Firstly, what day is it? I’m only asking because I haven’t got a clue. I know it doesn’t take a great lot to confuse me the rest of the year, but Christmas and New year really does mess me around. Chuck in Sky Sports coverage, and it becomes even more disorientating than usual. With Christmas and New year falling at a weekend, much valued and deserved Bank Holidays get shifted. Games are shifted, kickoff times change, and to keep on top of it all, takes an awful lot of planning. Before now, I’ve fallen foul of it, and found myself miles away from a game I could’ve been at whilst having to endure domestic duties. What was even worse, it was before mobile phones had a tinternet link, and I couldn’t keep up with the score. It can take months of planning to be sure that you won’t be having to visit in-laws whilst a game is on. Still on the subject of Christmas and New year, Bank Holidays being moved and what not, when I was a lot younger, and taxi drivers knew how to handle a horse and cart, I used to look forward to New year’s eve. For me, and although I loved and still love, Christmas day, it was New year’s eve that had me buzzing. The Millennium ruined it for me. Before that particular New year, everyone would go out to the pub, or more to the point, for a pub crawl. You’d bump into people that you hadn’t seen for years. The trick was to always meet up with all your closest friends in your local by 11 o’clock to make sure you didn’t get locked out, and miss midnight. Such was the amount of people who went out to celebrate. Like I’ve said, this was before we all had mobile phones welded to our hands. Seriously, how did we all manage to function without the irritatingly essential things? Anyway, I’m digressing (Least somethings will never change.) With the Millennium, even the ‘stay at home, never go outs’, had plans to go out. Pubs realised they could make even more money off their most lucrative night of the year, and issued exclusivity tickets to get in their establishments. With one foul swoop, they’d killed the novelty of the New year’s eve pub crawl. These days, I don’t bother going out on a New year’s eve. It’s not because I’m old and passed it, but because it’s just not enjoyable anymore. For me, it’s just another day. (Well evening anyway.) Right, enough of the digressing (For now anyway. It’s me don’t forget, rest assured, a digression will be just around the corner.) Although a night game, instead of the new habit of going to the Colemore, I started off at the Welly. Daryl and Steve were already in there when I arrived, but our usual table was occupied, so we sat at one of the bigger tables by the front windows. At the other end, two blokes were fighting to fold up an ordnance survey map of Morocco. I was transported back to watching my Mom trying to fold up the Bridgnorth Journal when it was published as a broadsheet. I suppose, that should’ve been the alarm bell I required to not engage in conversation with the duo, but I’m sociable. Obviously too sociable for my own good. After managing to win their fight with the map, one addressed us lot. Unfortunately, that’s not where it should’ve ended. Like I’ve already stated, I’m sociable. I’m diplomatic by nature. A bit of a crowd pleasing facilitater. In fact, you really have to go out of your way to annoy me. Even then, I will put the first discrepancy down as simple innocent ignorance. However, if you persist to try and walk all over me, then you’ll regret it. I have the ability and knowhow to metaphorically grind you into paste. They turned out to be an Evertonian and a Vile fan. It was then I tried to extricate myself from the conversation, but without being so blunt that it would appear churlish. With it now established we were Blues, and he was Vile, the atmosphere rapidly went colder than a winter holiday in Siberia. It was though, only on our side. Our side had now swelled with the arrival of Taffy and Jinksy. The Viler pressed the point that the rivalry should be at a higher level. Something that I can and do align myself to. I was now on quicksand. The Viler on one hand, was right. The West Midlands is badly performing in the football sphere. Just geographically, US, them, Buggies and the Dingles are in a position to attract huge numbers of supporters. It’s a well populated conurbation in itself, but it’s also in the middle of the country with excellent transport links. Back in the early 80s, along with Coventry City, all 5 clubs were in the top division. It should’ve been the catalyst for greater achievements. Semifinals and finals should’ve annually featured one or more of the 5 clubs. It never did. The last West Midland club to win the F.A.Cup, was Coventry in 1987, and before that, the Buggies in 1968. It’s now 2023, and the area has seen just one trophy win in this millennium. It’s a pathetic return really. The Blues/Vile rivalry apart, it deeply annoys me to see fans wearing colours of clubs from miles away, that they’re never going to go and watch, in and around Birmingham. There’s no other area in the country this happens. It’s embarrassing and doesn’t show any signs of relenting. How are the underperforming clubs of the West Midlands going to attract new fans? Fact is, they’re not. On the other hand (I was always going to get to this bit Taff.) now having latched onto me, the Viler moved his chair closer to me. He even hugged me as we were leaving. Something that didn’t go unnoticed by the rest. The truth is, the Viler was at that advanced stage of inebriation, where you become emotional. That point where you hug your mates, and unfortunately, he now saw me as a mate, and nothing else. However, the rest decided to have fun with it. Awkward was one word for this newfound ‘friendship’, downright weird, is another. Would I be the same, if it had happened to one of the others? Absolutely I would. The air would be thick with innuendos in the Colemore, and I was to be the focus of much teasing. I didn’t mind. I’m not fragile enough to care. I’ve learnt that the barmaid who switched from the Welly to the Colemore, goes by Jazz. It’s a moniker that matches her image. As we left to head to the North Bar, she was furiously polishing the brass keg fonts. I joked that I wouldn’t use the usual cliche, and say she’d missed a bit. She retorted that if I had, she’d have hit me. I made her laugh by placing my head on the bar, pointed to my exposed temple and pleaded “Just there.” I reckon once the weather gets warmer and drier The North Bar will be an excellent place to drink outside. It’s a suntrap and, with the trams going passed, it’s got a unique selling point too. Chatting with Taff, he told me about his Mom’s health. It’s deteriorated. Knowing how I felt when my Mom was in hospital for the last time, I could relate to what he’s going through. It’s the helplessness you feel. The blind faith you have in the hands of others. However much we wish it wasn’t so, our bodies will give out on us. Comfort in our old age is the best we can keep our arthritic fingers crossed for. A comfort that gets increasingly more impossible the older the body gets and disintegrates. I’m 55 next birthday, and already every day is a slog, and that’s even the work free days. As a species, we’re vain. We battle against admitting to our bodies disintegration. We cling on to the delusion we’re still young and virile. That somehow with bits drooping, wrinkling up, falling out and becoming increasingly misshapen, we’re still attractive. The warden controlled flats that my Mom last lived in, had mirrors in the lift. She hadn’t the energy to climb the stairs, so she was forced to look at her reflection. The young girl inside her, was trapped in a body she grew to despise. I can only wish Taff’s Mom well, and as a friend, be there to listen throughout. From the North Bar, it was to the Head of Steam. By this time, I was playing catch up, and lagging behind. I get so engrossed in conversations that I spend too much time talking and not enough time drinking. As it’s a time for New year’s resolutions, mine is to start drinking when I’m listening. Dry January is for other people. Joining a Gym, is for other people. Starting a diet, is for other people. In fact, anything at all healthy, is for other people. The rest had bizarrely decided to go from the HOS to the Bull Ring Tavern. A place not exactly renowned for its real ale. Or actually anything worth drinking at all, passed Guinness. They could go on without me. Taking my time, I walked up to the ground.
If you were to ask the average Birmingham City supporter, their views on China and the Chinese, don’t expect those views to be complimentary. I fair minded individual may be diplomatic at best, but most will be filled with complete vitriol. The devastating Coronavirus apart, and however you feel it originated, whether accidentally released from a laboratory or the result of ingesting an infected bat from off a food market in Wuhan, the number one reason for the apathy, suspicion and sheer hatred, is the way their beloved club has been run. One of us, and it really is an ‘us’, when you speak of the club you support, (Even Armchair fans included.) is, and has always been interested to the point of being obsessed with the inner workings of the ownership/boardroom. When the club was finally wrestled from the clutches of Carsen Yeung, Daniel Ivery was the one truly cautious voice. While the rest of us went giddy over the amount of money that was being spent on transfers and wages, he was the one that watched for the dark clouds heading over the horizon towards us. On the whole, club ownership tends to be a bit of a mixed bag. There are the ones out there that are without doubt, paragons of responsibility. Their dealings are transparent and their intentions are pure. The majority are very similar to one another. They want success, but ideally, they’ll do it on the cheap, whilst fleecing the fan base for all its worth. A tiny minority are awash with so much cash, that dynasties are created. There are a few, where the structure is deliberately made impenetrable to hide the true interests and intentions. Birmingham City is one of those clubs. This season, the Chinese overlords dangled a succulent looking poison laced carot, for equally dodgy characters to be attracted to. In all honesty, no self respecting business person would’ve gone anywhere near the deal that was on the table. Only a half baked loon with more mouth than money, would’ve been interested in the ‘percentage’ of the club that was on offer, with the ‘promise’ of the rest, further down the line. ‘Maxco’, Paul Richardson and Maxi Lopez, had never got enough money, despite their reassurance that they did, and also had other interested investors on board. Lawrence Bassini, an utter fantasist, made so much noise in the media about his desire to buy Blues, that it was embarrassing. Weeks went passed as the protracted deal, rolled on. Each side maintaining that the problems holding the deal up, were on the other side. The rumour mill was flat out. So much so, that it scheduled overtime. The hopes (Yeah, that useless ‘H’ word.) were sky high during the takeover that wasn’t. The one that had the more wiser amongst us interested was that the elusive ‘Mr King’, was looking to sell the whole of his stake due to his finances getting worse by the week, possibly even the day. Paul Shen, the original investor who had bought the club primarily for the HKSE listing (And what has turned out to be the sole reason for his purchase.) is more than happy with sitting on it. Back to Daniel Ivery. The best way I can describe Dan, (And I really do mean this as a true compliment.) is that he’s like a dog with a bone. Mr Ivery is a shareholder at Blues. I suspect that he bought shares in the club because it gave him access to ask awkward, searching questions when able to. That includes attending the clubs AGMs. Ordinarily, that takes commitment when it’s in the same country that you’re living in at the time, but when it’s held in a country that is notoriously difficult to get into, it shows a level of commitment that is unparalleled. Through an amazing series of contacts, he was able to attend the recent AGM to pose questions. The one thing he was able to find out, was the biggest, most depressing thing I’ve heard in a long while. The ownership has no plans to sell the club. Even more depressing than that, is that the day to day events surrounding the club, are as insignificant as an ants shadow in China. Effectively, nothing at all that happens at the club, makes any difference whatsoever in China. We are then, perpetually suspended in a state of limbo. Relegation won’t matter. Ground repairs don’t matter. Player recruitment and youth development doesn’t matter. Not even the colour of the playing kit or the clubs emblem matters. Not to China anyway. It’s almost like we don’t exist, and in China, we don’t. We came away from Hull earlier on in the season, with an unexpected 2:0 victory. Given that Hull were now languishing several places and points below us, this looked on paper to be the first double of the season. (For those in China, it’s when a……oh, who am I kidding? They won’t be interested.) I could claim that we were missing Hogan’s input up front still, but in truth, Blues played like they’d read what Dan had posted on the Small Heath Alliance fan forum, and were sluggish at best. What probably should’ve been a routine home victory and another 3 points towards safety, turned out to be a victory for Hull, after a solitary goal late into the second half.
Trudging out of a ground that now seems like a tomb, I headed to the Spotted Dog. A face that I hadn’t seen since the good old Anchor days was in there. Jaffa has a catch phrase. When ever the conversation turns to pub memories, he will innocently ask if he was ‘shouting and swearing.’ The point being was he inebriated. In reality, even inebriated he’s still actually quite eloquent, and doesn’t shout and swear, hence why it always makes me smile. It’s something that never fails to amuse me. Like Badger cupping his hands in front of him, and offering to catch it, when someone else announces they’re off to the toilet. Along with Jaffa and Badge, both Daryl, Spoons and Rich, made it worthwhile going back for a last pint. In fact, Badger caught the bus back with me, as he lives quite close. With Birmingham City stuck in a ‘Groundhog day’ style loop, it’s truly the social aspect of following Blues, that keeps you plodding on. Are you listening China? Course not.