On Saturday 2nd February 2013 Alex Mcleish took his Nottingham Forest side to St Andrews, the home of Birmingham City, the Football Club that I have supported since 1990 when as a 14 year old I opted not to commit to Manchester Utd, Liverpool, Spurs, Everton and Aston Villa as so many of my friends chose to do. A decision that has both pleased and tormented me in equal amounts.
Alex Mcleish had managed Birmingham for a period of 4 and a half years. A more interesting managerial tenure I was hard pressed to recall. 2 relegation’s, automatic promotion at the first attempt from the Championship. Highest league position for 51 years, 13 matches unbeaten with an unchanged side. Undefeated at home in the premier league for a calendar year and ultimately a glorious day at Wembley when Arsenal where beaten in the Carling Cup in 2011. However upon Mcleish’s departure to our cross city rivals Aston Villa I commented to friends who had the misfortune of supporting The Villa or the 2 syllabub gang as I called them that although we’d achieved some success I struggled to think of 5 games that I had enjoyed as a watching spectator. Often departing from St Andrews I felt like I’d been attached to a saline drip. The football was determined, organised and attritional but far from enjoyable. We were hard to beat but would simply never thrash anyone and I felt that the status of the team in the premier league relied heavily on form and fitness, both of which deserted the club following our zenith at Wembley.
Seeing Mcleish in the Forest dugout got me to thinking about the managers that Birmingham had employed since my first attendance in 1990.
The first thing I noticed was the list was full of achievers and winners, men who as players had won league championships, FA Cups, Scottish Cups, European Trophies. Men who were seasoned internationals and had played with and against the greats of modern football.
Dave Mackay, Lou Macari, Terry Cooper, Barry Fry, Trevor Francis, Steve Bruce, Alex Mcleish, Chris Hughton and Lee Clark being the lucky souls.
However hard I tried to examine the merits of each manger I was inexplicably drawn to a 12 game period at the end of the 1993-1994 season when Barry Fry was manager. We were fighting relegation from the championship and were adrift at the bottom. Then suddenly it clicked, with Mark Ward pinging the ball around in midfield we played a brand of football that I haven’t seen before or since. I would find myself getting up on the morning of the match excited. It was the highlight of my week, not just the day itself. I would eagerly listen to the away games on the radio listening to the Blues beating promotion chasing Bolton and Tranmere at there own ground. I told my dad that if we avoided relegation we were certs for promotion the following year. Alas we were relegated on goal difference, although the next season we won the league title and the Auto Windscreens trophy at Wembly so it wasn’t all bad but apart from one Bank Holiday afternoon when Christophe Dugarry played like Maradona in the 1986 World Cup against Southampton and the 3-0 win against Villa in 2002 and of course Wembley in 2011 I never quite experienced the same enjoyment at a football match that I did during that 12 game run.
I consider myself to be a frustrated footballer, someone who was never quite good enough to be a professional and it annoys me when talented young men in their physical prime play with inhibition and fear. The manager, coachs and expert analysts would have use believe that all fans approve of a teams method as long as they win. This fan doesn’t and my reply to that position is that Real Madrid sacked both Jupp Heyenches and Fabio Capello for the style of play despite winning the European Cup and La Liga. I as a Supporter go to a match expecting my team to be passionate, intelligent, fearless and brave. To enjoy the comradeship and banter of my follow fans. To live and breathe the dramatic excitement that only football can create. So often it disappoints and my expectations are adjusted accordingly. But would we prefer it anyother way?