November 27, 2014 by bluenosebible
By Nat Peters
It’s why Forest and Derby fans of a young(ish) age laud Brian Clough as a footballing demi-God, despite being nowhere near old enough to see the teams he built in their prime (if they got to see any of his teams play at all). It’s why Blackburn fans still sing the name of Jack Walker even if they couldn’t possibly have any kind of recollection of their Premier League title win in 1995. It’s why kids joined grown men in lining the streets of Preston and Belfast for the funerals of Sir Tom Finney and George Best respectively. It’s why Wolves fans born even twenty, thirty or forty years ago bang on about the fifties. It’s why that lot down the road keep going on about 1982, even those who were born ten, fifteen and twenty years after they fluked that win against Bayern Munich.
Legends in football live on for generations after they depart the pitch or the dugout for the last time. It’s why Trevor Francis will be given a hero’s welcome when he’s guest of honour for our game vs. Nottingham Forest on Saturday. And not just by the people supporting both clubs who actually saw him play; unless you are in your late thirties/early forties at the very least, it’s improbable you will have any kind of recollection of him playing at Blues, or of the goal he scored for Forest in a European Cup final just after he left Stan’s. Yet there will be people of my age, people older than me and people younger than me who come Saturday will be joining those of an older generation to acclaim TF, despite never having seen him play.
So bar grainy footage, clips of shows like The Big Match and MOTD of yesteryear on YouTube and the snippets you get when a club shop peddles some retro highlights DVD every other Christmas, I’ve never seen TF play. Yet the myths stand up alongside the stats and facts and they all speak for themselves. Scoring four goals in a game as a sixteen year old. Scoring well over one hundred goals (most of them whilst we were a top flight club) in the seventies. Joining the likes of Gil Merrick and Jeff Hall in becoming one of the very few players who have become England regulars whilst playing for Blues. They make him stand out as the very best player to have worn Royal Blue. Arguably even the things he did once he decided to leave Stan’s reflect on us; scoring the winner in a European Cup final, being (in Fabio Capello’s words) the best English player to have played in Italy, scoring goals in a World Cup and reaching his half century of England caps. We created all that and nurtured all that, and as a club we should be proud of that even now.
However, I am old enough to have a recollection of TF at Blues, just not of TF the player. Trevor Francis is the first Blues manager I remember; not that I paid too much attention to the guy in the dugout at such a young age, all I really remember was a fairly dour looking bloke standing at the side whose teams tended to win most home games, albeit against the likes of Crewe and Stockport. Some say that TF was a failure as a manager in that we had several play-off disappointments without ever going up despite having a litany of good players, and that was reflected in Steve Bruce achieving inside five months what Francis couldn’t manage in five years. But others argue that off the pitch he transformed the club and would have taken us up had he not been hindered by an overbearing Board, and that he was three penalty shootouts in two play-offs and a cup final from being a very successful Blues gaffer. There are people who will disagree on whether he was a bad manager for Blues or just a very unlucky one.
But to be honest his achievements as a manager are a bit by the by now, because it’s overwhelmingly his achievements as a player which has earned him a place on the Birmingham Walk of Stars and the reception he will get on Saturday. What is heart-warming is the fact he still holds the club in such high regard; despite the fact that his biggest footballing accolades came away from Blues, he still refers to us as ‘his club’ – he’s as much a Blues fan as any of us.
To the people old enough and fortunate enough to have seen him play, Saturday is a chance to thank him for the memories he provided. But what does he mean to us younger folk? Well I would argue that in these recently troubled times we have seen our club struggling in, the era associated with him and his achievements on paper give us hope that we can one day reclaim former glories, and that we can genuinely hope for players like him to play for us again in the future. But even after that, it’s just a chance to pay homage to a guy who even if we didn’t see him play ourselves it is clear he is the very best to have played for our club. I would even say to our younger players who seem to be bursting with talent, the likes of Demarai Gray and Koby Arthur, that they should be looking to someone like TF to see what kind of career they could potentially have and why staying at Birmingham City rather than swanning off to some big fish’s development squad. Would TF have become half the player he did become if he was playing nowadays, but rather than playing football in Blues’ first team he was playing for Liverpool or United’s second or third string?
Whatever your reasons for giving Trevor Francis an ovation this weekend though I hope every last person in the ground, be they eight or eighty-eight, does give him the a rapturous welcome. It’s no more than the man deserves.
What are your memories of seeing Trevor Francis play?
You can read more of Nat’s thoughts on his blog: http://nattubes.wordpress.com/