For year upon year, playing as second best in their own back yard, Birmingham City could finally be seeing the a change in fortunes. Fans of The Blues have been able to put to bed the fears of another relegation; this time to League One, behind them after surviving on the final day of the 2013/14 season in dramatic style, whilst finding successfully finding their feet again off the field. With Villa’s almost inevitable relegation, could a push for promotion establish them as the biggest club in Birmingham?
I spoke to Birmingham’s in-crowd-videographer, David Brown (otherwise known as ‘Davo’ with the Birmingham faithful), to get his opinion on the two teams, and if the fans at St Andrews really do have a lot to shout about. With the club just outside the play-off places, some have labelled Birmingham as the dark horses for promotion, but Davo believes the current squad would likely fail to survive without some adjustments, but there is no reason why relegation should be a foregone conclusion.
“Players like Paul Caddis and 38-year-old Paul Robinson would stand no chance of competing in the Premier League , but with a bit of strengthening, who knows? A great manager and great team spirit can make a difference, and I believe we have both of those things. Stranger things have happened.”
The arrival of Gary Rowett has proven to a masterstroke, as he was already a fan-favourite after previously playing for the clubfor two years. Not only that, but he is a bit of a local lad, growing up only 13 miles away from the city in Bromsgrove, which many would agree has helped aid his team exceed all expectations placed on their shoulders.
“From the moment he came in it had a huge impact. He was the fan-favourite for the job so the supporters had a lot of goodwill towards him. He came in knowing the club, its history and what makes the fans tick. He knew from his playing days that Blues fans don’t expect the team to be the most technically gifted, but want to see the players put in a shift. Before the season began, most fans would have been very content with finishing 12th. Finishing outside of the top eight would be a bit of a disappointment now though, and with the play-offs in touching distance why not go for it?”
The mood in the stands has clear improved, and the fans backing is there for all to see. At St Andrews, the home attendances are slowly rising. Their fixture last season attracted 14,085 fans, yet this season, the attendance surpassed the 20,000 mark! The feel-good factor is returning, particularly away from home.
“Away games have been a party atmosphere for months – the highlights being the 5-2 win at Fulham and the 3-0 win at Derby that I am certain our brilliant away support played a part in. Our away allocations are selling like hot cakes!”
Blues fans can also rejoice these days, knowing fierce rivals Aston Villa may soon have very little to shout about when it comes to both their long-standing enemies and current league status. Villa are; barring a miracle, doomed for relegation from the Premier League for the first time since its formation in 1992. New boss Remi Garde has failed to lift any spirits at the club after their miserable start of the season under Tim Sherwood. They don’t look like a team, pure and simple, and it has come to no surprise seeing fans abandoning games early, if they even bothered turning up at all.
Despite this, put the two sides together, and both will begin find something to chirp about. A Capital One Cup tie this season was seen as the perfect opportunity by Birmingham fans to stamp some authority over Villa, which they failed to take. The bragging right stayed with Villa on a head-to-head basis, with a Rudy Gestede goal being the difference. Despite their league troubles, Villa fans were in ecstasy, highlighting just how important the game is to even the ‘bigger side.
“There are some massively intense rivalries up and down the country and this is up there with the best of them, ranking just slightly below West Ham v Millwall for me. It is one of the few league matches that by police order must take place before 3PM and in front of below-capacity attendances – something that cannot be said for the Manchester or North London derbies. Unlike those games, this one has a strictly local feel – let’s face it, you won’t find many Blues fans outside of Birmingham, and it is a game for the pride of the city, pure and simple. And even though Villa have a richer history, we have a genuine claim to being the real team of Birmingham – something that will always irritate their fans – so both sides always come into it with a score to settle.”
However, should both teams be in the same division next year, the argument of being a bigger team may become more in favour of the ‘Blues’. Even the most biased Birmingham fan would have to concede that historically, Villa are by far and away the bigger club! Nevertheless, if you look back over the last 10 years, can Birmingham argue that Rowett is helping revolutionise a change in times?
“As Villa fans are quick to note, they have a lot of history. They won a European Cup a few decades ago, won the FA Cup several times, have been in the Premier League every year since its inception, and finished sixth a few times under Martin O’Neill. As a result, they have always attracted fans from far-flung parts of the region. They are massive in Tamworth and rural Staffordshire.
“We have our own history too, though. We are one of the ten oldest clubs in English football, were the first English side to play Barcelona, and used to get attendances of 60,000. We carry the city’s name, won the cup in 2011 and had a memorable Europa League campaign in which we beat Bruges in Bruges. We haven’t finished above Villa since 2003. They are the bigger team historically, and they have been in a higher division and attracting higher attendances for the last five seasons whilst enjoying our financial demise and our brush with relegation to League One. But as far as the last decade goes, if we’re being technical, they can’t equal our record of silverware and European success.”
Promotion would be huge for Birmingham in their quest for city dominance, whether right now that’s a step just out of reach is yet to be seen. Villa will likely be one of the bookies favourites next season, despite this horrific campaign, and a successful year would probably put them back on top between the two, especially if Birmingham are still in the Championship. This of course is assuming that relegation does not spark a mass exodus of any remaining talent still to be found at Villa Park. However, the Birmingham fans must look ahead. Relegation in 2011 to the Championship was a massive blow, considering their success in the League Cup that same year. They need to strike a balance which they have so far not been able to establish.
The ultimate goal is promotion, and some might argue they should forget the rivalry with Villa for now, so everyone involved at the club can keep their focus. For me however, their hatred towards the Villa is what will motivate them. They won’t be a big club in the Premier League, not for a long while anyway, should they get promoted, and Villa will be; even in the Championship, a big club in English football. Still though, Birmingham will have the ultimate bragging rights.
After so many years finishing below Villa in the table, imagine the joy and pride to be a whole league above! They may be underdogs, but even underdogs finish on top. As the saying in Birmingham goes; ‘Keep right on till the end’.
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