LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Birmingham City

Blues keep right on despite League One beckoning

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

A city-centre club with a fierce and loyal fan base, Birmingham City have been at St Andrew’s since 1906. It stands close to where Small Heath Alliance, later Small Heath, were formed in 1875. 

A bitter rivalry was soon struck up with Aston Villa. Birmingham were founder members (and inaugural champions) of the Second Division and, in truth, have never really challenged for the major crown of the league title. 

The club’s last appearance in the Premier League came in 2010-11.

Blues Store/Peterjon Cresswell

Their best finish, sixth, came in 1955-56, when Blues also reached the FA Cup Final. In goal was Gil Merrick, who would have added to his 500-plus appearances had the war not interrupted his career. Also between the sticks for Birmingham’s pioneering runs in the Fairs’ Cup, Merrick missed out when Birmingham became the first English club to reach a European final in 1960, falling to Barcelona, but was manager when they lost to Roma a year later. Forward Bertie Auld would later win the European Cup with Celtic in 1967.

In 1963, Merrick led Blues to their first domestic silverware, a 3-1 aggregate win over Aston Villa, holding their nerve for a 0-0 draw at Villa Park to win the League Cup.

The next notable Birmingham side came a decade later, when teenage prodigy Trevor Francis linked up with bullish centre-forward Bob Latchford under progressive manager Freddie Goodwin. Blues lost to a 120th-minute Fulham goal in the FA Cup semi-final of 1975 and, after a decade of hooliganism and financial strife, Francis was sold for a then record £1 million to Nottingham Forest.

Blues Store/Peterjon Cresswell

He was to return as manager but again Blues suffered dramatic disappointment, a defeat on penalties to Liverpool in the League Cup Final of 2001, after equalising in the 90th minute.

Under the long-term managership of Steve Bruce, Birmingham found relative consistency in the top flight, flair provided from foreign stars Christophe Dugarry and Mikael Forssell. Behind the scenes, stability was provided by co-chairmen David Sullivan and David Gold, and managing director Karren Brady, who had taken the post at 23.

With the attempt by Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung to buy Birmingham in 2007, Bruce, then Brady, Gold and Sullivan, were to leave. Yeung took over in 2009.

St Andrew's/Peterjon Cresswell

Incoming manager Alex McLeish relied on a strong defence to win promotion to the Premier, then surprised many with strong campaign in 2009-10. Keeper Joe Hart had returned to Manchester City by the time McLeish led Blues, via a violent clash with Aston Villa, to Wembley for the League Cup final of 2011. Birmingham kept Arsenal at bay until a defensive blunder let in Obafemi Martins to tap in a late winner. Blues had broken nearly 50 years of bad luck.

Relegated that May, Birmingham entered the Europa League without McLeish, controversially nabbed by Villa. While Europe proved a mixed bag – away wins in Bruges and Maribor, and a home defeat to Braga – Birmingham failed to make the play-off final in the Championship.

The only spark since then has been provided by teenage prodigy Jude Bellingham, sold to Borussia Dortmund for around £25 million in the summer of 2020. Ex-Blues midfielder Lee Bowyer managed to keep City up in spring 2021 – but every season now seems to be a relegation battle.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Birmingham moved from Muntz Street in Small Heath to the newly built St Andrew’s in nearby Bordesley in 1906. Occasionally holding crowds of over 60,000, the ground gained a main stand and floodlights but was in a serious state of disrepair when a wall collapsed in 1985.

The tragedy, which took the life of one young fan, came on the same day as the Bradford fire. Under the chairmanship of Gold and Sullivan, St Andrew’s was partially knocked down and rebuilt through the 1990s. The Spion Kop and Tilton Road Stands date from this time. Capacity is currently just under 30,000.

Home and away fans occupy the Railway End (aka Gil Merrick Stand), visiting supporters generally allocated the four lower sectors (GML 1-4) accessed at the corner of Coventry Road and the railway line. 

Home fans also make a racket in the Tilton Road stand. The Main Stand (Garrison Lane) houses press, VIPs and the Trevor Francis Suite. The Spion Kop is the sideline stand opposite, alongside Coventry/Cattell Road, where you find the club shop and ticket office.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

On match days, a limited number of trains run the short journey to otherwise unused Bordesley from New Street. The station is under a dank railway bridge – exit right and head right for Bordesley Circus roundabout. After crossing carefully, you’ll find the stadium ahead on the left-hand side.

Alternatively, the ground is about a 30-min walk from New Street (25min from Moor St) – head for Digbeth the other side of the Bullring, and keep walking along that main road until the fork for Coventry Road on the left-hand side. Bordesley Circus roundabout is a short walk down, the other side of the railway bridge. Frequent buses 17 and 60 run this same route, from the Moor Street Selfridges stop MS18 alongside the Bullring, past Digbeth coach station to Bordesley Circus. Allow 10mins.

The sat nav code for St Andrew’s is B9 4RL. With Coventry Road closed off an hour before kick-off on match days, nearby parking is few and far between. One solution might be Digbeth Car Park (B5 6DY, all day £3.50), diagonally opposite the coach station, a 10-15 min walk from the ground. Cards and cash accepted.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The ticket office (usual opening hours Mon-Fri 9am-5.30pm, Sat 9am-1pm, match days from 9am) behind the Spion Kop on Coventry Road is complemented by a match-day outlet at the Main Stand open three hours before kick-off. There are also online sales (£1.76 admin fee) for a print-at-home service or collection from the club shop on match days. For all enquiries, call 0121 772 0101 (option 2) or email ticket.office@bcfc.com.

Matches are divided into four categories, tickets in the sideline Main or Spion Kop Stands running from £20-£40, £15-£30 for seniors and students, and £18-£30 in the Tilton Road/Gil Merrick Stands at either end, for away fans, too. Under-18s are charged £7-£15 pretty much anywhere, under-13s £5-£10. Sell-outs are rare.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

Beanie, bucket and bobble hats, all bearing the classic club globe/football logo, the winning design in a competition in 1972, are available at the Blues Store (Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, match days from 9am) on Cattell Road. Black-and-white murals decorate the walls, including an image of comedian Jasper Carrott hanging out with sundry Blues stars.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

All places around St Andrew’s are fiercely partisan. Typical is The Roost on Cattell Road, its beer garden decked out in BCFC murals, and The Royal George on Garrison Lane.

If you scale Coventry Road, taking the right-hand fork with Cattell Road just before the stadium, past a group of retail outlets, to the left the road forks again. To the left is Little Green Lane, with the Cricketers Arms at No.48, a lovely old pub, with a roaring fire, and a back room decked out with black-and-white Blues line-ups from the 1960s. Decent pub grub, too. Short of walking in painted head-to-toe in claret and blue, you’ll be warmly greeted by friendly bar staff and regulars. 

Taking its name from a line in the supporters’ anthem, Keep Right On, The Happy Abode bar operates on match days from 12.30pm, 5.30pm for evening kick-offs, by entrance 5 of The Kop, for home fans and neutrals only.

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