We’re on a mini-run, they’ve never had it so good in living memory. Saturday sees Sunderland v Birmingham City, and only a home win would have us seriously believing in revivalist terms. Leigh Bosworth*, pictured with a spoof front page presented to him on his recent 50th birthday, is co-founder of the newly relaunched Yorkshire Bluenoses (a branch of the BCFC supporters’ club until now divided into parts of the county) and rises to the Salut! Sunderland challenge with some great thoughts on Monty, SuperKev, money, cheating, Wayne Bridge v John Terry and his “best season” as a Bluenose …
Salut! Sunderland: So, completely useless against us in the Carling Cup and you haven’t looked back much since. Even Villa fans must be taking you seriously. Explain your great season so far …
The Carling Cup was not going to be a serious competition for us this season and even the £10 a head entry that night was too much for the lack of spectacle dished up by both teams. At least it was easy to get a beer or two beforehand and to get away from the ground afterwards.
As for our journey this season, we’ve had many a regaled cliché (no, not Gael Cliché) with the ‘professional’ pundits: we have had the expected struggle because we were simply not good enough without any proven players, then punched above our weight, dug in and ground out results, ridden our luck, been over the moon, this season’s surprise package and so on…
In brief though, it has been achieved without so-called megastars – who can be quite divisive – but rather with a bunch of honest players, a collective desire that is greater when they are thrown together, giving a fairly formidable team spirit, plus improving football as they have got used to each other, though without the goals the build up play has deserved at times. All in all, a cohesive group of technically competent footballers playing as a TEAM. Johnson & Dann, as the new central defensive partnership have been a wonder to behold, as they were untried at Premier league level, although Big Eck (Alex McLeish) as a former central defender himself, is a good judge of a stopper – possibly better than the fella we used to have at the managerial helm.
Interestingly, a month after we capitulated at the Stadium of Light in the Carling Cup, we beat you comfortably at our place and that was the first in our 15 game unbeaten run that took us into the top half of the table. This coincided with the new owners taking full control of the club and settling things down, which has helped enormously.
And there should be better to come, with new money coming into the club. What are your wildest ambitions – and your realistic expectations?
Better to come? There could well be and it does not take a brain scientist or a rocket surgeon to spot that we need a true finisher up front – a genetic clone of Kevin Phillips’s finishing ability and Cameron Jerome’s pace and strength would be ideal, though that person would probably want to play for Real Madrid or Barcelona instead of us. £40 million does not guarantee a 30 goals a season return on investment, of course, nor the badge-kissing attraction to star footballers of the cosmopolitan delights of Brum, so our final League position will be important in making us look like a viable proposition for players who are hungry for the prospect of (I’m not sure I can say this without laughing to myself) European football (I couldn’t do it).
I want to see us finish 6th or above in the next 2 or 3 seasons, as that is our best ever top flight finish (1956 – even before my time) and to get into Europe would be marvellous, though a logistical nightmare, as there would be 40,000 Bluenoses after tickets to whoever they are and wherever our opponents are based. Probably Scotland knowing our luck. That’s the realistic view, tinged with a dab of hope that this does not prove to be a one season event – wildest ambitions are FA Cup winners and Champions League appearance in the next decade.
Steve Bruce, Kevin Phillips, Teemu Taino and plenty more, not least Jimmy Montgomery. Any thoughts on the players and staff lined to both our clubs?
“Jim Montgomery, What A Goalie, What A Goalie” was great to watch in action and Kevin Phillips is easy to wax lyrical about. I’ll raise you Colin Todd, Frank Worthington, Tony Coton, Mick Harford and Howard Gayle from the 80s, too. Bumping into those on a night out would have been a good laugh, and while Colin and Frank would have been mild-mannered, if you spilled the drink of the other three, it would have quickly become a night to forget!
Any memories, good or bad, of past games between us?
I remember coming up in the “good old days” at Easter in 1981, going to a Hartlepool v Darlington local derby one day (3,000 crowd, all of whom were intent on fighting) staying overnight and doing Sunderland v Blues the next day. We lost 3-0 and when we asked where best to park, the PC told us “Newcastle”. It wasn’t just a man’s game on the pitch in those days.
Lately, we’ve got on well as fans I feel, probably as we’re neither of us much good usually! Our first Premiership campaign in 2002/3 was a great experience for us, as we doubled you, plus we got to see plenty of top flight grounds – yours still comes out pretty good in comparison to most.
Be honest: what were your expectations at the start of the season and where did you think we’d finish? Have you been surprised at our poor form?
Start of the season, I thought we had it in us to finish clear of at least Hull, Burnley, Wolves and Pompey and those
four have performed largely as expected. In all honesty, I would have expected you to kick on better than you have to date, though we know from our own experience that Brucey is somewhat limited in his vision: say no more.
Who will be this season’s top four, in order, and the bottom three? And where will each of our clubs finish off this season?
Top four: Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and… and… a horrible feeling it might be Vill…. no, Man City, it will be Man City.
Pompey, Hull, Burnley, Wolves just escaping. A few of our lot want Wet Spam to slide out of the League, to rub David Sullivan’s face in it, but I just can’t be bothered wasting my breath on him.
We are 8th at present and I think there or 9th will be our finish. You will be 12th, I reckon.
Who are the greatest Birmingham City figures you’ve ever seen, the signings you’d like to see next and the players, past or present, who were a waste of space?
Trevor Francis as a player, without a doubt – if there had been the TV cameras about in his day that we enjoy now, he would have been subject of a video special every season. Bob Latchford as one of the last traditional centre forwards, though he would only last 10 minutes a game these days before the red card was out. In recent times, Christophe Dugarry had so much skill and the vision to see a pass to a team mate – brilliant to watch, sad to see his injuries drag his standards down towards the end of his time with us.
Signings: I’m too wary of the really big names after our let downs in the past with some of the supposed messiahs we brought in; so unless you could capture a youngster with Rooney’s passion for the game, I’m happy to see where Big Eck wants to go with his team approach (as long as that goal hungry striker arrives soon, of course).
Club vs country: will you be rooting for England in S Africa or too concerned about the Blues?
It’s always been Blues first, England second for me: it’s a good job the World Cup falls out of season, but I’ll definitely be a big screen armchair fan for England when it comes around. Mind you, we do have the Blues’ China pre-season tour to get fully organised for later in July, which is not to be missed.
Was Wayne Bridge right to exclude himself from international selection and to refuse to shake John Terry’s hand?
Plenty of people will tell you that when if full back leaves a hole, it is the centre half’s job to plug that gap, which only illustrates you can find (a small amount of) humour in any situation. However, anyone with a shred of decency will be on Bridge’s side. For him to exclude himself from a World Cup squad shows the depth of feeling he has about the situation and that must have been a VERY tough call to make. Terry has demonstrated his singular ego time and again in his career and while that may help him on the football pitch, he isn’t much of a man. I’m surprised Bridge didn’t shake him by the throat.
Despite Birmingham;s share of it, is there too much money sloshing around in football and will it ruin the game?
Yes and yes.
The Eduardo question: a blatant dive, unseen by the referee, wins you the penalty and the winner in the last second of the last game of the season and you’ve clinched a place in Europe. You take it gladly, you take it guiltily or you feel so ashamed you almost wish you hadn’t won?
Take it, though it would be with slightly less unadulterated joy than if it was an open play goal or a nailed on spot kick. History books do not qualify results with “blatant dive” in the margin, so it would be forgotten by most fans fairly quickly, plus we then have those 40,000 lifelong fans clamouring to get a European ticket to some tiny Maltese team they’ve never heard of.
Bear in mind, we are Blues and we don’t get awarded the nailed on penalties very often, so anything a ref gives us that are not yellow or red cards, should be accepted with gratefulness.
You’re going to our match. What are your plans for the day out, and what will be the score?
A pal is getting the train to Leeds in the morning, I’m picking him up, then we’re off up to a cricket club near-ish the ground that I’ve been invited to (if we find it) for a beer or two and a bite to eat. Park up as near the ground as we can, saunter off to meet a couple of his work pals who are Sunderland fans, another beer or two, then a stroll to the ground. Unfortunately, the rest of our usual Yorkshire tribe are unable to make it this weekend, though this could be a blessing for the wallet. As I have to use the car this time, it won’t be one of our classic days out, as those taken by train are the stuff of legend, but I am 50 now, so it is time to become the sage chap who always does the right thing, so the good lady implores me at any rate (a-hem).
I’m interested to see if we can keep the impetus going now we are safe from relegation, or if we will not be as determined as you will be, as you still need those few points to make certain you are secure. I’d love to see a rip-roaring game and a 5-4 win for us, but I think you might just nick it 2-1.
Leigh Bosworth on Leigh Bosworth: Brummie by birth (we do not tend to attract glory hunters for some reason) from the Blue two-thirds of the city, though I’ve lived and worked in Leeds since 1985. Celebrated my 50th birthday this very month and this is looking like the being the best Blues season of my life.
Fellow supporters in the region should note that the two separate branches have amalgamated to re-launch the Yorkshire Bluenose Society, which can be reached via:
Leigh Bosworth: email@example.com
Derek Bradley: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rob Smitten: email@example.com
I’m a pensions consultant to large company schemes, though at the football season’s end, to the very day, I will become unemployed. It might be nice to have a break, but the mortgage needs to be paid somehow, so I suppose I’ll be looking harder by the end of April to find a new role. Not a position I’ll ever be in as far as my team’s support is concerned – I wonder if there’s a need for fully professional fans?
I’ve been going to the Blues since the 1960s – so that spans six decades now, which sounds almost as long as it feels. Blues have been the cause of most of my heartaches in life, which I’m sure is an emotion with which many fans empathise, but believe me, our lot find amazing ways to whip your legs out from under you, then kick you when you’re down. I always get back up though.
http://www.brumsnumberone.com is the site I use most, though I’ve been less of a presence this season than usual, as the work/life balance has been crazy and I’m also on a crash course, learning how to be the world’s best granddad (after Salut! Sunderland – ed.). The BN1 site is full of people I’ve known for years and even after an absence of some weeks, I slip back into it like one does with a favourite old Blues shirt from the past, all warm and welcoming.