowly. Brentford, the way they play, it didn’t take three months – they did it over a long period. We don’t want to lose the type of Club we are. We want to add to it.”

If Pep accepts the instructions he is given and Xuandong Ren gives him the time and players he needs to make the changes, then we might just have something that will work.  As I said in my last post, there’s always hope.

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Fear and hope

In my last post I wrote that I was looking forward to this season with more fear than hope.  Watching the team get beaten 0-4 by Brighton didn’t change that. Brighton is in the Premier League and is a better team than Birmingham so maybe we shouldn’t be too worried by that defeat. But it did bring back memories of the way Blues attempted and failed to play a different style of play while Zola was in charge.  On the way out of the ground, I looked at the Peaky Blinders photo of our players trying to look like hard men and the expressions on their faces were very similar to those on fans’ faces, looking grim after watching that game.

I’m not the only one who has fears for the season; the When Saturday Comes season guide predicts that “we’ll almost certainly be relegated.”

There is hope too, of course, there’s always hope. Dan Crowley looked good and I hope our other new players will adapt quickly and do well. We didn’t have the best players in the Championship last season but they played well together and we fans felt part of the team. I hope that the new players won’t disrupt that team spirit and that they can all play together as a team. 

Respect to the fans travelling to Brentford tomorrow. I hope they travel safely and see a good game.

Open training pics

Brighton game pics

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Season ticket

When my season ticket arrived in my letter box today, I realised how little enthusiasm I feel about next season. I always look forward to games and seasons with a mixture of hope and fear, but this season there is a lot more fear than hope.

I don’t know the whole story behind the rumours swirling around Birmingham City FC but it seems that departures from the club are due to a breakdown in relationships.  This could be interpreted in two ways, either Xuandong Ren must be a difficult person to get along with or it’s the people who left who were difficult, people such as Roger Lloyd, Julia Shelton, Gary Moore, Joanne Allsopp, Richard Beale, and Garry Monk.  I know which interpretation seems more likely to me.

I have a dilemma.  I want to support the players on the pitch; they haven’t caused the problems. But I don’t know how to support them without seeming to support the way Xuandong Ren is running the club. I think I will still go to games but may decide not to buy any club merchandise.

Whatever I decide, I’ll try to respect the choices made by other fans.  Togetherness is important in football. I don’t feel any connection to my club’s owners but do want to stay connected to the players and the other fans.

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SAD

SAD stands for Stunned And Depressed, which were my feelings following reports of Garry Monk’s departure. Stunned because sacking him seemed like a repeat of the mistake made when Gary Rowett was sacked. Depressed because he’d created a team and a way of playing that attracted the largest and most supportive crowds for years.

As a BBC article said, “To replace a manager at the height of his popularity is, at best, a bold move. Supporters will take a lot of convincing that it isn’t foolhardy.”

I’m not saying that Monk was the perfect manager; nobody is perfect.  But he understood that football was a team game and selected players who could play together. He also understood that fans were part of the team. As I wrote in a previous post, he  “treated us fans with respect and, in return, has earned our respect.”

Blues fans have reacted in a variety of ways. There’s been some talk about not going to games and returning season tickets but it’s hard to judge how many might actually do that. Fans want to support their team. For a boycott to succeed, fans have to be really angry or the football has to be really bad. Many Blackpool fans did get angry and their boycott sent a powerful message. This is how they described it in 2016:

“Blackpool fans are currently undertaking an ethical boycott against the club’s owners, whose treatment of supporters has arguably been as dreadful as their management of the club. This ethical protest has seen many Blackpool FC fans take a ‘Not A Penny More’ stance, which means they have chosen to not renew season tickets, and/or not to purchase match day tickets for home games, not to purchase any club merchandise and if they do go to home games, not to purchase programmes or refreshments inside the stadium. BST is also organising an ethical boycott of those businesses that sponsor the club as well as other local businesses run by the club’s owners. Quite simply, many supporters will not give the club another penny of their money and have withdrawn their custom.
This decision has not been taken lightly, but over 1,750 BST members, who dearly love their club as you do yours, felt that this was the best choice they could make in trying to rescue our club.”

The long years of protest have not been easy. “It’s hard to give up something you love” but Blackpool fans are celebrating now because the Oystons are no longer in charge of their club and their new owner, Simon Sadler, “is a lifelong fan of the Club”.

I don’t think Blues fans are angry enough to boycott games and who knows how bad or good the football will be. However, fans could show their unhappiness by not buying programmes or refreshments in the stadium. There are others who will want to support the team as usual, fans like Theo who has urged fans to  “back the manager, the players and your club.” 

I hope that all Blues fans can accept that we’re never going to agree on everything and fans that have different views to ourselves are still fans.  I find some things unacceptable, racism and violence for example, but on most issues, I believe that my fellow fans have as much right to hold their own opinions as I do.

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Conflict

Last week my mind was on conflict off the pitch.  I grew up listening to my parents talking about the second World War and the D-Day anniversary brought back memories of that.  On Saturday, I saw Captain Corelli’s Mandolin at the Rep, a story of what happened on a Greek island during that war.

On Sunday I went back to town, to look at the Knife Angel sculpture in Victoria Square. I’d passed it on my way to the Rep but didn’t have time to stop and wanted to see it again.  The sculpture was made from 100,000 knives retrieved from the streets of this county and took four years to make. It’s part of a campaign started by the British Ironwork Centre, to address the dangers of knife crime.

Also in Victoria Square on Sunday, there were a group of Sudanese people protesting about the people killed, injured, arrested and raped in their country.  Then I came home and watched news about the protests in Hong Kong. So, I was reminded of two of the many conflicts in this world.

Against this background, the contests on football pitches were a relief; it felt good to have conflicts in which nobody died. I listened to the penalty shootout as England’s men came third in the UEFA Nations League and then watched England’s women win their game against Scotland.

I think that’s what sport is meant to be – a relief from the more serious side of life. We can enjoy the excitement of a contest, without the violence of war or crime. Supporting local clubs can help hold communities together. When I go to Birmingham City matches, there are people there with opposite views to mine on just about everything apart from which team to support. Learning to accept them helps me to accept others who hold different views. Being a fan is not the most important aspect of my life but I believe it has value.

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Thoughts on the season

I think my dad first took me to St Andrew’s about 70 years ago. I can remember the noise, excitement, Gil Merrick, Jeff Hall and a couple of games in 1956 but hardly any other details. I’m not one of those people who have the history of Birmingham City stored in their brains. But this 2018-19 season was more memorable than most and I think I’m going to remember a few things about it.

In the 2017-18 season, Blues were managed by Harry Redknapp, Lee Carsley, Steve Cotterill and Garry Monk, with Monk managing to keep us up in the Championship. So we started the season in 2018 with a manager we liked but with a transfer embargo and the possibility of a points deduction hanging over our heads. It wasn’t the most promising of starts but turned out so much better than I’d expected.  The team scored 64 League goals, the most scored since the 2011-12 season, in which we scored 78.

For me, the 2011-12 and the 2018-19 seasons felt similar.  My expectations were low at the start of those seasons. In 2011, we’d just been relegated, the manager had left and our owner had been charged with money laundering.  In 2018, we had a transfer embargo and the possibility of a points deduction. But in both seasons, we had good managers and the results exceeded my expectations. Chris Hughton got the team up to 4th in the table. Garry Monk, like Hughton, exceeded my expectations and has kept us up despite the 9-point deduction. 

I would like to see Monk stay at Birmingham City for a long time and continue the work that he has started. He has brought everyone together: the players played together as a team and fans provided great support. My impression is that he not only says that the support from fans is important, he really believes it. I went to the Player Awards evening and saw his arrival and slow progress along the ICC concourse. It was slow because people kept stopping him to talk or to take photos. He showed no sign of impatience to get away and looked happy to stop for anyone.  He has treated us fans with respect and, in return, has earned our respect.

Here’s the table I constructed to compare our seasons in the Championship. It shows end of season position in table, goals for, goals against, goal difference and points.

SeasonPosForAgGDPoints
2011-12478512776
2012-13126369-661
2013-14215874-1644
2014-15105464-1063
2015-16105349463
2016-17194564-1953
2017-18193868-3046
2018-19176458652 (61-9)
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Thoughts on the weekend

One article described the Birmingham City players lap of appreciation after the game on Saturday as looking ‘like a scene from Casualty’ as the walking wounded paraded with the other players. “Michael Morrison spent the afternoon in a protective boot, Harlee Dean hobbled past taking slow, tiny steps after his groin surgery and then Maikel Kieftenbeld came through on crutches.”  Those injuries had led to a rearrangement of the team and that, together with windy weather, resulted in a scrappy game.  But it didn’t matter because my team was already safe and, over the course of the season, had done better than I’d expected.

An account of the game at Leeds brought back memories of Blues’ League cup game at Yeovil in 2013. On Sunday, Leeds scored instead of returning the ball to Aston Villa and then allowed Villa to score.  At Yeovil, our goalie Doyle kicked the ball out when a player was injured and expected it to be returned to him when play started again. Instead, a Yeovil player received the ball that was thrown in and kicked it into the net to score an equaliser for Yeovil. This outraged our players and sent the game into extra time. Yeovil scored again in the first half of that but then their manager allowed Blues to score.  As I wrote in an earlier post,  “I had absolutely no idea what was happening when Novak wandered down and put the ball in their net after the kick off for the second period of extra time. It wasn’t until the Blues fans behind the goal started cheering that I realised it would count as a real goal.” The game ended with some dramatic penalties, a Blues win and me feeling glad I’d made the long trip down to Yeovil. (Click here if you’d like to see the highlights.)

And I’m glad that I’ve gone to games this season.  There has been the usual mix of joys and sorrows, but it’s been one of the better seasons. Our players have shown commitment and effort; our fans have responded by backing the team and creating a good atmosphere. That has felt good.

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Safety

I will believe that Birmingham City is safe from relegation when it is mathematically safe. Probably safe is not good enough for me. I thought that my team had won when they were leading 4-1 with about 20 minutes to go on April 12, 1993.  Then Swindon scored 5 and we lost 4-6. We did escape relegation that season by getting a 1-0 win against Charlton in the last game but that Swindon game transformed my understanding of being safe.

So today, we need to get a draw at least to put us on 48 points and Rotherham on 41, with only 2 games and 6 more points possible for them. A win would be better, to get us back to the 50 we had before the points deduction.  Whatever happens, our small squad has done well this season to have a good chance of avoiding relegation despite the points deduction.

I was disappointed that we didn’t get a win against Derby, but it was a good game. Both teams wanted to win and made an effort to do that. We stayed unbeaten and got another point.  As I’ve written in a previous post, I would prefer not to have a game on Good Friday but I’ve gone to games on that day. We played Rotherham on Good Friday in 2015 and won 2-1.  I’d be happy with that result today.

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Leeds game

On Saturday morning I saw a man painting a fence blue and it gave me hope.  I’m not superstitious but on Birmingham City matchdays my brain flips into an illogical mode in which I look for omens and feel as though the result is the most important thing in the world.  Thankfully, I do calm down after matches and remember that it is just a game.

I went to the game with the usual mixture of hope and fear.  The team’s performance at the Hawthorns had boosted my hope but the result increased my fear. During the game, I felt mainly tense. According to the match stats, Leeds had 73% of the possession and I worried every time they got the ball. I thought the ball had gone into the net when Bamford kicked it but it bounced off the goalpost into Camp’s arms. Shortly after that Che Adams scored. Kieftenbeld got injured and carried off so our midfield had to be rearranged but somehow their attack failed, our defence held and we won.

I went home happy but exhausted just from watching. It’s hard to imagine how the players feel after a game like that but I think they might have similar feelings judging from a Tweet by Connor Mahoney. He said, “Result You brought the noise we brought the 3 points now someone bring me a new set of legs thankyou”

On the way back from the game I noticed that the police did not seem to be trying to keep Blues and Leeds fans apart and later read an article in the Birmingham mail saying that WM police have been able to have fewer police when we play Leeds “because of the decreasing trouble the fixture has enjoyed.” That was good news. I was also pleased that Blues fans applauded when the Leeds fans turned their backs to the game in remembrance of the two fan who lost their lives before the UEFA Cup tie against Galatasaray in Turkey 19 years ago.

As I’ve written before, I don’t think that loving one club means hating another one. I don’t want any club to beat Birmingham City but I don’t hate the fans of any other club. 

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Blame

WBA won and we lost. That happens in football. I personally believe it is better to accept that losing happens rather than looking around for someone to blame. We’ve all probably felt like victims at times and that’s not a problem. It can become a problem if you always blame someone else or the English Football League (EFL) for everything that goes wrong.  Blaming others can be a way of avoiding taking any responsibility ourselves.

It was clear from the chants at the game that Birmingham City fans don’t like the EFL. For some it was just a topical chant. But one man told me that the EFL had instructed referees that they should rule against Birmingham City in unclear situations.  I don’t believe that.  I think that referees can make mistakes and can also have an unconscious bias against a team or players because of their reputations. I don’t believe that they start games knowing which side they are against. I’ve also spoken with someone who thinks the gambling industry has a lot of control over games. I really hope that’s not true.

I might be naïve and completely wrong, but I prefer to believe that the world is not conspiring against us.  Blues will lose some games and when they do, we need to get over it and look forward to the next game. I think that maybe my age has got something to do with my attitude.  I’ve seen an awful lot of games that Blues have lost.  I also remember Jeff Hall and have written about him several times on this blog. He was my favourite player and I was devastated when he had polio and died. A player dying a couple of weeks after playing in a game is a tragedy; losing a game is part of normal life.

I was glad that I had gone. The game was eventful, the Blues players put in a decent performance and I survived the maelstroms following our two goals as men threw themselves around in joyful exuberance. The Hawthorns has a quote from Psalm 23 along one of its stands that includes the phrase “quiet waters”.  It wasn’t at all quiet where I stood, and it felt good to be part of that crowd.

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The Blues

I didn’t realise how much I’d been affected by the uncertainty about Birmingham City’s sanction until it was over and we found out we would be docked 9 points.  My main feeling was one of relief, that I knew the decision and it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. That made me wonder how the uncertainty might have affected the players and hope that they now feel ready to ensure we won’t be relegated. The calm confidence displayed by Garry Monk in his press conference yesterday helped me feel that we could get a result against WBA this evening.

I also started to think about the contrast between us and another Blues. Birmingham City doesn’t have enough first team players and had to promote some Academy players to the first team. Chelsea has the opposite problem. It has too many talented players to fit into the first team and loans them out to play for other teams. While checking on their players I came across a list of 29 loaned out this season. Callum Hudson-Odoi started for England before he had started a Premier League game for Chelsea. One article I read said that he had “excelled in pre-season only to be consigned to the subs bench once the real action began.”

Another article said, if young players get a chance to go to Chelsea they should take it because they will get excellent training. But they shouldn’t “stay beyond their 16th birthday” because they need to play games and Chelsea doesn’t have a good record for promoting Academy players into the first team.

I think that Birmingham is a good place for young players. Those that are good enough are given a chance in the first team.  And I’ve heard, that young players who don’t get contracts are given help in finding somewhere else to go.  On a recent We Are Birmingham podcast, Chris, Matthew and Daniel talked about Reece Brown, who was released by Birmingham but is now doing well at Forest Green Rovers, and talked about how with some young players it takes time for the penny to drop and for them to put in the necessary effort to succeed. It was an interesting podcast and well worth a listen.  I was also encouraged that all three of them thought Blues would get a draw this evening. Made me feel I wasn’t being completely crazy to hope for a win.

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Here we go

The 9 points have been deducted and we are 18th in the table. It feels like the start of a mini season with 8 games left to play. The next 3 games will probably be very hard, playing against West Brom, Leeds and Sheffield United who are currently 4th, 3rd and 2nd in the table. The next 5 games against Ipswich, Derby, Rotherham, Wigan and Reading could also be hard. Derby are trying to get into the playoffs and some of the other 4 may be making a valiant attempt to escape relegation.

I don’t know how many points we’ll need to stay out of the relegation zone; Blackburn were relegated with 51 points a couple of seasons ago.  But I think we should be all right if players and fans make an effort and perform well. I trust that Garry Monk and the other staff are doing all they can to prepare the players. Fans can’t help with that, but we can make a difference with our support during games.  And we can get ourselves into the right frame of mind by reminding ourselves of how we’ve won in the past.

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