A View From Down Under
The following article has been written by one of our Trust followers. Would you like to contribute a discussion point of your own about Birmingham City Football Club? If so, we would be delighted to hear from you.
As a supporter in distant Australia, I too read your “BCFC: Does anyone care?” article. It encouraged me to write the following. Hope you find it of interest.
I have never called myself a “Bluenose”, I think the title developed after I emigrated to Australia in 1975, but I grew up a passionate Blues fan, have maintained a passing interest, and always tried to get to a game on my occasional returns to England. My elder brother, once misguidedly a Baggies supporter, eventually came to his senses and until recently was a long term season ticket holder. We would frequently discuss the various woes of the St. Andrews faithful, and with the advent of streaming television, I was able to watch the occasional game. And recently, I watched the debacle against Luton Town. Woeful was the only polite word I could use to describe it – but your “Does anyone care ” article came immediately after this and I found myself reflecting on memories Blue.
Soon after I arrived in Australia some work colleagues took me to see the Geelong Football Club. Australian Rules version. AFL is a mystery to most people outside Australia, but it’s a truly wonderful game. Geelong played in blue and white [albeit hoops] , and had a long history of promising only to disappoint. It seemed a natural fit! Fortunately, in recent years, “the Cats” have become one of the league powerhouses and I have had the pleasure of supporting a successful team ; a pleasure I only dreamed of for The Blues.
I grew up in the immediate post war years. Dad came from a Blues family, and so our allegiance was chosen for us. As I write this it occurs to me that my mum came from a family who supported the other mob [ even today the phrase “claret and blue” brings feelings of distaste] yet I cannot recall her ever suggesting we might consider such a dreadful alternative.
Disappointment came early – 1956 – the Cup Final. Blues had taken all before them – not called “The Brummie Bashers” for nothing, and were firm favouritesl. We were glued to our small screen black and white television – but it was not to be. I can still reel off the team. Merrick, Hall, Green, Boyd, Smith, Warhurst, Astle, Kinsey, Brown, Murphy, Govan. What a team – and in that quaint 1-2-3-5 formation! Who could ever forget Eddie Brown, the original showman, shaking hands with corner flags after every goal. And Boyd, Smith, Warhurst. As intimidating a half back line as you would find. I remember once at around that time running onto St. Andrews after a game and reaching up to pat Trevor Smith on the back. He immediately turned round – and my – was he a fearsome sight! But somehow, that disappointment forged a love affair, and we went on from hope to hope, from disappointment to disappointment – but always with a sense of being glorious in defeat!
We used to meet “under the hole” on Spion Kop, about half way between the Railway End and the halfway line. The hole was a good location sign, and it was also often slightly less crowded – because when it rained – which of course it often did – folks tended to avoid it. I remember clearly one 3rd Round cup tie, against Spurs in their heyday. Spurs were 3-0 up after 30 minutes, all scored by the incomparable Jimmy Greaves. Surely he was offside for at least two of them – but he was so damned quick, and of course there was no VAR. Lets face it, he was also so damned good! Anyway, we were close to despair. Up stepped Stan the Wham. Remember him? The only Villa player we ever loved. Whenever there was a free kick near the box the chant would go up…”Stan, Stan, Stan” and on this occasion he certainly delivered and the crowd erupted. 3-1. These were the very early days of “Keep Right On”, and also the days of 50,000 plus squeezed into St. Andrews, and we sang and sang – and after Ken Leek [ from memory ] added the second and third goals, the sound was literally deafening.
So of course, we had to go down to White Hart Lane for the replay.
Wednesday night. 7.30 All those traditional times, and wouldn’t you know it, Blues scored first. jimmy Harris [I think] , powerful header. White Hart Lane was quiet. Keep Right On was belted out – but of course, in the end, Spurs won 4-2 from memory. But two really great games.
And so many other memories. Waiting impatiently beneath the hole for the team announcement: and groaning aloud whenever a particular name was announced. Was it Brian Ottie? [Bryan Orritt] Blond hair: seemed to make endless mistakes. But on reflection, he was ALWAYS giving 100%. Which was of course what we expected. Johnny Schofield, the bravest of all goalkeepers, when goalkeepers were not a protected species. And on a never to be forgotten Saturday afternoon, in position opposite the hole for some reason, at ground level beneath the members stand, we watched as a young stripling called Trevor Francis burst onto the scene . 4-0 we won, he was instrumental in all of them and I – along with hundreds of others- commented “That lad will play for England”.
Some memories are not so happy. A 6th round cup tie against Nottingham Forest. I don’t remember the result, but I do remember it was claimed there were more than 60,000 crammed in. You were carried along wherever the crowd moved. And blokes were urinating in the passageways. Trevor Francis being kicked from pillar to post by some opposition defender, week after week, when the tackle from behind was still an accepted part of the game. Opening the paper one morning to find that Bob Latchford had been sold to Everton. [ Was he the first million pound man?] Going to Hillsborough for a Cup Semi final,[which we lost, of course] and being met at the station by armed police with dogs and marched to the stadium. That began my falling out of love with football , and it was completed later when a half brick whistled past my head one Saturday afternoon at St. Andrews. The hooligan element was in full swing, I was moving away from home, and I just lost interest.
Soon I was in Australia ,just occasionally checking on their progress. But when the arrival of the internet and streaming made keeping in touch easier, and my enthusiasm was rebuilding at a significant rate , I woke one morning to find that Garry Rowett had been sacked. I simply could not understand it. 6th in the championship, building nicely, with a clear sense of purpose….and so on. I am sure all Bluenoses have agonised over the same thing.
Sometimes, from a distance, you can see things more clearly. The official excuse from the Chinese owners was “they wanted to see more exciting football” – or words to that effect. And it suddenly occurred to me that was the whole point. Or more specifically, the owners had missed the point. Gary Rowett was a Birmingham City manager. He had them playing hard, committed, resolute football. Not always pretty, but always determined, one hundred percent team oriented football. The owners clearly did not know what they had bought. They had not bought a “pretty” football club : they had bought a working man’s club, who scrapped and scraped for their loyal and committed fans. Who played with passion. Who played exactly as the fans, and Gary Rowett, wanted them to. And by sacking Rowett, they also destroyed the heart and soul of the club. The rest, as they say, is history.
Can it be recovered? I hope so. I hope so for the sake of all those fans for whom every game is important, who have lived for a successful Blues team. Who do not seek absolute success, but who do want to see a team committed to every pass, tackle, and shot. A team with passion for the shirt. A team who will provide them with the kind of enjoyment I have been able to get from watching Geelong. I will watch, with eternal hope, from a distance.
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