Tag Archives: BCFC

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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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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Hope fulfilled

On Saturday morning. I said I was feeling hopeful and my hopes were fulfilled that afternoon.  Scoring early in the game meant we had something to lose so I felt nervous for most of the time. It would have only taken one lapse in concentration by our players or one great move from theirs and Nottingham Forest could have equalised. But this time, it was Blues who scored right at the end. Che Adams scored from the penalty spot in time added on to extend his scoring run to five games.

On the way to the game I’d wondered if I’d put on too many layers but once I got seated in the Kop, I was grateful for every bit of clothing I had on. The wind was cold and biting, but the football kept me warm. All the Birmingham City players played well and the referee kept the game flowing with not too many stops. Also our new signing, Kerim Mrabti, came off the bench to play for a few minutes. I was glad I’d gone but also glad to get home afterwards and have a hot drink.

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Feeling hopeful

It’s February and I can stop worrying about losing Che Adams; the transfer window has closed and we still have him.  This is the month for worrying about the EFL sanctions but I’m hoping that Daniel was correct in thinking that “if Blues are deducted points, I don’t think it will be an absolute disaster” and that “Blues have enough points on the board to be safe from” relegation.

So I’m feeling fairly hopeful at present.  Kerim Mrabti’s squad number is 18, which reminds me of Keith Fahey, whom I liked.  It’s totally irrational to feel that Mrabti might be a good player because I like his squad number but there’s a lot about supporting a team that’s irrational.  

I have updated my cheat sheet from last August by adding Kerim Mrabti and removing 4 names.  Steve Seddon spent the first half of this season on loan to League Two club Stevenage and is now on loan to AFC Wimbledon of League One. Three players left during the winter transfer window. Dan Scarr signed a two-and-a-half year deal with Walsall. Omar Bogle was on loan to Birmingham from Cardiff City but that loan was cancelled and he is now on loan to Portsmouth. Viv Solomon-Otabor has also gone to Portsmouth; he has gone there on loan until the end of the season.

As always, I’m looking forward to today’s game with a mixture of fear and hope.  Today the hope is a little bit stronger than the fear.

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Transfer window

I’ve never liked transfer windows.  I’m usually irritated by the silly rumours about who Birmingham City might bring in. This window I’m worried about who might leave. I feel bad that Omar Bogle’s loan has been cut short; he scored a great goal against Stoke and I would have liked to see a few more like that.  I will feel a lot worse if we lose one of our first team regulars. If someone like Che Adams is sold, it will feel as though the team is being ripped apart.

Birmingham City are playing Swansea this evening. It’s a place that has a lot of memories for Garry Monk and Pep Clotet, who has talked about his time there in an interview.  He said:

“We are better coaches now because of the difficulties we have faced,” says Clotet. “Garry has given me a lot of insight about British football and that has helped when dealing with players. I guess I have made him a bit more Spanish too. We have made each other better.”

I’ll be feeling a lot of respect for the players and fans, outside on a cold winter evening while I’m at home, keeping warm.  I hope they play well and get a point or three. I think it will be good to follow a game and think about that rather than the window. And it will fill some of the time until the window closes at 11 pm on Thursday.  We will know then which players we have and, even if it’s bad news, we can get on with the rest of the season.

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Partisan

It feels as though the world is getting more partisan, with people divided on various issues. I have nothing against people who strongly support something or some team but the word ‘partisan’ has further connotations. It is often used when people strongly support something without thinking carefully about it.

When Birmingham City supporters sing Keep right on, we describe ourselves as ‘often partisan’ and I don’t think many of us decided to support the Blues after a long and careful analysis of the merits of different teams. I support them because my dad supported them and he took me to games; he supported them because he was born in Sparkbrook.

I have already written on this blog about the sense of entering into a more splendid life that made me love going to football matches. I won’t repeat that except to say that what appeals to me most about watching football is being a participant in the performance, supporting my team.  The sense of belonging and togetherness is what I treasure most. For others, I know that the quality of the football is more important.

What I value in football puts me at the opposite end of the spectrum to those who want to see the best players in their team. I’m thrilled to see Academy players stepping up to the first team; those who want to watch elite football are thrilled when their club buys expensive star players. I’ve just read an edited extract from The Club: How the Premier League Became the Richest, Most Disruptive Business in Sport, by Jonathan Clegg & Joshua Robinson. It describes how the owners of the top six Premier League clubs want a bigger share of the TV money so that they can compete with the big foreign clubs. To me that just seems greedy, but I am partisan. 

The loss last Saturday felt cruel but, as we have come to expect from a team managed by Garry Monk, there was effort and commitment to applaud.  There was also a great goal from Che Adams. This evening, as always, I will be hoping for a win. I won’t be going to Norwich and those that go that far on a cold winter night have my respect. Our travelling fans are incredible.

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Inequality

We live in a crazy world.  Lionel Messi, the highest paid footballer last season, received $111,000,000. Does he deserve that much? More and more people in this country are relying on food banks. If you think that they deserve that, try watching I, Daniel Blake on BBC iPlayer and see if you change your mind.

Yesterday evening, I went to a performance of Commonism, at the Rep.  It’s a conversation between two men, one British and one Norwegian, talking about the world today and imagining how the future could be better. At the end, they hand out copies of their manifesto. This suggests a maximum limit on the economic resources any one individual can possess and a universal basic income. I imagine that it would be a lot easier to get poor people to accept a basic income than to get rich people to limit what they own. The performance was thought provoking and I had much to think about as I walked back to my bus stop, past all the rough sleepers.

When I got back home, I saw the news about the latest Brexit squabble in Parliament. It seemed a far cry from the conversation I’d just listened to, about learning to disagree well. There was also news of Burton’s heavy defeat at Manchester City and the nightmare journey to get to Manchester experienced by some of their fans. The result was not that surprising when you consider the value of their squads. Sky reported that,

“Burton Albion’s squad value this season is around the £6m mark   … Manchester City’s current squad is valued at just over £1bn, with their most expensive acquisition, Riyad Mahrez, joining the club last summer for £60m.”

In other words, one of Manchester City’s players cost 10 times more than Burton’s squad. That enormous inequality just doesn’t seem right to me, with most of the TV money flooding into the Premier League. I can understand why owners of clubs lower down the pyramid pay out too much in the hope of getting promotion.  Birmingham City paid out too much; we are still waiting to find out what price we’ll have to pay for that. We are not the only club with financial problems. The situation feels more serious than just a few clubs breaking some rules; it feels as though the whole system is broken.

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Thoughts on the weekend

Accounts

News of Birmingham City’s accounts broke on Friday, when they were filed at Companies House. It was not good news. The club lost £37,461,303 for the financial year. Read Daniel’s analysis on almajir.net if you want the details. This confirmed that I’d chosen the right picture for my mood indicator picture, with half indicating my happiness with the performance of manager and team and the other half showing my uncertainty over our financial situation.

West Ham

I went to the FA Cup game on Saturday and was glad I’d gone. West Ham won the game, but our team put in a good performance and our fans were incredible.  As I get older and find it more tiring to stand for 90 minutes, I treasure the away games because I don’t know how many more I’ll be able to attend. I feel privileged to stand among such loyal and loud supporters.

Newport County v Leicester City

I usually support Leicester when they play because I’m fond of Demarai Gray but I also like underdogs. When I watched Newport play Leicester on TV, my preference for underdogs was the strongest and I was delighted when Newport won.  There is still some magic in the Cup.

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Disappointing draw

Birmingham City’s goalless draw on Saturday was scrappy and I came away feeling disappointed.  Just over 4 years ago, I can remember watching on TV as Blues played at Wolves. They earned a magnificent 0-0 draw, which seemed wonderful because they had lost 0-8 at home in their previous game. Gary Rowett had been manager for less than a week and had managed to turn a group of demoralised men into a team that could defend.

Garry Monk has created a team that can defend and score goals. The upside to this is that he’s got the fans onside, providing fantastic support.  The downside is that our expectations have been raised and we find it harder to appreciate the value of a no-score draw and 3 consecutive clean sheets.  I also think that it’s good to be outside, look up from our screens, talk to the people around us, and feel part of a community. That feeling was reinforced by the Supporters Memorial. A list of Blues fans who died in 2018 was shown on the big screen and read out at half time.  Communities share their joys and their sorrows.

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Enemies and friends

In Omar Bogle’s interview on BluesTV, he talked about scoring a goal against Jack Butland, a former Academy team mate of his. He said he talked with Jack after the game, but he didn’t talk about his goal. It sounded as though he had the ability that professional football players need to have, to regard opposing players as enemies during a game and as friends at other times.

I believe that fans also need to be able to do this. During games we want to see our team play well and be lucky; we want the opposition to play terribly and have the worst bad luck imaginable. But, at other times, we can sympathise with fans of other teams. When Frank Knight, a Blackpool fan, agreed to pay £20,000 to the Oyston family, owners of Blackpool, so that they wouldn’t take him to court for his rant against them on Facebook, fans from many other clubs made contributions to pay that, an example of the football community at its generous best.

I’m reading a book that discusses this: What we think about when we think about Football, by Simon Critchley, a Professor of Philosophy who supports Liverpool.  He says that “there is an inherent rationality in football that permits both passionately held commitment to one’s team at the same time as being able to tolerate, understand and indeed encourage others’ deeply felt support for their teams.”  It is not easy reading, but it is interesting and has some great photos.

Critchley wrote that “a game can be a 90-minute anxiety dream”.  Wednesday’s game felt like 87 anxious minutes until Bogle scored his brilliant goal and I stopped worrying that Stoke might equalise. But I will remember it as a brilliant game, with two great goals, a large crowd and an atmosphere that reminded me of how it felt when I stood with my dad on the Railway end about 65 years ago.

Hope I’ll also have good memories of today’s game.

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