Birmingham 0-7 Liverpool, FA Cup quarter-final, 2006
I was there ~ Hopes were high at St Andrew's as Birmingham City went into the 2005-06 season but their stars players didn't perform and, as Sean Cole remembers, their fans had to witness their highest ever FA Cup defeat
Ahead of our fourth season in the Premier League, having finished no lower than 13th in the previous three, Birmingham City fans were almost universally guilty of misplaced optimism.
With big-name players like David Dunn, Mario Melchiot, Emile Heskey, Nicky Butt and Mikael Forssell on the books, chairman David Gold announced that we were blessed with possibly the best side in the club's history.
Gold was meant to be the foil for our even more outspoken owner David Sullivan but his prediction that we would push for Europe proved embarrassingly askew. In that same hopeful summer of 2005 he had also bought the second FA Cup at auction for just under £500,000. By January we were ensconced in the bottom three and signalled our desperation by signing DJ Campbell, who had scored twice for Brentford against Sunderland in the Cup three days earlier, for an equivalent fee.
At least our cup exploits offered the prospect of some relief from the relentless drudgery of the league. Despite the inexperienced Marcos Painter, now of Brighton, filling in at left back, we lined up at home to Liverpool in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup believing that we stood a chance, especially given our impressive run of results against Rafael Benitez's side. Instead they dealt us a seven goal shellacking, our heaviest ever defeat at St Andrew's.
Running late for the game and eager to catch kick-off I charged on ahead of my Dad. I overcame further delays from the unusually long queue of fans clogging up the entrance to the Kop to make it just in time. The realisation of our collective folly struck almost immediately, a Sami Hyypiä header giving Liverpool the lead after just 55 seconds. Five minutes in and my Dad was just about to sit down as Peter Crouch, awarded the freedom of the penalty area, made it 2-0 with a fortuitous effort.
The programme cover claimed that the absent Heskey was "hoping for a memorable night against his former club", but I doubt that he had this in mind. At least his trademark pose of exasperation befitted such a slow start. Any faint hopes of a recovery, should Dunn conjure something magical or Forssell recapture his old form, were well and truly dashed seven minutes shy of half time, Crouch stroking home his second from a Luis Garcia pullback. Game over.
By the interval those pre-match stirrings of hope and FA Cup romance had given way to grim reality. Even the familiar chorus of discontent, the official soundtrack to this most turgid of seasons, was missing. We lacked the conviction to summon up more than a few half-hearted boos, as wearisome shrugs of acceptance prevailed. An increasingly frazzled Steve Bruce, facing the first real doubts over his reign, replaced the cumbersomely culpable Martin Taylor with erratic cult hero Olivier Tébily in the hope of stemming the Liverpool tide.
The fourth goal came and went with little comment, the decision of most fans to stay put driven more by morbid curiosity than anything else. A ripple of applause did emerge from the home support 20 minutes from the end, to register an appreciation for one of John Arne Riise's specials. Soon after it shifted from the sublime to the ridiculous, as Tébily sliced a bobbling ball into his own net to spark a mass trudge towards the exits.
Never one to leave before full time, I was part of the rapidly dwindling crowd which remained to watch substitute Djibril Cissé grab the seventh. It was captivating in a surreal, almost tragic way. Seeing this collapse through to the end was a source of perverse pride at school the next day, as others admitted to slinking off early. It remains the most goal-filled Birmingham game I've ever attended. Then again neither the Bruce or Alex McLeish eras were noted for their wilful abandon or attacking verve.
While Liverpool went on to claim the FA Cup that year, beating West Ham on penalties in the final, our season lurched towards an ignominious end. A 0-0 draw with Newcastle in the penultimate round of fixtures secured our fate as Portsmouth romped to safety. Several players refused to take to the pitch in the last game against Bolton and departing captain Kenny Cunningham accused the club of having "no heartbeat, and, more worryingly, no soul". Sean Cole