Not Jones And French, But Smith And Saunders.

Coventry at home, first game of the season. Not only the first time I was to see Blues win, but the first and only time I was to see a kit that has gone down in football kit folklore. The change colours that Coventry wore that day made your eyes scream. it was hideous. So hideous that it’s become like an antihero in the replica shirt world. If I was to drop the letter ‘R’ from the word shirt, that’s what colour it was. The start of the season brought the usual optimism that comes with it and thus, a renewed enthusiasm. I went to three games within the first week. I felt like a God at school, only a handful at a school that had 1,200 pupils, went to watch games, and there’s me attending three First Division games within a week. After Coventry on the Saturday, Val and Les decided to take in Wolves versus Manchester United. It was the last week of my Summer holiday, and I was allowed to go with them to the evening kickoff. I’m not sure why they fancied doing the game, other than Val was weeks away from getting married, and it was a break from preparations. I wasn’t going to argue regardless of the reason. I remember us meeting Val from work and as we walked to the top of Dudley Street, there was a group of Wolves lads waiting for United fans to touchdown and head their way. A Manchester train must have docked, as a train sized mob of United were walking up from the station. With their eyes on a full Police van, that was completely out of view of the United fans, the Wolves fans started to goad the United support from across the road, the younger ones raced across the road to get at the Wolves, whilst the older, more wiser ones amongst the Manchester lads, tried to keep order. Too late, the siren was activated, along with the flashing blue lights, the Police van went in pursuit of the young United lads, the Wolves fans split, their snide plan had worked. The game itself wasn’t that exciting, 1:0 to Wolves. On the following Saturday, I watched Blues take on United at St Andrews. 0:0. Dave Sexton’s United side weren’t the most entertaining of teams. He was not to last at Old Trafford, despite a F.A.Cup final appearance versus Arsenal in May 79 and then a second place league finish in 79/80. He was dismissed and replaced by the more flamboyant Ron Atkinson in 80/81. I’m getting pulled into regurgitating burnt in football knowledge, so I’ll take my anorak back off and move on. It wasn’t like I was going to every game, but we went quite often. I don’t remember anything from a 1:1 draw versus Stoke, but the 2:1 win against Spurs was a different story. We went 1:0 up through a brilliant shot from outside the area by Curbishley. Spurs were a good team at the time, and we were having to hang on under the pressure. 1:0 would’ve been a good victory. It wasn’t to be, Tottenham equalised. I remember Les looking down at me, shrugging his shoulders, and saying something like, ‘Nevermind, it’s Blues’. I so wanted Blues to prove us both wrong. I say me, because all these decades later, I know exactly what Les meant, but at the time, I was still new to Blues, I’d yet to have my heart broken by them. I had faith in Blues. It’s why the stormer that Ainscow scored the winner with, was all that sweeter. If Curbishley’s had been a good goal, Aniscow’s was even better and further out. The next game I saw was v Leicester, a game I remember losing but nothing else. Maybe because I remember being disappointed we’d lost a game we should’ve won, but all other memories have been consigned to the mind bin. The last Saturday before Christmas brought high flying Ipswich to St Andrews. No doubt Mom must’ve been at the end of her teather with Christmas being less than a week away and this was a small respite for her. I remember a tiny straggle of Ipswich fans that had bothered to make the trip, not impressing me half as much as their team. The team systematically and spectacularly tore us apart. I wasn’t to know at the time, but Ipswich is a long way to go on the last Saturday before Christmas, so I was doing those fans a disservice. I only went to one more game that season, Manchester City at home. It was another visit by Trevor Francis and it smashed it down with rain all day. Me and Les got drenched. For two days after, we squelched everywhere we went and were still damp the following Thursday. We won easily though, 2:0 as a matter of fact but the highlight was Dave Langan flicking the ball through Francis’s legs and leaving the embarrassed Trev sat on the grass with a soaking wet posterior. 81/82 brought a change in personal circumstances and also at Blues. We’d moved from Bridgnorth to Wellington, I’d changed schools and I’d started playing football. I say I was playing football, in reality, I was spending most Saturdays on the touchline, having a kickabout with the other subs. I didn’t go to a game until 20th February, but what a game to go to. It was my first Second City Derby. Although we lost it, the atmosphere was electrifying. I knew then, that playing the sport seriously, wasn’t for me. It wouldn’t be the last time I had a go at playing on a Saturday, but it was definitely put on the back burner. Jim Smith had been jettisoned by Blues. He’d been struggling to maintain an attacking ethos but in reality, the money behind the scenes was drying up. He’d been having to wheel and deal, could only buy players after he’d sold first. Joe Gallagher, so long a mainstay in the middle of the defence, had been pushed into a move to Wolves, it left a gap which wouldn’t be filled until a Vile reserve player was smuggled away from that lot. The players that Smith bought in, ultimately, didn’t work. Neil Whatmore couldn’t reproduce the partnership he’d forged with Frank Worthington at Bolton, and although the Dutch pair that Ipswich had snagged were doing well in Suffolk, the two that we brought in, made far less of an impression, one of them hardly left an impression at all, other than being slow and overweight. Toine Van Mierlo was fast, lighting fast, but not with the ball. Ron Saunders had fallen out with the board at Vile Park. Keith Coombs who owned Blues rolled the financial dice for one last time. Saunders walked out of his claret and blue office, and into the royal blue one, that Jim Smith had been removed from, on a 3 year rolling contract. It potentially looked a good move for Blues, Saunders had just won the First Division championship and had also won a couple of League Cups at Vile Park. Saunders first action was to tear up the attacking manuals Smith had left, and replace them with his own defensive ones. The maverick Worthington was swapped with the dour and functional Byron Stevenson from Leeds and Mick Harford was bought from Newcastle via Bristol City. Coombs wasn’t the only one who had been feeling the pinch, Bristol City were in such a mess that they couldn’t afford the transfer fee that they’d promised Newcastle. In a unique transfer, although we signed him from Bristol City, the money went to Newcastle United.

So to the Saunders years it is then, or at least the start of them. Me and Les rocked up at Molyneux to watch Blues with both clubs at the wrong end of the table. Blues took the lead from a classic Harford header. We weren’t to know it, but Harford was better with his head than he was with his feet. The lead wasn’t to last, Wolves equalised. I remember watching the hoards of Blues fans at Wolverhampton station heading back to Brum and wishing I was one of them. It was to be a feeling I was to have many more times. The last game I went to that season was Liverpool at St Andrews. Yeah, the club I had a go at supporting. They were simply the most prolific winners around. Watching them was like watching a metronome. Fans of them that I came into contact with at school had personalities to match. Like the team that Paisley had developed, they were colourless. Blues may have been no better than second rate on the pitch, but Birmingham City supporters have kaleidoscope personalities. I’m not saying we’re the best fans in the world, but because we are who we are and we are attracted to like minded, supporting Blues is wonderful. Liverpool might have been collecting trophy upon trophy with their methodical approach to football, but I was in no doubt that I’d made the right choice. It’s a choice I don’t actually feel I had a real say in. I wasn’t drugged, kidnapped and held against my will or anything like that, but supporting Blues is like a party for no reason whatsoever. 24hr party people? 24 hours is only a minute to a Blues fan. We have fun, it’s constant, continuous spontaneity. Drugs it’s not, but highly addictive it is. Liverpool had Ian Rush. He was a goal scoring machine. We lost 1:0 with a goal from, who else? But what I remember the most from this game was Rush being put through for a 1 on 1 with the Blues keeper, when the game was still 0:0, he stroked it passed the custodian, we on the Kop collectively groaned, expecting the ball to nestle in the back of the net, the shot missed, Rush had missed, we celebrated like it was a penalty miss. I had never known a reaction like it before and I never have since, such of an assassin the Welshman was.

Blues stayed up due to a last match victory away at Coventry. The only goal of the game was scored by Mick Harford………with his head of course. A full pre-season and a bit of wheeling and dealing would put Blues right surely. Once Saunders more pragmatic approach had bedded in, Blues were bound to be climbing the league wouldn’t they? No, but interesting times were ahead, just not attractive footballing times.

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