We’re off. And who better to kick off the new season of Who Are You? questionnaires than Kevin Ball*? No. Their Kevin Ball, who lives amid the pixies, smugglers and clotted cream of far-off Devon, but is a Bluenose par excellence and runs the superb Joys and Sorrows fan site. Kevin also won a little Salut! Sunderland prize last season for this, the best best response to our notorious Eduardo “would you take it or be ashamed?” diving question: “I’m old fashioned, I can’t abide cheating. I don’t care if it is a Blues player or not. I would be furious.”
Salut! Sunderland The real stuff starts again. Have you forgotten the World Cup already?
Is there a World Cup happening?
The ultimate Q&A (from the last time Kevin was here):
Q: What’s it like sharing the name of a Sunderland hero?
A: He should be honoured.
Is this the season for Birmingham to make real strides, or was last season’s great run of form a fluke?
Good question. I don’t think last year was a fluke, but I do think it is fair to say we “punched above our weight”. We got our defence well organised, we also seemed to play a lot of sides at the right time, coupled with the fact that there were a lot of sides struggling.
But whatever the reasons, last year was a fantastic achievement for us and has really encouraged the fans. For this year I would take a “consolidation” season. I’m sure other Blues fans would disagree, but I would take a 13th/14th and consider that to be a job done. We could then look to next season to “push on” a bit.
Describe your activity in the transfer market in the build-up to the new season – the ins and outs
We’ve been quite busy in comparison to many other PL clubs, but here you go:
Ben Foster, Manchester United: £6m (replacement for Joe Hart)
Nikola Zigic, Valencia: £6m (huge striker, makes Crouch look like a dwarf!)
Enric Valles, NAC Breda: free (all those who have been to friendly matches are raving about this lad. Apparently he really looks the part.)
Christian Benitez, Santos Laguna: free (not getting enough goals cost Chucho a permanent place in the side.)
Lee Carsley, Coventry City: free (Hasn’t been a regular since our promotion season)
Artur Krysiak, Exeter City: free (Whoooooooo!)
Franck Queudrue, Panionios: free (again couldn’t get into the side, but I thought he was a useful backup. I guess he wanted to play regularly).
Gary McSheffrey, Coventry City: free (Sheff hasn’t been the same player since our last visit to the PL. I’m surprised he stayed this long although I didn’t think he was as bad as some people did.)
Jake Jervis, Notts County: six month loan (One of our promising youngsters, a good move to give him some regular football)
Robin Shroot, Cheltenham Town: six month loan (Same as Jervis)
Gregory Vignal: released (this is one decision I am amazed at. Vignal could play in any of the defensive positions. I have no idea why we released him).
Jared Wilson: released (apparently not good enough, although I never saw him play).
And on which players do you feel your season will depend?
Foster will have to perform well after Hart’s fantastic season last year, although he does have Dann and Johnson in front of him who were brilliant too. I would hope that they continue to develop. I guess our one failing last year was we didn’t score enough so Zigic will need to score along with the other forwards. However for me I think last year we suffered with not having a midfielder who could really unlock defences. I’m hoping that Valles and whoever else might come in will be able to do that.
Hand on heart, where will Birmingham finish this season? And Sunderland. AND, for that matter, Villa and Newcastle
Well I believe none of them will go down, although I suspect that Newcastle will find it tougher than they think they might and out of the group will finish lower. Before yesterday’s event, I would have said Villa would be fighting for Europe again, but now I’m not so sure. I suspect we will all be around mid-table.
Overall, so far as you have observed it, how did you feel Steve Bruce performed for us last season- and what are your thoughts about him since his departure from your place?
I met Steve twice, and found him a really nice bloke, so my comments aren’t about him personally. The one thing about him as a manager is that he plays it safe and that causes problems. You had a pretty decent season I think, as we did when he bought us up.
What we found, and I suspect you will too, to stay up you need to increase the quality in the side. Steve did do that, but he also started to play 4-5-1 all the time to “make us hard to break down”.
The problem was, we only needed to be broken down once and we were beaten a lot of the time. Which in turn made us MORE defensive and it made us even more vulnerable. He has kind of done that at every club he’s been at. He can get to a level but not beyond it. So when he left us, I wasn’t too concerned, I think he was close to being sacked anyway. The only thing I am sorry about, is the previous board’s messy public row about his contract and what he owed or not. I think that made him look at the club negatively. He will ALWAYS be the 1st manager who took us into the PL.
Name the season’s likeliest top four in order, and the bottom three.
Top: Chelsea, Utd, Man City, Arsenal,.
Bottom: Blackpool and then two from Fulham, Wigan, Bolton and Blackburn
Will the recession make football wake up to new financial realities – do you foresee serious problems for the game?
Definitely. It’s only a matter of time before a high profile side goes under, and I mean properly under.
The best players you have ever seen in Birmingham colours – and the worst?
Ha ha, I love this question. Remember this is MY opinion. I saw Trevor Francis play, and he was definitely the best player I have seen in a Blues shirt. Joe Gallagher and Kenny Burns were my other favourites in that era.
Also Dave Langan I always thought was a fantastic attacking defender, handsome Frank Worthington, Jose Dominguez, and more recently Robbie Savage. (Despite his obvious fall out and attitude, he was superb in that first season in the PL.)
Hmm, worse Blues player – I find this one difficult to be honest (there have been SO many! – JOKE!!). Er, I guess one of the worst I remember has to be goalkeeper Gary Sprake. His 1st touch was scoring an own goal!
Best-remembered encounters, for good or ill, between our two clubs
Hmm, can’t remember that many tbh. I remember us doing pretty well against you at St Andrews, but usually struggling at your place. I’m sorry, there isn’t one particular match that springs out.
Will you be at the Stadium of Light? If not, how will you keep tabs and what will be the score?
No, I live in Devon and that journey is too far. I don’t get to too many matches, so I rely on SSN, 5 live or a dodgy stream! Score? I think a narrow victory for you guys – 2-1. (I’d take a draw!)
* Kevin Ball on Kevin Ball: This will be my 2nd season running J&S after taking over from my mate Affers. I have just launched a new look for the blog, and we have some new contributors – so hoping for more regular updates this season. I also managed to interview a number of Blues ex-players and will look to do more of that.
I have followed the club since 1974. Have followed the club through thin and thin – but have some great memories of games at St Andrews and in all that time think we are probably now best placed to do well as we’ve ever been. I think it’s a great time to be a Blues fan.
Interview: Colin Randall
* Apologies to anyone who experiences delay in seeing the appearance of a comment. Please be patient – I have to contend with hundreds of spam comments weekly, sometimes daily, so moderation – if you are posting for the first time – is unavoidable.