Often Partisan

That Was The Season That Was Pt II

In the second part of my season review, I look at September, October and November.

I’m ashamed to say my first Championship game at St Andrews didn’t come about until September and the game against Millwall due to a combination of the Europa League and myself foolishly booking a holiday which covered the first two fixtures of the season. It was a good first game though; Chris Wood scoring the first hat-trick for Blues in the league since Mikael Forssell in 2008 and the first league win by three clear goals for 126 games. We then went to Southampton and lost 4-1 in a game that sounds worse than it was – reports from people who went said Blues could have won the game themselves as it was so open and we rounded the month off with a 1-1 draw against Barnsley in a game ruined by a crap ref – something else that was become a theme to the season. Blues defence of the Carling Cup ended quietly with a 2-0 defeat to a second string Manchester City at the Etihad – although it had to be said that Blues didn’t exactly send their strongest team either.

The Europa League proper came to Blues for the first time in September in the shape of SC Braga, and again, St Andrews was packed out in front of Portuguese opposition – who’d brought about 20 fans. Having had a chance to take the lead early on through an Adam Rooney effort Blues were quickly taught a lesson about profligacy in front of goal as Braga ran out 3-1 winners; that being said I don’t remember leaving the stadium feeling bad that we’d lost. Our first away game of the league stage came at the end of the month and I was lucky enough to go out to Slovenia to see Blues take on NK Maribor. The whole day was a marker of what it was like to see Blues away in Europe – a town square taken over by a sea of blue and bars running dry as thirsty Bluenoses supped the local brew before the game. It looked a bit dicey to begin with as Maribor opened the scoring after a dodgy backpass from Spector had resulted with Colin Doyle kicking air but this was a Blues team that didn’t let their heads drop. A great goal from Chris Burke followed by a first Blues goal for Wade Elliott ensured scenes of delirium in the away end as Blues fans proceeded to go mental. The NK Maribor ultra types looked flashy with their co-ordinated moves and chants but they had no answer to the sheer noise and passion emerging from the Blues end. I came back that night from Slovenia hoarse and elated – a dream achieved.

Behind the scenes, BIH made an announcement that the accounts for the year ending June 2011 would be delayed – we’ll hear more about that – and Peter Pannu cried off from doing a fans forum type affair with Tom Ross after criticism from me on this website. Pannu, who had been talking a lot to the newspapers prior to this clammed up quite a bit and hasn’t given an interview to anyone since, preferring to talk via programme notes, which he has done three times.

The win against Maribor started a run of six straight wins for Blues who went the whole of October unbeaten. The month started in the Championship with a 3-1 win over Nottingham Forest where Blues once again came from behind to win handsomely thanks to Chris Burke and a brace from Chris Wood. Blues then beat pre-season favourites Leicester 2-0 at home with a Marlon King penalty and a late goal from Wood again and a brace from Chris Burke took care of Bristol City away. Nikola Zigic scored his first goal since the Carling Cup final against Leeds United and the Blues ended the month with a 0-0 draw against Brighton at St Andrews – the first game they’d failed to score in both the league and at home. However, it didn’t stop Chris Hughton collecting the manager of the month trophy.

October also saw probably one of the greatest days ever for Blues fans – at least for the many thousands who travelled to Bruges. Once again a European city was swamped as an estimated eight thousand Blues fans travelled to Belgium. The market square was a mass of good-natured boozing brummies in the day time and as the sun set the travelling army made their way to the Jan Breydal Stadion. Again, Blues conceded the early goal – this time Joseph Akpala being the recipient but once again they didn’t let their heads drop and were soon back in it with an equaliser from David Murphy – who was slowly becoming the season’s cult hero after another great performance. A sickening head injury to Pablo Ibanez led to ten minutes of added on time, and you don’t need me to tell you what happened next.

It’s difficult to put into words the feeling of elation after the final whistle or how proud I was to be there and to be a part of it. There have been mumblings from some quarters that Europe was a waste of time, a hindrance to the bread and butter. I will say here and now if you can watch those scenes in Bruges, or for that matter talk to anyone who went to any of the games home or away and keep those opinions then the time has come to give up football as a spectator sport. That October night in Belgium encapsulated what it is to be a football fan – that is what it’s all about. Even afterwards, after the long walk back into the centre and sitting in a quiet backstreet bar we’d made our own, the overarching feeling of pride that emanated from all the fans there will live with me forever.

Things quietened down in Hong Kong in October as Carson Yeung faded from the spotlight a little, although there was brief talk of more money laundering and another short announcement of accounts being delayed.

November started and ended with European games – at home to Club Brugge and away to SC Braga. The home game against the Belgians carried on where the away game had left off; an invasion of Club Brugge fans to Birmingham and a packed out St Andrews as Blues fans hoped that they could continue the impossible and progress from the group. Brugge took a 2-0 lead into half time thanks to Thomas Meunier and that man Akpala; once again Blues came back out and roared back into the game with Jean Beausejour pulling the strings. The first goal came after the Chilean lashed home the rebound from Nikola Zigic’s blocked shot; the equaliser a penalty from Marlon King after Beausejour was tripped in the box. Blues couldn’t quite pull off the victory that they wanted but a 2-2 draw left us knowing that a win in Braga would do it for us.

Braga away saw some fans make a crazy 2600 mile round trip by coach – who’d do such a thing? – and the first defeat for Blues away from home in Europe for fifty years. It could have been so much better had Nikola Zigic scored from the penalty spot in the first half but even now I can remember thinking that he didn’t look like scoring it in a million years. Braga punished us with a goal from Hugo Viana and then kept Blues out to hold onto victory. It was sad for Chris Hughton – who scored one of his few career goals against Braga in 1984 – as he had played a much stronger side than we were used to in Europe and news from Slovenia that Maribor had capitulated to a 4-3 defeat having led 3-0 just compounded our grief. It meant Blues had to beat Maribor and hope that Braga could turn over Club Brugge in Belgium.

Blues didn’t have much success either in the league, losing 1-0 away to Reading before being held to a 1-1 draw at home to Peterborough which left us 12th. An injury time winner from Chris Burke saw us beat Burnley 2-1 and a late equaliser from Zigic saw us draw 2-2 against Blackpool at Bloomfield Road having taken the lead there thanks to Marlon King. The Burnley game was notable for a cameo from youngster Nathan Redmond, whose introduction gave Blues impetus and helped secure the win whilst the Blackpool game was notable for the negative comments about Guirane N’Daw made by former Blues player Tommy Mooney which were roundly criticised by fans. Noticeably he hasn’t commentated on Blues again, having been taken on by the Villa as a youth team coach. Apparently he has to attend Villa games in disguise.

Come back tomorow for the next part of the review.

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3 Responses to “That Was The Season That Was Pt II”

  • Hvala Obafemi says:

    Those videos at Bruges just made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Been going down the Blues since 1971 and 2011 was without any shadow of a doubt a year like none I had ever imagined I might see. West Ham at home – Wembley – Maribor – Bruges… good god. It was pretty bad for my liver at times, but good for the soul.

    I’ve always been glad my Dad took me to St Andrews instead of any other ground in the country, and whatever happens next season or in the next 40, years like 2011 do justify the insanity of really believing that. We know it’s a roller-coaster ride being a Blues fan, and who knows if that was the peak, but it’s a ride we can’t get off.

    Thanks for the reminder almajir – and the site in general.

  • Paul Carter says:

    Being able to share Europe with my son was priceless.

    What Al didn’t mention was the absence of aggro from all the Euro games.

    Our behaviour was fantastic and a credit to our home towns name.

  • BowThai says:

    Being a Bluenose out on a limb living in Thailand,I like you watched the craziness but from afar.I also had my dream fulfilled seeing the Blues in an away Euro game.I got to Braga after 30 hours trip!Then a further 5 Blues games in 3 weeks.My high of the Euro game was somewhat tempered by a cold Sunday morning in Cardiff followed by one of the windiest nights Hull has ever seen.Finishing up at Palace then onto Theafrow right after the game.So for me -seen 6 W2 L4! But one of the best seasons for some years.It was great to watch the Blues play good entertaining football(and catching up with some great mates at the same time).I can only hope this comming season gives us more joy than sorrows.KRO PS,Thanks OP for keeping all us expats not only in the know but our sprits up!!

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