Birmingham City Football Club
Birmingham City Football Club were founded as the Small Heath Alliance in 1875. The club has slowly grown in size and proficiency over its long history and today City, or the Blues (so-called because they play in blue and white both at home and away), have made their place in England’s Premiership.
The Blues and their fans, the ‘bluenoses’, have nurtured a fierce and unstinting rivalry with Birmingham’s other major football team, Aston Villa, for over a century, a rivalry which was at its most heated during City’s dark days in the 1980s and 1990s. At that time, a combination of financial worries and poor performances made it seem possible that their home ground St. Andrew’s might have to close the gates for good. Today, however, the Blues have made a spectacular recovery both on and off the pitch to assume the place they have traditionally held in England’s highest league, and they hope that in the near future they might finally make that leap to the top of the table.
Birmingham City were founded in their first incarnation as an amateur club, the Small Heath Alliance, in the Small Heath area of Birmingham, in 1875. The club were successful within local amateur leagues, and in 1885 they turned professional, making their official debut as Small Heath FC.
The club was one of the earliest professional teams in the UK, and it was the very first club to become a ‘limited’ company controlled by a board of directors. At that time, they played as members of the Football Alliance, which was unofficially absorbed into the Football League in 1892. Small Heath became founder members of the Second Division (of the League), and that season made another first when a strong season sent them straight to the top of the league.
However, despite finishing the season champions of Division Two, the club failed to win promotion under the test match system of the day. That challenge was left to be realised the next season, and the team made good when a victory over Darwen in 1894 secured their promotion to the First Division of the Football League.
Small Heath had been making a mark on national football for some decades now, and they took on a new importance in 1905 when the club gave up the name of their local area to take on the title ‘Birmingham City’ as representatives of England’s second city. They also moved to a larger ground, known as St. Andrews, in 1906, after the old Muntz Street location was deemed unsuitable for the increasingly professional matches which City were now playing. However, the team failed to deliver at this new level, and two seasons later they were relegated. They would stay in Division Two now for over a decade.
The First World War affected the team, and the football league in general, for some time, but in the early 1920s the Blues began to find their feet again under the captaincy of Frank Womack, who took them to the Division Two title in the first season of the new decade. The club were to remain in Division One for the next 18 seasons but not without a struggle, as defensive tactics were prioritised in order to compensate for lack of verve at the other end of the pitch.
The team made a triumphant debut in the 1930s, getting through their first ever FA Cup semi-finals in 1931, although they ultimately lost to West Bromwich Albion in the final. However, success in the league was still not forthcoming, and in the last full season before the Second World War, the club were eventually relegated back to the Second Division. St. Andrews was closed as a possible Blitz target during the war, and indeed it was damaged by a bombing operation and a botched attempt by the fire department to rescue it, but efficiently repaired at the end of the war.
Birmingham City FC
The club took on the title ‘Birmingham City FC’ in 1943, and have retained this name ever since. They won the wartime Football League South, and at the end of the war, the club appointed a new manager, Harry Storer, who took them to the semis in the first post-war FA Cup.
Two seasons on, they won their third Second Division title, conceding only 24 goals in the 42-game season, but in 1950 the club faced relegation once more. Little did they know at this apparently disappointing moment in the club’s history that they were soon to turn a corner, though some fans were already predicting that the new wave of young players recruited by Bob Brocklebank would be the club’s golden generation. In 1954, a 5-1 victory in the last match of the season swept Birmingham back into the First Division, and 1955 saw them finish with a record ranking at sixth place.
The Glory Days
Over the next two years, the club twice more made frustrating progress in the FA Cup. In 1955 they made it to the final, though a win eluded them when they lost 3–1 to Manchester City in a game which was notable for City’s goalkeeper Bert Trautmann playing the last 20 minutes with a broken bone in his neck. The next year, Birmingham lost out in the semis to Manchester United’s ‘Busby Babes’. During this 1956 cup campaign, fans started to sing Harry Lauder’s ‘Keep On the Road’, a tune which has remained the club anthem to this day.
Birmingham continued to rank as one of England’s most significant clubs, however, and in 1956 they made their international debut as the first English club to take part in European competition at the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup competition – they made it to the semi-finals. They repeated the trick as the first English club side to reach a European final in the same tournament in 1960 and 1961 – though they lost both times to their European opponents. At this moment in footballing history, no other English team was making anything like such progress in Europe.
Back at home, the club continued to steam through tournaments. They snatched the 1963 League Cup away from arch-rivals, and favourites to win, Aston Villa. However, League success was not so forthcoming and, in 1965, relegation sent the club once more back down to the Second Division.
The late 1960s saw the Blues’ successes continue, but they were starting to slowly ebb away. The excitement of the semi-finals of the League Cup 1967 and the FA Cup in 1968 both proved to be disappointing losses in the event. Club management decided that Stan Cullis’ team was all style and no substance, and brought in Freddie Goodwin as new manager, with the instruction to get some results. Goodwin delivered, taking the club back to the FA Club finals and the First Division.
The Darkest Days
In the 1970s, however, the club as a whole continued to flounder, finding it hard to balance the books whilst keeping some star players. In 1978, they sold Trevor Francis to Nottingham Forest for a record £1 million. The team fell down to the Second Division, then made their way back up again. However, at the start of the 1980s their future looked uncertain, and fans’ worst fears were realised when they were relegated back into the Second Division in 1984 – only to be promoted back up the very next season.
Unfortunately though, the last game of the season which cemented their 1985 promotion will not be remembered for the club’s victory but for the death of a young boy who was crushed when a wall collapsed on him during the riotous home match against Leeds United. After this tragedy, work began on St. Andrews that would continue throughout the 1990s, reducing the capacity of the stand and bringing it up to health and safety standards.
During this period of yo-yoing between the leagues, and increased financial and managerial instability, the club lost confidence, and lost their manager, many staff and their training ground in quick succession. All of this could have been digested however, had it not impacted on the pitch. By the start of the 1989-1990 season, the club had sunk to their lowest ever point, as they were relegated into the Third Division.
The instability continued as staff and players underwent rapid turnover in a series of bids to rescue the ailing club. Victory at Wembley in the relatively insignificant Leyland DAF Cup failed to alleviate matters, but promotion came soon after.
Nevertheless, the club was now in dire financial difficulty after the collapse of the business interests of the Kumar brothers, Birmingham businessmen and owners of the club. The Kumars’ assets, including City, went into receivership in 1992. However, fortunately the club was bought soon after, and money started to come back in, both from the new owner – newspaper proprietor David Sullivan – and from fan donations. However, it was too late for them to avoid relegation in 1994, despite new players and a new managing director, youngster Karren Brody.
The club stabilised a little in 1996, with promotion and victory in the Auto Windscreens Shield at Wembley. New manager Trevor Francis set about investing in top-level players and the club inched towards promotion over the next few seasons. In 2001, they reached the League Cup final, but lost against Liverpool on penalties. A new manager, Steve Bruce, coaxed the team out of their stalemate and they finally won promotion to the top flight of English football, now called the Premiership, in 2002.
They finished respectably in mid-table during the 2003 campaign, managing to frustrate the bleak predictions of pundits at the beginning of the season. In 2004, with more top-flight players, they inched into the top half of the league. This year also saw the proposal of a new stadium for the newly successful club, as part of a ‘sports village’ in Birmingham. Although funding has not been forthcoming and so plans for its construction have failed to materialise, the management and Birmingham council continue to hold out hope for this new development, and plans for the refurbishment of St. Andrews are, to this day, on hold.
Two seasons later a run of bad luck saw the Blues sent back down, but by now the City had found its fire and they went straight back up the next season, despite having sold some of the star members of the squad to meet the club’s financial demands.
In July 2007, Birmingham City welcomed a new era when Hong Kong-based Carson Yeung bought one third shares in the club, with a view to making a full purchase in the near future – though such a purchase failed to materialise. The new financial standing enabled a spree of international signings, and although manager Steve Bruce left mid-season, his successor, former Scotland manager Alex McLeish, promises to bring the whole club up to international standards. It looks like Birmingham City have put their recent past behind them and, certainly, in the last few seasons, have surpassed even the glory days of the 1950s and 1960s in terms of league success, as they have finally secured a place in the top half of the Premiership. Let’s hope that this time they manage to stay there!
- (Old) Division Two – Winners (1892-93; 1920-21; 1947-48; 1954-55)
- (New) Division Two – Winners (1994-95)
- FA Cup – Finalists (1931, 1956), Semi-finalists (1945, 1968, 1975)
- League Cup – Winners (1963)
- Auto Windscreen Shield – Winners (1995)
- Leyland Daf Trophy – Winners (1991)
- Highest Attendance – 66,844 (vs Everton, 11/02/1939)
- Best League Win – 12-0 (vs Walsall T Swifts, 17/12/1892)
- Worst League Loss – 1-9 (vs Sheffield Wednesday, 13/12/1930)
- Best Cup Win – 9 – 2 (vs Burton Wanderers, 31/10/1885 FA Cup R1)
- Worst Cup Loss – 6-0 (vs Tottenham Hotspur, 12/04/1967 FA Cup R6)
- Most League Appearances – Frank Womack (491, 1908-28)
- Most League Goals – Joe Bradford (249, 1920-35)
- Most Goals In A Season – Joe Bradford (29, 1927/28 Division 1)
- Highest Transfer Fee Received – £6,700,000 (for Jermaine Pennant to Liverpool, July 2006)
- Highest Transfer Fee Paid – £4,250,000 (for Emile Heskey from Liverpool, May 2004)
Information on the club’s ticket prices and admissions policy can be found on the ticket information page.
Fans can also buy tickets for home matches at the online box office. Registration necessary.
The main ticket office is based at St. Andrew’s on the Kop side of the ground. Telephone 0871 226 1875. Tickets can also be purchased from the Blues Store at Unite 27, The Pallasades, Birmingham.
Car drivers can approach St. Andrew’s from the M5 or M6. The stadium is just off the A45 in Small Heath – check the multimap online. There is a small car park at the ground and a larger one approximately ten to fifteen minutes walk from the ground.
Buses run from Birmingham city centre and the rail stations. Check the website or ask locally for information. Match services guaranteed.
Birmingham New Street has good nationwide connections, as does Digbeth coach station, a 15 minute walk from the stadium. The nearest local railway station is Bordesley, which is a ten minute walk away, and has regular connections to Birmingham’s national stations. A taxi to the ground should cost around £6.