It seems like every region in the U.K. has their own soap opera. London has Eastenders, Manchester has Coronation Street, Yorkshire has Emmerdale and Birmingham has Birmingham City Football Club.
In the past 10 years, there has been more drama, shocks and surprises at the club than any TV producer could have wished for. From controversial sackings, erratic owners and three relegation D-Days, there has never been a dull day supporting Birmingham City recently. Here is a comprehensive review of Birmingham City’s fortunes in the past decade.
It was a bittersweet start to the decade for Birmingham City. The 2010/11 season was Birmingham’s second consecutive season in the Premier League and Alex McLeish would have been hoping to build on an impressive 9th place finish he achieved in the previous campaign. It was clear that the Blues weren’t going to be able to replicate this feat pretty quickly as they were hovering just above the relegation zone for the majority of the season.
Whilst Birmingham struggled in the league, they were able to shrug off this poor form in the League Cup and looked like a completely different team in either competition. Despite just edging past Rochdale in their first game and only beating Brentford on penalties, Birmingham pushed on and produced three fantastic performances in their final three matches. A dramatic victory against fierce rivals, Aston Villa, in the quarter-final sparked a pitch invasion and a ill-tempered riot.
Reports suggested that FIFA used this as evidence against the English FA in their bid for the 2022 World Cup finals. Blues came from behind to defeat West Ham over two legs in the semi-final to set up a final against Arsenal. Birmingham travelled to Wembley as complete underdogs and Arsenal were expected to end their six year trophy drought. Blues were surprisingly put ahead by the towering Nikola Zigic but Arsenal equalised through a Robin Van-Persie strike.
Birmingham’s keeper, Ben Foster, made a series of miraculous saves to keep the scores level and as the game looked like it was heading into full time, disaster struck for Arsenal. A long ball by Foster towards Zigic missed the target man and appeared to be rolling into the hands of Arsenal’s keeper, Wojciech Szczesny.
This was until a calamitous miscommunication between the Pole and Laurent Koscielny caused the ball to bobble up to Obafemi Martins who tapped in to win the 2011 Carling Cup for Birmingham City. Martins only had a brief spell at Blues but will always be regarded as a legend because of THAT goal, February 27th is now referred to as “Obafemi Martins day” among bluenoses. That day, that goal and that acrobatic celebration from Martins will live long in the memory of every Birmingham City fan.
A club with a modest history, who hadn’t won a major trophy in 48 years, just beat one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Even though Blues suffered the humiliation of relegation after a defeat on the final day of the season, away to Tottenham, everyone associated with the club could hold their heads high. They had made history.
After the high of the Wembley victory and the low of relegation, things were about to get a lot worse for Birmingham City. The summer of 2011 was brutal and had long-term, damaging consequences for the club. Alex McLeish resigned in June 2011 and joined Aston Villa, leading Birmingham City fans to nickname him the “Ginger Judas.”
The club’s Hong Kongese owner, Carson Yeung, was arrested after he took part in money laundering involving around £60M. This meant that Yeung was unable to continue investing in the club and had to essentially pull the plug. The club had to sell all their assets to make ends meet, with an exodus of players occuring that summer. In spite of the challenging circumstances off the pitch, Blues were excelling on it. After winning the League Cup, they qualified for the early stages of Europa League qualification and did extraordinarily well.
Birmingham finished on ten points in their group but somehow finished 3rd which was unprecedented at the time. It was later revealed that Club Brugge fixed a game vs Maribor in order to secure their qualification at the expense of Blues. Regardless, going on a European tour was an amazing experience for Birmingham fans, Chris Wood’s 99th minute winner away at the Belgian side was a particular highlight.
Under the management of Chris Hughton, Blues finished 4th and narrowly lost in the Play-Off semi-final to Blackpool. Unsurprisingly, Hughton was tired of the constant financial struggle at Birmingham and was poached by Brighton at the end of the season.
His replacement, Lee Clark, was a passionate Geordie who didn’t have the most tactical nous. To be fair to Clark, he did well in his first season as the team only finished seven points off the Play-Off spots. The 2013/14 campaign, however, was a car crash of a season. Blues made their worst league start for 25 years and never improved, being dragged further and further into a relegation battle as the season went on.
It was the worst squad of players many bluenoses have seen at St Andrews and it seemed at times like Clark picked his team whilst blindfolded. The lack of quality in the squad was emphasised as Paul Caddis, naturally a right back, was deployed as a number 10 most of the time. Somehow, Blues still had a chance of avoiding relegation to League One on the last day of the season, they needed to draw at Bolton away.
Birmingham found themselves 2-0 down with just fourteen minutes to go and even the most optimistic fan was starting to cosign themselves to relegation. However, the team persisted and the talismanic Nikola Zigic pulled a goal back to set up a grand-stand last few minutes. In the 93rd minute Jordan Ibe floated a cross into the Serbian striker who’s header was cleared off the line.
The ball fell to the versatile Scotsman, Paul Caddis, who nodded in from close range to secure Birmingham’s survival. The travelling bluenoses broke into delirium and Lee Clark launched himself into the away end in celebration. Somehow Birmingham had stayed up. The footballing Gods were on their side.
Lee Clark was sacked in the Autumn of 2014 after another shambolic start to the season. Gary Rowett was brought in after impressing at Burton Albion and arrived with a sense of calmness and stability around him. He played direct, boring football but achieved results and Birmingham finished 10th two seasons in a row. This was a great achievement considering that the team mainly consisted of loans and free transfers.
After two seasons of solidity under Rowett, the club finally found new owners to assist with some much needed investment. Trillion Trophy Asia bought the club in October 2016, promising significant financial support and success. Those two words were music to bluenoses’ ears and many thought that these new investors were going to help catapult the club back to the Premier League.
TTA’s tenure at Birmingham got off to a rocky start as after being at the club for just under 2 months they sacked Rowett. This caused dismay among the fanbase but TTA justified this decision by claiming that they wanted a “bigger name” to manage the club and play more attractive football.
Gianfranco Zola was hired swiftly after Rowett’s dismissal. The charismatic Italian was a lovely man but a horrendous manager. Blues played nice football at times and a memorable 2-1 away to Wolves helped increased Zola’s support among the fan base but aside from that, his reign was dire. Zola took Birmingham from Play-Off hopefuls to relegation candidates in a matter of months. By the time he resigned, Birmingham were only three points above the relegation zone and needed two wins from their last three games to stay up.
Harry Redknapp was given the task of keeping Birmingham in the Championship and achieved survival after winning two games out of three. Redknapp helped bring back the feel-good factor that went missing in the Zola era and Blues fans instantly warmed to him.
The summer of 2017 was a crazy period for the club and a combination of the club’s new found wealth and Redknapp’s eagerness to spend money resulted in fourteen players joining the club and fourteen players leaving. This huge upheaval was not beneficial to the team and although the squad was now much better on paper, the players couldn’t gel together and achieve results.
Redknapp was sacked in mid-September after a shocking start to the season. Redknapp did well to keep Birmingham up, but never really looked committed enough to take on the role in the long term.
Redknapp’s previous assistant, Steve Cotterill, was brought in and marked a shift away from TTA’s “big name” manager policy. Cotterill achieved success in League One with Bristol City but looked out of his depth in the Championship. He underachieved massively with the squad he had at his disposal and played a dull style of football.
His tactical ineptness was exemplified when he deployed 6’4 striker Sam Gallagher on the left wing on several occasions. Bizarre interviews and a general lack of passion towards the club meant that the Birmingham fans quickly turned against Cotterill. He was disliked so much that he had to be escorted by police down an emergency exit at full-time after a 2-0 loss at home to Barnsley. Five consecutive defeats caused TTA to pull the trigger on the Bristolian in March 2018. His sacking was akin to putting a dying dog out of their misery.
Birmingham needed another manager to rescue them from the perils of relegation as they sat 22nd in the table, two points adrift from safety. Garry Monk was the chosen man. Monk helped secure Birmingham’s status as a Championship club for another season after a victory at home to Fulham.
This was the third time Birmingham had clinched survival on the last day in four years.The club had a quieter summer transfer window in 2018 and this stability allowed the squad to become familiar with each other. Blues started the season brightly and were considered as dark horses for promotion at one point. Despite their improvements on the pitch, the 2018/19 season will always be remembered for the assault of Jack Grealish in the Second City Derby by a pitch invading Birmingham fan.
Blues have always had a problem controlling the behaviour of their fans and this was an extreme example of this. A nine point deduction caused by Redknapp’s irresponsible spending in the summer of 2018 was imposed on the club in March 2019, squashing any faint hopes of promotion. It hadn’t been the most exhilarating season but many bluenoses believed that the team could build on their 17th place finish and maybe even push for the playoffs with Monk in the 2019/20 campaign.
This was until TTA announced another bombshell, they had sacked the much-liked Garry Monk. This was met with outrage and one Bluenose jokingly suggested that the fans should storm the CEO’s office. One of the club’s directors, Edward Cheng, saw this tweet and was offered the fan a chance to fight in broken English. His response, “You want come?” was retweeted hundreds of times and fans were astonished that a director of the club was confronting a fan like this.
At the time, many people assumed this was just another case of TTA being incredibly stupid but it was later revealed that Monk had only been signing players that were signed to his agent, so he would get a cut from the deal. Monk had also apparently told the 16-year-old wonderkid, Jude Bellingham, that he would only get promoted to the senior squad if he signed with Monk’s agent. Just when bluenoses believed they had a genuine, caring manager who had a bond with the fans, a scandal like this was revealed.
The board played the “safe” option when choosing who would be Blues’ next manager and went with Monk’s assistant, Pep Clotet. Monk and Clotet now don’t speak to each other and Monk just publicly called Clotet out for being disloyal and dishonest, there is certainly no love lost between the pair.
Clotet is still a student of the game and has more experience being a coach, rather than a manager. He has a good squad at his disposal and has made a decent start to the season, it may be too early to judge his success just yet.
So there it is, that is the story of Birmingham City this decade. Whilst Manchester City fans have been amazed at their team’s record-breaking performances and Bolton fans have been devastated by their club’s fall from grace, Birmingham fans have just been confused. Confused at their owner’s decisions, confused at their terrible luck and confused to what the future may hold for the club. No one knows what the next decade has in store but for Birmingham City but it has some way to go if it wants to beat the craziness of the 2010s.
By: Thomas Owen
Photo: Sky Sports