I first met Birmingham City fan Peter Humphreys in 2006 when we both set out to tick Ben Nevis off our respective bucket lists. He can take the credit for getting me to the summit by repeatedly lying to me that we were ‘almost at the top’ when every muscle in my body was screaming ‘stop!’
We have stayed friends ever since and regularly put the world to rights about the pleasures and miseries of being a football fan. He was kind enough to offer his thoughts when the two sides met last season and was wonderful, so here we go again…
Fifteen months is a long time in football! Two managers have come and gone at St Andrews since we last spoke. During that time Harry and Steve Cottrell have both departed. I sense from afar that there is a better mood around St Andrews at the moment and the fans are a lot more content. Is that right?
Peter: You sense quite rightly a huge shift in the mood of Bluenoses. At the end of the day Harry (bless him) operated like a bit of a wide boy running the team with limited input on a part-time basis out of a Birmingham hotel room. Charisma (?) Luck (?) … or whatever secured our survival and we thank him for that.
Steve Cotterill on the other hand was a difficult guy to like. So depressingly dour and hardly a leader of men (or women). It was all a bit of damp squib, utterly painful and too much to bear.
So whatever followed had to be better? Absolutely!
Garry Monk is already the most adored manager in decades. Not only does he have a football brain he understands players and gets the best from them. Crucially for fans, he understands a football club. I know I waxed lyrical about the importance of this last season but now we’re in this together, we all fight for the shirt, for our club. Being on the same page has created a surge of energy and revitalised Birmingham City.
Considering the background of huge debt, impending EFL sanctions (improper transfer dealings … likely to be a points deductions) and a tiny squad, we’re actually in great shape! The players at all levels throughout the club are responding brilliantly. Whatever the result in every match they will leave it all on the pitch and the fans just love it. St Andrews is rocking and our away support livening up the division.
That’s good to hear. I’ve always thought Garry Monk is a good manager although he has a bit of a chequered history. At one time he was being touted as a potential big five manager then, as often happens, he had a poor run and his career went in the opposite direction. See also Paul Lambert!
Having received questionable treatment at other clubs, can you see him resisting other offers if he does well, especially in the light of any potential points deduction? Are the owners still as trigger happy as they were with Gary Rowett?
Every manager has downturns for a variety of reasons and not always of their own making. Personally, I think he is the real deal and as long as the players buy into that and turn up for the badge week in, week out he’ll be cut a huge amount of slack when there is the inevitable wobble.
He’s got a great staff, particularly with his assistant Pep Clotet and first team coach James Beattie. They’ve worked wonders with players who had been out of favour or not able to produce their best. Lucas Jutkiewicz and Che Adams compete with any strikers in the league and have blossomed (my god we’ve got goal scorers!!).
Indeed, I’m being unfair to the rest of the team … they’ve all played out of their socks. What they’re doing with this bunch of lads is remarkable.
It goes further, at every level the club is on same page, training and playing to a similar script. Our under-23s and under-18s have great records and our women compete with the best.
Sure, Monk will attract attention. I may be naive, but I have to believe he feels something special is building here. Grass elsewhere is not always as green as believed as Rowett and others have found out. Better to dig in and develop his credentials here for a few more years before recklessly cutting and running. I’m pretty sure the owners have learned huge lessons on all sorts of fronts – managerial, financial and so on. They would have to be utterly crass and stupid to do the same again.
Do you think you’ll finish above Villa? Although it’s been a very long time since we lost to Ipswich, I know what it’s like to lose to your bitter rivals.
Do you think you played them just at the wrong time? Do you think they stand a chance of getting to the playoffs? We’re all counting on them losing Tammy Abraham back to Chelsea in the window.
The Villa! Well… that’s all about heart and head. The head says they will get above us because of the quality in their squad and the resources they can draw upon. Heart of course will always say different. Heart goes a long way and we currently have it in abundance.
Villa were flattered beating us at Villa Park. We could have won. Although Bluenoses had their pride hurt for a period, we were not disgraced and even die-hard Villa fans recognised the performance we gave, and, felt they were indeed fortunate. At this moment in time Villa are in crisis… self-doubt, bickering and nowhere near the sense of club and renewal that is developing on the Blue side of the city. It will not be the same at St Andrews – we will have our revenge.
As for the play offs… who knows … they should get there. To be fair, Dean Smith is a great manager and a lifelong Villa fan. He was excellent at my current home town club, Walsall, and did a marvellous job at Brentford.
Logic says at some stage it could be a marriage made in heaven, but he may need a longer period than this season. Villa fans are rather like those of Man U… they have an arrogance that goes something like ‘we’re a big, club, got a great ground, great history we have a right to success’. It’s soooo infuriating listening to them carping on the local media forums. We all know it doesn’t always follow.
If they had half of the heart of the boys in Blue, they might stand a chance but I’m going to nail my shirt to the blues spoiling the party. They’re going to lose Abrahams and we’ve got the likes of Isaac Vassell coming back from long term injury and bunch of home-grown talented youngsters chomping at the bit to get a slice of the action.
And what about Norwich? It took us a while to build up a head of steam this season and we played you in the very first game. I’m not sure if you saw that match but it’s probably not a great yardstick to go by.
Since then, players have become comfortable and confident in the roles they are expected to play. Youngsters have established themselves in the side, the football has clicked, and the fans are on side.
Although injuries have taken their toll in recent games, we can be formidable at times. Some fans are even saying it’s the best football they have ever seen a Norwich side play. What are your impressions as an outsider?
First games rarely reflect how teams will progress, so our first clash won’t necessarily give us any clues to the season or indeed our forthcoming meeting. However, it was a good match and the Canaries came back with two late goals to secure a 2-2 draw. It did show both teams were committed and had heart. It also showed that both teams are prepared to challenge to the last.
Birmingham has great respect for Norwich City. It’s a lovely club and it’s really good to see it thriving under Daniel Farke. Clearly, the influx of continental players has given it a whole new character and footballing style. The blend of continental and home-grown players, experience and youth is working.
From what I’ve seen since the opening game they are indeed impressive in action. This is good for Norwich, and, the Championship itself. It’s such a great league, far more interesting and nuanced than watching the big money v the minnows in the Premiership.
Norwich have strength in depth and no problems in finding the net. There’s positive, high-energy football, which is good on the eye. Understandably, the Canaries faithful will enjoy this. I’m not surprised the fans are enjoying the football and consider it some of the best they’ve seen. This must be down to Farke, his team-building and coaching acumen.
Recent injury issues have somewhat shaken the script but the grit and determination remain, the players are all on the same page and this carrying the club through. The Finn, Teemu Pukki appears to score for fun but maybe the goals need to come from a wider range of players over the longer haul.
Loss of form or injury might rock the boat in the scoring department. Whilst Norwich score goals freely you’re not immune to conceding. In some ways, you’re very similar to West Bromwich and the stats reflect this.
Over the course of the season, I expect Norwich to not only have the strength in depth to succeed, I believe the Farke project will continue to improve. I expect Norwich to be in the playoffs and probably fighting with Leeds and Albion for the top two spots. You have as good a chance as anyone to ‘do Wolves’ and get back to the top flight. After that who knows … the Premiership is such a poisoned chalice!
I take it then you don’t buy into Ian Abraham’s claim that ‘Leeds and Norwich going up would be bad for football as they have foreign coaches’!? By that rant he has remarkably achieved something previously thought impossible. He has united fans of Leeds and Norwich!
I know the impact of foreign players and coaches is double-edged, but I think the English leagues and personnel are learning a lot and better for it at this stage. They’re collectively bringing us out of the dark ages rather like British coaches have done for cycling and other sports.
In due course we will reach a threshold of home-grown players, coaches and managers who understand and perhaps, at that point it’s time for quotas. At the same time another plausible view is that if we stay in Europe (please, please) our people will begin to travel more and end up in foreign leagues at all levels. I think the cross-fertilisation of ideas and methods is good for the game, maintains diversity in the ‘talent gene pool’. It keeps it fresh and vibrant.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Championship is a really exciting and competitive league and the continental influence is adding to that dynamic. As for Leeds going up – yes, it’s painful for a club like Birmingham … both sets of fans have an inglorious history from the 70s and little love remains. That said, Leeds are a huge club with great traditions and have been in the doldrums for far too long (although it pains me to say). An excursion into the Premier League (even brief) might be interesting!!
As for our match, again, it is head and heart. My head says Birmingham will be fortunate to get anything from the Canaries. I think most Bluenoses will be thinking against the quality you have, a point will be a bonus. You’ll probably get most of the possession but your chances to do anything constructive with it will be limited as our boys will be down your throats for most of the game (they’re incredibly fit).
That leaky defence will be tested by fast breakouts and a centre forward in Lucas Jutkiewicz who will win 90% of any balls coming his way. You’re going to face eleven men who will give everything and leave it all on the pitch. They are no pushover and are well capable of scoring goals, so cannot be written off. In that respect maybe we’ll repay the opening day compliment and snatch a 2-2 at the end!! My heart says we’ll do a smash and grab and walk away with a 1-0!!
However, many travelling fans make the long trip to Norwich they’ll be noisy, boisterous, wicked and good-humoured as you only get from Midlands teams and particularly a working-class club like Birmingham City. You’ll know you’ve been in a match with a proper club who are on their own journey of renewal.
Regardless of the score, the Blues players, management and coaches will be roared on by endless reprises of ‘Keep Right on to the End of the Road’ (other songs are available), every Norwich substitution by ‘Who are ya? Who are ya?‘ and cheered off the pitch (‘Gary Monks blue Army’ ‘Gary Monk, Gary Monk’ …).
May the best team win (did I just say that?!)
After an iffy spell, we still find ourselves third only on goal difference, which in itself speaks volumes for the points accumulated during that fine unbeaten run. Birmingham will be a test, no question, but for us to be in with a shout of top two, there is a need to find some forward momentum again soober rather than later. Can we beat Brum? Here’s what the team think:
Penney predicts: This ain’t gonna be no walk in the park However the way everybody is pulling together at the Carra just now tells me: 2-0 (Norwich) City.
Andy assumes: Brum are a tough outfit and I think we’ll get a 1-1 draw that will look better at the end of the season than it will feel on the night. Canary Call will scream for Farke’s head for not winning though!
Gaz guesses: A win is much-needed and Birmingham, especially after hearing Peter’s thoughts, are clearly buoyant, but I have faith in this bunch and even minus Tettey and Klose we can edge this. 2-1 City.
Cookie concludes: Set to be a tight game, but under the lights at Carrow Road, I fancy us to nick it 2-1
Stew suspects: Some important draws recently, but we could use a win. And I reckon we’ll get it – 2-0 City
The oppo’s opinion: My heart says we’ll do a smash and grab and walk away with a 1-0!
Siri says: City 1 – Brum 2