I spend (probably) far too much of my free time loitering about on Blues fansites. Like most people I have my favourite ports of call and it seems that no matter where you go, football-related or not, chat threads can degenerate to handbags or even extensive mudslinging, which can make for hilarious reading.
However, forum threads are often a good source of inspiration for articles, and today I’d like to thank Bluedude and Dublin Brummie from SHA for starting a couple of discussions relating to the business of being a football fan, or more precisely being a Blues supporter.
For some people the team they follow truly is in the blood. Rather like being born a Catholic, they were born into Blues families and were taken to games as small children where the die was forever cast. Once a Bluenose, always a Bluenose.
Others lived near the ground and went along with friends from an early age, particularly in the days when “little ‘uns” were lifted over the turnstile or allowed to sneak in when the chap on the gate obligingly let them in about 15 minutes into the game. One or two even started their career as Blues fans by car minding and using their “wages” to pay for their tickets.
Some of the locals knew the illicit ways into the ground and would sneak in away from the watchful eyes of the stewards to blend in with the rest of the crowd on the terrace (the wall on the Kop side seemed to be a popular place).
But we weren’t all born blue nosed. I certainly wasn’t; I come from a family that had no interest in football at all. A lot of my family originally came from Aston and had fate not decreed it otherwise, I could have been a Villa supporter.
I “chose” Birmingham City when I was about ten years old. I wasn’t one of those nice little girls that liked playing with dolls; Meccano and collecting football cards was much more interesting and that inevitably led on to wanting to be a fan of one particular team.
Even then, the lure of the first division clubs was great and there were kids in my class who professed to be Man Utd or Leeds supporters, but as I went to school in Lee Bank there wasn’t a particular bias towards any one team. But Birmingham had the name of the city, MY city and that was what did it for me – and royal blue and white somehow seemed more appealing than claret and blue.
That set me on the road to ruin and I’ve never looked back. And I’m not the only one either…
It seems that quite a few people actively chose Blues.
Some shopped around and went to games at Villa Park and the Hawthorns, either with family or friends before making St Andrew’s their spiritual home – even in the days when our other local teams were winning silverware and we could offer nothing like that.
It seems that what we could do was offer far more in the way of spirit and atmosphere – and perhaps a salutary lesson or two in learning how to laugh at ourselves, part of that self-deprecating Brummie spirit that we’re all so famous for.
Taking this point further, some simply say that the craic was better at Blues, even though we were the Cinderella team that never got to the ball at Wembley, and in the days of the Kumars were just clinging on to survival.
Childhood rebellion might also account for a few fans as quite a few people seemed to come from families who supported other teams, notably Villa. I won’t make any allusions to the conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus in case a big foot comes through the ceiling and squashes me in a Money Python stylee…
Occasionally people were lured in by certain players. Trevor Francis bursting on to the football scene in the early 70s was the reason for the appearance of many young fans as he was the sort of player we’d never seen the like of before. At the time he was a sensation almost in the vein of Michael Owen’s early career. More recently the arrival of Mikael Forssell bought us to the attention of a select band of Finnish fans who now follow Blues avidly.
Going to a “Blues” school was an important factor for some people as you would fall in with mates’ preferences, particularly if they were hardened fans. As I went to a secondary school that was predominantly Villa, maybe it was just sheer bloodymindedness that banded me together with the few others who preferred all things Blue.
For a few, the choice of Birmingham City came even later in life – when it could be argued that they really were old enough to know better.
It was also interesting to learn that some people had taken the “convert” experience even further and either inveigled their entire families into becoming fans, or had started off in life supporting another football team, whether it was through family allegiances or just through personal choice.
Those who began their life as a football fan supporting the likes of Man Utd discovered that winning trophies was small fry compared to discovering the true soul-searing agony of supporting Birmingham City and quickly cast their former allegiances aside.
There are also a lot of people out there who, although being Blues supporters through and through, still keep an eye out for the results of a few other teams. Sometimes this is a result of family members coming from other parts of the country and you encounter the “my granddad came from Huddersfield; the father-in-law had a trial for Brentford” scenarios, which leads to a certain fondness for teams that would otherwise be off the radar.
Quite a few people will adopt a second team, either near to where they live or where they went to college, particularly if they’re a long way from Birmingham these days. Adopting a lower league team as a second team can be quite an entertaining experience, as I know from the tales of a bunch of Halesowen Town supporters.
There are all sorts of ways to develop an affinity with other teams, whether through family, friends or workmates and from there, you inevitably find yourself keeping an eye on their results in whatever league they’re in.
I went to the Conference playoffs last season to occupy an afternoon and watched Hereford United get promoted to the league. I watch out for their results now and I’m pleased to say they’re doing quite well in League Two this season.
I also follow Gretna’s fortunes; a lifetime of being a Bluenose has instilled in me a fervent love of the underdog and it will be something of a revelation to the SPL next season if they’re successful in their promotion bid.
My “second team” when I was a kid was Liverpool, although I suspect this had something to do with Kevin Keegan, shallow creature that I am! These days the Premiership team I like to watch are Arsenal, but this is more to do with their style of football under Wenger than the state of the bodies on the pitch (as it were).
Others have all sorts of different reasons for having a fondness for other clubs; nobody’s wrong or right and some can’t envisage having any sort of interest in any club other than their own.
These days, I’m a fan of Midlands football in general and would love to see three teams from this part of the country get back into the Premiership and try to break the stranglehold that London and the North have over it. As long as we’re one of the three, of course…
For most of the rest of the league, there are fifteen games to go. We still have two games in hand, although a huge majority of Blues fans would prefer that we had already played these, with the points on the board. Those six points would make our current tally 60, we would still be second and not as nervous as we clearly are at the moment.
Far from having a ten point lead at the end of January, we found ourselves slipping from the top spot and at the time of writing are now fourth. Derby are on a seemingly endless run of 1-0 wins and Preston are still clawing in the results courtesy of retaining David Nugent.
The worries are now starting to creep in:
Can we get our form back?
Can we win enough of our remaining games to get us back into an automatic promotion place?
Will Derby and Preston’s run of form continue?
Are the Baggies going to remain serious contenders for promotion?
Are there are other teams sneaking up that we haven’t noticed?
Can we all stand the stress of going through the playoffs again?
What if we slip outside the playoff places?
Can we get our form back?
Maybe the team will be more settled now that Upson has left – and maybe it will show in the results.
Upson was sold too late to bring in another defender, although at least we have reasonable cover and the option of an emergency loan until March. I hope that this inactivity does not cost us in the long run.
Those that went to Colchester last week said that the defensive performance seemed better, so maybe in the long run the decision to sell him will prove to be the right one. The whinging will go on from those at the top, but the rest of the team have to get on with it.
It had already been noted that our best run of the season coincided with Tiny and Jaidi forming the central defensive partnership and goals started to be conceded when Upson returned from his long injury layoff.
Likewise, our results have been poorer while Nicklas Bendtner has been injured, so whatever the boo-boys may think of him, he obviously makes a big difference to the team when he’s on the pitch.
The Damien Johnson saga rambles on and on; it’s certainly true that our best results coincided with him being missing through injury and it’s a constant source of annoyance to some fans that due to his status as team captain, he is automatically the first name on the team sheet, to the exclusion of someone with more ability. On this one, those of us in the stands can only hope that Steve Bruce will finally see sense, while at the same time we fear that he won’t.
Our downturn in form over the last month (FA Cup performances aside) have caused some of the “Bruce Out” brigade to surface again and no doubt their voices will get louder until results improve to our satisfaction.
There are some of us that weren’t completely convinced even when we were eight points clear at the top; some of the wins had been down to sheer luck and some of the performances had been distinctly average; not what would normally be associated with a team hellbent on promotion.
There are also still lingering “long-term” worries about Steve Bruce and whether he is the right man to take Blues up to the Premiership AND keep them there, and I guess this is another debate that will continue over the coming months.
Can we win enough of our remaining games?
The Stattos have already pored long and hard over the fixture list and some of the games we have to come are clearly winnable. Most people would agree that these games include Hull, Leeds, Burnley, Barnsley, Coventry and probably Palace. There are also a group of “so-so” games, which based on popular opinion seem to be Stoke (given our performance at the Britannia Stadium earlier in the season), Norwich (soon to become our new nemesis), Leicester and Sheffield Wednesday.
There are also a bunch of games that have been labelled absolute or potential stinkers, either because they are against “good” teams, local derbies or both. These include Cardiff, Derby, the Baggies, Southampton, Wolves and Preston.
Most people are of the opinion that 85 points (i.e. nine wins and a few draws) would get us automatic promotion.
Simple? Or maybe not?
Will Derby and Preston’s run of form continue?
This is where it starts to get a bit worrying. Derby have already played Preston and the Baggies twice, therefore two of their near competitors are already accounted for as far as the fixture list is concerned. What might help our cause is that Derby have a distinctly winnable FA Cup tie on the horizon (against Plymouth) and a place in the last eight must be a very tempting proposition for Billy Davies.
Derby have also significantly strengthened their team in the transfer window, bringing in seven new faces. They clearly mean business and Davies’ first thought must surely be to increase their goalscoring chances; he’s far too astute a manager to rely on them continuing their run of sneaking 1-0 wins in the last ten minutes. Like us, they have a bunch of distinctly winnable games in front of them and an enviable run-in of a last six games against bottom half opposition.
From being relegation candidates last season, Derby have turned into a real contender for promotion and on current form are one of our biggest threats.
In addition to already playing the current league leaders twice, Preston have also played the Baggies twice, so the pressure of these games has been removed from them as well. Amongst their remaining games are ties against Cardiff, Southampton and of course, what could be a final-day thriller against us.
However, they are still in the FA Cup and must be eyeing their tie with Man City with some interest. As well as being a local(ish) derby, it must be a game they fancy winning as Man City have not been particularly impressive in the last few weeks.
Preston managed to hold on to David Nugent during January following his very public pledge of loyalty to the club and his desire to get into the Premiership through promotion with them. They have been the “nearly men” before as far as the playoffs are concerned and must fancy that this is finally their year.
Are the Baggies going to remain serious contenders for promotion?
The key to this one is their away form, which has been pretty poor for much of the season. Of their remaining games they have to visit Colchester, Cardiff, Wolves and Norwich, all of which are going to be tough fixtures for them. The Wolves game could be particularly tasty following their emphatic FA Cup victory a couple of weeks ago and McCarthy will be looking for some sort of revenge.
The Baggies also have some pretty testing home games, including us, Southampton, Sunderland and Stoke to come, so of our three current near rivals they could be the ones most at risk of staying in the playoff places.
Are there other teams sneaking up that we haven’t noticed?
In a word, yes.
Southampton seem to have come up on the rails over the last few weeks, but have probably not been consistent enough throughout the season to make a serious play for an automatic promotion spot.
However, they are now contenders to stay in the playoff places if they maintain their current form, even though they have fixtures to come against the Baggies, Preston, Colchester, Cardiff and us. In Rasiak they have one of the division’s top scorers and they held on to Gareth Bale during the transfer window.
Cardiff held the top spot at the start of the season and had what at the time seemed to be an unassailable lead. They went into a period of not scoring goals, and a succession of 0-0 draws and a few losses have seen them fall away. Some of their remaining fixtures are going to be challenging; they have the Baggies, Preston and Sunderland at home, us and Derby away and the rest of their season will depend very much on how they perform in these key games.
Colchester have turned into this season’s dark horses. From being a favourite for automatic relegation on the first day of the season, they have been as high as the playoff spots and are currently within a few points of sixth place. Sunderland and Stoke are also within touching distance and could yet make a late challenge on the top six.
Can we all stand the stress of going through the playoffs again?
The answer to this one surely has to be “we will if we have to”, although I can see there being a sharp rise for prescriptions for beta-blockers and anti-depressants in mid-May.
Winning the playoffs is incredible; it has to be the best way of all to win promotion as the fans are treated to the full cup-final experience.
Getting there can be tortuous; two nail-biting semi-finals to live through, particularly if they go to the wires in that classic Birmingham City stylee. It’s also more games for a team that have already played 46 in the league and another half-dozen or more cup ties.
It also seems to be a fairly well-observed phenomenon that the team finishing third in the league does least well in the playoffs. The players are demoralised at just missing out on automatic promotion and find it hard to galvanise themselves for another (albeit brief) campaign.
The worst thing of all though, is getting to the final and losing; as well as the utter heartbreak for the fans, unsuccessful playoff final teams are often plundered during the summer transfer window, making launching another assault on promotion the following season very difficult.
So maybe it’s time to think the unthinkable….
What if we slip outside the playoff places?
Unless we suffer a complete blow-up, this must be one of the less likely options. We would have to revert to our form of the beginning of the season, suffer massive injuries or get deducted points from our “pitchless” moment of last month (which is still, rather worryingly, under investigation by the FL).
If this did happen, the ramifications for next season could be immense. The newly-promoted or other Premiership clubs would undoubtedly come hawking round our better players. The parachute payments, although around for another season, would reduce and our chances of recruiting anyone else decent would start to dwindle rapidly.
It would probably spell the start of a rather longer exile in the Championship – and for the “Bruce Out” brigade, would most likely result in his exit from St Andrew’s.
It may even be that the Board have already decided that anything less than automatic promotion is a failure and he would be on his way if we lost out on the playoffs, either at the semi-final or final stage.
We’ve already seen over the Upson debacle that Bruce’s relationship with the Board is now not what it used to be and they might not be so keen on staying their hand if they feel the cookie has not crumbled the way they would like it to.
We were quiet in the transfer window whilst the teams around us bought players in. This has given the wrong message to a lot of the fans, particularly with the recent memory of the consequences of last January’s transfer dealings (or lack of them). But has it also given the message that they feel Bruce has the resources available to get us promoted and they expect him to achieve it with what he has?
As usual, we are at the mercy of what those at the top decide to do and can only voice our approval or displeasure accordingly.
Let’s hope that everybody gets it right over the next three months.
We’re now slightly over halfway through the season. To bring out a well-used expression, a league campaign is a marathon and not a sprint, so there’s no sight of the finish line yet.
Our projected forecast of being ten points clear by the end of January has not materalised and we find ourselves in second place, but with two games in hand. Most of us would rather have the points in the bank and no impending fixture pile-up.
We’ve now survived our 100th anniversary, Diarygate and the Great Pitch Fiasco before Leicester applied the double whammy and contrived to have their own Act of God put paid to another league fixture. There is no sign of the big screen; one can only assume that it is being hid from us with an elaborate cloaking device.
It’s a long time since we played a league game in between our glorious victory over Newcastle and our not-so-glorious exit to Reading resulting from a failure to take our chances.
Since we found ourselves back on Planet Championship, our performances and results have ranged from outstanding to lamentable, with just about every other adjective in between.
Now that all the “bedding-in” has been done (apart from the new pitch), it’s maybe time to take a look at how some of our players have fared since the start of the season.
Maik Taylor was one of the few that survived the axe in May. By merit of his age and experience, he is undisputably the first choice between the sticks. Is this good for his play though? Although we have Doyle, Legzdins and Kryszak, they are all young and their lack of experience could prove to be a problem were they called to action in a crucial game. There are a number of fans who think that we will have to go into the market for a keeper in the summer, particularly if we get promoted.
Sometimes being a keeper is the worst job in the world; you can be fantastic for eighty-nine and a half minutes and awful for thirty seconds, whereas outfield players can often get away for being anonymous for entire games. This season, our Maik has had some great games, but he has also had a few shockers where he has stood between the posts and done some great impressions of a Cabbage White (Southampton away comes to mind).
We’ve enjoyed a much more settled back four this season, although it took them a little while to gain an understanding of each other. Both Jaidi and N’Gotty had to adapt to the ways of the Championship, although N’Gotty provided a certain entertainment factor to fans in the Railway End who had a close view of him giving Ipswich’s Alan Lee the slap he so richly deserved.
Then the Norwich game came and N’Gotty was deemed to be amongst the truly dreadful and disappeared. We wondered whether he was ever going to be seen again and called him “Forgotty”, then he appeared for the Newcastle game (of beloved memory) and banged in a most impressive goal.
Jaidi’s best central defence pairing so far seems to have been with (of all people) the much-maligned Martin Taylor, as their partnership coincided with a run of clean sheets that can’t all have been down to luck. The Moroccan international has also chipped in with a couple of fairly important goals.
In some ways, Martin Taylor seems to have found his comfort zone in the Championship. From the bumbling, flapping player we screamed at in exasperation last year, there have been times in recent weeks when he has bettered Upson for his attention to detail. He managed to be villain and hero in the space of ninety minutes against Reading, as although he looked to be responsible for the two of the goals conceded, he attempted to make amends by scoring his first goal for years; and a jolly good shot it was, too.
Sadly, Tiny became the unfortunate victim of Upson’s return from injury, although by the time you read this, he may of course have got his wish and large pay packet from West Ham.
Miles of column inches have been written already as to whether he is overpriced at £8M (for those that remember the Tennant’s Pilsener adverts, I would make the comment that he’s “good, but not that good”), but Steve Bruce seems to be adamant that he wants no further disruption to the squad, so for now, Matty may find that he is marooned north of the Watford Gap for the next few months.
It would be interesting to see whether his huge desire to go and be a Hammer would diminish if they are in the Championship next season! It’s also interesting to note that despite his desire to “further his career” the only club to have shown significant interest in him is one which is fighting hard to beat the drop. Pint of Tennant’s, anyone?
Stephen Kelly had a mixed reception initially as he seemed to make some fairly basic errors in our early games. He then seemed to shape up fairly well, particularly when the “back to basics” ruling came in and he was persuaded that a right back’s first job is to, well, stay at the back…
Mat Sadler is another one of the survivors and so far seems to be getting through the season with good games and bad moments; in other words, a lot of people are of the opinion that his concentration can sometimes go AWOL. Whether he truly is the answer to the left side problem will remain to be seen next season if we do get our wish of Premiership football again.
Moving on to the midfield, the new season started with a new captain, and some of us wondered at the wisdom of giving the armband to a quiet guy with a short fuse. Although nobody could ever question Damien Johnson’s application and industriousness, he is never going to be our most gifted player, but would now of necessity be the first name on the team sheet.
DJ1 crowned our ill-fated visit to Leeds with a red card, and the muttering began in earnest. This reached a climax with the shirt-throwing episode and there were calls for his replacement. However, he proved that he is a big enough man to apologise and further redeemed himself at the Baggies game where he gamely played the last ten minutes of the game with a broken jaw.
Stephen Clemence had turned into one of the forgotten men. After a few appearances at the beginning of the season he drifted off into obscurity and was not seen again until Brucie’s Last Stand at Pride Park, where of course he scored THAT goal.
Since then he has been positively prolific and also contributed to the victories at Southend and Sheffield Wednesday. For me, Clem remains one of the club’s unsung heroes; he is solid and dependable, with our midfield being better (on the whole) for his inclusion.
Muamba and Larsson arrived in a “loan two, get one free deal from Arsenal” and the first few times he played, I wondered whether Arsene Wenger was having a senior moment when he had described the kid as the new Patrick Vieira. I’m delighted to say he has proved me wrong though and has made a big contribution to the team. He plays with a smile on his face and says he loves being at Birmingham, so much so that there is even a chance he could become our player at the end of the season.
We all uttered a little whimper at Steve Bruce’s glee that Larsson was a utility player and have now seen him play in most positions apart from on the front row or in goal. He’s at his best as a wide player though, as Newcastle found out to their cost and he also showed us last week that he is pretty good with the dead ball.
Poor old Nafti is becoming one of the ones that has gone missing in action, sometimes not even making it as far as the sub’s bench. It’s a bit sad really that he was one of the ones who said that he wanted to repay the club for paying his wages while he was injured last season. Maybe he’ll have something to contribute in the future.
David Dunn. Oh dear. What can I say? For all the years we had him, his appearances didn’t total a full season; an exquisite player on form, but in the end he was like a lovely glass Christmas tree bauble that couldn’t be taken out of the box as it was so fragile. Just don’t be fit when (if) we play Blackburn next season…
Neil Danns came to us as one of Colchester’s top scorers, and they’re doing quite nicely without him in the event. I have my doubts about his ability, nice lad that he is; he’s popped up with one or two decent goals but also makes some shocking errors. Maybe he just needs a bit more time.
DJ Campbell also survived last season’s clearout, as I suspect the Board had bought him with an eye to him being useful in the Championship. DJ2 surely has to be one of the jammiest players I’ve ever seen in royal blue. His first touch is average to abysmal, but he is quick and manages to get himself in the right place at the right time, scoring goals with whatever bits of his body he can launch in front of the ball.
Forssell has disappeared into the depths of the treatment room and sometimes I wonder whether he’ll ever be seen again. He seemed a shadow of his former self at the start of the season; overshadowed by our mercurial Dane, he looked dispirited and fed-up. His demons must consist of his injury worries and the fear that he’ll never regain his form. I hope he does; he could still contribute to our push for promotion and retains his die-hard followers amongst Blues fans.
Cameron Jerome didn’t make the best start to his career here; in fact, it was so brief that someone on a quick trip to the Gents’ might have missed it. Red-carded on his first appearance, he has come in for some unfair criticism, particularly as initially the rest of the team were not playing to his strengths at all. He has started to show his worth over the last couple of months with his pace and can only grow in confidence.
It seemed right to leave the best until last.
Nicklas Bendtner was unknown to most of us and when an Arsenal-supporting friend of mine said he was destined for great things, I have to say that I didn’t take too much notice initially. He’d won me over within a couple of games though, showing a class that isn’t often seen in teenage players.
Yes, he’s selfish; yes, he’s arrogant; yes, he sulks, but most kids of his age are still at school doing their A-levels, so maybe the boo-boys need to remember this and cut him a bit of slack. Bendtner is a remarkable talent who could play at the highest level in a few years’ time. We’re lucky to have him here for the season and many of us would love to see the Golds break open their piggy bank for him if Arsenal are willing to sell in the summer.
And then there was one.
I didn’t take much notice of the Championship last season. We spent most of the time clinging to the trap door trying to avoid a drop into its gaping jaws. It was a big vat of fizzy pop full of teams trying to fight their way out, hanging on to Reading’s coat-tails. There were hordes of players down there, but I hadn’t heard of many of them.
When I read in the press that we had paid the biggest fee ever for a Championship player, it only confirmed to me that Steve Bruce and the Board had lost their collective marbles. Who was this McSheffrey bloke anyway?
He started quietly; put in a couple of assists, was quick and fearless; not the best tackler but that’s pretty typical of forward players. The floodgates opened against Wrexham in the Carling Cup when he started his scoring career for us with a thunderous shot, and we haven’t looked back since.
Sheffchenko can score with either foot, from the spot and from free kicks. He puts in pinpoint crosses and a pretty mean corner and has even managed to provide us with our first hat-trick for nearly a decade.
Already a Blues’ hero, he’s well on his way to a Player of the Season nomination and our only fear now concerns being able to hang on to him, as he’s now firmly in the media spotlight and being touted as this division’s best player.
What a great day it was when Coventry put the paper back in the fax machine.