June 25, 2013 by backofthenetjl
We have yet another piece in the series, this one features Ryan Deeney telling us what it’s like to support Birmingham City.
How do you sum up being a Birmingham City supporter? I’ve been at the Millenium Stadium to watch my hometown club win the play-off final against a Norwich City side that were on the comeback following a few years of disappointment having come down from the Premier League as a young 18 year old Darren Carter struck home the winning penalty. I’ve also sat in my Grandad’s living room crying as the news came through that despite a battling performance against Newcastle United, we were being relegated from the Premier League.
I’ve been to Wembley to witness the ultimate satisfaction as we defied the odds to overcome an Arsenal side that was overwhelmingly put in as favourites in the bookies eyes. Seen the likes of Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas look down to the ground in despair as Obafemi Martins’ winner saw the loudest Wembley crowd celebrate in style as Stephen Carr lifted the League Cup trophy. Little over two months after that memorable day out, I was at St.Andrews depressingly seeing us put up such little fight against a rather average Fulham outfit on the day as Brede Hangeland scored two headers from corners in the penultimate game of the season. Alex McLeish receiving dogs abuse, Barry Ferguson looking through the goalnets at the crowd with a dismal look of disgust in his eyes at the “marking” he had witnessed before him just a couple of months after “happy slapping” Laurent Koscielny round the back of the head as he wheeled away in celebration at Wembley. And of course, we were relegated a week later.
The first English side to reach a European final, a phrase thrown at me more than once in frustration from the generation or two before me has been “we have to be the most unlucky side in England.” Of course, I know that not to be entirely true (I wouldn’t want to say that to a Portsmouth fan) but I understand where most of them are coming from.
Most clubs have their ups and downs and in the case of the Blues, we quite literally go up and down the divisions. Along with West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland, we are one of the Premier League’s yo-yo clubs of the 21st century. Three promotions and three relegations in nine years firmly sum up that one. It always seems to be that relegation came following an early expectation that we could actually do something special during the campaign. I know, awful isn’t it.
I could go back into the history before my own time but it would seem a little redundant. The league and F.A Cup semi’s, finals and even victory back in 1963 as well as the Kumars tenure that saw liquidators get involved and the beloved St.Andrews ground almost sold. And the sales of Trevor Francis and Bob Latchford as relegation threatened.
For me though, my first memory of going down to the Blues was a Division One game against Gillingham. And growing up over the next couple of seasons, the disappointment involved in being a Birmingham City supporter became quite comical as we failed to get past a Barnsley side that thrashed us 4-0 back in 2000 (still a record away victory in the second tier play-offs) and Preston thanks to a super penalty show from David Lucas, who would go onto become our Goalkeeper last season for one League Cup game. And of course, in the same year as the Preston defeat we lost on penalties to Liverpool in the final of the League Cup. The memory of Andrew Johnson crying in the arms of an also teary Trevor Francis still gives me goosebumps in a run that saw us so bravely take on Premier League opposition in all but one of our ties.
That all changed though in 2002 as Steve Bruce took charge and brought in the likes of Jeff Kenna, Damien Johnson (my first genuine memory of a goal at St.Andrews was scored by him against the might of Grimsby Town) and Stern John. Promotion to the Premier League, finally a gigantic reason to smile as we reached the Premier League for the first time in 17 years. Not that euphoria lasted too long – we were beaten with 10 men against Arsenal in the first game!
I went onto witness Christophe Dugarry, Jermaine Pennant, Robbie Savage and Mikael Forssell in those Premier League days all star for the club with their respective talents and abilities. Not to mention the joys of beating Aston Villa four times out of six with comical goalkeeping errors being the headline story of all of them. We still love you Peter Enckleman, wherever you may be.
The good feeling couldn’t leave me. I never understood all this badgering on as a young boy about Birmingham being unlucky until the season of 2005/06. This was meant to be the season we powered on to get in the UEFA Cup and attacked the top six. Steve Bruce had kept us in the division for four years with 13th, 10th and 12th placed finishes and we were well on our way to move forward once again. Mikael Forssell had signed permanently, Mario Melchiot, Nicky Butt and Jiri Jarosik were going to take us to the next level. Or so we thought. It all went horribly wrong. We managed to win just three games before January and were down the bottom with Sunderland. When we beat Sunderland on the 26th of November we had just six points.
It’s a season fondly remembered for the Harry Redknapp turn around at Portsmouth as he kept them up with a little bit of help from Pedro Mendes in the most impressive of fashions. As a Birmingham City fan it’s hard to look back with impressed eyes but only envy as Matty Taylor’s winner on the penultimate game of the season left us relegated thanks to a fine Shay Given show for Newcastle United.
Then the yo-yo string started playing us. Up we went thanks to the most incredible goal from Sebastian Larsson as the youngster signed from Arsenal ran from the half way line all the way round Tommy Spurr, cut inside another defender before slotting underneath the keeper to seal a 2-0 win for our 10 men at home against Sheffield Wednesday. Promoted again but Steve Bruce left, Alex McLeish came in and relegation followed despite the impressive form of loanee Mauro Zarate and the infamous draw against Arsenal in which 10 man Blues (down thanks to Martin Taylor’s tackle on Eduardo resulting in red) stole a draw thanks to James McFadden’s draw. Wasn’t a good day for William Gallas, that’s for sure.
Promotion again followed thanks to the form of old duo Lee Carsley and Kevin Phillips. Then a 9th place finish came about with a real defensive solidity being matched by an unerring ability to steal a goal or two in enough games. We didn’t score many, but never conceded too many either. Scott Dann, Roger Johnson and Joe Hart were being talked about as potential England stars, it was fantastic, if not the most spectacular of football.
Then relegation followed. And the unjust luck that I hadn’t quite experienced yet. We were relegated in 2011 with little prospect of winning promotion again – our owner had been found to launder money and faced criminal charges back in Hong Kong. Gone was Scott Dann. Gone was Roger Johnson. Ben Foster, Barry Ferguson, Lee Bowyer, Craig Gardner, Sebastian Larsson, Cameron Jerome and one or two others departed. There was a glimmer of hope when Chris Hughton took charge but even that was after the horrific news of finding out that Alex McLeish had not only resigned but had joined city rivals Aston Villa. He wasn’t exactly a fans favourite when leaving following relegation, but that a massive kick in the privates. A total lack of respect.
Truth be told, the season of 2011/12 was probably one of the most exciting seasons we’ve ever known at St.Andrews, yet also one of bad luck over and over. Limited resources meant youth academy products Jordon Mutch and Nathan Redmond were thrust into first team action along with freebies such as Steven Caldwell, Jonathan Spector, Wade Elliott and Marlon King. We punched above our financial weight and despite a small squad as it was, we managed some quality results. We took Chelsea to a replay in the F.A Cup, managed 10 points in our Europa League campaign, one that included ending Club Brugge’s immense record home record. It wasn’t enough to take us through though and after a phenomenal campaign, our tiring legs couldn’t quite push the club over the line and get past Blackpool in the semi-finals of the play-offs despite a spirited comeback in the second leg.
So where are we now? Last season’s 12th place finish makes it look a pretty decent season in which nothing major happened. A relegation fight and anger towards the board continued though. Ben Foster was sold for £6 million and joined Liam Ridgewell who had left by this time. And after his starring role for the club in goal after making his international debut, Jack Butland was sold for a measly £3.5 million to Stoke City. Rumours were rife about Nathan Redmond, Curtis Davies and Chris Burke all supposedly leaving too. A relegation fight threatened real financial insecurities to add to our woes. Lee Clark got the club fighting though and our form would have seen us finish in 5th place had the season started in January, a massive turnaround.
We move into next season knowing that Curtis Davies will be at Hull City and Nathan Redmond will be plying his trade in the Premier League for another club for a ridiculously tiny price of 2 or 3 million pounds. We’re watching Wilfried Zaha be sold for £15 million to Manchester United, Thomas Ince potentially leaving Blackpool for £8 million. Redmond performed better than the pair of them at the Euro’s in his starts yet will leave us for a fraction of their fee’s due to our financial situation. It’s another kick in the delicates.
Yet, despite everything there is the feeling that will come out of things. We will rise once again under new ownership soon enough. The thing is with Birmingham City is that despite the lows we have reached, we always seem to come back out fighting. We were relegated to third tier twice around the early 90’s yet bounced straight back. We were nearly liquidated under the Kumars but were sold on and became a top flight side once again. We’ve recovered from three play-off defeats to enter the top six of the division the following campaigns. We’ve recovered from two relegation’s with straight promotions from the Championship under different managers.
In this post I’ve gone through everything I’ve seen as a Birmingham City fan. I’m only 19 and my first memory of the club was at the tender age of 6. I dread to think where the club will take my emotions next! Yet there is always one message that remains strong in my heart and the hearts of the thousands of Bluenoses in the city of Birmingham and beyond.
“Keep right onto the end of the road. Though the way be long, let your heart be strong and keep right on ’till the end.”
Not many words ring truer.
Follow Ryan on twitter: @RyanDeeney_T92
Follow Me on twitter: @DisguisedPass
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