Birmingham City
St Andrews


Ground No. 38 (return visit)
Visited - Sunday 1st May 2011
Result - Birmingham City 1-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers
Competition - Barclays Premier League
Attendance – 26,072

When the fixtures come out in mid June, there’s always certain ones you look out for first, the local derby, Man Utd, Boxing Day and for me Birmingham away. Technically speaking it falls under the first category of a local derby, the eighteen miles between Molineux and St Andrews being closer than what many sets of fans travel to play their nearest and most disliked of foes, but in Wolverhampton that status is reserved for one team and one team only, the games against the two sides from ‘Brummagem’ coming firmly after the Albion in rivalry stakes. That said the reason for looking out for it is that it’s a great ground to go to when it comes to atmosphere. There’s an edge, both inside and out that makes going there feel a little bit more real than a traipse around the family orientated McStadiums that are popping up all over the country. As usual though, it was a long wait, with the match scheduled for the beginning of May, there being no need to wait for confirmation that it would eventually get shifted to the Sunday.

At the end of the 2008/09 season both Wolves and Blues had been competing head to head to escape from the dreaded second tier, another late season game at St Andrews proving to have little say in the outcome, with Wolves storming to the title ahead of Birmingham in second place, despite Blues’ 2-0 victory on a miserable night. In the first season back in the top flight though Birmingham had pushed on over us, finishing a credible ninth place, going one stop further the next year with a famous victory over Arsenal at Wembley to banish the “you’ve never won **** all” chants that their supporters have had to put up with from the away end for many a year. Still beaming from their Carling Cup victory, it looked like full steam ahead for the club, with an indifferent league campaign being easily excused as Wolves rolled into town, our own spirits almost entirely the opposite, desperate for three points with safety seeming further and further away as we experienced second season syndrome instead of the second season success that we sat looking on enviously at from the Black Country.

Built in 1906, this was due to be my fifth visit to St Andrews, so it was familiar territory, although I’d still made the trip at the start of the season to take pictures, having not really ever got round to getting a satisfactory set for the website prior to this, despite it being a ground I’ve had ample opportunity to capture. Prior to moving here, Birmingham played at Muntz Street, their home for nearly 30 years, and where they made their league debut at in 1892, although it was said to be so bad that teams would offer them money to switch cup ties instead of having to play there, offers which the club routinely accepted! Back then they’d been known as Small Heath, the name which they’d played under in 1889 when they became founder members of the Football Alliance, the great rival of the Football League at the time. They eventually changed to Birmingham FC in 1905 in an attempt to gain more fans, albeit dressed up as recognition of being the only Football League side in Brum at the time (the borough of Aston Manor not being incorporated into the city until six years later). Opened with a 32,000 capacity, it’s unique as a ground that even in the post-Taylor years, hasn’t really changed in shape or appearance at all. The sweeping banks of terracing that made up the Tilton Road End and Kop were replaced in 1994 with two new all seated stands joined in the corner forming the same L Shape as previously, whilst in 1999 the old Railway End stand was replaced by a similar, albeit much larger two tiered structure. The Main Stand still sits along the northern side, untouched, its future a constant source of debate since the mid 90s, but for this reason it’s a ground I like. It’s not one that has changed beyond recognition, or had its heart ripped out like so many, but bit by bit has instead been upgraded as opposed replaced, a testament to architectural evolution instead of revolution. 

Normally before the game we choose to meet up with a few Blues fans in the Forge pub in Digbeth but I was running late for this one so headed straight to the ground to meet people inside instead, the teams being announced as I arrived, and after pressure to change his faltering defence, perhaps having seen that time is finally running out, Mick McCarthy had decided to make sweeping alterations from the last match, Craddock and Mancienne in at centre back, Stearman shunted to right back and the George Elokobi returning to entertain at left back. Stephen Ward had been shifted up front to partner Steven Fletcher, whilst Karl Henry remained undroppable in the middle.

Despite the home fans buoyancy, and the rousing rendition of their Keep Right On anthem, the game started surprisingly well when we took the lead with just seven minutes gone. A poor clearance from Ben Foster had gone straight to Matt Jarvis who played in Ward, unmarked, running into the area, only to find himself hacked down by Foster to concede a spot kick, the in-form Steven Fletcher having little difficulty in putting it away in front of the Tilton Road End. After losing three of the last four, including a ghastly defeat in midweek at Stoke, it was just what we needed to help lift the spirits a bit, and the feeling amongst the travelling support was that surely this was a game that our good friends from across the Midlands could afford to give to us? No! Of course not! In fact it turns out to be the other way around and after being let off by Seb Larsson crashing a free kick against the post, it’s us in a generous mood, a long hopeful ball pumped forward by Foster finds Michael Mancienne who responds to the danger by nodding it perfectly into the path of Larsson who has all the time in the world to pick his spot for the equaliser. A gift of a goal, with the lead having lasted a mere 20 minutes as situation normal resumed itself and the gaping abyss of the Championship opened up once more. Perhaps embarrassed at such an easy goal, in the spirit of sportsmanship, two minutes later Blues decided to give us a one man advantage to see if that helped when Craig Gardner, already on a yellow attempted a ridiculous dive in the middle of the pitch to win a free kick. Kevin Friend, an apt name it seemed wasn’t having any of it and pulled out a second card for the midfielder to leave the home side with ten men, but almost predictably then it was of little help, and the extent of Wolves’ attacking intent in the following sixty minutes was summed up late in the second half when Stephen Hunt’s attempt on goal nestled itself just in front of us up in Row 35, about the closest we’d come in an hours worth of play with a one man advantage...

A point when we could really have done with all three then. The mood was downbeat on leaving the ground, at least in our end, if not the home sections with Blues fans taunting the visiting supporters to the tune of “we’re going to Italy, you’re going to Coventry” as we headed back to the pub, my suggestions of heading into the city centre instead of a small room packed full of cheerful bluenoses coming to nothing. The mood was good natured to be fair, with no hint of trouble, everyone instead enjoying the sunshine and beer, the awful performance devoid of tactics or hope being too expected to get wound up about, with relegation looking inevitable after yet another missed chance.

Writing this a month on, it’s turned out ironic that after leaving the pub to wishes of good luck for staying up and hollow sounding hopes of meeting each other next year, something neither of us really believed in, it turned out that the expectation of not playing each other next season has come true, only for it to be Blues who ended up going down instead of us, an injury time goal at Spurs sending them crashing to a 2-1 defeat which was enough to see us stay up at their expense on the final day, despite having been five points ahead of us with three games left after this match. It’s a shame really, as whilst I’m obviously ecstatic, (and still somewhat disbelieving) to have stayed up, it goes without saying that I’ll miss not having St Andrews to look forward to next year. It’s a ground that retains a sense of character about it, even with three modern stands, and in the age of the bowl then that isn’t a bad thing.

Welcome to St Andrews

Entrance to the away section

Rear of the Kop

The Club Shop

Tilton Road Turnstiles

Rear of the Tilton Road End

Rear of the Main Stand

The Main Stand Entrance

The Main Stand Turnstiles

Rear of the Gil Merrick Stand

The Main Stand

The Gil Merrick Stand

The Kop

The Main Stand

The Tilton Road End

The Gil Merrick Stand

The Main Stand

The Tilton Road End

The Kop

St Andrews Panoramic 1

St Andrews Panoramic 2

St Andrews Panoramic 3

St Andrews Panoramic 4

No comments:

Post a Comment