Category Archives: Second City

Inhibitions to the Sea

It really is an easy game…

Familiar sight

I had to make a choice tonight: Never Been Kissed on E4 at 9pm; or the second half of the Liverpool game. It was an easy decision. Drew Barrymore trying to make it as a writer whilst trying to find Mr. Right? King Kenny never stood a chance. Unfortunately, I live with a Liverpool fan – but fortunately for him, we also have E4 +1.

To be honest, I had no real interest in watching this current Liverpool bunch. They’re going through a rough patch for sure, but as a neutral, this doesn’t make any claim to make me come back and watch more of their hopeless long balls. Thankfully, however, tonight they were up against a hungry, vibrant and fearless Blackpool outfit – and after watching 45 minutes of their football, for me, the newly-promoted Seasiders should be Aston Villa’s inspiration.

I know what you’re thinking: BLACKPOOL are OUR inspiration?? But before you say it, that was 29 years ago…

We are no longer European giants, we aren’t league contenders, the cup drought continues, and even the “glorious” days of top 6 are a distant memory. Don’t get me wrong, I still hang on to some form of stubborn hope that we have a better team than Blackpool… don’t we? (Despite, 7 points – and a game in hand – difference in the two clubs at the moment) But there’s something that Holloway’s outfit has that we don’t (not the orange eye sore – their squad) – No Fear.

Blackpool’s players ooze confidence in every game. When they’re behind, they are resilient. When they’re ahead, they are positive. When they’re coming off the back of consecutive defeats, they are unshaken. Fearlessness stimulates every performance played at home or away from Bloomfield road. Honesty drives every shift the 14 used players are more than willing to put in every game. Is it always pretty? Of course not. They have come out of virtually nowehere. They joined the league as odds on favourites for the drop; patronised before they even kicked a ball; they had seemingly reached the final chapter of their great story. But Ian Holloway, and every one of his able foot-soldiers were not reading the script. And what their attacks sometimes lack in class or consistency, is more than made up for in quantity and directness. Every time an orange shirt retrieves the ball, there is a buzz in the air – he will immediately have at least 4 runners in support and he won’t be afraid to take on the man himself, even if he hasn’t the capability of doing so! If their attacks fail, if a player cocks-up – it is apparently immaterial, because another attack, another roaring crowd, another chance is just around the corner.

So WHY NOT, is my question. Why not throw caution to the wind, why not enjoy our football, why not believe? Aston Villa are blessed with exciting players capable of game changing runs and passes. Gabby, Downing, Young, Marc, Bannan are all ready to be unleashed, ready to cause havoc. Yes, we are playing some nice stuff at times – but let’s get the shackles off. The most impressive thing about Blackpool tonight was their assurance. At 1-1, they deserved a second. At 2-1, there was only going to be one winner. After 90 minutes, Liverpool couldn’t get the ball out of their half – a time when you’d expect the kitchen sink to be thrown at the Blackpool goal.

I’m sick of this feeling of apprehension going up to play the Blue-noses this season. Their defence is there for the taking – they proved that again last night against West Ham – Johnson can’t cope with Agbonlahor; Foster is shaking once again. What would Blackpool do? (This should now be our This is Anfield sign)

They would go for the jugular. They would get players like Young, Downing and Albrighton (if they had that luxury) running at the ageing Carr, the heavy Murphy, the incompetent Liam Fuckin’ Ridgewell at left and right back. They would run at Johnson and Dann and watch as they back further and further towards their 18 yard line. They would pepper Foster’s goal – shoot on sight. They would show little to no respect to the likes of Bowyer and Ferguson.

Birmingham City are there for the taking, and I dread to think of not beating them out of 3 attempts in one season. We are bigger than that, we are better than that. So why not go for it? Why not go to St. Andrew’s with no fear, why bother worrying about the mercurial Jerome? Let’s avenge their classless, shameless, violent League Cup riot. Let’s restore pride in the biggest club in the Midlands. Let’s do it The Blackpool Way!

(Oh, looks like Drew’s about to get the guy…)

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Blue Murder

This was epic. A coming-together of two tribes; an eye for an eye; a clash of titans. Wednesday night had everything you’d expect from a second city square-off: intense rivalry; bloodstained turf; and the refusal to back down. Oh, and there was also a football match before-hand.

Unfortunately, as the Villains once again showed how the new Houllier-era is reaping controlled, glamorous football, we also failed to put the opposition to the sword… once again. I hope Gerard gets his time, I really do. He’s been greatly unfortunate through the long term injuries of many key players and he is yet to dip into the transfer market and properly imprint his stamp on our club. And as sick as I am with these poor results, it is extremely refreshing to enjoy watching Villa play – I can’t remember the last time I did.

However, two games against the Blue-noses without one victory is unacceptable. It was heartening throughout O’Neill’s tenure when we expected a win on derby day. There were no nerves, no shakes and no surprises – simply normal order. But now, I already hate playing Birmingham.

Thankfully, however, the lack of class in the blue half of Brummie, which is all-too-apparent every year, yet again shone through and served only to remind us of the gnawing inferiority complex at St. Andrews. And strangely, in defeat, Aston Villa was victorious.

Taking to the pitch, provoking (and attacking) the away fans, and rubbing our noses in a mere quarter final defeat, the Birmingham faithful demonstrated just how far they really are behind us. The gulf in class between the two clubs is impenetrable: Birmingham City Football Club will always be in the shadow of Aston Villa. And the gulf in class between the two sets of fans was there for the whole world to see as the Clowns let the biggest club in the Midlands know just how much they envy us.

They say that a sore loser makes for an even worse winner. And instead of walking away; instead of starting preparations for their semi-final; instead of finally being labeled as winners, the Brum-scum spoiled their first victory over Aston Villa in years by commencing an unnecessary riot. And not that they were solely to blame for England’s failure to acquire the 2018 World Cup, but their unjustified, thuggish behaviour presented the 22 pompous executives of FIFA an easy avenue to give England the rejection they wanted to give them anyway.

Moreover, Birmingham’s reaction to what was obviously an unexpected victory once again revealed that their season revolves around Villa. Devoid of ambition, blind of direction, and even shameful in victory, it is not unfair to assume that the Blue-noses’ season is now a roaring success – they stole their win over Villa and clearly, nothing else seems to matter. So congratulations Birmingham – mission complete.

I’d also like to thank the Brum-scum because instead of deciphering a football match; instead of looking at where it all went wrong for Villa, where it went right for Birmingham even, I simply discussed their fans’ ridiculous behaviour – like every writer will. Thanks for the reminder of just how bigger a club we are than you – God knows we needed the confidence boost in this slump we’re experiencing. Finally, thank you Birmingham; because even after a winning result on the football pitch, myself, Aston Villa, and indeed the entire country can still say,
“Birmingham City FC: No class; No grace; No hope.”

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Birmingham City FC: No Class; No Grace; No Hope

Okay, so they had their chances…

16 goal attempts, 14 on target, for an away team is an impressive feat and would generally suggest that the home side dropped all 3 points. But guess what… it means nothing. Because as surely as we “deserved” to beat Sunderland 6 games ago, Brummie may have “deserved” to receive at least a point from the weekend’s heated Second City Derby – but in sport: you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you take.

And as Villa ruthlessly put their rivals to the sword, in the same fashion as the “bigger” teams punish those who don’t capitalise every week, I make no apologies for the Claret side of Birmingham having enough backbone, enough resilience and enough fight to withstand the considerable Blues pressure and having enough sack to ante-up again to keep our Champions League scrap alive.

On the 29th March, in the aftermath of that Stamford Bridge result, I called on the players to “Never Die Easy”. If an opponent was to overcome you, then they should earn your death. And as we refused to be rolled over this time round, as we refused to go down without a fight, Birmingham refused to go to that extra mile, they refused to go to the edge with us. Consequently, they did not earn, they did not “deserve” our blood.

Shameless Inaccuracies

This is why I haven’t stopped cringing at the embarrassing outbursts of Alex McLeish and Roger Johnson in the aftermath of their defeat. Having failed to turn chances into goals, the Brummies wanted 3 points handed on a plate for them and after being punished for a clumsy, clumsy challenge on Agbonlahor in the box, Birmingham left without a point and without dignity as Alex McLeish winced, “It’s not fair…”

Clumsy

The decision regarding the penalty was a disgrace…” cried RJ, the guilty defendant. It may seem hypocritical of a Villa fan to slam other penalty pleas so soon after our Cup bemusements; but then, we had 100% assurance of both our claims and now, we’re still in the right. Because as the Brummie back targeted the experienced Atkinson and said that “the game was too big for him”, he unashamedly covered up his own frailties by incorrectly and unfairly slamming the game changing decision ‘a disgrace’. Despite the centre back getting a nick on the ball with the side of his foot (a very, very lucky nick because he had clearly mistimed his tackle), Agbonlahor was still en route to goal before being swiped to the ground by the clueless Johnson. The ball takes a faint deflection after the defender’s fortunate contact, but even so, Gabby is still in for a goalscoring opportunity but for the ridiculously late challenge to follow. So instead of arguing over was it or was it not a penalty, why aren’t we disputing the fact that Johnson stayed on the field of play after denying Agbonlahor a fourth goal in as many Birmingham derbies?

What was also disappointing was some of the crunching challenges from our former Villains (Gardner and Ridgewell), but I suppose they have firmly switched allegiances so why expect any loyalties? Another baffling occurence was how Gregory Vignal managed to stay on the pitch for 75 minutes before being subbed off instead of sent off for any of his 4 yellow card-worthy fouls. And lest we forget about my country man’s (Stephen Carr) thuggish, provocative taunts to the victorious home fans; demonstrating a complete disregard to not only the laws of the game, but to any self respect he had left in him. But the most pleasing aspect of this was, instead of worrying about the referee’s performance, instead of lowering ourselves to the guttering levels of the Brum-scum, we went about creating our own luck and shaping our own destiny to secure all 3 points.

Goalkeeping Importance

When your backs are against the wall, when you’re on the ropes, it’s always a divine saving grace when you have a trustworthy number 1 as your last line of defence. Paul Tomkins, a Liverpool blogger, researched how the goalkeeper may have the key position on a football pitch (http://tomkinstimes.com/2010/04/the-key-position/). And analyzing Sunday’s match, who could argue? Because not only did Friedel prevent us losing to our fiercest enemies, but he kept us in the game and created the platform from which we climbed to victory and to possible 4th place stardom. His clean sheet was only his 15th of the league campaign – one behind Reina’s impressive 16 – and with an uninspiring ‘goals for’ tally, Villa’s fantastic league form may well and truly be indebted to the immovable experience of Brad Friedel.

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man

Brum Worry

What is most alarming about Birmingham’s undignified and unfounded yelps of desperation is that their ambition is clearly limited. With wealthy owners and a fantastic league record as a newly-promoted outfit, their only aim still seems to be a desire to get one over their local rivals. I can confidently maintain that a successful season for The Clowns would be to take 4 points from their Second City matches, whereas we are thankfully concerned with bigger and more important matters.

Because as we realize that there are more than 2 fixtures in a season, the inferiority complex across the city is unfortunately hindering their development and their short-sided, unimaginative objectives mean that Birmingham Football Club will always be living in the shadow of Aston Villa. As every season passes, Aston Villa look more and more likely to break the mould of the elitest Premier League – but judging from Alex McLeish and Roger Johnson’s extensive and controversial take on Sunday’s game, Birmingham have no hope (and no expectation) of breaking into the exceptionally strong Premier League top 8 (which consists of the current top 8). What is more is that in 23 meetings, McLeish has only got the better of O’Neill 3 times compared to the Northern Ireland man’s 15 victories and after recording a record 5th successive Birmingham derby win, the Blue-noses look doomed to failure in even their smallest dreams.

They could have walked proudly out of Villa Park with their heads held high. After outplaying their rivals, they could have put it down to a bit of bad luck, but instead they decided to kick and scream like a petulant child who won’t leave the toy shop until he gets what he wants. Instead, they showed us their hand, they showed us their only desire all along was to knock Villa off their perch and having failed to do so, what was once labelled a highly impressive season is now immaterial and all the 2 whingers have served to do is remind Villains that we have once again put them in their place.

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My Favourite Second City Derby

I’ve recently become Twitter buddies … with a Brummie girl. Turns out she’s alright for a Birmingham supporter (it’s like a 21st century Romeo and Juliet – for the digital age). I’ve been following her blog and despite her gender and allegiances, she’s a surprisingly decent writer! Anyway, she asked me to write as a guest for her site on my favourite recent derby match; and with another 3 points in the bag last night, I turned my attention to the small matter of Aston Villa v Birmingham on Sunday, and some of the heated clashes through the years – below is my entry which will posted on her Brummie blog today.

When asked to write a guest blog on my favourite recent derby match, I automatically began scanning the archives of my brain for all the classic Villa-West Brom encounters. It is well documented that The Albion pose the biggest threat to Villa’s Black Country dominance so when I realised I had to discuss a Villa-Birmingham clash, I had to scratch my head and think long and hard to recall such an irrelevant fixture in the Aston Villa calendar.

16/04/2006 

Aston Villa 3 – 1 Birmingham City

David O’Leary’s 3rd year in charge of Aston Villa was somewhat of an apathetic affair. Having had a gallant fight for Europe come up agonisingly short in his first season in charge, the Irish man ultimately contributed to the eventual downfall of the biggest club in the Midlands (that’s Villa by the way!). After scraping a miserly two more points than the Blues the previous season, a humiliating 4-0 drubbing at Upton Park in just the 5th game of the new campaign set the tone for DOL’s final spell – as the Villains stumbled out of the blocks with just 9 points from their opening 12 games.

Fast forward to the 5th last match and the two Birmingham clubs were still rubbing shoulders; but this time, found themselves in the heat of a very real relegation battle. 

Derby-day Sunday somehow never fails to produce a high, glorious sunshine; but with the Brummies lingering above relegation, desperately hanging on to our flailing coattails, an away victory at Villa Park would promise nothing more than eternal darkness over the plains of Bodymoor Heath (at least for a year anyway).

With an abysmal attendance record all year at Villa Park, over 40’000 people (for just the second time) made their way to Trinity Road to witness the home side secure all 6 possible points in the second city derby. But I was less optimistic.

With the team sheets in front of me (and a disastrous season behind), I had this sinking feeling of defeat prior to kick off (similar to what Blue-noses must feel every Saturday).  I looked at the partnership of Nicky Butt and our transfer target David Dunn and dabbled on the idea of having them instead of McCann and Davis. I then feared for the ridiculously inexperienced centre back pairing of Liam Ridgewell and previous week debutant, Gary Cahill coming up against the international standard Heskey and Sutton and I concluded that we were in trouble; big trouble.

Birmingham had put together an admirable revival and had lifted themselves out of the bottom three. I was frightened of this game. But then again, O’Leary had majestically guided Villa on a fantastic FA Cup journey, only to be dumped out in the 5th round. And lest we forget that we had won 4 of our 15 home games prior to that derby… and I was worrying there for a second!

The lunchtime kick off started frantically (and I don’t recall it ever slowing up). It was honest, end to end action, with the atmosphere spurring the players to take a giant step up from rest of the season’s performances. I remember analyzing the game and thinking that Villa were having endless joy down the right wing, with loanee Milner and Aaron Hughes in devastating form. And in the 10th minute, that right side attacking paid early dividends with a squared ball slotted to the net by the erratic Milan Baros. It was more a rush of relief than delight as we looked to be steering clear of the red.

But then, once we went a goal to the good, we were already looking for the final whistle. And although the pace of the game didn’t drop, our defensive line certainly did and we were pinned in our half, stalled in the headlights of one way, oncoming traffic.

And despite conceding an early equaliser at the hands of soon-to-be Villa forward, Chris Sutton, we struggled to get ourselves back in contention and I was certainly one fan who was happy to see half time.

Fortunately, Villa came back out punching in the second half in what promised to be yet another electrifying 45 minutes. Young Cahill had already proved he could do a solid job for the team at the back but what he was about to do 10 minutes into the new half will forever be remembered in Aston Villa folklore. An inswinging corner was poorly cleared and the new-boy turned his back to goal before lifting his hole body parallel with the ground, 6ft in the air, to spectacularly bring the ball back towards goal with an acrobatic scissor kick that he couldn’t execute if he tried 99 more times. Villa Park was bouncing.

Magic

For the next 20 minutes, we retreated once more. I don’t think the crowd cared because of the scenes that had preceded; but within this quarter of the game, Birmingham were banging down the Villa defensive wall. However, rather fittingly, now at the foundation of this barricade was 20 year old Gary Cahill who looked like he had been playing Premier League football for 10 years (not 2 appearances). The Brum attack huffed and puffed but Cahill was there time and time again to ensure the Villa back line showed nothing but relentless contempt to their rivals’ attempts to take points in front of the Doug Ellis Stand. And with 13 minutes remaining, a Milner-Baros breakaway ensured the Villains would stride home to victory in a cracking derby clash. More importantly though, the 3 points gained would take us clear of the drop zone, secure a 100% record over our rivals and condemn the Brum-scum to eventual relegation.

They say that you can’t write this stuff. Archrivals, local enemies competing in a fight to stay up, a fight to survive. A 20 year old central defender making his second ever start, standing tall and suffocating his adversary’s assaults; scoring not just his first ever goal, but the goal which crucially broke the deadlock, the goal of his career, the best finish I’ve ever seen at Villa Park; and scoring the goal which ultimately secured Aston Villa Premier League status, and the goal which condemned the blue half of Birmingham to deplorable demotion. They say that you can’t write this stuff, but I disagree. This stuff is too easy to write, it is the stuff of fairytale. The difference is, when I read a fairytale, I don’t believe it.

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