It’s Easter Saturday and the weather is beautiful, it doesn’t seem right to be staying at home. But that’s what I’ll be doing. It’s what I’ve done for the last 3 weeks and what I’ll probably be doing for many more weeks to come. The Church of England prayer for today talks about crying to God from “the depths of our isolation” and seems very suitable for the present situation.
I miss the excitement of football and the way you never know what to expect. Performances can range from pathetic to peerless. I’m reading books during this time and there can be surprises in them. But finding out that the woman you thought was an evil interloper is really his daughter does not compare with watching your side score just after your goalie saved a penalty.
An EFL letter has been sent out, saying that this season, including playoffs, can be finished in 56 days. They also said that training should not start before May 16 but did not say when playing games might start. May 16 is 5 weeks from now, which seems a long time. But, of course, that date isn’t fixed; there are so many uncertainties. Richard Bevan, of the League Managers’ Association has said that football should only start again “once all players have been tested for coronavirus” and who know when that might be.
This has felt like a very strange Good Friday. On previous Good Fridays I have joined in with the prayer walk round Harborne and gone to the service on the High Street. This year I just walked on my own around the retirement apartment block where I live. We’ve been asked to stay within the building or gardens and I’m staying home as instructed and keeping 2 metres away from people I see.
What seems like ages ago, I had planned to do the prayer walk and then go to the game against Swansea. But today, neither will take place. Back in 2015 I wrote a post about going to a football game on a Good Friday and how I’d decided to go and remember the significance of the day in the quiet, reverence of the morning service and in the less reverent crowd in the afternoon, a crowd that probably had some similarities to those that watched and mocked as Jesus died. Watching the game and mocking the opposition is what football crowds do.
For me this day has still been good because of the significance it has for me. Whatever you believe and do this Easter, I hope you are safe and well.
Losing a game is not nice.
Losing to Leicester didn’t feel too bad because we were playing a team
that was third in the Premier League and the players and fans kept on to the
end. I didn’t see any fans walking out when we went a goal down.
Losing to Reading felt terrible. I think the reason why it
felt so bad was not just the performance on the pitch but the sight of fans
streaming out of the ground before the game finished. We have a song that says
we fight to the end and our players often do that, but we fans don’t always stay
to the end if we are losing. Football clubs started out as clubs; they are now
run as businesses. I complain that some club owners treat their fans as
customers rather than supporters. When
lots of us leave early because we don’t like what is happening on the pitch,
then we are behaving like customers.
Rant over. It wasn’t all bad. Hogan scored again and we didn’t play too
badly in the first half. It felt strange to see Morrison playing against us and
I was glad to see him applauding our fans at the end. We are 8 points above the
I experienced a range of emotions at the FA Cup game with
Leicester. I was sad that we conceded a goal and lost the game; I never like
losing. I was proud of our players and the effort they put in. I was also proud
of the support from the Birmingham City fans, who supplied all the noise in the
stadium. I was glad that I’d gone to the game.
I had hesitated about buying a ticket. As I get older, I’m finding it harder to
stand for 90 minutes at an away game and I don’t usually go to away games at night.
But I’d been to the other cup games, against Blackburn and twice against
Coventry. I thought it would be nice to
go to all of them.
I also remembered an experience 9 years ago, when I almost
didn’t go to a game. I had other commitments before and after the Blues game in
Bruges so couldn’t spend a night there. My only option was to go on a coach
that left Birmingham at 3 am on Thursday morning and arrived back at 5 am on
Friday. I can remember standing in the queue waiting to buy a ticket, wondering
if I was getting too old to cope with such a schedule. But I went and thoroughly
enjoyed it. I decided then that age is just a number and I shouldn’t let it
stop me doing things I enjoy.
As a Birmingham City fan, I don’t need to worry about the curse of constantly winning but I’ve been thinking about it since reading an article with the heading “Manchester City fans left unhappy by curse of constantly winning trophies”. The article says that fans of the top clubs expect victory and “anything else comes to seem like failure.” It also says, “The greatest triumphs, the ones that are longest remembered and most enjoyed, are those that are unexpected”.
That’s certainly true in my experience. Scoring a last gasp goal when time and hope has almost gone is much more exciting than an easy win. And it was what made Birmingham’s Carling Cup win in 2011 such a wonderful experience. Nobody expected us to win and we won with a goal right at the end. I have very fond memories of that day. I took a child to the game and on our way there I tried to tell him that we were probably going to lose. On our way back through London, fans from other London clubs saw his Blues shirt and came to congratulate us; it was like a triumphal procession.
Villa didn’t get a last gasp goal yesterday but went down fighting and weren’t disgraced. My impression from the radio commentary was that their fans applauded them at the end and didn’t exit from the stadium as quickly as the Arsenal fans did in 2011. I’m sure the Manchester City fans appreciated the result but probably not as much as the Villa fans would have enjoyed a win.
Hogan’s late equaliser was a great way to end the game and
it sent me home happy. I thought Blues were better in the first half but not so
good in the second so a draw seemed like a fair result. I always want Blues to
win, whoever and whenever they play, but I can’t say that I wanted Garry Monk
to lose. I remember how he kept us up in 2018 and feel grateful for that.
When Pep Clotet said that that he considered Hogan “a doubt”
for the game, the only thing that seemed clear was that Clotet didn’t want the
opposition to know whether or not he would play. I wasn’t surprised to see him
in the starting line-up and was very glad he stayed on till the end.
In the 12 games we’ve played this year, we have only lost once,
to Wigan on New Year’s Day, and we have only failed to score in the 0-0 draw
with Coventry. That’s not a bad record.
I am hoping our unbeaten run is continued at Millwall on Wednesday.
I went to the game with low expectations because of the rain and wind. It didn’t seem like the best weather for a game of football. The sight of a hole in the roof of a nearby building reinforced that opinion and the possibility of debris from the hole later led to closure of part of Coventry Road. This meant that the walk back down to the bus stop after the game involved a detour.
The first half was more interesting than expected, with some decent play, two goals and a different hairstyle for Lee Camp. The second half was scrappier; I think conditions had worsened and players were tired. But there were chances and saves for both sides.
A win would have been nicer but the draw kept our unbeaten
run going. And if we can beat Sheffield
Wednesday next week, we’ll go above them in the table as we are now level on
points but behind on goal difference. I was glad I’d gone but it felt good to
reach home and hot food afterwards.
I’ve just updated my list of current Birmingham City players. The differences in the squad lists on the back of the programmes for Birmingham City’s fourth round FA Cup game and the replay prompted me to do this. In Tuesday’s programme, David Stockdale, Agus Medina, Alvaro Gimenez, David Davis and Odin Bailey were dropped from the list on the back of the first programme. Moha Ramos, Scott Hogan, Caolan Boyd-Munce, Ryan Burke, Ryan Stirk, and Jack Concannon were added.
I’m assuming that people who read this will have seen the replay on Tuesday, read a report and/or watched the video highlights but I’d like to record a few thoughts on the game. The first half wasn’t good. Josh McEachran was carried off on a stretcher and the 0-0 half time score made me wonder if we were going to see a repeat of the stalemate we saw in the first game. I hoped that somebody would score and win it and that it wouldn’t extend to an extra 30 minutes and penalties. I don’t like penalty shoot-outs; they make me very nervous.
Coventry were leading by one goal at 90 minutes but 4
minutes of time were added on and Dean scored. The two men sitting by me, who
had left at 90 minutes, had heard we’d equalised and came back to watch. Coventry scored again and we equalised again
so it went to penalties. When it was clear they were going to be taken at the
Tilton end, some Blues fans ran to get behind that goal and the stewards couldn’t
stop them. And once Lee Camp had saved a penalty, I didn’t feel nervous anymore.
It was a great game to watch and I’m so glad I went.
I had planned to spend the weekend in London but changed my
plans and stayed just one night so that I could go to the FA cup game against
Friday went well and according to plan. I had no trouble finding a seat on the train to London and I was able to check into my hotel room early. I spent the afternoon at Tate Britain, mainly to see the Year 3 exhibition of 3,128 class photos of London’s Year 3 children, over 76,000 children. A Guardian article described it as a portrait of “a city’s potential.” The smiling young faces in the photos left me feeling worried about the world in which they’re growing up. So I appreciated the laughs in the evening, when I went to see Frank Skinner putting on a masterful display of stand-up comedy at the Garrick Theatre.
On Saturday, my travel back to Birmingham and getting to the game went well but I don’t think the game went according to plan. Surely nobody would plan a goalless draw. It could have been worse; we would have lost if O’Hare hadn’t missed an opportunity to score right at the end. There was also some consolation in the novelty and the chants. The warmup before the game provided a first opportunity to see Moha Ramos, the substitute goalie, in action. And after the game, it was good to see Jude Bellingham giving his shirt away to a child. I was in row 4 of the lower Gil Merrick stand, which felt far too low down to get a decent view of the game but it gave me a renewed appreciation for the view from my seat in row 18 of the Kop.
I was disappointed that we didn’t score during the game but was
glad I’d gone. It would have been a pity to miss seeing Birmingham City playing
away at St Andrew’s.
As the BBC website said in its report: “In front of a paltry St Andrew’s crowd of just 2,697 on a foul night, Coventry set up a first meeting with Birmingham since beating them 3-2 in the League Cup at the Ricoh Arena in August 2012.” And we’ll be playing as the away team in our own stadium. I went to the game and enjoyed it. I find watching football much less stressful when I have an interest in a game but no deep emotional attachment. I wanted Coventry to win so that Blues could play away at St Andrew’s but if Coventry had lost, I wouldn’t have felt as distressed as I do when Blues lose.
Gambling and football
On Sunday, there was an article on the Guardian website about the gamblification of football and the relationship between the Premier League’s income from media and gambling.
“The basis of the Premier League’s immense wealth is its media rights, sold to broadcasters and then on to viewers in packages costing as much as £50 a month. Manchester City versus Liverpool, of course, is a very easy sell, Norwich versus Bournemouth not so much. But a bet can turn an armchair viewer into a Canaries fan for 90 minutes and boost the audience for lesser matches, while the package prices might rise without the revenue from adverts in the breaks.”
The most recent issue of When Saturday Comes, Issue 395,included an editorial on the incongruity of Wayne Rooney’s video about his problems with gambling being produced by 32Red, the betting company that funded his arrival at Derby. It included the information that “16 of the Championship’s 24 clubs have gambling firms on their shirts”.
The good news is that using credit cards to gamble is going to be banned. A BBC article said that “there are examples of consumers who have accumulated tens of thousands of pounds of debt through gambling because of credit card availability.”
Last weekend started well with a win against Luton. The timing was different to the Blackburn game but the events were repeated. Birmingham scored first, the opposition equalised with a penalty, then Birmingham scored again and Harlee Dean was sent off. Reports said that it wasn’t pretty and a tweet from Brian Dick said, “#bcfc have no need to apologise for that victory, substance over style is no bad thing. Hopefully the last two matches are a small acorn that will grow into something much more stable. Striker help so obviously needed, though.”
Blues Trust published a post designed to help readers decide if the sale and leaseback arrangement of St Andrew’s is a good or bad thing. It’s worth reading if you are interested in how the club is being run. Blues Trust’s view is that it would have been helpful if the club had been more open when the Trust asked about this in May and said, “major issues affecting the club need good communication and sometimes consultation”.
On Monday, an article on football finance included bad news on our financial situation but a nice tribute to our fans. “A shout out for the fans: ‘Despite their many issues, Blues have now seen their attendance rise 5 years in a row from the 15,457 low point in 2013/14, which reflects very well on their supporters. In fact, the 22,483 attendance last season was the highest since they were last in the Premier League in 2011.’”
There was a lot of news about Birmingham City this week. On Monday, the draw for the FA Cup fourth round brought up the intriguing possibility of Blues being the away team at St Andrew’s if Coventry win the third round replay. The FA confirmed that Coventry would be the home team if the tie goes ahead. A club announcement said that the Middlesbrough game would be moved to Tuesday evening, 21 January.
On Tuesday, the accounts were published and revealed that “freehold land and buildings” had been sold to Birmingham City Stadium Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Birmingham Sports Holding Limited. This raised questions about the application to register St Andrew’s as an Asset of Community Value. A post on the Blues Trust website explained the timeline for this and said,
“The failure of the Club to tell the fans that the ground had been sold … is a continuing example of the unwillingness of Directors to engage with supporters. We understand that the EFL had known for some time that the ground had been sold, but because the sale value does not appear to have been inflated, the EFL had no issues with it. So why was this information withheld from Supporters by the club?”
A new group of Blues fans, 1875, set up a new website and sent a letter to Birmingham Sports Holdings Chairman Zhao Wenqing, requesting him to improve the situation at Blues. They believe that writing to the powers that be will be more effective than moaning on social media.
The Birmingham Mail published some articles about the EFL charge
and other matters at the club. One had a large headline that said, “The fans deserve
to know what’s going on at Blues.” I
agree with that.
My expectations before a game affect how I react to what
happens. I went to the Wigan game
expecting Blues to win so their poor performance and loss left me feeling
depressed. I went to the FA Cup game thinking we needed to win to restore some
confidence in our players but not at all confident that we would.
The game started well with Crowley’s goal on 4 minutes. But on
60 minutes, Sunjic conceded a penalty and was sent off less than 2 minutes
after coming on. It seemed unlikely we could win with 10 men so Bela’s late goal
came as a pleasant surprise.
It wasn’t the best of games. The attendance was 7,330, which was our “lowest attendance for a competitive match at St. Andrews since 2016”. An Observer article on the game showed a picture of the empty Tilton and it’s hard to create a good atmosphere when the Tilton is empty. There were several times when Blackburn looked certain to score but didn’t. We were lucky but it is about time we had some good luck. Most pleasing of all was the way our players kept fighting until the end of the game. I went home happy.
Birmingham City’s decade did not get off to a good start.
They didn’t play well against Wigan and, at times, some of the players who can
usually make decent passes seemed to launch the ball into the air without
thinking where it might end up. It was a dispiriting game to watch.
As usual, at half time, there was an announcement about
voting for man of the match. It was hard
to think of one but I think if I’d had to choose one, I’d have chosen Kerim
Mrabti. He scored our first goal and looked as though he was trying to play. I
also felt sympathy for Lukas Jutkiewicz as he seemed to spend a lot of time
with a Wigan player holding on to him.
The game is over now, thank goodness, and I’m not going to suggest what should be done. I think Daniel was probably correct when he said that he didn’t think Pep was the problem and that “the problem are the people above him”. Sacking Pep Clotet might not lead to any improvement in results.
One bad game is not enough to sever my allegiance to my
team. Yesterday’s performance was not the worst Blues performance I’ve
seen. I stayed till the end of our 0-8
loss against Bournemouth in 2014 and that was much, much worse. I have a ticket for our FA Cup game on
Saturday and will be there hoping to see a better game.
Birmingham City scored 4 goals and lost in an incredible
game yesterday. Others will write about
what they did wrong but I want to say a few words on what they did right.
We were playing a game against one of the top teams in the Championship and it was a big game. Leeds brought 1,980 fans and there was a large police presence plus a drone in the sky hovering over the Bordesley Circus roundabout.
I went to the game hoping we wouldn’t be humiliated and we weren’t. When we went 2 goals down after 21 minutes, I was afraid that we were not going to score and would lose by a large number of goals. But then Jude Bellingham scored, our team started to believe and the game changed. We equalised 3 times. When Leeds scored their 5th goal in time added on, I was very disappointed but felt proud of the way my team had kept attacking and fought till the end of the game.
Every year I read through a poetry book that contains a poem a day for each day from December 1st to January 6th. And this will be the third time I’ve mentioned the poem for Christmas eve: In the Days of Caesar by Waldo Williams. There’s a phrase in it, “naïve with power”, that describes Caesar’s inability to understand something that people with no power had no difficulty in understanding. Like Caesar, the owners of our club have the power to make decisions but there’s a lot they don’t understand about fans.
On December 26th 2015, I wrote a post about the lack of understanding between owners and fans and my desire to have “owners with a willingness to listen to ordinary fans.” I also hoped that we could finish the year with an away win against Sheffield Wednesday; we lost 3-0.
On December 26th last year, I wrote about Garry Monk and the way he understood Blues fans, that we wanted “to see players who work hard and give 100%”. I also wrote that I was looking forward to the game that day; we beat Stoke 2-0. I don’t understand all that’s happened since then but I’ll always be grateful for the way Monk kept us up and got the fans to back the team on the pitch.
This year, I still think that owners and fans should talk and
try to understand each other. But I don’t know how to achieve that. Our owners are
the ones with the power and if they don’t want to talk to us, they don’t have
I won’t be travelling up to Blackburn today and have the utmost respect for the Blues fans that will be going to the game. As always, I’m hoping for a win and have included a picture of the result of our last game against Blackburn, to remind us that we can beat them. Whatever happens, I hope the day goes well for our travelling fans and that they enjoy it.