Birmingham

Outside Villa Park stands a statue of William McGregor, founder of the Football League, the draper from Perth and director of Aston Villa who almost single-handedly elevated the amateur game of football to a professional level from 1888 onwards.

Villa and their main rivals, Birmingham City, had been formed well over a decade before. Both are still based at the grounds they played at during the McGregor era. Villa Park has since staged a European final, a World Cup, and more FA Cup semi-finals than any other stadium.

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Welcome to Birmingham/Peterjon Cresswell

Formed around the same time, and also founder members of McGregor’s Football League in 1888, West Bromwich Albion have been playing at The Hawthorns, on the border of West Bromwich and Birmingham, since 1900.

But for all this tradition, the city of Birmingham has only celebrated two league titles since the McGregor era, West Brom’s just after World War I and Aston Villa’s in 1981. Villa also brought home the European Cup the year afterwards. Other silverware has otherwise been few and far between. All tolled, the three clubs have won 11 domestic cups since the war, the last FA Cup being WBA’s in 1968.

Trailing Liverpool and Manchester in the trophy stakes, England’s second most populous city has a huge fan base hungry for success.

In 2015-16, the unthinkable happened. Villa tumbled out of the top flight for the first time since 1988, finishing bottom of the Premier League. Chinese owner Tony Xia is now looking to coach Steve Bruce to reverse Villa’s fortunes after a mediocre campaign in 2016-17.

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The Vine Inn/Peterjon Cresswell

Birmingham fans most revere the Trevor Francis era of the 1970s – but even then Blues failed to finish in the top half of the table. Third-flight football has been a real possibility in recent seasons. WBA are the city’s only representatives in the Premier League in 2017-18.

Villa’s demise revives the rivalry with Birmingham, the Second City derby. The Villans are based north of town, in Witton, beside Aston. Birmingham, originally Small Heath, are still based there, just east of the city centre.

Recent games have seen violent clashes. Birmingham’s last-gasp 2-1 win in the League Cup of December 2010 was marred by some of the worst scenes witnessed at an English football ground in modern times, on the pitch, in and around the ground. It was Birmingham’s first victory over Villa in five years. Manager Alex McLeish, having led Blues to beat Arsenal in the subsequent League Cup Final that February, promptly went over to Villa in June.

Protests broke out on both sides. McLeish only lasted a season and the clubs now meet more regularly given the second-flight status of Aston Villa since 2016.

Derbies involving West Bromwich, officially part of the West Midlands conurbation, are somewhat tamer by comparison. Beyond West Bromwich is Wolverhampton, only 12 miles away. The Black Country derby between WBA and Wolverhampton Wanderers, was also a fierce affair before Wolves slipped down the league pyramid. Founder members of the Football League, Wolves were dominant in the 1950s, when their victory in a friendly over Honvéd – or rather the bombastic reaction to it in the UK press – led to the creation of the European Cup.

Also local but rarely in the limelight, Walsall met Wolves in a league fixture for the first time in ten years in September 2013. A solitary Walsall goal settled matters at a packed Molineux.

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Birmingham

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Park Inn Birmingham West: 52.514194, -1.977126
The Royal George Hotel: 52.476593, -1.865861
Hotel Ibis Birmingham Bordesley Circus: 52.472406, -1.873044
Formule 1 Birmingham Bordesley Circus Hotel: 52.472322, -1.872953
Paragon Hotel: 52.470712, -1.885038
The Briar Rose Hotel: 52.479921, -1.900197
Britannia Hotel: 52.479104, -1.897086
Hotel Indigo: 52.474973, -1.907175
Jurys Inn Birmingham City Centre: 52.476756, -1.911515
The Crown Hotel: 52.482782, -1.893518
The Briar Rose Hotel: 52.479921, -1.900197
The Wellington: 52.480628, -1.900547
The Figure Of Eight: 52.476565, -1.912322
The Square Peg: 52.481872, -1.894970
Birmingham New Street station: 52.477624, -1.898844
Birmingham International: 52.450883, -1.725669
Villa Park: 52.508673, -1.885014
Birmingham City Football Club: 52.475618, -1.868019
The Hawthorns: 52.507968, -1.963634
Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club: 52.590100, -2.130407
Walsall Football Club: 52.565134, -1.990542
Hotel du Vin: 52.482270, -1.900119
Birmingham Coach Station: 52.475329, -1.888481
Macdonald Burlington Hotel: 52.478849, -1.898685
AC Hotel Birmingham: 52.475795, -1.906702
Novotel Birmingham Centre: 52.476004, -1.913306
Travelodge Birmingham Central: 52.476255, -1.912659
Hampton by Hilton: 52.475173, -1.914073
Malmaison Birmingham: 52.476933, -1.903683
Copthorne Hotel Birmingham: 52.480165, -1.906383
ibis Styles Birmingham Centre: 52.481809, -1.906553
Hyatt Regency Birmingham: 52.478140, -1.909400
The Brasshouse: 52.477705, -1.911378
Players Bar: 52.476691, -1.912109
mooch bar: 52.477468, -1.911106
The Soloman Cutler: 52.478132, -1.910038
Tap & Spile: 52.477017, -1.909733
Pennyblacks: 52.475230, -1.906675
The Shakespeare: 52.478962, -1.899611
The Vine Inn: 52.475109, -1.920043
Anchor Inn: 52.474548, -1.888613
après: 52.481526, -1.907201
adagio aparthotel Birmingham: 52.476534, -1.890940

Bearings

Birmingham Airport is 10km (six miles) south-east of town, with its own station, Birmingham International, on the main rail network. A free Air-Rail Link monorail connects the airport to the station.

Trains run to downtown Birmingham New Street (journey time 10-15min, £3.30) every 10min. A taxi (0121 695 9807) to town should cost around £15.

In town, network west midlands oversees the system of buses, metro light rail and regional trains that serve Birmingham. There are various types of day ticket, including the £7.30 all-in-one (£6 after 9.30am).

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Hotel Indigo/Peterjon Cresswell

Bed

The Birmingham Tourist Office has a directory of local hotels. Handily located near Snow Hill station, the Hotel du Vin  is set in a former Victorian eye hospital, its grand surroundings now housing 66 rooms, a gym, sauna, restaurant and the Pub du Vin. There’s also an inner courtyard with a retractable roof.

The Britannia Hotel is as central as you can get, just across from Aston Villa’s downtown store and ticket office. The nearby landmark Macdonald Burlington is historic and characterful. Also around town, the Briar Rose is a more upscale version of the pub/hotel genre. The Copthorne allows easy access to bar-lined Broad Street but also stands close to major long-term building work in the city centre. Tucked in behind, ibis Styles may be a better choice.

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Jurys Inn/Peterjon Cresswell

As well as bars, Broad Street is lined with hotels. The Hyatt Regency dominates the skyline, its modern, four-star rooms complemented by a pool and spa. Nearby Jurys Inn also provides quality lodging, with a wallet-friendly Travelodge alongside. Over the road, the Novotel has a gym and business facilities. The Hampton by Hilton also has panoramic views from many guestrooms.

For a design-forward, contemporary stay near the waterfront, the Hotel Indigo offers spa packages and private dining laid on by star chef Marco Pierre White. Round the corner, the wharfside AC Hotel Birmingham in the Marriott chain also has fitness facilities. Nearby, the Malmaison provides a touch of boutique luxury.

There’s precious little accommodation near Villa Park – the nearby Aston Hotel is currently closed.

For WBA, the park inn by Radisson Birmingham West, with a pool, gym and sauna, is within walking distance of the The Hawthorns.

Birmingham City are closer to the city centre. Several lodging options are located nearby, most notably The Royal George, a Blues-focused pub with rooms attached. Also close, by a busy roundabout, are two low-price chains, an ibis and an adjoining Formule 1 under the same umbrella.

Handy for both St Andrew’s and town, the Paragon Hotel is an old Victorian institution, with cheap online deals and a busy bar. Over the road from the coach station and an easy bus hop to the ground, the adagio aparthotel offers short- and long-term stays in convenient comfort, with a gym attached.

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Tap & Spile/Peterjon Cresswell

Beer

Bars, pubs and nightspots line Broad Street, famous local musicians honoured in stars along the pavement, Birmingham’s customised version of Hollywood Boulevard.

Venues include the Brasshouse, a large, canalside pub with TV sports and, opposite, the more contemporary, clubby moochbar, with match broadcasts and day- and night-time opening. Alongside, Players is after-dark only, while the Soloman Cutler is a handily located Wetherspoons. Just down a nearby sidestreet, the historic Tap & Spile is a unique spot with TVs inside its cosy, atmospheric bar and canal views from its adjoining restaurant. Right on the waterfront, Pennyblacks is sports bar, restaurant and nightclub in one, with sought-after ales, cocktails and pub grub served in contemporary, post-industrial surroundings.

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après/Peterjon Cresswell

Further up Broad Street, just off Five Ways on Ruston Street, the Vine Inn is a quite wonderful local pub, friendly and communal. Aston Villa paraphernalia, including a signed photo of Dennis Mortimer lifting the European Cup, surround pool tables, flat-screen TVs and a cosy wooden interior. Here football comes first.

Back in the city centre, part of a burgeoning nationwide chain, après offers wood-fired pizzas, TV football on 3D screens and a nightspot on the upper floor, all in a lounge-style atmosphere.

By the Law Courts, the Crown Hotel, dating back to 1862, is a decent place to watch the match, with quality pub grub to boot. The Briar Rose is also recommended while the nearby Wellington is a good spot for ales. The Figure of Eight is another popular downtown Wetherspoon, as is the Square Peg.

Near New Street station, the Shakespeare is a distinctive old Victorian gin palace, with pub food and TV football the focus. Behind Birmingham coach station in Digbeth, a short walk from the Bullring, the Anchor Inn is as honest as it gets, a real-ale paradise (Bee Sting, Shipyard Pale Ale, Razor Back – choose from the chalkboard) with retro maps and photos relating to generations of bus travel. TVs provide football coverage but most are here for the beer.


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