Monday, 28 February 2011

'I'm not sure the new Wembley has heard a noise like this'

Wembley. Sunday, 27.02.11. Surreal. Totally surreal.

From the moment I arrived at Wembley Park, it wasn't just the weather that was blue. Blues owned Olympic Way, Blues owned Wembley Stadium, Blues owned the build up to the match and now Blues own the League Cup and place in European competition. Wow.

It was telling on the train into London I heard some West Ham fans chatting to some Arsenal fans and the Arsenal fans were apparently 'just going to Wembley'. No Blues fan was 'just going to Wembley'. No one associated with Birmingham City Football Club was 'just going to Wembley'.

It was clear that Arsenal only needed to turn up and the silverware was there for them to collect, apparently. The Arsenal build up involved Charlie Nicholas having a chat on the half way line (and giving praise to blues) with barely an Arsenal fan in sight. Blues let everyone in London and the rest of the country know they were there to win. 30,000 Bluenoses were left pumped to the max after the fantastic Blues rallying cry and rendition of Keep Right On. It put Arsenal to shame quite frankly. As did the Blues players, suited and booted. Arsenal turned up in tracksuits. Tracksuits for a cup final. Absolutely disgraceful, arrogant and disrespectful.

But that seems to be Arsenal these days. No doubt a great footballing side, but totally and utterly classless. Which is ironic seeing as they preach holier than thou to all and sundry.

When Zigic scored after 27 minutes the outpouring of emotion from the Blues faithful was incredible. Disbelief was my reaction more than anything. I thought seeing Blues in a cup final at Wembley was a dream, seeing Blues leading in a cup final at Wembley was something else. Totally Surreal. Having now caught up with the television coverage it is telling that Guy Mowbray the BBC commentator exclaimed 'I'm not sure the new Wembley has heard a noise like this!'

If Arsenal think they are hard done by, 5 years without a trophy, Grow Up. Hear the noise and see the reaction of the Blues fans taking the lead and maybe they'll understand that 5 years is nothing. They'll understand that to us, this means something. This means everything. I don't envy them at all.

When Robin Van Persie was taken off seemingly injured, or just not bothered to be playing in the second half, I could sense it. Whilst Roger Johnson limped, wounded, in dire need of Scott Dann's crutches but carrying on. Whilst Lee Bowyer gasped for air that seemingly had been all but used up. I could sense it. Arsenal were no longer to be feared. Foster was superb, but when is he not. Save after Save, the highlights reel will tell a different story to the day. It would look like a second Arsenal goal was coming. But it wasn't.

On comes Obafemi Martins for the excellent Keith Fahey. The Wembley Pitch is so big it was made for someone with his pace and power.

And then it happened. Totally and utterly mad. The greatest moment in Blues history, and I was taking a photo of the scene of devastation. I lowered my camera to the greatest sight my eyes have ever bear witness too. Martins, clad in bright orange boots, ball at his feet, an open goal beckoning. Boom. Totally Surreal.

The old man sitting behind me exclaimed 'this will be the longest 4 minutes of our lives'. I would happily have sat there for hours, game on pause, soaking up the moment.


I don't think I could have enjoyed the game any more.

Quite simply this changes everything.

Silverware, Survival, Europe, the End of the Road could be in sight.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Mes Que un Club

My supreme laziness has resulted in a severe lapse of any activity on this blog. My last post way back in November eulogized Robbie Savage's new role in the media (you haven't misread that, I really did praise him). In fact this post takes us back to the era of Robbie Savage and Birmingham City, specifically the 2002-2004 era at Blues.

This isn't a post specifically about tactics, about managers, about the board or results but a post far more profound and important. This is a post about the whole club, our football club, Birmingham City Football Club.

Now I've been a Birmingham City supporter since 1987. That's when I was born, and that's when I became a fan. Besides the vague memories of the 1994/1995 2nd Division Championship and the Auto Windscreen Shield double (and proudly wearing my blues red away Triton Showers kit to school football) my regular attendance at Blues games starts in the later 90's, around the time of the push for Premier League football. Three seasons of heartbreak preceded the amazing and absolutely surreal experience of the promotion under the roof of the Millennium Stadium.

Now remember that day? Remember the hope, the optimism, the excitement that we, as supporters of our club lived out in those amazing first two or three seasons in the Premier League. Remember the pride? Remember the atmosphere? Remember the giddiness at signing players that we had actually heard of? Remember the attendances, home and away?

Fast forward to 2011. Blues are, as I write this, one win away from a cup final appearance at Wembley. Blues are a Premier League club. Blues have, despite the lack of strike power, probably the strongest squad of footballers I have certainly had the privilege of supporting. Blues have a manger who, despite grumblings of negativity, has led us to our highest place finish in my lifetime and carries himself with professionalism and dignity we should all be proud of.

Yet despite all this, the apathy at the club couldn't be any greater. Attendances are quite simply appalling. Look at Norwich City, the team that we beat in the 2002 play off final. Look at our club and theirs. Since then Blues have spent only two seasons outside the top flight. Norwich have spent one season in the top flight, and have even dropped down into League 1. Yet their attendances are near sell out every game. They've had to put up with the embarrassment of Delia's shouting, relegations, a 7-1 defeat at home to local rivals and a stadium far older and inferior than most of St Andrews. Yet they turn up to support their club week in week out.

It is with this in mind, and the thought of seeing other clubs with nothing to shout about such as Derby County selling out week in week out that I really do not understand what has happened at Blues. I live in Cornwall, and I have a season ticket. I'm very fortunate to have a Season ticket. But I certainly put the effort in as well. I went to the University of Birmingham for 3 years purely so I could get to Blues matches more easily. I give up weekend after weekend to support Birmingham City Football Club.

I am reluctant for this to sound like I'm trying to gain some sort of moral high ground here. I am very fortunate that in these trying economic times I am still able to follow the blues as regularly as I do. This post is not highlighting whats gone wrong over the last few years at Blues, certainly a lot has. But things go wrong at other clubs too. So do we all just pack it in, stop supporting a club that is in our blood, moan and shout and boo and jeer. Or do we accept that this is part of football, and the club is only as great and proud as its supporters? There are apathetic blues fans out there who can afford to do more. For his troubles Peter Pannu is right in asking What can us fans do for our club rather than what can it do for us? It's a good mantra for life and there needs to be some major soul searching by many associated with Birmingham City Football Club. In my lifetime, we've never had it so good.

Yes David Murphy is possibly the most horrendous footballer Blues have ever had, but when he's out there playing for Blues I'll do my utmost to support him till I'm Blue in the face!

At Barcelona they say Mes Que un Club. At Birmingham City we say Keep Right On to the End of the Road.

Starting Wednesday let's make Birmingham City Football Club proud of its supporters again. Through Joys and Sorrows I'm sure we're all tired and weary but lets be part of making Birmingham City Football Club a name to be proud of.

Photo Credit:

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Savage shakes off 666 image for 606

This may seem surprising coming from a Birmingham fan but Robbie Savage is a breath of fresh air to football punditry. Driving home from the football (a minimum 4 hour journey) back to Cornwall from Birmingham can often be an arduous task not made any easier by the one sided same old same old from the likes of Alan 'top four' Green on BBC 606.

Now as a Birmingham fan I was as repulsed by the exit of Savage as everyone else. I was further angered when Savage sat in a television studio looking smug and delighted at a Blues defeat not too long after his departure. But I'm not one to hold a grudge and to give credit where credit is due, Robbie Savage made the journey home last night far more enjoyable than normal.

Robbie Savage is so opinionated you'll either love what he says or hate it. He really is Mr Marmite. He calls a spade and spade and last night he managed to not just hit the nail on the head but absolutely smash it to pieces. A Chelsea fan phoned up dismayed by the 1-0 defeat at St Andrews and questioned what had gone wrong at Chelsea. Robbie's response took me totally by surprise. He's not the most eloquently spoken pundit you'll ever hear but his response put basically was:

Sometimes the bigger teams lose because they get beaten by the other side. Give Birmingham Credit, and give Sunderland credit for their 0-3 battering of Chelsea last week. It doesn't mean Chelsea played awfully, it doesn't mean Chelsea are in crisis, it means that Birmingham and Sunderland attacked better than Chelsea and defended better than Chelsea on the day.

Booom. That was Robbie Savage. Not Alan Green, Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson, Alan Shearer (this list could go on).

God forbid any team that dare beat a 'top four' team. How dare they indeed. If you listen to most of the media you would think four or five teams in England have an absolute divine right to win every game and if they don't then they must have done something wrong rather the other team do something right. Believe it or not, Robbie Savage of all people, speaks the most sense in the media these days. Long may it continue.

(Picture Credit : BBC)

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave!

During my final year at University one of my housemates and I decided to stay up and soak up the atmosphere of the Superbowl in the USA. For such a spectacular sporting and entertainment event, with amazing scenes of madness going on from the teams bursting through huge banners to the camera flashing-firework exploding bonanza of the coin toss the one thing that stuck out was the singing of the National Anthem.

So strong was the impression left by Kelly Clarkson's rendition of the wonderful Star Spangled Banner that one of the studio analysts went on to announce that was in his 'Top 3' of anthem performances. What a bizarre statement we thought as we looked at each other bemused and amused. Did this man really have a list of great national anthem performances?!

After a little thought however I can see why he would have such a list. The National Anthem for me is one of the most exciting parts of the World Cup, moving grown men to tears and subconsciously forcing you to stand a few inches taller with pride at your nations call to arms and unity. With the World Cup fast approaching, and having recently been reminded of my experience watching the Superbowl anthem I have taken a leaf out of said Superbowl commentators book and compiled my own list of top anthems for the teams in the World Cup. I tried to whittle it down to top 3 but felt compelled to include a top 5 to do the teams justice.

The Proudest moment for any player

The moments when the teams line up in symmetry with the crowd in the stands and the first few notes of the national anthems start booming from the roof tops you know the World Cup is upon us.

In Fifth and Fourth place respectively we have the rousing German Anthem and the most enjoyable Brazil Anthem. Both bring back memories of previous tournaments, and as both sides are usual suspects towards the latter stages of the tournament they are both anthems that are familiar with your average football fan. However both anthems miss out on a top 3 spot due to the magnificence of the French Anthem and the absolute brilliance of the Italy Anthem.

Yet for all the emotion and excitement evoked by such works of musical art, nothing can come close to the rising crescendos of the superb Star Spangled Banner. The USA Anthem comes out on top as no one does national pride quite like the Americans. The very basis of the American psyche is to be a beacon of light for the world to follow and the Star Spangled Banner screams with pride and joy at being the 'Land of the Free and Home of the Brave'.

Humorist Richard Armour said of the American Anthem:

Bombs were soon bursting in air, rockets were glaring, and all in all it was a moment of great historical interest. During the bombardment, a young lawyer named Francis Scott Key wrote The Star-Spangled Banner, and when, by the dawn's early light, the British heard it sung, they fled in terror!"

Many in the American camp at this years World Cup will be hoping for a similar affect on the English players on Saturday night in Rustenburg.

Picture Credit: MCT Direct
Picture Credit (2) :Bob Thomas, Getty Images

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Two wrongs don't make a Wright

Don Fabio has got this wrong. Quite a judgement indeed, but the announcement of the England squad has left me feeling like Capello has picked up the wrong suitcase from the carousel at the airport terminal. That wrong suitcase comes in the shape of Shaun Wright-Phillips, but the right piece of luggage is not Theo Walcott as many people argue, but in fact Man City's Adam Johnson.

Walcott's omission has been widely reported on, whilst various theories on the reasons behind his exclusion have come to light. Walcott is often see cruising the wings with blinkers on, unable to deliver an effective final Beckham-esque ball, rather speeding down dead ends highlighting a lack of creative vision.

Whilst his performances against Mexico and Japan failed to spark the imagination into illustrations of greatness, rumours have also surfaced of a rift in the England camp between Messrs Walcott and Rooney. Such a rift would hardly be surprising with Walcott's seeming inability to cross the ball to his striker on a daily basis on the training pitch. Stories of a Rooney red mist following defeat to Walcott in a game of pool a few months ago add further fuel to such speculation - (

Johnson has had a great half season at Man City, and most interestingly is ahead in the pecking order at club level against his ex-international team mate Wright-Phillips. For me Wright-Phillips has done nothing this season to merit a place in the World Cup squad whilst Johnson offers something different. Naturally left footed he can play on either wing and unlike Walcott can deliver a killer ball when needed. Coupled with his pace and deft touch, plus the added benefit of being something of an unknown quantity in World Football circles certainly gets the pulse racing as a potential secret weapon for England.

7 Minutes in Heaven for Johnson and England

Picture the scene, 80 minutes gone, England 0-0 USA and Capello needs to get a goal from somewhere, anywhere. Who would you bring on? Wright-Phillips and his scintillating form and confidence from the season gone? No? Or Johnson, brimming with enthusiasm and ability to match, getting himself a yard of space and whipping the ball to Crouch...

Capello was right to drop Walcott, but wrong to drop Johnson and wrong to include Wright Phillips. As the saying goes, Two wrongs don't make a Wright.

Walcott finds another Dead End

Photos PA, Daily Mail

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Legends of the Past, Icons of the Future

Au Revoir ZiZou
The World Cup is once again upon us and the people of the world await with excruciating excitement for the first ball to be kicked. Memories of the World Cup often revolve around those iconic images of the greatest players in the world, Moore and Pele in a shirtless embrace in '70, Maradona and his fist in '86, Baggio with hands on hips and head bowed in '94, Zidane sinking down the steps in '06. Just a couple of the many iconic moments from the iconic players in the greatest show in the world.

On a personal note my memories of the World Cup stretch back just about as far as 1994, although as a 6 year old my memories of the matches, the goals and the headlines are all a blurry haze that become focused by the glut of youtube montages sparking vague recollections of watching the yellow of Romania or green of Ireland. But the one thing that sparks the light bulb in my head are the names of the great players. Hagi, Baggio, Stoichkov, Romario, Maradona, Valderamma all spring to mind as icons of that hot American summer to name but a few.

The best players in the world not only offer the most exciting and impressive footballing talent, but they offer a story to go with it. A legendary status that can only be achieved in hindsight perhaps. I look back with a nostalgic fondness at the names i grew up with and a regret and sadness that, now the squads have been announced, their names are missing from the guest lists invited to the party.

This World Cup has almost come in at a transitional period in World Football. No Longer are the legendary names of Zidane, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Cannavaro, Beckham, Crespo, Ballack et al invovled yet the brilliance of Kaka, Messi, C Ronaldo, Rooney, Torres have yet to rise to the level of their predecessors.

Who will step up and become a legend? Who will write the future as the Nike commercial asks?

In ten years time we will look back on the next month and reminisce about how they don't make 'em like they used to. The way we now look at names like the Baggio's or the Ronaldo's or Zidane's or Beckham's of the past we will do so of some of the names announced this week in the squads going to South Africa. Iconic images will be made and I for one can not wait to witness future being written.

Hoddle's rejection hit 'Gazza' hard

Photo: (1) Perenyi/Augenklick

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Standing Room Only

Could standing on the terraces at football matches in England be set for a surprising return?

Well, in a recent interview with the three men all vying for the next position as the minister heading up the Department for Sport, Media and Culture the most interesting answer came from the Liberal Democrat candidate Don Foster. Foster suggested that the Liberal Democrats would explore the options for a move towards 'safe standing' areas, with the Conservative candidate Hugh Robertson also open to such a proposal.

After the infamous Hillsborough disaster in 1989 and the much needed regeneration of the English game, standing terraces in the top two tiers of the football pyramid were replaced by seated stands following the Taylor report in 1990.

But now, 20 years on from that damning indictment of the state of English football a return to standing terraces is a real possibility. One argument goes that there is a working model for such a move in the Bundesliga in Germany.

With tickets for football escalating in price and attendances decreasing resulting in more subdued atmospheres the option of safe standing is a popular one amongst many football fans. Borrusia Dortmund houses a 24,000 capacity terrace with vociferous supporters enjoying a superb atmosphere at a reduced cost. This could certainly be seen as one way to bring back alienated fans from clubs who simply can not afford the price of a modern day football match.

Some would argue however that the cost of converting stadiums that have now shifted to all seater is a price that clubs would be reluctant to pay. Of course new build stadiums could have this option, and its certainly something that would be popular with football fans who reminisce about the 'good old days'.

I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to have experienced standing at an FA cup tie in the mid 90's between Plymouth Argyle and Kidderminster Harriers. Unfortunately my memory of that day, beyond a dourer than dour 0-0 draw was the urine stained crumbling concrete of a terrace that was in bad need of rebuilding. It is safe to say that modern day terraces would be less of dilapidated open air public toilet and more state-of-the-art seated convertible terraces as seen so successfully in Germany.

Dortmund offer standing and seating options