Footballing ‘identity’ seems to be a hot topic at the moment. Supporters feel that their team’s distinctiveness goes beyond what colours they play in and what badge they wear. The brand or style of football being practised has become just as important. As a result an increasingly common source of conflict between a manager and fans is differing stylistic expectations. For example, it seems whenever Sam Allardyce is linked to a team there’s instant outcry from groups of followers worrying that their club’s beautiful approach to the game is under threat.
Hypothetically speaking would there be similar protestations if Allardyce were linked to Blues? I doubt it; but I suppose our circumstances are so dire at the moment we can’t really afford to be picky. So, let’s tweak the hypothesis. Now consider we’re sitting mid table in the Premier League with safety guaranteed. Cotterill has resigned stating he’s done all he can (go with me on this), would there be any objection from the Birmingham faithful to Big Sam being brought on board? Again, I don’t think there would. My feelings on this stem from the fact that when it comes to a footballing ‘identity’ I’m a little hazy as to what Birmingham’s is. Now that just won’t do! I’ll have a bash at defining it below but I warn you it’ll be inherently personal and drenched in syrupy nostalgia.
When I think of our playing blueprint, our football DNA, I instinctively visualise Birmingham playing under the floodlights at St Andrew’s. There always seems to be such a great atmosphere at night games. I see Stephen Carr marauding up the right wing and Gardner smashing the winner home against West Ham in the Carling Cup Semi Final. I see our Europa league play-off match against Nacional and Nathan Redmond terrorising their defenders with his pace and trickery. What a player we thought we had back then! I see Peter Enckelman letting the ball roll under his foot, followed by Geoff Horsefield smashing in a goal near post. For me our identity is rooted in us being rampaging, relentless, tenacious underdogs whose passion and verve frightens opponents into underperforming and making mistakes.
Is all that waffle indicative of a style of play, however? I’m not sure. I’m also not sure if it’s something a head coach has any dominion over. I’ve seen us embody the qualities I’ve just listed several times under many different managers. We certainly played like that at times under Fry, Francis, Bruce, Mcleish, Hughton and Rowett. I don’t remember many such performances under Clark or Zola to be honest. We were marshalled by Redknapp for such a short time I don’t think any concrete conclusions about him can be drawn. It seems to me Birmingham’s on-pitch identity has as much to do with atmosphere and imperative as it does with whomever is in charge.
Speaking of imperative, how about our current plight? What perhaps is most troubling about our recent results is that our ‘identity’ has been lacking at a time when normally it rears its head. At home against a relegation contender like Barnsley you’d hope a scrappy determined Birmingham would turn up and rip Barnsley a new one. From what I gather on Saturday (my brother and Father attended the game) nothing could have been further from the truth. How worrying. So is Steve Cotterill holding this group of players back from performing with the kind of gusto we expect? I think partially that’s true, I also think the team is riddled with mercenaries, loanees and guys with low confidence. I think a haphazard approach to wage structure has left the team divided and given certain stalwarts enough distraction to cause a dip in form. Finally, I think despite all that money Redknapp spent the team is no better than it was when Rowett first took over. Worse, potentially, as we’re rather blighted by injury too. Would a new manager help? Well, who on earth would want to manage Birmingham right now? I mean really? Folks I have a sinking feeling and it’s horrid!
I started writing this as an examination of Birmingham’s identity. Now I think back over my twenty five years of support, fighting relegation is right up there alongside our rambunctious playing style in terms of Brum’s distinguishing features. This is who we are. We’ve chosen to ride a grim rollercoaster by supporting Blues and perhaps we should all accept it,accept where we are and just get behind the team. In terms of effective protest I’d urge you to take Daniel Ivery’s advice and approach the Blues Trust. Together, change stands a much better chance of occurring and doing things that way is a lot more dignified than throwing objects at our poor manager.
Keep Right On!
Words by @ThomasWillshire