I’m not sure when Small Heath started wearing royal blue. The first reference I’ve ever seen is from 1894, when we won our first promotion and the players tied their blue shirts to the train into New Street. So it may be that we wore blue from the very first kick, back in 1875 – perhaps some Blues historians can help me here. But obviously our shirts gave rise to our nickname – the same as most other teams who wear blue. Or is it? In fact I think our nickname, or at least the way it’s used, is unique. I’ll explain in a few moments.
Of course, I always hate it when another team is referred to as ‘the blues’ – did you see that recent headline pop up on the Blues search engines – ‘Blues reach Euro quarter finals’? A second’s dreaming, but it was Chelsea, of course – those programmers aren’t as clever as they make out. Once I’d recovered I had that familiar sense of resentment at other clubs stealing our nickname.
But first of all, nicknames in general. One of the dafter episodes of recent* times was, I thought, when Sunderland fans were asked to vote on a new ‘official’ nickname. First of all, the whole idea of an ‘official’ nickname sounds stupid – by their nature they should be informal and therefore entirely UNofficial. But money talks, I suppose. Arsenal, after all, aren’t satisfied with having a copyright on the nickname ‘Gunners’ (and therefore a cash cow), they also tried to copyright ‘Gooners’, which is the fans’ own ironic subversion of the ‘official’ name. Everything has a price nowadays.
But in Sunderland’s case, why did they need a new nickname at all? Well they’d just left Roker Park and if you look at the reference books their nickname was often listed as ‘Rokermen’ or ‘Rokerites’. Now, over the years I’ve known a few Sunderland fans and not one of them has ever called their team the Rokerites. It sounded to me like a name that was maybe used by headline writers in the local papers, but not much by fans themselves. And although they came up with some convoluted explanation of why the ‘Black Cats’ was somehow appropriate it seemed hopelessly contrived to me.
In the football annuals you used to get nicknames listed for every club, of course, and they always had some gems. ‘Citizens’ for Manchester City for example. Hmm, I don’t think so! In fact I doubt if that’s ever been used – it was probably thought up because they don’t really have a nickname, other than ‘City’, which is fair enough as it distinguishes them from Surrey United. Chelsea were usually listed as the ‘Pensioners’ which they may have used before the war, I suppose. But maybe they should go back to using it – or ‘bloated plutocrats’, which may be hard to fit into a chant – instead of using our nickname. Mind you, a nickname related to how your owners made their money could lead us into some dangerous territory…
I thought that Fulham must have stopped calling themselves the ‘Cottagers’ out of sheer embarrassment but, unlikely as it seems, Fulham fans still do use it. They’re just so laid back about this sort of thing in London aren’t they? Rotherham appear in my old Rothmans as ‘the Merry Millers’. Well, they are the Millers (from the steel industry I think) but ‘Merry’? From Rotherham? I don’t think so.
The best nicknames as far as I’m concerned are those which sprang from the traditions of the area, such as Stockport and Luton being called the ‘Hatters’ after old local industries. Rugby League used to be very strong on these – Widnes were the ‘Chemics’, and Warrington’ ‘The Wire’, again after local industries. Although local fans still use those names, they had to be dispensed with when Rugby League decided it need American style club names. So you get Widnes Vikings (just about sustainable, I suppose as there we Viking settlements in this part of the world), but I don’t know where ‘Warrington Wolves’ came from. Maybe if the 39th game ever comes to fruition we’ll have to be renamed the Birmingham Blue Sox.
I’m rambling here, so back to Birmingham City. There are of course, loads of teams who wear blue and many of them do call themselves ‘the blues’. Everton, who still have a ‘proper’ nickname (‘Toffees’ – still in use but more by the local press than by the fans) do call themselves the blues, and as they are nearly as old as us and do wear blue (though it wasn’t their original colour – that was salmon pink and navy stripes) I don’t suppose we can complain. But if you ask an Evertonian who they support they will say ‘Everton’ or ‘the blues’. If you ask a Birmingham fan they will answer ‘Blues’ (if they’re talking to someone locally, anyway). And there’s the difference – the missing definite article*.
In other words, there are lots of team called ‘the blues’, but only one ‘Blues’. You might think this is a bit like a theological argument but the way we use the name is different to – as far as I know – everybody else. You’d never read a report of Everton or Chelsea saying that – for instance, ‘Blues played really well’**; it would say ‘the Blues’.
So, sod ‘em, I say – they can all be the blues if they want, but there’s only one Blues!
* My definition of ‘recent’ is anything in the last 15 years.
** If you’re struggling with this – do they teach text language instead of grammar nowadays? – have a look at Lynn Truss’s “Eats, shoots and leaves”, a popular guide to grammar and punctuation.
*** Any smart alec who says you wouldn’t read it in one of our reports either should leave this site immediately. And don’t come back!
“Has he luck?”, Napoleon used to ask of new generals. We might ask the same of Alex McLeish, who’s generally thought to have had a lucky start to managing Blues. If there’s any such thing as a ‘lucky’ leader (and here I have to part company with Bonaparte) we could certainly do with one.
But, as it happens, I didn’t think we were especially ‘lucky’ on Sunday. We certainly had the worse of the game but there was nothing freakishly lucky about our goals – especially not THAT goal, though I promise not to add to the acres of newsprint already devoted to it. It might be more useful to look at what has so far distinguished “Big ’Eck” from Ol’ Big ‘Ead. Also, I need to have my say about The Most Irritating Man On Television.
I wouldn’t venture a match report – we all saw the game anyway, and Baz has already done that. But I think it’s pretty well agreed where McLeish took different options to Bruce. First of all, selection. No way would Bruce have left Kapo out – in fact I’m not sure I would have. Bruce was committed to Kapo as his quality buy of the summer; to leave him out would have cast doubt on his basic judgement. McLeish started with a blank sheet, owing nothing to anyone, and made a bold judgement on the evidence of a few videos and a week in training. He was rewarded with arguably Kapo’s best 20 minutes of the season. (Interestingly, though, the team’s shape did have a Bruce-like look about it; solid centre midfield, pace on the wings, one up front.)
Secondly, the point everyone spotted – substitutions. When Jerome scored, Bruce would – absolutely no question – have told the Forss to put his tracksuit back on. He would have settled for the point. Even after Keane’s red card – of which more later – I doubt if he would have put a second striker on. McLeish’s boldness certainly paid off, with three great chances in the last three minutes.
Thirdly, the issue of attention to detail has surfaced since the game, with Gary McSheffrey’s comments. Now McSheff is a level headed, intelligent guy, and I doubt he was just having a pop at Bruce or sucking up to the new boss. He just doesn’t seem that type; his comments are usually a model of thoughtfulness. So he may have spotted something that was missing with Bruce. I certainly like the idea of the team that McLeish has bought with him, rather than the usual manager/deputy set up. Bruce, nice guy though he is, never really seemed like a team player (as a manager, if you see what I mean). He got rid of Bowen in mysterious circumstances, apparently because Bowen was thought to have gone behind his back. And Eric Black – quiet and intelligent – has never seemed the sort to challenge Bruce’s authority. Maybe McLeish’s experienced team of battle hardened Scots will be Blues’ equivalent of the old Anfield bootroom, which produced a string of managers and football thinkers… Oh, all right, I’ll calm down now; we’ll learn more as McLeish gets to know his new players more.
And now for that prize berk Andy Gray. Sorry, is my prejudice showing already? If there’s a more irritating football summariser on telly I’d like to see him. Or rather, I wouldn’t. Yes, yes, I know there’s Mark ‘humorous’ Lawrenson too, but Gray really does take the biscuit for sheer smugness. When he’s on with Martin Tyler, it’s Smug and Smugger; the only surprise is that they don’t eat themselves. On Sunday, Gray’s performance over the Keane incident was truly pathetic. OK, the sending off was marginal, maybe a yellow would have been enough. But it was a bad foul – only Gray doesn’t seem to have cottoned on to that. And his conspiracy theory about Dowd’s ‘instructions’ from the fourth official (together with his straight man Richard Keys) was breathtaking. There was never any reason to think that Dowd had asked Uriah Rennie his opinion – all that had happened was that he spoke into his mike. On that slender evidence Gray found enough to go on not just during the game but long after it had finished.
Of course, this is an area where technology could help football. It seems to me that most scientific research is devoted either to developing better ways of blowing people up – A Bad Thing – or curing diseases – no doubt A Good Thing. Could not a smidgen of that mighty effort be diverted into developing a Selective Commentator Mute Button? You could eliminate troublesome commentators at a stroke, without losing crowd noises and any good commentators. Imagine – no more Gray, Lawrenson, Motty, or that irritating bloke who used to play on the wing for Arsenal. Now that’s something I’d pay good money for.
And finally – yes, I know I said I wouldn’t mention Larsson’s goal but what the heck – I can’t get it out of my head. Until now my best Blues’ goal was one of Trevor’s – a 25 yard volley from a Latchford knockdown at Bloomfield Road. TF mentions this in his biography. It’s not on film so it’s preserved in all its perfection in my head and it can’t really be challenged. Second, of course, John Gayle’s Wembley winner. But Larsson’s strike is now up there with the best of them. If it doesn’t win Goal of the Month/decade, whatever, then I’ll ………..oh, I don’t know, I’ll “thcream and thcream until I’m thick”.