Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Friday, August 9, 2013

Birmingham City

Birmingham City FC are a football club from the second city of England of the same name. The club's origins go right back to 1875 when they were formed as Small Heath Alliance FC. Within two years the club had moved into a home ground at Muntz Street. In 1888 the club became the first to become a limited company as Small Heath FC.

A year later Small Heath were founder members of the Football Alliance, and then founder members of the Football League Division Two for the 1892-93 season. The club won the title at their first attempt but were denied promotion after losing in a 'test match', the predecessor to play offs. That was put right the season after as Small Heath took their place in Division One. 

In 1905 the club changed its name to Birmingham FC and opened the large St Andrews ground the season after. Birmingham suffered the first of many relegation's in 1908 to Division Two, where they remained until after the end of World War One. The 1920-21 campaign was a successful one as promotion was achieved and young striking starlet Joe Bradford made his debut. 

Birmingham reached the FA Cup Final in 1931, where they were defeated by local rivals West Bromwich Albion. In 1938-39 the club were relegated once more, but a record crowd of 66, 844 flocked to St Andrews for  the FA Cup tie with Everton. 

The club added 'City' to their name in 1943 as they returned in peacetime to a heavily bombed St Andrews. 1947-48 saw another promotion as champions, but their spell in the top flight lasted just two campaigns. Bob Brocklebank put the foundations in place as players such as Trevor Smith, Jeff Hall, Eddy Brown and Peter Murphy won another title and promotion in 1954-55 and then reach the FA Cup Final in 1956. The game was lost 3-1 to Manchester City, but it has remained famous as German keeper Bert Trautman played the final twenty minutes with a broken neck.

City were defeated at the semi final stage the following season, before becoming the first English side to play in European competition, as they went out at the semi final stage to FC Barcelona in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup. City reached the final the following two seasons, but were defeated by Barcelona once more, and AS Roma. In reaching the 1961 final they beat Internazionale home and away. It would be a further forty years before Arsenal became the next English side to win a competitive game in the San Siro.

Birmingham lifted the 1963 League Cup following an aggregate win over bitter rivals Aston Villa. However, they were once again demoted at the end of the 1964-65 season. Stan ullis was lured out of retirement for a spell as manager as local businessman and chairman Clifford Coombs later tried to lure Brian Clough and then Don Revie to take over team affairs. Freddie Goodwin took over in the early 70's and assembled an attractive side including Bob Latchford, Bob Hatton and a sixteen year old Trevor Francis.

City won promotion in 1971-72 and reached the FA Cup semi final, before going out to Leeds United. They reached the same stage in 1975, but underdogs Fulham won through after a replay. Sir Alf Ramsey had an unsuccessful stint in charge before Jim mith took over. The club signed Argentinian World Cup winner Alberto Tarantini, but sold Trevor Francis for £1M as relegation was a certainty towards the end of the 1978-79 season.

However, Smith's team won their status back at the first attempt. He filled his team with experience, but was sacked after a poor run to be replaced by former Villa boss Ron Saunders, which upset fans of both clubs. He packed his team with hard men like Mick Harford and Robert Hopkins but the tactics failed as once more City went down to Division Two in 1983-84.

City were nothing if not resilient and bounced straight back into the top flight, but their joy was not to last long as the club were about to enter their darkest days. The Coombs family sold the club to the unpopular Ken Wheldon. Managers came and went as Birmingham were relegated to the third tier for the first time in their history as they suffered a financial crisis as attendances dropped to around 6,000.

Wheldon sold the club to the Kumar brothers, who promised investment, but delivered little. In May 1991 the team with Lou Macari as the latest manager won the Football League Trophy at Wembley; defeating Tranmere Rovers in front of more than 58,000 fans. Unfortunately Macari and his coaching staff left to go to Stoke City, with Terry Cooper coming in to run team affairs.

Cooper led the team to promotion with signings funded by the fans. The Kumar's business went into receivership following a banking collapse, leading to the club entering administration. hey were saved after several months when the proprietor of Sport Newspapers David Sullivan bought the club and installed twenty three year old Karen Brady as Managing Director. 

The 1993-94 season saw a further relegation under Barry Fry, with The Kop and tilton Road terraces being demolished at the end of the campaign to be replaced with new all seater stands. Fry took 'The Blues' straight back up to the second tier and they won another Football League Trophy as a 'Golden Goal' from Paul Tait defeated Carlisle United in extra time. Fry was sacked in the summer of 1996 to be replaced by the legendary Trevor Francis.

Francis stabilised the team on the pitch, while the Railway End of St Andrews was rebuilt. The team gradually progressed and were tantalisingly close to reaching the Premier league, but consecutive play off semi final defeats to Watford, Barnsley and Preston North End put pay to their dreams. City reached the League Cup Final of 2001, but Liverpool won the final at the Millennium Stadium on penalty kicks. 

Francis's run came to an end as Steve Bruce came in  to try and win the elusive promotion. Eventually Birmingham reached the top flight once more after returning to Cardiff to win their own shoot out against Norwich City to cap off a triumphant 2001-12 season. Money was spent on quality players of the calibre of Walter Pandani, Milael Forssell, Matthew Upson and Robbie Savage secure two consecutive mid table finishes.

However, the 2005-06 campaign would end in relegation. Players were sold on but Bruce invested in youth and took the side back up at the first attempt. The Hong Kong based businessman Carson Yeung bought a large stake holding in the club, with plans to complete the sale for the rest of the shares. Bruce departed to take up the Wigan Athletic job in November 2007. Alex McLeish took over but the side went down at the end of the season, with Sullivan blaming Bruce's earlier poor signings for the predicament.

McLeish's men won promotion at the first attempt and further success came when they lifted the 2011 League Cup. Arsenal were defeated 2-1 at Wembley with goals from Nikola Zigic and Obefemi Martins. However, the joy didn't last as Yeung's promises were not coming to pass and City were relegated in May 2011.

McLeish left to make a very unpopular decision in joining Aston Villa with Chris Hughton coming in to replace him. He did a fine job with the club in financial turmoil and under a transfer embargo, before taking the Norwich City job after just one season at the helm. Lee Clark came in and managed to keep The Blues in The Championship, having to make do with free and loan signings to get by. 

Clark managed to keep The Blues up on the final day of the 2013-14 season, but he was dismissed in October 2014 as the poor form continued. Former player Gary Rowett was brought in from Burton Albion, with results improving immediately.

City were a team transformed as they went on to finish the 2014-15 season in a very promising tenth position.

Birmingham City FC will play in the Football League Championship in the 2015-16 season.

My visit

Charlton Athletic 2 Leeds United 1 after extra time (Friday 29th May 1987) Play Off Final Replay (att: 18,000)

Scarborough had just been promoted to the Football League, I'd just got a job as a temporary postman and life was pretty good. My brother Nick and I were good pals with lots of Leeds fans so with them having spare tickets and seats on their coaches heading to St Andrews, we took the opportunity to tick off a new ground.

The match was a replay final after both legs had ended 1-0 to the home side, back in the days before the finals were being held at Wembley. Indeed, the formula was even different back then as the team finishing third bottom went into the play offs rather than going straight down. It was in that position that Charlton found themselves, fighting to hang on to their top flight status.

There was no danger of a pub stop or beer before the game, so it was a case of a couple before setting off and the old tactic of a bottle of orange laced with vodka for the coach. We arrived around thirty minutes before kick off and were met by a heavy police presence.

St Andrews was a big old place, but showing signs of ageing. We were placed on the huge Kop down one side of the pitch. The massive terracing had a large roof over the back half, which was ideal for acoustics. It continued round an open corner and behind the Tilton Road goal, which also had a roof over the rear. The Main Stand opposite was two decks of seating, with the lower being converted from a former terrace. It was pretty much the same arrangement at the Railway End.

The game was extremely tense with defences on top meaning that the game finished goalless after ninety minutes, meaning the requirement of extra time. It was still blank at the interval in the additional period before John Sheridan sent the vast majority of the crowd wild with delight by putting Leeds ahead with just eleven minutes remaining. 

However, Athletic were made of stern stuff and Yorkshire born centre back Peter Shirtliff equalised four minutes later. It looked like penalty kicks would decide the tie, but Shirtliff added the winner with three minutes remaining to the delight of the sprinkling of Charlton fans.

The Leeds players and fans were crushed after missing out on promotion in the same season as reaching the semi final of the FA Cup. We got back on the coaches. It was rather late when we got back to Scarborough.

Birmingham City 3 Burnley 3 (Wednesday 12th March 2014) The Championship (Att: 16,695) 

As I hadn’t seen City play at St Andrews and the stadium had changed dramatically since 1987, I decided it was time to return. Ideally the club were offering £10 tickets for the Burnley match and I was on early shifts, so I could do it easily. I managed to buy return travel for just £13.50, which made it even better. With The Blues in a spot of bother following the jailing of their major shareholder and The Clarets heading for automatic promotion, it promised to be an interesting evening.

My coach was a rather long winded National Express service from Victoria, but it at least gave me chance of a siesta after work. We Arrived at Digbeth an hour before kick off, so I set off walking towards the stadium, following a couple of typical looking fans up Alderley Road, where I came across the Wagon & Horses pub. A blackboard outside that it was for home supporters only, but I decided to give it a go. I could feel eyes watching me as I downed a fine pint of Shropshire Gold, but I didn’t get any hassle.

Ten minutes later I was outside The Kop at St Andrews for the first time in twenty seven years. My, it had changed! I wandered along the concourses taking photos of the stadium before enjoying my evening meal. The pie and pint meal cost £6, with the Pukka chicken & mushroom hitting the spot as ever. Downstairs at the back of the Tilton I got a fair portion of chips covered in curry for £3 to enjoy from my seat.

My excellent seat was near the corner flag half way down the Kop and Tilton. St Andrews was looking a fine venue. The Main Stand remained from my earlier call. The old Railway Stand had gone to be replaced by the Gil Merrick Stand, which had a large lower tier containing the 1,593 visiting fans and a smaller upper tier. The Kop and Tilton End large terracing had been replaced by one continuous covered tier of seating, with a walkway half way up.

The first half was OK. City looked to go forward with The Clarets looking dangerous with some neat play Burnley went in one up at the break after poor defending led to Dean Marney bnooding in unmarked at the far post on the half hour mark.

I could only see one winner as I had my half time stretch. The Blues fans around me could hardly be accused of blind faith. It was like being at a LUL works seminar, with lots of moaning, defeatism and barely understandable voices. However, they did make a massive difference with the volume in getting behind their team with lots of singing after the break. It definitely spurred their team forward.

Federico Macheda was brought on as sub after an hour and scored within three minutes, as he side footed home after Paul Robinson had won a header in the box. Burnley went up the other end and went ahead with a free header from Michael Duff following the award of a free kick with Birmingham skipper Robinson didn't agree with. When the ball went in all hell broke loose. It appears that referee James Limington mocked Robinson and booked him for his reaction. 

Blues replied with a stunning strike from 25 yards from Emyr Huws within a few minutes, when he chested down a clearance before volleying home into the bottom corner. It was a stunning strike. The range of loud songs from the Blues faithful, including their anthem ‘Keep Right On To The End Of The Road’ carried on inspiring their heroes.

The game ebbed and flowed with City showing lots of spirit, while Burnley looked dangerous. The Clarets looked to have sealed the win three minutes from time when loose defending, which all around me were quick to point out, led to Sam Vokes prodding home a low cross from Junior Stanislaus into the roof of the net.

Five minutes added time were added on and with a minute remaining Macheda grabbed a third equaliser to massive joy and relief from all around me after City nearly drew level twice before that in stoppage time. Burnley nearly grabbed a winner in the last action of the game. 

Id moved to the walkway on the Kop for stoppage time to get a quick getaway. As soon as the full time whistle I walked quickly and even had a little jog, hoping to sneak in a nightcap before the 10.12 train at New Street. It turned out to be much further than I thought, meaning I only got to the station with five minutes to spare.

It had been a cracking night out for not too much expense, with the train back to Euston arriving five minutes ahead of schedule.

The earlier of St Andrews on this page have been taken from the internet. 

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