Birmingham City – A sleeping giant

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Birmingham City are one of the so called giant clubs plying their trade outside of the Premier League, boasting a wealth of top flight experience and a trophy cabinet that has had to be extended over recent years.

The club has only recently been known as Birmingham City, having been known as the Small Heath Alliance during the Blues inception in 1875, before being named Birmingham and finally Birmingham City at the end of the Second World War.

The Blues enjoyed one of their most successful periods during the 1950’s and 60’s, reaching a club record position of 6th in the First Division in 1956, and appearing in the FA Cup final a year later. Birmingham lost that final 3–1 against Manchester City, in a game that will be best remembered for City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann playing the last 20 minutes with a broken bone in his neck.  However, in 1963 Birmingham christened its trophy cabinet with a 3-1 aggregate victory in the League Cup over fierce rivals Aston Villa at Wembley.

The Blues then entered the history books by becoming the first British side to take part in a European competition, and reached the semi-final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1956, losing out to Barcelona 6-5 over two legs. In 1960 the Brummies also became the first British side to reach a European final where they again lost to Barcelona, a feat the repeated the following season only this time falling short against Italian giants Roma.

In more recent times, Birmingham has regularly contended for cup titles and has made delicate strides through the Premier League. In the late 1990’s, Trevor Francis took the reins at St Andrews and helped guide the club back towards the top division, but three successive play-off semi final defeats and losing the 2001 League Cup final to Liverpool on penalties was not enough to save his job, despite being able to attract star players such as Steve Bruce.

It was Bruce himself who replaced Francis, and created a new team with fresh ideas, taking Birmingham from mid-table into the playoffs, and eventually beating Norwich in the final to promote The Blues back into the Premier League at the first time of asking under their new boss.

And with a squad boasting the likes of Mikel Forsell, Emile Heskey, Jermaine Pennant and Christophe Dugarry, the Blues secured back to back mid table finishes from 2003 to 2005 However the following year a spate of injuries saw the club relegated back to the second tier of English football, which saw the big name stars leave the club.

Heskey and Pennant left for record fees and many more were released. But under Bruce Birmingham had a manager that knew his way around the loans and free agents market, and a squad of young, hungry players emerged that saw instant promotion back to the top flight the following year, despite many fans calling for Bruce to be sacked.

A period of financial and managerial turmoil ensued as the infamous billionaire Carson Yeung became the majority shareholder at St Andrews, with transfer embargos and a managerial roundabout seeing Birmingham relegated and promoted over the following seasons. Steve Bruce left, whilst Alex McLeish and Chris Hughton also lost their jobs under Yeung’s new ownership.

However it was under McLeish that Birmingham once again won the League Cup, proving victorious in a thrilling 2-1 victory against Arsenal as goals from Nikola Žigić and Obafemi Martins saw the Blues lift the trophy some 48 years after winning it for the first time back in 1963.

But McLeish’s Birmingham were relegated that season despite their cup successes, a turn of events that led many to question the validity of the League Cup seeing as its winner couldn’t compete on both fronts.

In June this year Lee Clarke took charge of the Blues, tasked with gaining promotion as soon as possible. The club currently sits in the bottom half of a congested Championship, knowing that a decent run will see them back up in the playoff places.

And with a squad boasting England International goalkeeper Jack Butland, and ex Premier League stars in the shape of Stephen Carr, Steven Caldwell, Marlon King, Darren Ambrose and Peter Lovenkrands, Clarke must be confident that next season a host of Brummies will once again be moving into the away stands of the Premier Leagues elite clubs.

 

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