We Are Premier League

Phew, it feels like an age since we were promoted already, doesn’t it?

One thing I’ve noticed over the last couple of days is how much brighter the sun is shining, how much more comfortable my shoes have become to walk in, how everyone smiles politely when I walk down the street… even the trees seem to be chanting songs about Fabrice Muamba.

We are Premier League, say we are Premier League.

First and foremost, I think one person who deserves a hell of a lot of credit this season is our manager. Regular readers will know that I’m not Steve Bruce’s biggest fan. As a bloke, I’d go for a drink with him and if I were broken down by the side of the road, I could almost guarantee him stopping if I flagged him down, but as a football manager…

But I’ll cover everything about Bruce in a separate blog tomorrow. I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that he’s done well this season in the face of some tremendous stick from sections of the Blues fans and is as deserving of this promotion as anyone involved at the football club.

The players – for the majority of the season – have been a pleasure to have representing us. Whilst they and Bruce haven’t always necessarily played the sort of football we’ve all hoped for, they’ve scrapped, fought and battled for every single point and none more so than on Saturday afternoon.

The sheer guts and bottle have been brilliant to see and it’s perhaps only now that some of us are realising what a job the board, manager and players had on their hands. What I’d now give to see us go to Preston North End this weekend and finish the job and put a trophy in the cabinet.

Onto Saturday… when Muamba was sent off, it was like the players all took it personally. They puffed their chests out, rolled up their sleeves and took on a steely determination to make sure that they’d get the job done whatever the cost. It took a few minutes for everything to kick in but once it did, it felt like a blue tide.

The last half an hour was, without a doubt, the greatest atmosphere I have ever personally witnessed at St Andrew’s. When the goal went in, the whole stadium felt like it was moving and it was a case of grab anyone you could to celebrate with. Just after we’d put the oxygen masks away from celebrating the first, Larsson goes and scores goal of the season and the pandemonium starts again!

It’s been a fabulous weekend and listening to the Tom Ross special on BRMB puts it all into perspective – I think a lot of Blues fans, myself included, have been unnecessarily harsh at times this season. Perhaps we don’t quite fully realise the size of the job that we had on our hands, especially given the expectation.

Just delighted that we’re now at the end of the promotion road… one more junction to go until Championship trophy car park!

Keep right on, my fellow ‘noses.

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow when I’ve actually calmed down a little. It’s still all a bit hazy and unbelievable at the moment!

Missing The Championship

I haven’t been able to post about promotion yet. Saturday night I was too wired (and a little woosy!) to actually sit still long enough to construct anything and yesterday I was … a little too wired and a bit lazy. In all honesty, it hasn’t truly sunk in yet.

I thought one or two of you might enjoy this article. I wrote it last Wednesday – before Sunderland played Burnley, before Blues played Sheffield Wednesday, before Crystal Palace played Derby County. It appeared in this week’s edition of Made In Brum fanzine.

I had faith my friends, I had faith.

Hopefully, as you sit here reading this, we’ll already be promoted. We’ll have waved our goodbyes to West Brom, Wolves and one or two others who have dared to annoy us this season. We’ll be moving on up and looking forward to a summer of speculation over who we’re going to buy. A pick ‘n’ mix of internationals awaits our perusal – and you can buy a lot of pick ‘n’ mix with thirty million quid.

If only we had a manager who knew how to spend it wisely… No, no. None of that, this is supposed to be a good day. Assuming we’ve made it, of course. Which I know is a dangerous thing to do with Birmingham City but I’m in my mid twenties and I’ve been reliably informed that I’m not old enough to be bitter about supporting the club yet. I’m still, generally, quite optimistic. I’m still generally hopeful that we can win something of note before the big football stadium in the sky starts to announce my name on the PA.

50 odd years to go, Blues.

I used to be expectant. I used to think that a trophy would one day haphazardly fall in our laps. That’s gone. I definitely think hopeful is the next stage. I’m currently there. I don’t know what comes after that before I arrive at ‘bitter’ – the last stop on the line. I’ve met a lot of bitter Bluenoses. They can be hard work. They’re convinced that we’re going to bugger it up. As I write, we have two games to go and four points will guarantee us promotion… they’re convinced it’ll all end in tears. But then again, they were also convinced we’d stumble at Molineux, The Walkers Stadium and at home to Southampton and Coventry too.

But I’m going to be brave and predict that we’re going up. We have a fabulous record against sides in the top half of the table and Sheffield Wednesday are the form side in the division at the moment whilst Preston occupy a nervy 4th position in the table. Two games that, at the beginning of the season, looked difficult but as we’ve proven time and time again over the course of the year, difficult we can do, it’s expectancy that we have a problem with. I expected us to beat Norwich, Southend and Burnley at home whilst teams like Derby, Cardiff, Southampton and Preston were less straight forward but we traversed those obstacles at home reasonably simply.

And baring all this in mind – quickly pushing the ‘BUT WE’RE BIRMINGHAM CITY!’ overtones to the back of my mind – I think we’ll be okay this weekend. I would say that I EXPECT us to complete the job and put one big, blue foot in the Premiership but we know how the current squad deals with such a word so I’ll keep my feelings about the game ‘hush-hush’ should I bump into any of the current lot on my travels this week.

I should perhaps note that I fully expect Derby to come a cropper on Sunday against Crystal Palace, hence promotion being achievable this weekend. I don’t think my nails could stand another week of wondering, especially since I’ve already chewed them upto my wrist. Sunderland to win on Friday night (although it would be superb if Burnely could do us a favour and we could clinch promotion in front of a packed St Andrew’s,) Blues to win on Saturday, Derby to fall into a crumpled crying heap on Sunday.

I wonder what next season will bring. The Premiership is the most exciting league in the world according to the people who pay millions to win the broadcast rights every year. It’s the only place to play your football, the skill on display is breath-taking, the speed at which the ball moves mesmorising, the pies are hot, the stadiums are comfortable, every match is a bubble of entertainment gold.

So why is that I’m slightly sad about leaving the Championship? This season has been the strangest I can personally remember.

The Premiership brought absolutely massive highs and memories that will last a life time. Dugarry, England internationals, beating the Villa, beating Arsenal, Liverpool, playing at places like Anfield, Old Trafford, kudos, respect, being able to see our highlights on a Saturday night (if you were prepared to stay up until after midnight…)

Flip the coin over and it also brought some of the dullest football in living memory. The club seemed to be stuck under a cloud for the best part of two years with players who didn’t appear to care, who talked a lot but delivered little, a manager who couldn’t see the wood for the trees and looked inept in whichever way you chose to look at him and a fanbase who were so tired of being milked and fleeced that some didn’t even seem to care that we were sliding back to a place that we’d scratched at the lid at – trying to escape – for several years before. There was an inevitability about it all.

The Championship brought a chance to rebuild, take stock and have another go at things that we’d previously done wrong. The board decided that Steve Bruce was still the man and so on we plodded. Out went too many to mention – with perhaps Liverpool bound Jermaine Pennant being the only real loss, although I didn’t mind for nearly £7m! – and in came a bunch of ‘young and hungry’ goal scorers who were going to take this division by storm.

It hasn’t quite worked out like that, has it? This season has seemed to be fight after fight among ourselves. Each person at the club, supporting the club, connected with the club, has a gripe about something and I can’t remember too many periods this season where we’ve all actually sang from the same hymn sheet. Two games to go and people still aren’t happy. This is despite us being six points away from this being our most successful season in our history as far as points go. There’s got to be something wrong there!

I’m not interested in the Steve Bruce in or out debate. It’s been absolutely done to death. I think it’d be nice if he resigned at the season’s end, almost like he’s righted the wrong of seeing us sunk without trace last season. Others don’t want that. Fair enough, I don’t care.

What I am interested in is this season and how people view it. For all the in-house fighting, disappointing losses and empty seats, I’ve really, truly enjoyed this season. I’ve probably moaned as much as anyone probably could over the course of the last 8-9 months but this season has thrown up some truly fantastic times. You only have to go back just under a week to the game at Molineux… Not to mention Damien Johnon’s superb Brazilian style volley at the Albion a few weeks ago. To sum that goal up, I’ve never, EVER celebrated a goal with such gusto before [Note: I did write this before Cameron Jerome and Sebastian Larsson scored against Wednesday!] It meant a lot. As did Clemence at Derby, Vine against Derby, DJ against Sunderland and all five up at Newcastle!

I like the Championship. We perhaps should’ve won it already. A different manager may have already handed us the title with the squad that we have got. Bruce has done a good job in assembling it. I’m just not sure he’s the right man to get the most out of it. Regardless, we have it now and you only have to watch it to see that we have a side in stark contrast to last year. Bendtner aside, everyone here wants to be here and everyone here wants to play for the club. I’d forgotten how good that feels as a fan. We haven’t really seen that since, dare I say it, Robbie Savage ran the team from the middle. A heartbeat.

This season has been unpredictable in the extreme. But then again, isn’t the Championship always when we’re in it? All the clichés come out when I think of this league. Anyone can beat anyone, no-one will run away with it etc. At the moment, there’s still 10 teams that can be promoted. 10 teams. They talk of the Premiership being the most exciting league in the world and the race between Manchester United and Cheslea going to the wire. I’ve got to be honest, I see a race between one big club with too much money and another big club with too much money. Both teams have players with too much money who only seem interested in getting richer and wondering why people dislike them.

The Championship is a different kettle of fish. Each year it’s exciting, each year it throws up surprises and characters and teams that shock. Would you have put money on Colchester United being at the business end of the table despite having sold their two best players? It’s such a surprise that should they sneak into the playoffs and gain promotion, they will have to play home games elsewhere since Layer Road is not up to Premiership standard! Who would’ve thought that a club the size of Leeds would be looking down the barrel of a relegation gun? Derby were over 100-1 to win the league at the start of the season, they sit just two points from the summit. Sunderland were bottom of the league at one point this season. We’ve done remarkably well to be in the promotion hunt considering the stats of relegated sides bouncing straight back up. It happens very, very infrequently.

The usual suspects are also there and I suppose it could be argued that the Championship’s top 5-6 could be predicted as easily as those from the Premiership. Fans who support rivals of relegated clubs will often make jokes about trips to places like ‘Barnsley, Southend and Hull’ but in all honesty, is that any less glamorous than facing clubs like Fulham, Middlesbrough and Wigan? Sure the stadiums are nicer but surely it’s just a wool in sheep’s clothing? Going to Middlesbrough will never be fun, it’ll never be a game you look forward to. At least Southend can be turned into a fairly fun weekender! Midlesbrough, Wigan… they’re SAS type games, get in, get the job done, get home again!

[And before any fans of 'Boro, Wigan and Fulham come here moaning, you probably view a trip to Birmingham in the exact same way. It's probably not the most glamorous away tie either. I don't have a problem with that. Remember that before posting abuse, eh?]

As I say, I’ll miss the Championship. I’ve had a ball this season. Those who slate it are usually toffee-nosed top 10 club supporting Premiership fans who wouldn’t know a true footballing experience if it bit them on the backside. It’s not all about making money, getting your team’s best players in Adidas adverts or saying that you’ve signed a player for ‘x’ amount of million on ‘x’ amount of money per week.

Hopefully this season has reminded us of that and should we – as I expect us to – make the final leap this weekend or next, we won’t be so quick to forget this time.

Birmingham City 2-0 Sheffield Wednesday – Report By Jake

Pressure affects football teams in different ways. When Fabrice Muamba was sent off for a second booking in quick succession on the hour the tense atmosphere felt at St. Andrews all afternoon rose higher. And boy, did the players respond.

Galvanised by what many felt was the unjust dismissal the players found an extra inner strength and with astute substitutions coupled with the home crowd raising the decibal level the match finally sparked into life. Has there been a better team in The Championship when down to ten men than Blues this season ? Sheffield Wednesday may have felt the turning point in the game was Muamba’s red card. Their role in the second booking left a sour taste in the mouth as it looked like the referee, the painfully weak and inconsistent Paul Taylor, had only given a foul until some of the Wednesday players turned on the Arsenal loanee. Poetic justice was served with the result and maybe their actions worked against them ultimately.

With such an important game for both teams in the promotion chase the first half proved to be a nervous affair, Blues looking most dangerous at set pieces and Wednesday having neat approach play without either side creating a clear chance in open play. Wednesday came into the game on the back of a fantastic unbeaten eleven game run and their well drilled defence was frustrating the home side and fans as the half progressed.

The second half began with the visitors on the front foot and chances were created either side of Muamba’s bookings. Luck was on Blues side, Kenny Lunt hitting the bar from ten yards when he should scored, yet the ten men responded positevely to the pressure cooker sitution. With Nafti on to bolster the centre midfield and Jerome on to utilise his power and pace Blues had sacrified their two most effective forward players this season in McSheffrey and Bendntner. Both were correct decisions by Steve Bruce, timed well and the subs helped Blues keep their shape and have an extra threat on the counter attack.

The more the game progressed the more important the first goal was going to be. One of the most consistent aspects of Blues this season has been their excellent set pieces and from a larsson corner Jerome hooked the ball home and gave everyone associated with Blues something vital to hold onto.

With Wednesday pushing for an equaliser there came one of those magic moments football fans hold hope out for and will tell their grandchildren about it for years to come. Seb Larsson picked up the ball just by the halfway line and somehow found an extra yard of pace and skill to go on one of the magical runs, past one player .. two .. three .. maybe more … and cooly slot the ball home. The Goal Of The Season book should now be closed. Has anyone ever seen a better goal by a Blues player in such a pressure situation ?

The reaction of the Blues players, bench and fans said it all. Will the win be enough to secure automatic promotion. Who knows ? With Leeds effectively down, if Derby win at Crystal Palace tomorrow they will surely fancy beating the dispirited Yorkshiremen on the last day which would need Blues needing a point at Preson to make sure. In this league nothing should be taken for granted.

For now take heart and enjoy the moment. Blues won against the odds in the end and not many teams can say that in this league faced with the same pressures.

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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.