THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Despite only recently joining England's elite in the Premier League, Birmingham City are a club with big ambitions. Blues supporter Kenneth Jones explains why their rivalry with Villa has been all the more intense recently and why the rapid increase in ticket prices has dissuaded some supporters

Could City’s crowds get much bigger than now?
Undoubtedly. City have big local support and, since promotion, more season-ticket holders than Villa. With the team on the up, the only problem might be the mystifying decision to increase standard tick­et prices by £10, meaning tickets for games which would have been rapid sell-outs last year have been available on general sale leading up to the match. Any increase in crowd sizes is also constrained by the 30,000 capacity at St Andrew’s, but many would agree there is little point having a brand new £12 million main stand in Division One.

Why has the rivalry with Villa been so fierce lately?
Some would say the rivalry has always been pretty antagonistic, being historically defined by a class divide. Blues fans perceive themselves as generally working class and based within a narrow radius of the ground, while Villa fans are felt to predominantly hail from more affluent suburban districts. The unsavoury incidents last season (pitch in­vasions, away fan seat removal etc) are, I think, simp­ly the result of 16 years without a top-flight Birm­ingham derby. This, coupled with evening kick-offs allowing plenty of beer to flow prior to the game, caused tensions to run especially high.

XWhat have been your best and worst moments?
Best has to be promotion in 2002, eight months after Steve Bruce took charge and following three years of play-off failures. The lowest point in club history was relegation to the old Division Three in 1989, but for me the worst times were those play-off defeats – two penalty shoot-outs and a home stuffing by Barnsley left emotional scars. Losing the 2001 Worthington Cup final on penalties, too.

How are David Sullivan and the Golds perceived?
I don’t know if many Blues fans pay much attention to the directors and I haven’t heard many complaints. They seem to back Bruce’s judgment in the transfer market and we were one of the few Premiership clubs to make an operating profit last year. Given that they took over at a time when there was a chance we could even go out of business, no one can argue with the reliable income generated by soft porn and sex aids.

Milestones & Millstones
1875 Founded as Small Heath Alliance.
1879 First derby; beat Aston Villa 2-0.
1905 hange name to Birmingham City FC. Move to St Andrew’s a year later.
1914-1918 Army trainees use pitch as rifle range.
1931 Lose FA Cup final 2-1 to West Brom.
1940-1943 Luftwaffe destroy St Andrew’s so play “home” games at Villa Park.
1956 Highest finish, sixth in Division One; lose FA Cup final 3-1 to Man City.
1960-61 Lose successive Fairs Cup finals.
1963 Blues’ only major trophy: a 3-1 aggregate League Cup final win over Villa.
1970 The great Trevor Francis makes debut.
1979 Francis, the first £1 million player, is sold to Forest. Relegated after seven top-flight years. Start yo-yo spell.
1986 Third relegation in eight seasons.
1989 Relegation to (old) Division Three.
1993 Gold brothers and David Sullivan take over the club.
1995 Win Auto Windscreens and Division Two. Francis returns as manager.
1999-2001 Series of losing penalty shoot-outs and humiliating defeats in play-offs.
2002 Bruce guides us to the Premiership.

Fondly remembered
Paul Tait - A steady midfielder with an impeccable sense of occasion. Not satisfied with scoring the first ever FIFA-ratified “Golden Goal” to clinch the 1995 Auto Windscreens Shield at Wembley, Paul removed his shirt, revealing a slogan T-shirt. Just four simple words: “SHIT ON THE VILLA”.

Best forgotten
Ferdinand Coly - Snapped up last January having just played Champions League football for Lens. Made the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz look like Paolo Maldini in his two games, then picked up a foot infection. Did present the half-time raffle prize (and he looked a little unsteady doing that).X

From WSC 204 February 2004. What was happening this month

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