From Carling Cup victors to the brink of administration, it's time for the supporters of Birmingham City to unite against the owners who continue to alienate themselves from the fans.
Unfancied team win first major trophy in fifty years, get relegated from the top flight on the last day of the season, play their first European campaign in half a century, acquit themselves brilliantly and are unlucky to make it to the final stages whilst playing in the second tier all with the background of the majority shareholder being arrested in the Far East combined with a river of cash coming into the club drying up completely leaving the club teetering on the brink of administration – and all this within 23 months? It sounds like the plotline for some second rate soap opera on some backwater satellite channel but this is my football club. Welcome to Birmingham City.
It’s difficult being a Blues fan at times. We’ve gone from thirty odd thousand deliriously happy fans singing the praises of the club at Wembley to crowds that barely half-fill the stadium, filled with a mixture of anger at the situation that the club finds itself in combined with apathy due to the lack of options that fans have to do anything about it. Fans who had proclaimed their happiest days of their supporting lives have slowly turned their backs on a club that is haemorrhaging cash, crippled with a burden of wages that they cannot shift and without the teat of the Premier League cash cow to suck from.
Where did it all go wrong? Like many teams, Blues tried to make the leap of faith from a yo-yo side to a proper top flight team with players (and their salaries) to match. Unfortunately, like most teams Birmingham City were so dependent on the massive TV revenues that Sky bring in to the game that relegation caused an almighty hammer blow to the cash situation. Throw in the arrest of the chief benefactor Carson Yeung at the end of June 2011 and you can see why Blues started to struggle financially. Yet the warning signs were there before then; in April 2011 Carson had had to mortgage one of his houses to give Blues the cashflow to get through to the end of the season as it had become painfully obvious that the Chinese public weren’t that interested in Birmingham City after all.
Had Blues bounced back to the Premier League at the first attempt then maybe, just maybe, things wouldn’t be quite so bad now. With an influx of TV monies, the bills could have been covered and maybe the trend of continually selling players could have been reversed. However, that wasn’t to be – Birmingham City fell out of the playoffs at the first hurdle, losing to Blackpool and with that the dream for Carson turned that little bit more into a nightmare.
What makes it harder for fans to take is that whilst the club strips costs to the bone, sells players and does what it can to streamline itself and make itself self-sufficient it emerges in the accounts that the Acting Chairman Peter Pannu has seen fit to award himself nearly £700,000 in salary. Although Mr Pannu has protested firmly that isn’t the case the evidence seems overwhelming and one has to admit that his continual denials are becoming less and less credible as more and more details emerge.
It all leads to a quandary. Fans are supposed to back their team through thick and thin and to take the rough with the smooth. Yet there is that gnawing feeling that our support is merely helping to prop up the last days of a falling regime, ensuring that there is a few extra quid to be hoovered up in a whirlwind of expense accounts and whatnot. How can a fan continue to show support for their team, to give encouragement to their players and be a true supporter without also “supporting” the board?
Divisions have emerged between the fans who think that nothing should stop people supporting the team on the pitch with those who think that boycotting the matches is the only answer. The old standby of the placard-waving, slogan-shouting protest is seen as the answer by some and yet others point to the 6,000 mile gap between fan and board as being one that cannot be overcome by merely shouting loudly.
However, to do nothing and to watch the club fall apart whilst standing by helpless surely isn’t the answer. If there is to be an answer, it has to come from a unified fan base with one strong voice that can’t be ignored. It has to be something that has legitimacy and has the backing of other groups like it. There is a group that fulfils that criteria and that is the Blues Trust.