Tales From Halfway To Paradise

Birmingham City vs. Chelsea : 26 December 2009.

I collected Parky at just after 9am and began the drive up to Birmingham. Thankfully, the weather had improved over the past few days and so the roads were clear of ice. As I made my way from Parky’s village of Holt and headed towards Bradford-On-Avon, we both spotted a kestrel on a nearby hedge. Quite a sight. We are lucky to live in the countryside, but we are never too far from Chelsea.

As we headed up to the M4 at Tormarten, the visibility was incredible…we saw as far as the Welsh Brecon Beacons. Then as we flew past Cheltenham, the Malvern Hills seemed to be almost within touching distance. The skies were crystal clear, the sun was shining and we were both relishing the game against in-form Birmingham City. I was well aware that three lone Texans ( Wes, Jeff and Jed ) were just arrived in England and were attempting to break the world land speed record as they drove up the M40 to England’s second city.

My approach into the city took me through a varity of middle-class suburbs, past classic mock-tudor beamed houses, then the usual array of superstores and shops…the HQ of Cadbury’s at Bourneville to my right, then Warwickshire’s cricket ground Edgebaston, then the University buildings to my left. The roads were clear and I made good time. The city centre loomed in the distance as I sidetracked around the southern edge of the city…St. Andrew’s was spotted at the top of the hill and I knew I would soon be parked-up. Base camp was the Ibis Hotel on Bordesley Circus and as I found a place to park, we spotted Kev ( “Gromit” ) who had just arrived before us. We reached the Ibis bar at 11.45am and gulped down a couple of pints of lager. We just had time to relax and chatted for a bit…it was noted that Kev was wearing the unlucky hooped away shirt and there were a few growls from Parky and myself. Pete and Becky from San Francisco arrived to say “hi” just before it was time to leave for the game…we arranged to meet up after. We heard, via texts, that Drogba would be partnered by Sturridge.

The stadium is only a five minute walk up a gentle hill from the hotel and I was soon inside the away end. I arrived at my seat just before kick-off. The Three Amigos had made phenomenal time ( having fought off the combined police forces of the Met, the Thames Valley, Oxfordshire and the West Midlands ) and were parked-up and on their way in…I had been able to speak to Wes and advise him of the best way into the city. Bizarrely, I felt like a sheep farmer, whistling away to his loyal band of dogs, ensuring that every stray sheep was accounted for.

All the visitors from the US were in. Shut the pen!

At last I could relax.

Some football clubs are full of history and some clubs pass me by, hardly making a ripple on my general consciousness. In the West Midlands, Villa are dominant in terms of history and support, Wolves are a proud club with a great sense of identity, but Birmingham City have never been high up on my list of clubs I respect from afar. In fact, to be blunt, I’ve never liked them…I’ve never like Birmingham as a city, never liked them as a club…and I’m not a fan of St. Andrews either. I always thought that West Brom were bigger, borne out from the miserable gates that The Blues seemed to attract to their stadium in the ‘eighties. Some clubs exude class even in times of trouble…Birmingham City are just naff. Even their club song is a never-ending dirge – “Keep right on to the end of the road.”

Yeah, right.

At Birmingham, like at Stoke, the teams enter the pitch from the corner, and the first thing I noted was the white-black-white away colours. At the kick-off, the sun was shining almost too brightly…even with my sun-glasses on, I found it hard to pick the players out. The Chelsea away support, some 3,000, strong stood the entire game. I was with Alan and Gary mid-way back, the Texans were towards the rear, Parky was right down the front.

Alan said that he had spotted Peter Bonetti outside ( he lives in the Midlands ) but hardly anybody noticed him.

I couldn’t really complain with our first-half showing. Despite an early chance from the lively Cameron Jerome, we got into our stride and carved out several good chances. Daniel Sturridge was thwarted by a superb save by Joe Hart, down low, which made us gasp. Soon after, Frank was foiled too. Of course, they had a goal dubiously disallowed for off-side, but we kept up the pressure. I photographed Alex’ thunderous effort on the City goal which rocked the goal frame to its foundations and as the whistle blew for the break, I was sure a goal would come in time.

In the interval, I hunted for the Texans, only finding Kev. His view was different to mine – he was pretty non-plussed by our performance. I always find it funny how different various people’s opinions of the same game can be.

However, as the game drew on, Birmingham City grew stronger, with those two niggly battlers Bowyer and Ferguson getting more and more involved. Cech did well to save from a tasty free-kick, but we were all very concerned when he appeared to be knocked out…not again!

The Chelsea support bayed for Joe Cole to join the fray, but Kalou came on for Sturridge…oh great. Just after, that man Hart denied Kalou. And so it continued, with our midfield toiling to create anything…Frank was again quiet at the tip of the diamond. Our defence was fine, it was just the rest of the team.

The substitutions didn’t work in our favour, the crowd became restless and then frustrated.

Joe Cole for Frank Lampard. Work that one out.

A second silly challenge saw Malouda ( who did well not to be subbed ) get sent-off and, despite six minutes of added time, the final whistle.

The home crowd – amazingly quiet all game – erupted with noise and we turned and began to exit. We clapped the players off, but the mood was not good.

Down at Bordesley Circus, in the hotel bar, we had a quick post mortem. If only the team had showed the same level commitment as Wes, Jed and Jeff. I don’t like berating the manager, who is still learning the ropes in England, but I am not so sure if everyone else will be quite so lenient if our form does not improve over the next few games. I said my goodbyes to Wes, Jed, Jeff, Becky, Pete, Kev, Cathy and Dog – “see you on Monday” – and drove back home, the winter sky now dark and foreboding.

At the halfway stage of the league campaign, the question has to be –

Is the glass half-empty or is the glass half full?

In any other season, a 13-3-3 record would suggest the form of champions. This year, I’m not so sure.

TEW05785739_00159

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