Category Archives: Birmingham City FC

Thoughts on Fulham and WSC

Craven Cottage is one of my favourite away grounds. The location is great and I can’t think of a pleasanter approach to a stadium than the walk beside the River Thames. Four years ago, Birmingham City won there, 2-5.  I’m not expecting Blues to score 5 goals tomorrow but am hoping for a win. Our home performances have been good so it doesn’t seem unreasonable to hope.

We’ve also signed a new forward, Jérémie Bela. The article about him on the official site says, “Possessing fast feet, pace and good ball control, Bela is a goalscorer as well as goal creator.” I’m not sure if we’ll see him play tomorrow but we certainly need someone who can score goals.

I mainly read football news online but I do buy the When Saturday Comes magazine. It’s a good read and always contains something interesting.  I am reading through Issue 393 at present and have just read about how Haringey increased their crowd. They gave away free season tickets. The chairman argued for this by saying, “It will bring people in, and if they only buy a cup of tea, we’ll make some of the money back.” 

This report put me into daydream mode, in which I decided that if I owned Birmingham City FC I’d give away a few hundred free season tickets to the local residents who live around the ground and are inconvenienced on game days by the crowds, the road closure and bus diversions. My daydreams have grown more ambitious since I first started daydreaming about owning the club after it went into administration following the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. That put the Kumars’ businesses, including BCFC, into receivership. Back then I sat in the upper tier of the old railway end stand and I daydreamed that if I were the new owner I’d make sure there was always a working lightbulb in the ladies loo.

The current issue of WSC includes a plea for help.  Their newsagent sales have declined slightly and their advertising revenue has gone down because they are turning away all gambling ads.  So they need more income and are asking readers who can afford it to join a supporters club and contribute something each month. The Guardian newspaper has been running a similar scheme and is now supported by over a million people around the world. I’m hoping that WSC’s scheme will also be successful. If you have never read WSC, buy a copy and see it you like it.  And if you do read it, ask yourself if you want to help keep it running and if you can afford to join its Supporters’ Club.

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Getting old

Eight years ago, on 13 August 2011, I went to a meeting of Birmingham City fans to discuss setting up a supporters trust. Daniel Ivery had suggested on his blog that might be a better way to react to the club’s problems than waving a slogan on a bedsheet. I got involved with the steering group that set up the trust and have been involved in various ways since then. Most recently, I’ve been the secretary but I stepped out of that role after our AGM on Saturday.

I didn’t leave the job because I’ve given up on the idea of a supporters trust but because I’m slowing down as I get older and it seemed like the right time to hand over to someone else. In fact the fate of Bury FC has reinforced my belief in the usefulness of trusts. It looks as though Bury is going to be liquidated so now there’s a group getting ready to form a phoenix club. In their statement they said, “134 years of history will not die when Bury FC’s last rites are read. Bury FC is alive in every single fan.” Every football club needs to have some group that keeps an eye on the governance and finance and which will step in if things go pear-shaped.

It’s not clear how things are going at Birmingham City; the club still seems to be losing money. We might end up in financial trouble again if we don’t get promoted. Performances and results have improved but nobody can guarantee a top two position for a club. 

It was good to get another win on Saturday.  I had just taken a photo of what I thought was the half time score when Pederson scored a goal in time added on, so I had to take another photo.  Luton’s equaliser was disappointing but I kept hoping that we’d score again and Jutkiewicz did. The final whistle went, Pep Clotet came on the pitch to shake  hands and hug, and I went home happy.

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A few thoughts on the Blackburn game

I went to the game feeling my usual mixture of fear and hope. I had witnessed a great performance in the previous home game against Middlesbrough but long years of supporting Birmingham City made me doubt I’d see another one that evening  I was also worried about Sunjic being suspended and was right to be afraid; the team does not play as well without him.  But they played well enough and the goal was a great team effort with Colin in the right place to head it into the net.  

There were no defensive errors that led to goals. In the warm-up, Lee Camp seemed to spend quite some time practising saving low shots. But there was only one Blackburn shot on target during the game, and that was high and tipped over the bar. The fact that there was only one shot on target was due, I think, to poor shooting by Blackburn and good defence by Birmingham.  Towards the end of the game Blackburn tried desperately to get a goal and that led to a rather nervy end. I wasn’t the only Blues fan who was mightily relieved when the final whistle went.

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Rainbow after the rain

When I set off to go to the game on Friday, I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to go. But, as I was on the bus going to town, I saw a faint rainbow in the sky and that lifted my spirits. I don’t believe that God is a Birmingham City fan and didn’t interpret the rainbow to mean that Blues were going to win. But I remembered that God told Noah that the rainbow was a sign of His promise to all people and thought of other times when a rainbow had encouraged me.

That didn’t stop me worrying during the game. Darren Randolph kept making saves and, until Villalba scored, I was afraid we might not manage to get a ball go past him into the net. I was also worried about Jutkiewicz, who looked tired or injured after some hard tackles. After we went a goal up, I was afraid that Middlesbrough would equalise and sure enough, they did in the 87th minute. Then I spent a couple of minutes in despair that, despite our dominance in shots and corners, we’d failed to hold onto our lead.  Then Odin Bailey scored in the 89th minutes and I only had to worry for 5 more minutes of time added on until the final whistle came.  

It was a fantastic game, with a good performance from our players and from the crowd, with many staying to applaud the team off the pitch.  And Blues are 12th in the table, just in the top half.

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Blame game

We’ve lost three games in a row and some people are discussing who to blame. 

Is it Pep Clotet’s fault and should he go?  Or is Pep just following instructions from Ren Xuandong and should he be the one to go? For me, the most important factor is not who goes out but who comes in and I agree with what Daniel said in his editorial:

“The only way Blues move forward in my opinion is if the owners can realise that the club needs a CEO who knows how football works.
It needs someone who can run the day to day things without pushing experienced staff out due to their temper tantrums and inability to accept advice.”

I don’t think there is much chance of that happening. So, as I go to the game this evening, feeling the usual mixture of hope and fear, I think the fear will be dominant. I really don’t want to watch my team lose their 4th game in a row. I hope that there will be a decent crowd and that they’ll provide some good support.  I feel that’s the only thing you can do while your team is playing; you can only support the team on the pitch even if it’s not the team you would have picked.

It’s been nearly 5 weeks since I last saw Birmingham City play, a  family meet up took precedence over football when we played Preston, and I have thought about not going.  But I go because however bad it is, I feel better suffering surrounded by fellow sufferers than to be home alone listening on the radio. I’ve seen us lose 0-8 at home and it can’t be worse than that, can it?

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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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