Adventures in Football #33: St Andrews (Birmingham City FC)
November 14, 2021
BIRMINGHAM CITY (W) vs. ASTON VILLA (W)
When I started this challenge, I had a few grounds I was eager to knock off my list. I had a 2021-22 hit list and on top of that list was St Andrews and Villa Park. Two huge grounds for people who live in the Midlands. St Andrews has, throughout my lifetime, been considered tired looking and when I was very young it was severely dilapidated. In the 90s the ground was mostly rebuilt although when you see it from the train, and I’ve been past St Andrews on the train many times, it looks like a pile of crap. That said, I felt the same way about the Hawthornes, which looks dreadful from the outside, and that was a great experience so I’m mentally positive about this.
Birmingham City FC is a club that has existed under a cloud for most of it’s existence. The club was cursed by travellers who were moved off the site when building work began in 1906. Blues take the curse seriously and have gone as far as to have the seats blessed with holy water. They seemed destined to never win anything as a football club. Regularly the bridesmaids and falling short in cups. They had three European runs in the late 50s and early 60s before finally winning the League Cup in 1963. Two years later they were relegated. This is the story of Birmingham City.
However, I’m not actually watching Birmingham City at St Andrews but rather WSL side Birmingham City Women. As with the men’s team the female Blues have had a history of heartache. They’ve been in five finals and won only one, the 2012 Women’s FA Cup. They’ve also finished second in the league twice and not won it. As with the Blues men’s team they’ve had some hard times off the pitch too. In 2005 Birmingham City withdrew financial support and only a donation from a player’s parent allowed the club to continue.
Birmingham City W usually play their home games at Solihull Moors ground but they’ve moved to St Andrews recently and perhaps it was with this fixture in mind; against their city rivals Aston Villa. I didn’t have a great night to get ready for the game. I woke up at 3am with toothache and couldn’t get back to sleep. So, I felt like shit going to this match. I may get a bit grumpy because of that, although Birmingham City Football Club is more to blame for my words here than my toothache.
We drove up to St Andrews, although we could have gone via the train. Maria wasn’t feeling it and Sunday service is usually bad. It wasn’t a bad drive although there was a lot more traffic than I was expecting for a Sunday. We parked on the St Andrew’s shopping centre car park, which is just across from the ground and is a retail park featuring B&M, Poundland and Morrison’s. It’s only a few minutes walk from the ground and I snapped this through the gates just after crossing the road.
The Blues Store wasn’t open, which was indictive of the club’s lack of support for the women’s game. Maybe they just weren’t expecting much of a crowd. Next to the Blues Store is a fantastic mural of Trevor Francis and Jude Bellingham. If Birmingham City are to succeed in the coming years they will need to find more like Jude but that’s not the only issue they have. Not by far.
We walked into the away end by mistake and got re-directed to the correct part of the ground. Which involved a stroll around St Andrews. Some parts of the outside were a bit industrial and the turnstiles look like a prison. The big “A Block” makes me think we’re on our way into clink. A lot of old timey turnstiles are a bit horrible looking but the combination of signage, bricks and sheet metal are not welcoming at all. We were stood behind a bloke chugging a 2L bottle of Diet Coke.
On entering the ground there was a slight improvement. It looks the part…from a distance. It feels like it’s been maintained in such a way that it looks ok on TV but that’s it*. The pitch is in good nick and it does feel like a big time stadium when you walk into it. Then I started noticing the cracks in the façade. It started with the tannoy. It’s broken. The crackling was deafening. There were mumbled apologies and I’ve had to deal with loud tannoys before but not a broken one. It gave me a headache, which went nicely with my existing toothache.
*Please note all the rust on the barrier on the left. It’s just a dirty, dirty ground.
This picture didn’t do it justice but it’s a warm, sunny day at St Andrews. Especially for November. Mr Blue Sky is extremely appropriate and there was even a bee flying around. A bee! The sun was so bright I had to shield my eyes for most of the first half. The issues continue with seating. Our seats are packed between groups of people so Maria wants to sit further over. We go into an unoccupied area and then move to the back of the stand as the dug outs obscure the view in the paddock. It’s just badly designed. It’s not like there’s a post to look around. I have less of an issue with that.
They do the same gimmick as Charlton with ball girls waving the club flags. Unlike Charlton they’re all the same colour. Back to the seating and it turns out we would have been moved if we’d stayed in our original seats as there is an advertising flag placed over it and the Villa subs are located at the top of the stand. Quite why they’ve been put in with the Blues fans is a question to ask the club. The entire stand next door is empty with no tickets sold for it. Why aren’t they in there? It’s just bizarre. A guy behind me is complaining that he bought a seat down there and got told to move.
The game kicks off and Birmingham City are hopeless. Everything is humped long towards the likes of Jade Pennock and Christie Murray. Neither of these are tall in the slightest and the Villa centre backs win everything. Aston Villa actually pass the ball and move. Alisha Lehman caught my eye. The Villa #7 is a constant threat, moving into channels and irritating the defenders. She screeches when going down for a somewhat theatrical free kick, which draws the ire of the crowd. Lehman was booed when she came off in the second half and should wear that as a badge of honour.
Not being familiar with women’s football is a bit of a stumbling block for me and I’ve deliberately bought a program, as I did at Wolves, so I can get to read about a few players and get the line ups. I would recommend it to anyone who’s going to a women’s game and doesn’t know the players. As the match progressed I started to understand the player’s characters, strengths and weaknesses. Having names to attach to them really helps.
Villa boss the first half and go ahead through Anita Asante (pictured below; dead centre), who I thought was player of the match. She was incredible at centre half and then popped up scoring from a corner for 1-0. Blues made life easy for her but she looked calm and composed on the ball and at one point was out on the wing following a corner and didn’t look out of place there either. Blues got back into it in the second half and the stoppage time almost brought an equaliser but Villa should have been out of sight long before half time. It was one way traffic.
Birmingham were very disappointing. They lacked a creative spark and didn’t make up for it in other areas. Villa were allowed possession and the lacklustre pressing was more worrying than the constant hoofed long balls. The only players who came out of it looking good are skipper Louise Quinn who marshalled the defence and kept the score down and Veatriki Sarri who showed flashes of brilliance.
Time to address the issues that Birmingham City face as a football club. From a distance St Andrews looks ok. You move up close and suddenly you can see how dilapidated it is. A coat of paint is hiding a crumbling building. It’s rusty, uncomfortable and miserable. Even on a bright shining afternoon the ground felt grey at heart. The fans are miserable. They hate being there. It feels like Blues fans have been like that forever but seeing St Andrews in its current state makes me believe there’s something rotten at the core of the club.
Around me I could hear whinging and complaining throughout the game. Half time was particularly eye opening as a bloke to my right was talking about his ticketing problems. He’d bought a ticket in an area that didn’t exist and had been rudely directed into the mass of home fans by a miserable steward. Despite a small crowd we were all herded into one small corner of the ground like sheep while the Villa fans were allowed to roam free in the far corner. I felt quite envious of them. What club treats their away fans better than the home fans? Maria went to the toilet and the concession stand at half time and was waiting for so long she got back 10 minutes into the second half. How are there massive queues at a game with so few supporters in? It’s a massive slap in the face for anyone who paid money to go and support the team. The club feels disorganised, unwelcoming and outright miserable.
There’s a sign at the bottom of the steps saying “please respect the pitch”. I have a message for Birmingham City FC; “please respect your fans”.