I was invited to this event as part of the panel, but I was unable to attend so Russ Dempsey kindly went in my place. Here is his report.
Thursday 2nd June 2011 7.30 p.m.
Presented by Daz Hale
Ian Clarkson, former Blues Captain
Karen Carney, Birmingham City Ladies / England Ladies
Bob Teagle, BCFC Supporter of the Year
Neil Moxley, Daily Mail
Russell Dempsey, Joys and Sorrows
Venue – The Anchor Inn, Digbeth, Birmingham
I was lucky enough to be invited – via Joys and Sorrows – to the Radio WM end of season fans’ forum.
As you can see by the panel members, I was in highly esteemed company. Karen Carney is a member of the unbeaten Birmingham City Ladies’ Football Club, and is in the enviable position of playing for a Birmingham side that is topping the ‘Super League’, though – being a Brummie – she also seems to share the heartache of relegation. She also has 60 English caps! Ian Clarkson was a YTS trainee for Birmingham City and captained his boyhood club at 21! Bob Teagle wrote the rousing speech that was played in the dressing room, before the Tottenham match. Some may say it didn’t quite meet its potential, as we were still relegated, but compare that Spurs performance to the Fulham one, and maybe it did its magic. If it weren’t for Wolves’ second goal that day, Bob could have single-handedly retained our Premiership status, by inspiring Gardner to score that goal. Heh heh. Neil Moxley was genuinely sincere in his answers, even when quizzed about the London media, which you will see later. For now, to put his views into context, check this article that he wrote last week.
Big Dave from Made in Brum, the Gabbie Cabbie, Andy Munro, and Ms B from our very own Joys and Sorrows (though not seen on these fair shores awhile) were among those populating a packed house, that made fielding questions from a relegation-hit audience hot and uncomfortable (though not unpleasant!)
The only picture I had time to take before it all kicked off, from the microphones…
The session ‘kicked off’ with a rousing ‘Keep Right On’ followed by a ‘soon to be edited out’ ‘$h!t on the V!ll@’. We were also met with the breaking news that Mark Hughes had resigned, though seemingly not being Villa’s first choice to replace Houllier? Hmmm…Watch this space.
The first question, asked by Daz Hale, of Radio WM fame, was this:
“Following Blues’ 9th place finish and the Carling Cup Final victory, we then suffered relegation. Who is to blame?”
Bob suggested, it was McLeish, plain and simple. I voiced the forum’s split view, that it was approximately 50% of our followers who felt McLeish was the ‘main’ blame, and the other 50% felt it was ‘other contributors first and foremost’.
There was some discussion about money laid out on Zigic, Derbyshire, Hleb and Bentley, with little or no success, but Neil reminded those present that we only scored more than 42 goals in the Premiership on one occasion; when we had Mikael Forssell on the books (incidentally, he’s recently ‘Tweeted’ his gratitude that we’ve asked him to return! Worth a poll in its own right!). He pointed out his opinion that seemed to meet the general consensus, that McLeish sets his stall out ‘not to lose’ as opposed to ‘win’. Certainly this was borne out by our Premier League results.
Ian pointed out how, every season, it was probably possible for EVERY club outside the top five or six, to be relegated. He felt we were certainly no worse a team this season, than we were last season, despite how the league table appeared.
Pressed for a ‘target of blame’, Karen said she could only really agree with Ian.
The audience were asked would they – in retrospect of course – prefer to have won the Carling Cup, and been relegated, or lose the Cup Final and remain in the Premiership. The huge majority suggested that they were happier with our actual lot, than the pointless theoretical one. It’s too late now. I for one would have taken the Cup and relegation before the Fulham match, despite what Craig Gardner said about being willing to swap his winner’s medal for Prem safety.
A John Kelly asked if the (present) Board are good for Blues.
Ian said the coming season would be the “acid test. After relegation it will be interesting to see if the Board put their hands into their pockets” to avoid what he called “another Kumar experience”.
Bob brought up the rumours of lack of money.
Neil said rumours in the Press were based upon a lack of transparency, some quarters had speculated in pre-season, 2010 that Blues were the most likely club to “do a Portsmouth”. This obviously didn’t happen all season, and “the media” were largely satisfied when we won the UEFA license.
Karen was asked what the perceived impact of relegation would be on the Ladies’ team. She said nothing in her own experience had given her a bad experience of the Board, and that the Board were ‘contracted’ to support the Ladies’ Team for at least the next two years, so – in that light – relegation was not a factor.
I said the attitude of the present Board appeared better than that of the previous Board. Some in the audience agreed, some suggested it was better under Gold and Sullivan, certainly at first. This is something I feel no one can deny, as they promised so much to a club that had been through so much turmoil. The general consensus was that the present Board are at least better perceived than the previous Board in their latter months. Neil said David Sullivan had initially been critical of Yeung and his associates, but that he had investigated, and been satisfied at the time of his investigation that there was “£150m in liquid funds available”.
Ross Collins asked the question, “Should we back Jerome and Zigic, or accept the right offers for them?” As you may expect the room was pretty split, with the odd bit of disagreement that seemed to hit different categories.
a) Jerome should go, he’s useless.
b) Jerome should stay, didn’t he score goals for fun for Cardiff, and eleven for us last season?
c) Zigic is our future, and was our best striker this season.
d) Zigic is too expensive. Quite a popular option, actually.
Kevin Phillips’ name was brought up, should we have allowed him to leave?
Ian pointed to the lack of chances created by midfield, that limited Kev, and the other strikers, for that matter. He also suggested we’d missed Zigic in the close season.
Karen suggested it was ‘time to move on’ from Kevin Phillips and his fellow released players. I said Joys and Sorrows, by and large, wanted to see the youth players utilised better this season, an injection of young blood, especially as with reduced income, we’d have to turn our sights to younger, cheaper players. Bob suggested he didn’t believe this would happen, based upon history. Neil said conversations with Martin Taylor at Watford reflected very well indeed on the subject of Jordan Mutch’s performances. On a personal note, a good mate of mine is a Watford fan, who would sign Mutch up tomorrow, should he become available, so he’s certainly already at high Championship standard. Neil suggested that – without youth players – our squad wouldn’t be big enough to cope with the demands of European and domestic league and cup football.
Ian was asked did he think we should take the Europa League seriously? He said it was his opinion that “fans want to see us win. It’s a once in a lifetime chance”. He felt that, whilst Europe didn’t necessarily have to be ‘our priority’, he didn’t believe at all that players get too tired, even with 3 matches in 8 days. He believed – “at 20/21 years of age, staying in five star hotels, with the right dietary advice” – he would be worried about lads that got tired playing too much football.
Karen said she regularly flew 4/5 hours in between her matches in the Chicago Red Stars of the United States. “As long as you eat and prepare right”…tiredness isn’t an issue. She conceded some players have ‘bad games’ from time to time for a variety of reasons, but didn’t feel travel to European matches would be a major negative factor. Alex McLeish should still be able to field a strong team for the league.
I suggested we should be aiming to field as strong a team as possible on all fronts, not favouring one competition or another. Bob pondered the idea the Carling Cup had relegated us. It was generally agreed it had not. We all agreed we wanted to ensure at very least, progress to the Group Stages of the Europa League. The whole forum wanted an ‘enjoyable Cup run’. Neil suggested, that though there may well be a fixture congestion ‘problem’, it should instead be looked at, as an opportunity to use monies raised by Europa participation, to strengthen the team as necessary in January. Further participation could then be financed by prior performance.
A gentleman called ‘Paul’ said he felt McLeish was ‘useless’ and should have been sacked. This wasn’t met with too much support, however.
Bob was congratulated for his excellent motivating speech at ‘The Big Event’, but – following this speech – the question was asked, “Was McLeish DEAF or DEFIANT?” in his team set-up. Some questioned the lack of the likes of Asante in the starting line-up – or even off the bench – against Spurs. Generally, I feel the performance against Spurs was such improved, that the question would only really have been relevant should it have happened before the Fulham match.
The panel were asked should the Board have backed McLeish? I tried to suggest, speaking for Joys and Sorrows, that – again – the ‘vote was split’, but I was pushed for my own opinion, so I gave it, that – indeed – I was glad we had backed McLeish, but that he has to learn from mistakes made this season. Ian suggested that – come September/October/November time, should we not be in a very strong position, McLeish would be sacked. He made comparison to Steve Bruce’s tenure. Similar decisions had to be made then.
Karen said promotion under McLeish last time wasn’t the most exciting of seasons for entertainment, but pointed out he “can only work with the players he has.” Though he did buy them, he needs “the chance to build a fresh team. Give youth a chance. He (McLeish) has the experience needed.”
Bob said he was glad McLeish was kept on but insisted we need to make bids for ‘Big’ players, clarifying this comment as ‘Top Championship players’. Craig Mackail-Smith and Jay Bothroyd were two names he suggested. Neil suggested Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, or a player in his mould. He concurred that Alex McLeish deserved a chance at a second promotion, but also suggested he believed the club perhaps couldn’t afford to sack him.
Daz pointed to the Norwich match when – perhaps – Steve Bruce should have walked or been pushed, and said now was the time for a ‘sea change’. That perhaps the regimented two banks of four largely preferred by Bruce and McLeish could be altered. Some negative calls from the audience about Big Eck’s 4-5-1 were quietened somewhat by the fact McLeish used 4-4-2 in the last ten matches (I’m sure they said HOME matches, but I can’t back that up), and that we had won at Wembley with a 4-5-1. I pointed out McLeish often defended 4-5-1 as ‘not too defensive’ so the counter to that was that perhaps, even with our late season 4-4-2 we weren’t ‘too attacking’. The audience wanted a commitment from the club that we would try to win in more style, than last Championship campaign.
I would say 95% of the audience – when asked – suggested that they were supportive of the decision to keep Alex McLeish as Birmingham’s manager.
Robbie Savage’s claim that Blues would struggle in the Championship (http://www.newsnow.co.uk/A/497620584?-11196) came under the spotlight. Bob felt we would struggle if we let (further) key players leave. Ian felt it was too early to tell, but that he would be massively disappointed “if Birmingham were not finishing in at least the top seven or eight”.
The question was asked if Bob’s speech would have inspired Ian Clarkson. He said it would, but that inspiration comes from within. He felt working class players were better players for Blues.
Karen agreed, conceding that – whilst boos, cheers and silence can influence “yeah, you are aware of the feedback…I love playing in front of crowds. You put on a show. It does affect you, but you are a professional, there to do a job”. Ian was asked about the atmosphere at Saint Andrews, before kick off, for example. His simple answer was that it was “second to none”. He pointed out that “even Michael Carrick got booed at Blues, it’s just something you have to take on the chin.”
‘John’ asked what we felt about Wigan having survived in the Premiership for the last 6 seasons, whilst Blues have been relegated three times in the same period. Neil argued the key difference was £70m owed to Dave Whelan by Wigan Athletic. He also pointed out two of their survivals were – like this year – decided only on the final day. I pointed out that expectation had a huge part to play. That smaller teams like Wigan had much lower expectations, so there was less pressure on the teams to perform well, that ‘languishing near the bottom’ was accepted by Wigan fans more readily than it would be at Saint Andrews. There is almost an expectation for teams like us to ‘push for Europe’ before we’ve fully established ourselves.
‘John and Sue’ asked why we felt the National media were so delighted with our relegation? Neil was obviously the candidate most qualified for this question, and admitted there was a ‘grain of truth in it’. He hypothesised that we hadn’t “captured the imagination” in the same way as Blackpool and Ian Holloway had, and pointed out that – despite our relegation – 15 Premiership draws was a creditable competitive performance, but lack of goals (and entertainment!) didn’t help our cause with the media!
Someone in the crowd shouted, “Who was the last side who beat a Top 4 side in a Cup Final?” which earned him a round of applause. Ian stepped in with his ‘local journalist’ hat on, suggesting he knew a large proportion of the media were “West Ham fans…and have a London and North West bias, mainly due to press offices existing in London and Manchester, and there being no ‘national media presence’ in the Midlands at all”.
Karen was asked about her experience with the Arsenal Ladies team. She said she was aware of the press bias, that she did feel Birmingham received “less support with the same success”. That is, another club, achieving exactly what Birmingham achieved, would receive better media support/publicity.
The audience felt that the Midlands doesn’t exist as far as London is concerned. Someone wisely pointed out that our cause wasn’t helped by the lack of Birmingham City Council support, for example with our lack of open-topped bus parade for the Carling Cup triumph. I suggested there was a lack of openness, in that our ‘parade’ would have been easier to police than the existing St Patrick’s Parade, and that the timing could have been improved if nothing else, to have held it at Saint Andrews after the West Brom match, as there were 27,000 there to witness it instead of a rumoured 8,000 the day after.
Janette pointed out that this was hardly a new “phenomenon”, that Roy Keane himself had had to query the media when Birmingham City were hardly even mentioned, following our 1-5 victory over Newcastle at Saint James’s Park in the FA Cup.
The question was asked should the Board have dropped prices for season tickets, following relegation? Again, opinion was split down the middle, with some arguing for ‘cheaper Championship football’, some suggesting more games meant it WAS cheaper per game, some pointing out any extra income could go towards the players we’re all demanding. Quite.
“Noel” asked Bob, “Superfan, have you applied for the Villa job?” To much amusement, Bob replied that he hadn’t…yet. But that he would consider it, and – if successful, would “sell all their players to Darlington or Oxford”.
To finish off, we were all asked for a message for Alex McLeish.
I simply said we should all now unite behind our manager, and our team, and in return, Alex McLeish and the team should all do their best to get us back into the Premiership where we belong. Ian paraphrased Keep Right On. “there’ll be joys and sorrows, too”. Karen said, “Just go for it, we’ll always be there, no matter what. Give 100%”.
Daz asked was she going to Wembley on Saturday? Apparently, she is in the ‘squad of 30’ to meet the Prime Minister (roundly booed as a Villa fan) for a ‘sending off parade’ prior to the reduction of the England squad to a squad of 21. All wished Karen luck in making the 21.
Neil suggested radical steps were needed, opening up the doors to kids (some in the audience incorrectly took this to indicate youth team policy), Daz pointed out how the “Kids for a quid” initiative was an undoubted success in the past, and suggested similar ideas could prove useful in filling Saint Andrews in future. Neil said he recalled a wet Cardiff match that was £5 a ticket, that resulted in a sell out crowd ‘It’s not rocket science’. Neil further said we should ‘demand an attacking side’.
Bob was ‘saved until last’ in light of his stirring speech. He caused some mirth, and most joined along with his simple chant, “Attack, attack, attack…simple as…be more adventurous”
Daz Hale commented that he felt this was the ‘worst relegation of the lot’ in light of the Carling Cup triumph though this wasn’t accepted by all, some felt they’d seen darker days. The crowd were right behind the club, as the forum came to an end, and another rousing ‘Keep Right On’ ensued after the panel were thanked (thanks to those who cheered me, despite me not being as famous as my ‘co-stars’)