In January 2003, Birmingham City were back in the top tier of English football. After missing out on promotion via the play-offs on a couple of occasions, promotion had finally returned them to the Premier League. After the glory of achievement comes the reality of the task ahead though, and keeping their heads above water would initially prove to be a tricky task. Fortunately, help from an unexpected source would arrive and lift the club in so many ways.
A three-goal triumph over cross-city rivals Aston Villa fed a rapacious appetite starved of glory over recent years, but such one-off victories are only worth three points, no matter how sweet the taste and, with the New Year, came fears about securing the hard-won status. Their promotion winning squad was worthy enough, but largely workaday rather than developing. The higher standard had been a difficult adjustment to make, and the lower reaches of the league were beginning to suck at Birmingham’s coat-tails like a whirlpool locked onto its prey. The January transfer window offered a hope of salvation, but only if the money was spent wisely.
Manager Steve Bruce ushered in half-a-dozen new recruits. They would range from the hardy professional safe buys Matthew Upson, Stephen Clemence and Jamie Clapham, through the more extravagant gambles, fated to fall into regret, with Ferdinand Coly and Piotr Świerczewski, to the man who would stay but a brief time at St Andrews, but cut an elegant dash as with the swish of a rapier blade. He would save the club with an elan only granted to the most extravagant of skills. Christophe Dugarry would be the D’Artagnan of England’s second city, and become a hero, before disappearing off into the night with a Gallic shrug. Continue reading →
If the sobriquet of ‘Dolly and Daisy’ sounds like a double act from an Old Time Musical Hall playbill, you’ll probably be surprised to learn that, thanks to their manager, it was in fact the nom de guerre of the most successful central defensive pairings of the early Premier League years. Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister were the pair in question, and they would write their names large into the history of the most successful football club of the time. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance that the pairing had on the development of Manchester United’s domestic dominance, when Sir Alex Ferguson built his dynasty of success. Suffice to say however, that the unassuming pair at the heart of the Old Trafford backline was the rock upon which the Scot relied over a seven-year partnership jammed full with trophies. Continue reading →