Category Archives: Birmingham City FC

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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Points

A nine points deduction is not good but, after spending time worrying about losing twelve points, my first reaction to the news was that it could have been worse. The Birmingham Mail also reported that aside from the points deduction, Blues will face no further economic sanctions or transfer embargo. That’s good news. I think it would be possible for the club to appeal this decision, but I hope that they don’t. I think our players can play well enough to stay out of the relegation zone and I’d hate to start next season with minus points.

I agree that the League should have rules that encourage clubs to run in a sustainable way. But the huge financial gap between the Championship and the Premier League provides a seemingly irresistible temptation to spend big and gamble on getting promoted or avoiding relegation.  The rules are inadequate because the whole system is broken. 

I have just read an interview by Andy Holt, the owner of Accrington Stanley. He said, “We need a proper distribution of funds, the cash gaps between leagues are far too big.” I agree with that, and also that we need “an independent regulator, someone who says, ‘We can’t have it like this — clubs incapable of moving up and down the pyramid without financial distress’”.

As a fan, I can support my team and help them get the points needed to stay up. I can also belong to Blues Trust and support the view that I want my club to run in a sustainable way so that the kids who are taken to games now will still be able to support Blues when they are grown up. 

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Segregation

Following Sunday’s game, I’ve been thinking about violence associated with football games and wondering if there is any way to scale it down.  I want to talk about fan segregation but would like to start by telling a story about my granddad. 

My granddad was in the army during the Boer War and World War 1. He was very anti-German when he went off to fight them in WWI.  By the end of the war, he quite liked the Germans. One thing that had helped to change his viewpoint was that he’d worked in a prisoner of war camp for German soldiers. He’d got to know them as people and the hatred was replaced by respect.

You don’t break down barriers between people by keeping them apart.  Segregating fans of different clubs doesn’t help them to respect each other. Fan segregation is counterproductive and I’m not the only one who thinks that. An article about Cologne fans sitting in the Arsenal end says:

“The authorities went to great lengths to keep different sets of supporters apart and travelling fans were kept away from their hosts inside the stadium by being placed in separate pens behind fences.
The policies did little to stop the growth and spread of hooliganism. In some ways it made the situation worse. An antagonistic “us-and-them” attitude grew; provocative behaviour and chanting on both sides of the divide went unchallenged. Ritualised abuse became part of the game, and the strict division of stadiums created flashpoints where confrontation across the barriers was a normal event.”

Given that the segregation of football fans is now the norm at higher levels of British football, is it possible to get rid of it?  I’m not sure it is or how it could be done but I do have one idea.  I’d like Birmingham City to consider establishing a buffer zone in the lower Gil Merrick stand, between away fans and home fans, and putting trusted fans there rather than a tarpaulin and stewards. 

I love my present seat in the Kop, where I’m seated on the half way line, near pleasant people, close enough to the pitch to see players but high enough to see the whole pitch.  But I’d give that seat up to try to help establish a peace zone between warring factions of fans. And I’d also accept that fans in that zone would be held to a higher standard regarding keeping the rules about not standing, not throwing objects onto the pitch, no racial abuse etc. 

Eventually, I’d like to have a section that functions like the neutral zone at Craven Cottage but with a different name. However, I think that the club would need to work towards this in stages.  First find out how many fans might be willing to move to such an area, and there might not be many as some would consider it risky. I wouldn’t feel at risk because I never feel like fighting and anyone looking for a fight probably wouldn’t pick on an old woman like me. It might be good to have a trial period just with home fans. Then they could offer tickets in the area to away clubs on the understanding that they were sold with special conditions attached.

I don’t know if any of this would work but it might be worth trying. I wonder if anyone else besides me would be willing to be part of the buffer.

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Sad

I was sad that Blues lost but I can cope with that; I’ve had enough practice over the many years that I’ve supported them. What saddened me most was the assault on Jack Grealish by one of our fans and the amount of media attention that it received.

The stadium was packed with passionate Blues fans who supported the team with their voices and banners, but the headlines will be about one idiot. I have no idea what prompted his actions but talk about hating other clubs can’t help.  So, I’d like to repeat what I said before the game. Hating other football clubs is not a good way to show commitment to your own club.

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Commitment

I don’t think that hating other football clubs is a good way to show commitment to your own club. I’ll be at the game on Sunday, hoping desperately that Birmingham beat the Villa but once the game is over, I’ll calm down. I’ll remember that if my dad had been born three miles further north, I’d probably be a Villa fan myself.  

Most Blues and Villa fans have some connection with Birmingham and the two groups have much in common. Fans from both sides agree on many issues such as the Justice for the 21 campaign. The view that Villa are more middle class and Blues more working class is an opinion not a fact.  A thesis on the rivalry between the fans of Aston Villa and Birmingham City Football Clubs stated that: “the fan groups were actually relatively homogenous in terms of their demographics and their location”.   

This week, Blackpool fans have shown their commitment in a positive way, by cleaning up their stadium following the neglect of the Oyston ownership. Birmingham fans have helped in a similar way in the past. I can remember a game against WBA on December 28, 1993, when it had snowed before the game and the club asked fans to come early and help clear the snow so that the game could go ahead. 

Not every fan can get to games; some are prevented by distance, infirmity or other reasons. I hope that those of us who can be there will limit our aggression to non-contact competitions such as who can shout and sing the loudest. I would like both the Blues fans and the police to go home with smiles on their faces.

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Inadequate owners

Fan explaining Blackpool situation

Blackpool fans are rejoicing because their club has been put into receivership and that means the era of Oyston ownership is over. Blackpool’s game against Southend next Saturday will be the first home game since this happened and the Guardian reports that:

“Supporters are planning a party, starting with a celebration march from the promenade, and perhaps in some small way it can be a reminder for every other club that has inadequate or reviled owners, that things can change for the better, that it won’t always be one crisis after another, and that one of the reasons why this sport pulls us in, why it is so damn addictive, is that the bad times always make the good ones seem so much better.”

The same article includes accounts of other owners who have endangered the futures of their football clubs. Charlton’s owner has suggested that the Football League buy the club.  There are reports of Bolton not paying staff and players. Notts County is at the bottom of League 2 and HMRC has issued a winding-up petition against it. If Coventry City can’t find a place to play next season it could be expelled from the league.

Not all owners are inadequate or bad but there have been enough problems to suggest that the system needs changing.  There needs to be a better way of ensuring that people who buy football clubs are fit and proper and also know something about the football business. When problems occur there needs to be a way of sorting them out quicker.

Blackpool is one example of how long it can take to get rid of a problem owner.  Owen Oyston bought the club in 1988. His wife and then his son took over after he was convicted of rape in 1996. Valeri Belokon bought a 20 per cent stake in 2006 and became chairman. Owen and Karl Oyston began suing fans who criticised their ownership on internet forums. Five managers came and went in the space of two years and 27 players left before the start of the 2014-15 season. In 2016 some fans started to boycott games and pledged never to return until the Oystons had left. Valeri Belokon instigated court proceedings against the Oystons. On November 6, 2017 the Oystons were defeated in the High Court and ordered to buy out Valeri Belokon’s shares for £31.27m after it was found they had “illegitimately stripped” the club. You can read the timeline  yourself if you want all the gory details.

As a Birmingham City supporter, I know what it feels like to have an owner convicted of money laundering. I can sympathise with other fans whose clubs have inadequate owners. That is why I believe that there needs to be an independent regulator for English football. Let the English Football League concentrate on organising the leagues and let someone else regulate the business of football.

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Away day

I went to watch the game at Bristol City on Tuesday evening though I don’t normally go to evening away games. And I’m going to fewer away games because standing for 90 minutes feels like more of a chore as I get older. But one of my nephews lives in the Bristol area and I’d said I’d go to the game and also meet up with him.  It seemed rather wimpish to alter my plan just because the time was changed from a Saturday afternoon to a Tuesday evening.  

I spent about 15 minutes regretting my decision as the game concluded with Birmingham City only one goal ahead and Bristol attacking after their goal had restored their hope and awakened the home crowd. I was so afraid we wouldn’t be able to hold onto the lead. I was also wondering why on earth I chose to put myself through such agony; then the final whistle went, and I remembered why I support the Blues. It is always good to see them win.

It was also good to walk along the Avon Gorge on Wednesday morning, see the suspension bridge and the patterns in the mud sculptured by the tides. Then I met my nephew and enjoyed a meal and conversation with him.

Bristol used to be an important port in the triangular slave trade. Arms, alcohol and textiles were shipped to Africa and traded for slaves. The slaves were taken across the Atlantic and sold to the plantations.  Then the ships returned to Bristol with a cargo of sugar, molasses and tobacco. I saw traces of this dark past: a plaque commemorating the slaves and a large building called the Tobacco Factory, though it is no longer used for that.

I liked Bristol. The area around Ashton Gate has loads of street art and there’s also a statue of John Atyeo at the stadium. He made 645 appearances and scored 350 goals between 1951 and 1966.  I was impressed by that when I read it on the plaque on the statue and was even more impressed when I read his obituary and found he had never being cautioned by a referee in his senior matches, had played 6 times for England and was a part-time player, working as a quantity surveyor and then as a teacher. I can understand why they erected a statue of him.

I hope to go back there sometime, do a tour of the Banksy street art and maybe see Blues win again.

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Philosophy

In a recent interview, Harlee Dean said that a club needs a philosophy, a way of playing and that’s what Garry Monk brought to Birmingham City.  Monk has also talked about this; the Birmingham Mail published a quote in which he said:

“we felt the group needed to know what it meant playing for this club, wearing that shirt and what it means not just for them but for the fans and the community.”

Monk has concentrated on doing what he can with what he’s got. He’s focussed on getting the team to play good football and strengthening the bond between players and fans.

Many fans have said that Monk gets Blues, that he understands us.  I think his understanding is wider than that; he understands that football is not just a business and that fans are not just customers but an essential part of the game.  He also has emotional intelligence and does well at handling relationships with players and fans.  

Before Monk was appointed as our manager, the manager I would have chosen was Graham Potter, who also has emotional intelligence and understands the importance of fans.  Potter is now at Swansea and  that club is going through a hard time. The owners have sold senior players without replacing them and an article in the Guardian reports:

“Potter has relied on youngsters to such an extent that Swansea, who spent seven seasons in the top flight and were relegated from the Premier League nine months ago, are fielding a team in the Championship that, in terms of the age of their players, resembles that of a club operating on a shoestring in League Two. . .
Potter continues to diligently go about his work, refusing to sound downbeat and remaining totally committed to the job that he took on last summer. He is the glue holding a broken club together. ”

I would imagine that Swansea fans want to hold onto their manager as much as Birmingham City fans want to keep Garry Monk. 

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Time’s wingèd chariot

Loftus Road is a small stadium, the third smallest stadium in the Sky Bet Championship this season. It’s not a comfortable place to visit. When I went there, I felt like a sardine crammed in a tin. Respect to the Blues fans who are going today, and I hope they see a good game. I’ll be listening on the radio.

There are things I like about going to away games. Birmingham City’s travelling fans are incredible and it feel’s great to be among a loud, supportive crowd. But standing for 90 minutes is tiring and by the end of a game I feel very old.

More and more things make me feel old these days.  I just read about Albert Finney dying and that brought back memories of watching him at the old Birmingham Repertory Theatre in the 1950’s.  I remember seeing him as Henry V and also saw him in less memorable roles.  Once when I was clearing out a pile of Rep programmes, I noticed his name listed in the actors playing the crowd. That was over 60 years ago.

And it’s nearly 70 years since my dad first took me to St Andrew’s. I don’t remember exactly when that was but do remember Gill Merrick, Jeff Hall and the roar of the crowd. I also remember the first time I heard ‘Keep right on’ sung, at the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough in 1956. My memories may be rose-tinted but I think the crowd back then was very supportive. That’s why I’m thrilled by the atmosphere at games this season, with our crowd supporting effort and commitment even when it doesn’t end with a win. It reminds me of the crowds I stood in when I was a child and it feels good.

By the way, the title of this post is taken from Andrew Marvell’s poem To His Coy Mistress:

But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near  
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