20 April ~ Birmingham City return to London tonight for the first time since our unexpected, but fully deserved, Carling Cup final victory. While our Premier League status is by no means guaranteed, as we are now perhaps one victory from safety attention is turning towards the exciting, if somewhat bemusing, thought of playing in Europe. But this being Birmingham City, nothing is ever straightforward. Last week, the Premier League announced that it will ask the Blues board to explain its ownership structure and their ability to raise new money to fulfil the club's obligations.
This may be routine after the financial debacle of Portsmouth et al, but it has led to unsettling speculation that the FA and Premier League may deny us our Europa League place if we fail to demonstrate an ability to continue as a going concern. The club's liabilities currently exceed assets by more than £31 million and a recent share issue failed to raise an intended £17.3m.
Like everything else in the murky world of international business, our club's finances are difficult to understand or follow. Ostensibly, we are owned by BIH, a Cayman Islands registered company that is also listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange. Carson Yeung has a number of other interests – including the wonderfully named "Captain Wealth Ltd" and "Great Luck Management" – that appear to be either investment holding or property development companies. There are also rumours of gambling interests, mainly due to the role played by a Macau casino owner in underwriting the initial £57m purchase of the club.
Our acting chair, Peter Pannu, has asserted that such suggestions amount to "scare mongering" and point to money paid for players such as Ben Foster and Nikola Zigic as well bids for players such as Charles N'Zogbia. But few, if any, Blues fans really understand how our club finances are structured, or indeed know whether this is just another house of cards that will collapse if we are relegated.
Many Birmingham fans feel that this is a story whipped up by a media who veer between ignoring the Premier League's smaller clubs or patronising us with negative stereotypes. In a league that so actively embraces global capitalism, there are others who simply shrug their shoulders, explain that this is just the Chinese way of doing things and point to the debts of Manchester United, Chelsea and others. Nonetheless, questions over our ownership and finances remain. After 136 years of gross underachievement, it would be typical of Blues to come so close to Europe, only to have our the rug pulled from beneath our feet. Chris Sanderson