February 19, 2013 by Made In Brum
On Saturday 16th February 2013, a very mediocre Birmingham City team was comprehensively taken apart at home by 4 goals to 0 by a well drilled, talented Watford. Watford are obviously very ably managed by an ex-player who had performed at the highest level and are backed by some dubious, but not unethical, funding from a series of overseas investors. BirminghamCity were, for a number of reasons, missing some of their most talented players. The selection policy of their manager – a solid, grafting midfielder who had played at the highest level, albeit not achieving as much as his Watford counterpart – had been identified as erratic at best by most supporters, but seemed a little bizarre even by the high standards of peculiarity set by him throughout the season. Despite their overwhelming defeat, BirminghamCity supporters seemed somewhat resigned and indifferent to proceedings and at the end of the game filed out in silent, but subdued despondency.
And if only we could approach it all with such bloodless, detached objectivity we could all just get on with our lives, eh? Next year I will celebrate – and I will actually celebrate – 50 years of going to St Andrew’s. That makes it about 54 years’ worth of allegiance. In the past few years I have taught myself not to let defeats ruin my weekend – even after some of the appalling, abject no-shows we’ve been treated to of late. I contextualise matters, as I expect we all do, by considering genuine tragedy and mishap and, as I get older, I do have to say that I have also told myself not to waste time on matters over which I have no control. None of which is to say that I don’t care deeply and that I want it put right: supporting a shambolic car-crash of a football club can damage your health (I expect).
Yesterday we had to endure a bunch of Johnny-come-lately ‘soccer fans’ in jester hats and brand new club scarves, taking the piss with barely a murmur in response. Now, I live near Watford and have a number of friends and acquaintances who follow them – mostly on and off. When they came up for the play-off semi they told me to a man – and there are some capable individuals among them – that they had never experienced an atmosphere so intimidating. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not some sort of ‘bring back the Zulu days’ revisionist – it just pains me to think that we’ve now become somewhere where visiting fans – and, of course, players – are relaxed and comfortable. And where we as supporters don’t go noisily ballistic at the institutionalised ineptitude for which we pay hard-earned money.
I wouldn’t like to estimate the number of column inches churned out in an attempt to nail the blame for this: Sullivan and Gold for selling (infantile reasoning); Bruce and The Scottish Manager for being unable to avoid avoidable relegations; Craig Gardner for diving against the dingles; Carson Yeung for being a villain – and a hopelessly inefficient one at that; Tatts and Ron Toss for being unable to make anything more of the lies and obfuscation of Yeung, BIH and the muffled mumblings of the manager than the rest of us. There’s some credibility in each of these suppositions. I am, however, in no doubt where the blame lies: damn Lee Clark and the horse he rode in on.
Let’s be clear; I didn’t expect him to be Chris Hughton. I didn’t expect him to get us to the play-offs and I don’t ever expect anyone else to guide us to a cup win in my lifetime – and I don’t expect I’ll ever have a more drunken football-related night than Bruges. I wasn’t asking for any of that. I wanted a young manager with a few new ideas to come in and establish a side with a distinct way of playing, building on the experience of some established old pros and looking to the development of some decent youngsters. The number of ways in which that hasn’t happened is too voluminous to catalogue and I’m not going to re-heat any of the arguments. He simply isn’t good enough in any aspect which the job demands – but he’s cheap. And now, of course, because of his failure, so are we. Cheap, second-rate, damaged goods, unattractive to any but the most over-ambitious or deluded of prospective purchasers. Relegation would make us even more vulnerable, although the prospect of Yeung holding on to an asset that, even though diminishing by the minute, remains an asset of sorts, is still hauntingly possible.
I don’t know how professional football works. Some of us purport to, but I don’t think we do. Dodgy owners aren’t anything new – we’ve had our fair share and there’s more than a fair few in the sunny uplands of the Premiership, don’t forget. Greedy, obnoxious players who you’d make every attempt to avoid socially are not unique to any club. Fickle fan-bases are a statistically proven fact of life. The rampant commercialism of the modern game is generally unattractive but might possibly have brought more benefits than disadvantages – it’s open to proper question. But what can help us all, as supporters of a mediocre second division club, to rise above all of that is having a team which we believe can do something – have a cup run, give our neighbours the occasional good hiding, have some players with character with whom we can associate, avoid relegation in a gutsy scrap – even go down in a gutsy scarp….anything! Anything except this formless, unambitious, uninspired randomness which has been this season at BirminghamCity. As I say, I don’t know how football works, but I find it impossible to understand how someone who has played at the highest level, is firmly entrenched in the game and who should know its intricacies and pitfalls –and, yes, I know he’s young – can preside over such a spiritless, shapeless fiasco. In any other walk of life, he’d be long gone. When the seats empty – or, even worse, where the occupants remain silently slumped in indifference, even when taunted by jolly fans from the Home Counties – surely you have to say to yourself it might be time to hold your hands up and say this ain’t the job for you.
If I get the energy, I might just expand on how the ownership is, of course, just as culpable as it hunkers down on the opposite side of the globe. And there’s plenty to say about players and their attitudes and application. For the moment, like so many others, I wanted to vent my frustration at seeing a club that is in my blood and sinew shrink and shrivel like a lifeless balloon. And, yes, I will make the 200 mile round trip on Tuesday and, yes, I’ll try to give us much support as I can. I’d just like to think that the capabilities of the man in charge might even make a start in meeting my aspirations. I’m not holding my breath.
By Jon Berry