Tag Archives: Football

Thank you

I’d like to thank Pep Clotet for what he has done for Birmingham City FC and wish him all the best for the future.  The headline for an article about media comments on him leaving included the words ‘Not been an easy club’ and I think that sums it up nicely. The impression was that he was given a difficult mandate. In an article on why he is leaving, Brian Dick commented:

“He was charged with implementing a change in playing style, based around young home-grown players while mounting a tilt for the play-offs. He’s made some progress towards the first two but perhaps the final demand was always going to be too high an expectation.”

I have absolutely no inside information on why he is leaving. But my impression is that it was a difficult job and he did his best. I hope his next job will be easier.

Thank you, Pep.

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Abide with us

Today was going to be FA Cup Final day but it may not take place until August. Singing Abide with me is one of the traditions of the day and some fans plan to honour that by singing it at 5.30 pm today, the time the game should have started. They have set up a Just Giving page, to give money for NHS/Keyworker families decimated by losing a loved to the dreadful C-19 disease. This page also has a video of these fans singing a socially distanced version of the song.

Five years ago they were part of the fans choir who stood on the pitch at Wembley and sang it.  Someone had the idea of getting fans involved instead of it being sung by one person. They had a competition to choose one fan from each of the 64 clubs involved in the third round. The competition consisted of writing a memory of the FA Cup and not testing the ability to sing in tune, which is how I managed to be the Birmingham City fan in that choir.  I wrote a post about it.

I don’t show up in most photos of the whole choir but if you look carefully in the gap bewtween the Arsenal fan and the tall Everton fan you can see part of me, including the BCFC logo on my shirt.

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Football after Covid-19

While nothing much is happening with Birmingham City, I have been reading some discussions on how football should change after Covid-19. An article by Mark Palios, the chairman of Tranmere Rovers, said, “The professional game cannot survive without fundamental reform in respect of its major cost: player wages.” Darragh MacAnthony, the owner of Peterborough, suggested factoring that would allow money due for the Sky TV rights to be paid to clubs earlier in exchange for paying a penalty. Parachute payments have also been mentioned. Over half of the money that the Premier League gave to the English Football League (EFL), £260m out of £400m,  went to the nine clubs that were relegated in the previous three years.  

For me, the main question is whether it is possible to get the richer clubs to share what they have. The Premier League was formed in 1992 so that it could do a deal with BskyB and get a bigger share of the TV money instead of having to share it out between all 92 clubs in the League. The raison d’être of the Premier League was to get more money so I don’t expect the top clubs to want to give any away.

I don’t understand football finance but it seems clear that something has got to change.  Players at Premier League Chelsea have not yet managed to reach an agreement on pay cuts.  Colchester United, in League 2, have released four first-team players due to financial pressure, including their club captain. There is a tremendous gulf between top and bottom Leagues.

In the early days of professional football there was some sharing of gate money so that the teams with big crowds didn’t have too great an advantage and the game remained competitive. Match gate receipts were shared between the home team and away team with the away side being guaranteed £15 a match in 1888. From 1919 to 1983 the away team was given 20% of the gate money.  Now the home team gets all the money in League games so teams with big stadiums and large crowds have an advantage. The gate receipts from FA Cup games are still shared, with each team getting 45% and 10% going to a central pot.

I think that the game is getting less competitive at the top. In the 27 years since the start of the Premier League, 6 different teams have won it and 4 of those were in the top 6 for matchday income per match in 2018-19. In the previous 27 years, there were 9 different champions. My personal preference would be for the game to be as competitive as possible. I think the way to do that would be to reverse some of the changes made so that income from gate receipts and TV is shared more equally.  I’m afraid that seems rather unlikely to happen.

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Losing

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 relegation zone.

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The curse of constantly winning

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.

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Sheffield Wednesday thoughts and photos

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.

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Not according to plan

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 Coventry. 

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.

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Coventry in the Cup, gambling and Blues news

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.”

Blues news

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.’” 

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Racism

On Friday evening, I went to watch a play about Laurie Cunningham and the racial abuse that he received. I was in two minds about going as I still had the remnants of a cough following a cold and am so glad that I did go. As one review said “the three-strong cast whizz through almost 100 years of football history, brilliantly swapping roles and characters in the same slick, smooth way that Cunningham was famed for on the pitch.”

It was thought provoking and also humorous at times.  It included an incident where a drunk racist accosts Cunningham and his white girl friend. Cunningham knocks him down and the girl friend says, “Laurie, please stop!” The drunk hears the name and asks if he is Laurie Cunningham because he’s a Baggies fan who loves Laurie Cunningham. He ends up saying sorry and asking if Laurie can get him a ticket for a cup game!

The play made me think about the way that football can unite and divide. It can unite people from different backgrounds and different beliefs in the support of a team. It can also provide an opportunity for abuse of different races as some Bulgarian fans illustrated.  There was also the incident at the game between Haringey Borough and Yeovil Town, when Haringey walked off. It is disgraceful that such racist abuse still exists in the game and that there is still a need for organisations such as Kick it Out.

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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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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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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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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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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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