In a city with at least two football teams, there always seem to be one that’s dominant, and one that has a constant struggle to get out from under the shadow of it’s neighbour. On Merseyside, Liverpool have for long periods held dominance over Everton, whilst the Toffees have had only brief episodes when they could call themselves the top dogs. The usual way was Reds on top.
In Manchester, until the last few years, the same was very much the case. Sir Alex Ferguson had painted the town red with a domination that seemed – for every non-United fan anyway – to have lasted forever. Of course City, now replete with the oil money of Sheikh Mansoor, have clearly got out from under, and with United still struggling to come to terms with life after Fergie – even van Gaal hasn’t worked his magic yet – the red domination has flipped somewhat.
The picture is somewhat similar in Birmingham. Claret of course is a shade of red, and although Villa have been struggling for a couple of seasons, it has seemed that Birmingham City – very much the ‘Blues’ in this scenario – have gone out of their way to ensure that the turmoil in the B5 area of the doesn’t threaten its hegemony of the country’s second city. If this particular shade of red don’t really deserve to be on top, the blues are making sure they stay there.
Working in an office in Birmingham, there’s always a propensity to have Villa and Blues fans as colleagues, and so it is. Whilst Villa fans are down in the mouth at the moment, they have not only a glorious past – including being Champions of Europe – there is also the belief that ‘they’ll be back’ at least as a top-half of the Premier League club, and maybe much more. For Birmingham fans however, there’s no glorious past to remember, and with the dead-hand of Carson Yeung’s ownership around the club’s throat, throttling out any aspirations for progress, the future is anything but promising. Mention their club, or the latest game to a Birmingham fan and the instant reaction is a long-suffering half smile. It’s hardly surprising.
As long as I can remember, and that’s plenty of decades of football, Birmingham City have struggled. They’ve had a few brighter periods, but very ephemeral. Trevor Francis burnt bright, but fairly briefly as Brian Clough snaffled him away up to Nottingham Forest and glory. If Everton success – league title and European glory – has been slight fare compared to neighbours Liverpool, Birmingham’s has been starvation rations. The League Cup triumph against Arsenal four years ago, ten years after they unluckily lost on penalties in the final of the same competition to Liverpool, under the managership of old boy Francis, is their only meaningful silverware of note.
There did however appear to be a bit of hope this season. After the club dispensed of Lee Clark, they brought in former player Gary Rowett to take control. I swear my City supporting colleague positively beamed at the news, and when results began to turn, and – whisper it so softly – there was even talk of a late run at the play-offs, there may have been blue skies ahead. News then broke that Birmingham International Holdings had invited Ernst & Young in as Receivers. With the only meaningful asset of BIH being the football club, it seemed that Yeung would be ousted, and surely any new owners would have to be better than the jailed Hong Kong businessman. Results turning, Rowett in charge, and perhaps a new owner coming in. Surely blue skies ahead. Hang on, though, This is Birmingham. Nothing is that straightforward.
Yeung has been in control of the club since October 2009, and is not keen to relinquish his hold on the St Andrew club. Despite being incarcerated in Hong Kong serving a six-year sentence for money-laundering, Yeung is fighting any move to allow Ernst & Young to sell the club. A statement in the Hong Kong newspaper ‘The Standard’ has him calling for an EGM so that he can seek to displace the directors who have called in the receivers and replace them with who is quaintly his ‘de facto wife’, a ‘Chief Engineer’ and someone who is described as the company’s executive administrator, who in other places has been described as Yeung’s driver.
Will he win the power battle? Birmingham fans are hoping for the best, but fearing the worst. Should he hold the day, any prospect of new, and more sympathetic, owners arriving will have vanished and the clouds of depression hanging over St Andrews will continue to obscure any kind of bright horizons. I just hope for the sanity of my colleague that some sense will prevail and at least allow Birmingham fans the opportunity to sing a different kind of Blues song.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for ‘theaspirer’ website).