I’m A Blues Fan – Get Me Out Of Here! – By MerseyPete

I’ve always thought that being a Blues fan for so long has been ‘character building’. Coping with all that adversity must surely have done me some good.  However, I was in the city for a few days at the weekend, and listening to some local radio phone-ins last weekend has given me pause for thought. Some of the Bluenoses who rang in just seemed to be self pitying and unrealistic.

One phone in caller said – after the Portsmouth game – that Blues were playing ‘the worst football I’ve seen in 47 years as a Blues fan’. Come again? Presumably this guy must have been on extended leave when we got relegated (twice) to the Third Division. Maybe Ron Saunders’ goalless teams passed him by. Was he there when we lost 4-1 at Chester? Times are tough, but they certainly ain’t that tough. Another felt that he had been ‘constantly let down for the last eleven years’. Well, I’ve been a fan for over 50 years, and believe me those eleven years have been one of the better times; two promotions, our first major cup final in 40 years, constantly playing in the top division or near the top of the second tier. No, it’s not the European Cup but it could have been worse and often has.

Another fondly recalled the Barry Fry era, comparing the Bruce years unfavourably. Well, I loved Bazza, but did we ever finish in the top six of the First Division under him? Yes we had some exciting times but we also had Ricky Otto and relegation from the first division. Someone else wanted Glenn Hoddle as the next manager. Look, I’m not making this stuff up; he really did say it. I presume this caller wasn’t disabled and therefore in Glenn’s view paying for his sins in a previous life. Disabled Bluenoses would feel really at home under Hoddle’s leadership wouldn’t they?

When a Blues fan came on hoping that Martin O’Neill didn’t get the England job because he wanted at least one successful team in the city (someone else must have heard him, I wasn’t dreaming)… well, I just gave up and switched off. If he says so I guess he must support Birmingham City but he certainly isn’t my sort of fan.

We often say things like ‘it could only happen at Blues’, without, frankly, much consideration of the state of other clubs who are just as starved of success as us. Who’d want to be a Sheffield United or Wednesday fan, for instance? And Wolves and Albion haven’t been runaway successes for the last forty years have they? Bristol’s a big place but look at their teams. We don’t have to feel sorry for them – frankly I couldn’t give a toss about them – but we’re not unique. (After all, even Liverpool seem to be making a fine cock up of their relationship with Benitez – in my view one of the best managers in Europe.)

I’ve never regretted leaving Birmingham all those years ago, but I’m still a Brummie, I love the city and I often feel that I miss the day to day banter and involvement with other fans. This was the first time that I realised how lucky I was to be kept away from people like this.

The day itself had been pretty dispiriting of course. The team did their best but were generally outplayed and looked disheartened and bereft of confidence. To make matters worse I sat next to someone who would have been thrown out of the pub bore league for winning it all the time. He had opinions about everything; all of them wrong. He wanted Tiny Taylor back, with Ridgewell as a sweeper (even though Ridgewell in his view was ‘crap’). He wanted two strikers. I didn’t go on about the two man midfield he’d have left. When Krancjar’s free kick went in he said ‘That’s what happens when you don’t put a man on the post’. For a 30 yard free kick! When he revealed that he was a Rangers’ season ticket holder as well as a ‘Blues fan’ I started edging away.

On top of all this, there were our Dear Leader’s programme notes, where he had the nerve to say that the fans were the most important thing at a club. What, that David Sullivan? Presumably he’d been on the road to Damascus on his way to the ground. Maybe there was a diversion off the M1. We have a lot to be thankful for with regard to Sullivan, but his downright miserableness has finally got me down. Visiting the official website in the past week has been like travelling to a parallel universe. In the outside world the press, radio, blogs and message boards were seething with news and opinions about the new manager. The BCFC website, on the other hand, was fretting about the free chocolate advent calendars they wanted to give away. And Sully says the fans come first.

Oh no, I’ve just realised – I spend two days back in Brum and I’m turning into one of those moaners who I can’t stand! I’m a Blues fan – get me out of here!

On a slightly more serious note, if you haven’t switched off too, my view on the new manager is the same as Ridgewell’s; just get someone in; that’s almost as important now as who it is. I don’t think Black wants the job and he plainly can’t give the players a boost. But McLeish? Fine by me. Jewell? Always liked him. Even Ince – an obnoxious person maybe but perhaps a promising young manager is what we need. Just – please – not Glenn Hoddle, eh Dave?

CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS? – By MerseyPete

“Blues’ Crisis” was one of the Mail’s headlines last week. Well, that’s two words you never thought you’d see in the same sentence, isn’t it?

I can’t resist writing about the latest shambles at St Andrews, even though it will probably be out of date by the time you read it. I also thought a bit of history might help to put things in perspective (oh, go on, indulge me).

Like most Blues fans – if the message boards are anything to go by – I can’t make any sense of the ‘Bruce to Wigan fiasco’. I’ve tried to understand what the board are thinking of and can’t come up with a good explanation. Of course, we know that Sullivan is desperate to get out (he’s told us so often enough, in his inimitably charmless style).  So I can see why the Carson Yeung bid was so attractive. And although Yeung has run into trouble I guess you have to remember that these takeovers rarely seem to run smoothly. The takeover of Liverpool took months. As I see things, it isn’t necessarily a case of people like Yeung not having the money, but on the whole they’ve no intention of risking their own cash – that’s not how they got rich in the first place. They want banks to stump up the funds, with a view to paying them back from the profits they hope the club will make. Doesn’t always work out, but that seems to be the theory. In this case it may be (and I know no more than any of you) that it’s simply the international credit crunch that’s derailed the Chinese bid, with banks being more cagey than usual.

But whatever the cause I just can’t for the life of me see why the current board would choose this precise moment to let our manager go. Of course, managers come and go all the time and it may be hard in the end to stop someone going. But right now, when it’s almost impossible to appoint a replacement, it seems completely reckless to wave Bruce goodbye. There may be contractual issues we don’t know about, and it’s plain that Bruce has been offered shedloads of money from Wigan (Wigan!). But it’s plain that if they can’t stop him going they might be in the same boat with Black as well. If you were Eric Black what would you do? Hang on as Blues’ caretaker knowing that a new owner might ditch you in a few weeks? Or cut and run for more cash with Bruce – even putting up with a spell of ‘gardening leave’ if you have to? Well – we’d all stay of course, but that’s because we’re fans. This is Eric Black’s living we’re talking about. And that leaves us with Terry Westley or worse, possibly for months.

So what was the downside of telling Bruce he’d have to stay for now and if he wanted to go when things were clearer, so be it? The very least we’re owed is some sort of explanation, rather than the current deafening silence from all concerned.

Anyway, I know younger fans get sick of being told it all used to be a lot worse down the Blues. But look, history does have something to teach us, so it may be worth recalling the exact day when as far as I was concerned Blues shambolic management and ownership reached the very pits. It was 23 March 1989 – don’t let anyone tell you different.

We were bottom of the old Second Division, already more or less doomed to our first ever relegation to the Third. Poor Garry Pendrey was the manager – a good coach caught in an impossible position. When Walsall came to St Andrews we hadn’t scored for six matches. I came down from Liverpool for the game and joined the just over 6,000 diehards. That’s right – 6,000 for a local derby. St Andrews was a rusting hulk by then. With 52,000 in, or even with 20,000, it had been an incomparable arena with the greatest, noisiest atmosphere in football. With a handful scattered around the sweeping terraces it felt like a graveyard, a parody of its former self. Even so, Blues were playing and I was happy to be there. Even happier when we not only scored a goal, but won! The goal scorer was Steve Wigley – a good winger, easily the best player at the club, who went on to become a successful coach. It’s testament to my basic irrational stupidity that I was ecstatic at a 1-0 win over Walsall that made no difference to our certain relegation. But that’s football for you and I set off back to Merseyside with a spring in my step.

There was no internet then of course, so my Blues’ news came from pathetic snippets in the national tabloids. And the following week – on 23 March – as I scanned the sports pages of the Daily Mirror for any glimmers of hope I saw the headline ‘Blades swoop for winger’. It revealed that we had sold Steve Wigley for about £100,000 to Sheffield United! It was as if the bloke was being punished for managing to score a goal! I imagine that our then owner, rag and bone man Ken Wheldon – the worst owner of a football club ever – decided that Wigley’s value must have gone up a few quid, so let’s cash in. Possibly buy another Carl Richards* with the profits. Or maybe it was just that any more goalscoring – damn his eyes – would have scuppered the scrap metal magnate’s plans for us to ground share with the Saddlers.

Well, it couldn’t get any worse that that and it didn’t. We did get relegated but even that bought the prospect of playing some teams we might be able to beat. Even the Kumar Brothers seemed like a welcome relief after Wheldon, until we found the truth about them. The moral from this? Well, not much really . Except that things could be worse. And probably soon will be.

* Carl Richards – our worst ever player. By a mile. A sort of football bollard who wore number 9. Pendrey bought him from Bournemouth, possibly mistaking him for someone else. Bournemouth’s then manager Harry Redknapp recalls this as this best deal ever.

Eamon Dunphy’s Biggest Fan

I’m delighted to say that MerseyPete has written another article for the blog. In this tale, he talks of a surreal experience many years ago at The Den.

‘Made in Brum’ is currently running a series called ‘The best games of our lives’. This is where old fans (sorry – ‘older fans’) send the kids to sleep by recalling past glories, usually involving a scrap with the opposition.  Well, far be it from me to do that, but the latest one did have me all misty eyed.  It was about two games from 1971-72, probably the last season where I followed Blues home and away every game.

One of the games in the article is the away trip to Millwall, the scene of a little tale I’m always boring people with – so now it’s your turn. This was of course our great promotion season, with Trevor Francis and Bob Latchford leading the way. I was on the dole most of that year so I’ve no idea how I managed to afford it, especially travelling from Liverpool, but I went all over the country to what I remember as a series of Trevor inspired 1-0 wins, though the records might not bear my memory out (there actually seem to have been three). In my mind’s eye the last five minutes of most games were spent with Trevor standing on the ball by the corner flag – Freddie Goodwin’s lasting contribution to football tactics.

My experiences were different to those of the MIB veterans. I’ve never got into a fight at a football match. I’m probably too much of a coward, but in any case I never saw the sense in personal violence. I might fight for some things but football isn’t one of them and in fact I saw remarkably little aggro over the years.

Millwall’s Den wasn’t a place you went to lightly, and I had to go to this game on my own. Millwall fans had a fearsome reputation and I knew I’d be no match for them, so a low profile was the order of the day. That said, there was no real segregation in those days and I had no worries about standing and chatting with their fans. It was just the shaven headed Neanderthals behind the goal I was anxious to avoid. (Unfair to Neanderthals that, as it happens – I gather they were actually rather cute).

Anyway, Millwall were one of our main rivals that year and had a good team, including ex Blue Barry Bridges. One of their stars was called Eamon Dunphy. He was an ex Busby Babe, a skilful midfielder, though, not, in my view, a dangerous one. Dunphy is now of course better known as a journalist – Roy Keane’s biographer and apologist. His book ‘Only A Game’ was one of the first, and still probably the best, footballers’ diaries.

After a slightly tense tube ride to the ground I parked myself on one side of the Den terracing, and struck up a conversation with a Millwall fan. He was a big fan of Dunphy, but had a low opinion of his fellow fans. ‘Fackin great player, Danphy’, he told me. (Sorry, this is the best I can do for his South London accent). ‘But this lot don’t appreciate him. They’re all fackin idiots’. I looked around nervously at this – he was entitled to his view of course, but I didn’t want to upset anyone more than I had to. ‘You wait’, he went on, ‘as soon as he doesn’t lash the ball up the pitch they’ll fackin boo him. He’s fackin wasted on them. Great player Danphy. Fackin idiots’. There was plenty more in this vein, occasionally interrupted by my trying to tell him how good young Trevor Francis was. I don’t think he was listening.

The game started and after a couple of minutes Dunphy misplaced a pass. My new friend exploded – ‘YOU FACKIN IDIOT DANPHY…….’. This carried on for most of the half, only interrupted when Millwall scored. At half time he reverted to his previous self, apparently completely unaware of the fact that he appeared to behaving like a case of advanced split personality. Freud would have had a field day, but I thought it tactful not to mention it. Ironically, he was the only fan around us who had a go at Dunphy – everyone else seemed to be much more tolerant.

We lost the game three nil. It was one of the great Kenny Burns’ first games for Blues and our worst defeat of a memorable season. At the end I sneaked off down the perfectly named Coldblow Lane, avoiding the series of fights which the future MIB columnist was, unbeknown to me, getting involved in, and headed for the safety of my mate’s flat in sunny Islington.

The postscript to this was the return match towards the end of the season. We badly needed the win to make up lost ground; Millwall would have been delighted with a point. I’ve truly never seen such concerted time wasting in a game. At one point, early in the first half, the ball ran towards their manager Benny Fenton in the dug out. He stood up as if to kick it back, but actually rolled it further away from the pitch! Jose Mourinho would have had nothing on Fenton when it came to the dark arts of management. Fat lot of good it did him as we won one nil, on our way to pipping Millwall to promotion in the last game of the season.

That game – at Leyton Orient – is in the same MIB article and I …………………… oh, it’s OK, I can tell you’ve had enough, I’ll save that story for another day.

Next Page →

Explanation!

You have arrived at the archive site of the Birmingham City blog Joys & Sorrows. If you were looking for fresh, meaty stuff then this way, please.

This section of the site covers the blog portion of J&S from 26th April 2006 - when the site returned after a catastrophic hosting failure causing the loss of over 500 articles - to 28th April 2008 - when I decided to have a prolonged rest from the site.

Here, if it so takes your fancy, you can find every single article, totalling over 1,000, written by myself and many others over that two year period.

Unfortunately, the formatting on some of the posts is a little rough but since this is an archive, it doesn't matter too much. Nothing is unreadable although a great deal of the links will now, sadly, be broken. So internal Joys & Sorrows links will lead you to 404 errors.

I decided to archive them in this way because I wanted to start something fresh for the main part of the site. Hopefully you'll be able to see that up on the main portion of the site now.

Commenting for the archive section has obviously been switched off. You can flick around the archives by using the 'Find It' function in the middle column or the respective 'Categories' or 'Archives' headings in the sidebars

- Aff, 03/08/08.