December 27, 2012 by Made In Brum
In honour of the festive season, this week Gregg Collett takes a look at two players who have contributed to Birmingham City Christmas fixtures in the past. Going back 5 years, and then 10 years, one player went on to become something of a Blues legend, whilst the other will have you reaching for your programme to check if they really did grace the hallowed St. Andrews turf.
26 December 2007 – Blues 3-0 Middlesbrough
Boxing Day 2007 saw Alex McLeish’s Blues produce one of a few good results of an otherwise grim season. Middlesbrough’s visit to St. Andrews was not a happy one for Winger Stewart Downing and his team, as he scored a 22nd minute own goal to the delight of the Blues faithful, and Mark Halsey awarded a controversial penalty in the 90th minute which Gary McSheffrey converted. But the scorer of Blues’ second goal was striker Mikael Forssell, who scored 30 league goals in his five years at the club.
Forssell joined Blues on loan in the summer of 2003, after failing to become a regular at Chelsea, and went on to win Birmingham’s Player of The Season award, scoring 17 league goals. Forssell’s loan was extended for another year, but his 2004/05 season was cut short after just four games due to a serious knee injury. Steve Bruce splashed out £3 million on the striker at the end of the season, but further injuries meant that he did not make a significant impact until Blues’ return to the Premiership in 2007. He scored on the opening day of the season back at Stamford Bridge, and even scored his first ‘Perfect Hattrick’, a goal with each of his left foot, his right foot, and his head, in a 4-1 victory against Tottenham. Forssell couldn’t save Blues from relegation though, despite finishing as the club’s top scorer once again, though this time only with 9 goals.
Forssell cut his ties with Birmingham at the end of that season, and signed with German side Hannover 96. Pre-season performances suggested a return to the Forssell-of-old, and he scored an astonishing 10 goals in one game on his debut in a friendly against amateur side FC Boffzen. His first season in the Bundesliga was fairly successful, making 30 appearances and scoring 9 goals, but the next two years saw Forssell struggle for fitness, and he only played another 13 games for Hannover. The 2011/12 season saw the Finnish striker sign a one year deal with Championship side Leeds Utd, but Mikael never hit the heights of his previous form, failing to score in 15 league starts.
Now aged 31, Forssell recently signed for HJK Helsinki, the club with which he began his career. Whilst he has yet to appear in the Veikkausliiga, there is still a chance that the Finn might go some way to recapturing the form that made him a Blues favourite, by being at his home town club.
26 December 2002 Blues 1-1 Everton
Going back a further five years to 2002, Blues were half-way through their first season back in the Premier League, and Steve Bruce’s men found themselves in 13th place, 6 points clear of the drop. That year’s Boxing Day fixture saw them play out a tough-tackling 1-1 draw with David Moyes’ side. Thomas Radzinkski opened the scoring just before half-time, but Blues were able to level the scores before returning to the dressing room at the break. The game was also notable for the appearance of a 17 year old Wayne Rooney, who picked up his first career red card for a dangerous tackle on Blues skipper Steve Vickers.
Birmingham’s goalscorer on that day was American international Jovan Kirovski, who was making a rare appearance for the club. A curving Stan Lazaridis cross was met by Kirovski’s head, as he scored his first ever Blues goal. He made 17 appearances in his first season at St. Andrews, scoring 2 goals, but only made it on to the pitch 6 times in 2003/04, before being released from his contract in January and joining his native LA Galaxy.
Kirovski began his career at Manchester Utd, but despite being a regular for the reserves, he never broke in to the first team squad, and in 1996 he signed for German side Borussia Dortmund, playing in 20 games over four years. He spent a year at Sporting CP before being signed by Crystal Palace’s then manager Steve Bruce. The 2001/02 season was fairly successful for the American, and he managed to make 36 appearances for the Eagles. Bruce’s move to the Second City and promotion to the Premier League meant that the Blues boss was able to bring Kirovski to St. Andrews, but he never really made much of an impression with his performances, not scoring many goals either.
Kirovski has, however, gained 62 caps for his country, scoring 9 goals, and his return to the MLS saw an improvement in his form. After leaving the Blues, he played for LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids, and San Jose Earthquakes, before returning to Galaxy in 2009, scoring 30 goals in 174 games between 2004 and 2011. Jovan retired in 2012, and took up a coaching position at LA Galaxy, and was part of the backroom staff when the team won the 2012 MLS Cup in David Beckham’s last game for the team.
Forssell and Kirovski actually shared the pitch a few times in 2003, and have both had contrasting career patterns since leaving Birmingham. While Forssell has never really recaptured the form of his first season at Blues, Kirovski went on to play the best football of his career in the MLS.
Follow Gregg on Twitter- @greggcollett