Written for – and inspired by – The Ball is Round.
Birmingham 7 Blackpool 1
St Andrew’s, Birmingham
Endsleigh Insurance Division Two
31st December 1994
Most Birmingham City fans that I know insist that being a Bluenose is ‘in their veins’. For me, I suppose, that’s more accurate than most. Don Dorman (who played 59 matches for Blues, managed our youngsters to their only ever FA Youth Cup final, and stepped in as caretaker manager in 1970) was my granddad’s second-cousin. And after undertaking a bit of family genealogy last year, it turns out that my paternal ancestry lived in Bordesley, spitting distance from where St Andrew’s was erected in 1906 – Cattell Road, Camp Street, Garrison Lane, Bordesley Green.
But for all that, I was never pushed into it – my dad allowed me to explore my footballing curiosity, probably knowing my roots would reel me in eventually. Manchester United were my first passion, and I could probably still name most of the Red Devils’ squad from 1994, of whose Panini stickers I pretended I hadn’t ‘got’ even though I had, and whose posters lined my room like wallpaper.
Until then though, football had really only existed through the telly. So imagine my delight when my dad offered to take me (at the age of eight) and my sister to St Andrew’s for the first time, to see Blues face Blackpool on New Year’s Eve, 1994. Not exactly the Theatre of Dreams, of course, but the Kop and Tilton Road End had had their terracing cleared and had been rebuilt during the summer (and decontaminated, owing to the rubbish tip that once lay below the Kop). And it was in the brand new Kop which we sat, which had only been fully reopened the month before.
I was happy to be going to see Birmingham City. Where I’m from, the affiliations are split relatively equally between Birmingham and Aston Villa – and it seemed Blues were the more ill-fortuned of the two sides. Villa had just won the Coca-Cola Cup, which led to no end of smugness from my Villa-supporting classmates, which I didn’t like to see. In such matters, I took my natural stance and aligned myself with the underdog.
In truth, I can’t recall much of what happened on the pitch. Luckily, I suppose, I can piece a lot of it together through YouTube – it ended 7-1 to Blues, the biggest win by any team in the Endsleigh Insurance Division Two in 1994/95 – and as such, has entered the folklore of the club.
What I took more from the game, however, was the atmosphere – which was quickly muted by Darren Bradshaw’s early goal for Blackpool, recovered when he netted an own goal in front of the Railway End (still terraced at this point), and then exploded after each of the goals that followed – including two apiece for Louie Donowa and Steve Claridge, of whom I’d heard so many school-friends talking about. I remember rousing renditions of songs that I didn’t know that words to (‘we’re off to park a van?’) and I recall snow falling and being frozen to the bone, but being deeply disappointed and confused to have to leave with the score at 6-1 so that we could ‘beat the traffic’.
It was a little while before a made a fully-fledged transition to being a Bluenose, but that was certainly a watershed of my life as a football fan. And, given all that’s followed, something of a false dawn.