representingthemambo:

Found this when reading today that Chris Hughton, former Birmingham City manager, wrote a column for the Workers Revolutionary Party. Some interesting and at times controversial names included. Definitely worth a look.

Originally posted on X-Ray Spectator:

I had been thinking of compiling a team of past and present footballers who happened to have interesting or even extreme politics. Of course, problems arose. Would a fascist winger track back to help out a commie fullback? Would that fullback overlap for the winger? The answer is: probably. Nevertheless I decided to make two teams – one with vaguely right-wing sensibilities, from Thatcherites to full-blown Nazis; and the other made up of old-school socialists, squatters and even a Situationist prankster (kind of).

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Blind loyalty

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I think one of the things I despise most in life is blind loyalty, and it’s an issue I’ve been reflecting on in the last day or two.

The slightly more trivial sort of blind loyalty I object to is that of the self-described ‘real’ football fan. And by ‘real’ I mean one who turns up to every game and possesses a seemingly ceaseless appetite for their team producing abject dross, and who use their frequent attendance at matches as a stick with which to beat the rest of ‘dilettantes’ who refuse to hand over a large section of our disposable income paying to watch a poor standard of football.

This week I’ve been sucked into a debate with various BCFC fans about the abilities of Lee Clark that concluded with someone accusing me of being a Villa fan and that I was called, hilariously, Mumboloid. And all because I said that Lee Clark wasn’t very good. I think he only just managed to hold himself back from denouncing me as some kind of morally bankrupt European intellectual.

My mistake, apparently, is that I’ve failed to ‘get behind’ the team and manager. Because getting behind the team magically transforms them into worldbeaters, or so I am led to believe. Shit teams led by a shit manager cease being shit when you ‘get behind them’, wonderfully.

If football were only about hard work, I’d be Leo fucking Messi. I had years of trying hard, to no avail. Years of flying in with tackles that could have maimed my opponent. Years of chasing lost causes and finding that at the end of the chase the cause was as lost as when I’d started.

Hard work isn’t enough. So I don’t care how hard Lee Clark is trying. He isn’t good enough and he needs to be sacked and replaced with someone who actually knows what they are doing.

In the grand scheme of things the stubborn myopia of the average overly-aggressive-and-too easily-offended football fan isn’t a big issue, although it points up something a little worrying about the human condition that I’m sure if I was that European intellectual I could make a profound point around. Maybe I will after I’ve finished the Albert Camus anthology I’m half way through (it’s so bleak though…..)

But there is another blind loyalty, or the invocation of a blind loyalty, that can have rather more deleterious consequences. I’m thinking of nationalism, my beloved and patient reader.

The Falkland Islands, population just under 3,000, are back in the headlines and it’s pretty obvious even to an innocent stripling like me that the dispute suits the flag-wavers and breast-beaters on both sides. So, on the one hand we have Christine Kirchner manipulating the issue for self-evidently cynical reasons, as successive Argentine governments and regimes have.

On the other we have a British government who although they feign innocence and high-minded principle are indulging in acts of provocation clearly designed to get a reaction from their Argentine counterparts.

From the British political establishment we hear lines of attack that are quite chilling in their hypocrisy.

This from an opinion column in the Sun, the paper that thinks it has the right to conduct international diplomacy on behalf of the rest of us (cheers guys):

ONCE again a head of state faced with huge internal problems tries to divert the population’s rightful fury at corruption, inflation, financial incompetence and rising crime by stirring the jingoist pot.    

I wonder if he is sufficiently self-aware to know that these words could just as well be used to describe Margaret Thatcher in 1982? That the diversion that the conflict provided and the way her government conducted it was a godsend for her and her party’s agenda?

‘Stirring the jingoist pot’ is the tried and tested tactic of Tories throughout their party’s inglorious history, and arguably it saved them from election defeat in 1983 and helped pave the way for the continuation of her ‘revolution from above’. In fact, a bit of flag-waving is a leitmotif of the political class as a whole when they deem it necessary to provide a distraction and the usual bread and circuses won’t work.

Does he really think that the current British government is simply an innocent party in all of this, merely and bravely doing right by the Falkland Islanders? Does he really think that Cameron, Hague et al aren’t getting massive stiffys at the thought of emulating their hero and in fact completely welcome this opportunity, that Kirchner is handing them on a plate?

To me, I can’t see any further than the fact that the Falklands are inhabited by people who in their infinite wisdom appear to overwhelmingly wish to remain British. There is no ‘indigenous’ or expelled population, or one under the thumb of a colonial oppressor. I’m not at all convinced that Argentina has a valid or just claim on the islands.

But the islanders are being exploited by politicians on both sides of the Argentina/GB divide.

The staggering stupidity of Lee Clark

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I have to confess that Lee Clark’s position at BCFC is becoming a bit of an obsession of mine. I’m getting increasingly angry that he is still in a job, and it is solely down to the fact that the club is such a mess that it appears that they literally cannot afford to dismiss him. Even though the club is dropping down the table like a stone and is in serious danger of relegation to League One next year.

He really is a clown and his latest comments only serve to highlight this.

I was astonished to read in a discussion forum that the accusation that he had publicly criticised one of his young strikers, Jake Jervis. I checked the article referred to and found he had done just that:

 “People talk about Jake Jervis being a striker but these are the facts: Jake has been to League One or League Two clubs seven times and those clubs haven’t decided to keep him.”

For non Blues fans a bit of context might help here. We have no recognized strikers either fit or not suspended. Jervis has been recalled from a loan spell at Portsmouth for precisely that reason. He is 21 years old and I would tentatively suggest that it is a little premature to completely write him off, especially as Blues have literally no alternatives right now. He has had his contract extended on a couple of occasions so obviously someone sees some potential in him. He deserves a) a chance and b) his manager’s public backing when he is trying his best in difficult circumstances.  

On a human level it is abysmal man-management and just downright spiteful to slaughter your own (young) player like that to journalists, and gives a revealing and depressing glimpse of the MO of Lee Clark; flailing out and attacking everyone but himself. Interestingly he isn’t so forthright in berating the abysmal efforts of some of the players he signed for Blues, for example the hopeless Hayden Mullins.  

A contemptible act by a contemptible, useless man who is putting the tin hat on a pretty horrific situation right now at BCFC. The sooner we are shot of the tosser the better.

The implausible resurrection of Alex McLeish

Alex McLeish

If you spend a significant amount of time looking at the world and reflecting on its absurdities, as I do when I go through one of my periodic philosophical phases, you begin to reach a few broad conclusions about how the world works. Beneath the veneer of sophistication and rationality that appears to govern the behaviour of those with power and money, when you look a little closer there is actually profound irrationality and much in life can depend on simple good luck.

What I’m saying I suppose is that the dismissal of Sean O’Driscoll at Nottingham Forest, and the appointment of Alex McLeish in his stead, is ludicrous.

Nottingham Forest’s ‘ambitious’ Kuwaiti owners made a great decision when they appointed O’Driscoll in the summer and as a Birmingham City fan I was insanely jealous that we hadn’t been able to appoint someone like him. O’Driscoll is a practitioner of progressive, tactically aware and attacking football. His record at his previous club, Doncaster Rovers (they were relegated the season he was dismissed……), was extremely impressive on a very tight budget. He isn’t an overnight miracle worker and by no means a household name, but to my eyes he seemed a great fit for a re-building project at Forest, who had finished the previous season in 19th. O’Driscoll left the club in 8th place and clearly on an upward trajectory.

So the decision to dispense with him is bizarre indeed. The club’s owners have now stated they want immediate promotion (don’t we all, chaps…..) rather than the sensible ‘3-5 year plan’ they announced upon their arrival, and ‘someone with Premier League experience’ (why? Do they play with a different shaped ball in the Premier League? Is it really so utterly different to the Championship?) and so they have turned to McLeish, who has plenty of top-flight experience.

Yes indeed. He has loads of that.

Two Premier League relegations with a team averaging about a goal a game.

Taking another Premier League Club, Aston Villa, to within a whisker of relegation. If one measures the performance of a manager by win percentage, statistically he is the worst the Villa have ever had.

And meanwhile playing some of the most insipid, soulless football imaginable.

Notwithstanding a flukey 9th place finish with Birmingham in 2009-10, and the Carling Cup victory in 2011, the man’s career in the English top flight can only be realistically judged a failure, and the idea that he is a better bet than Sean O’Driscoll is patently absurd.

It also appears that the Al Hasawi family have learnt nothing from the people they succeeded at Forest, who foolishly appointed former England manager Steve McClaren at the start of the 2011-12 season. He lasted ten games………

Something happens to rich, successful people when they take over football clubs. They take leave of their senses and their judgment (normally selfish and often brutish but invariably rational on its own terms) appears to desert them. They resort to cliché, banality and notions that when closely examined for just a moment fall apart in front of your very eyes.

A concept as amorphous and essentially meaningless as ‘Premier League experience’ would be treated with derision and contempt in most other walks of life. And yet in football, it takes on a significance that means purveyors of listless dross like McLeish can walk into jobs on the strength of having failed with, but still actually managed, clubs at the highest level.

(It’s also telling that the hopeless Roy Keane appears to have been under consideration for the Forest job. Yet another example of one who has ‘top flight experience’ but only in so far as he presided over a complete and obscenely wasteful trainwreck at Sunderland, a job he secured purely on the strength of his playing career.)

The decision to sack Sean O’Driscoll is a disgraceful, but more importantly stupid one. I have a funny feeling that it is one that the Al Hasawi family and Nottingham Forest fans will come to regret. As a Birmingham City fan and one well acquainted with the situation at Aston Villa, I know what they are getting.

Blues at the halfway point

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I know it’s Christmas and all that but I feel the need to get something off my chest.

We are at the halfway point of the Championship season. 23 of the 46 games have been played. Birmingham City are just five points above the relegation zone following yet another poor result at the weekend at home against Burnley.

It is worth observing the following at this point to those who are deluded enough to think we are not in a relegation battle:

  • Blues have six points from our last six games-relegation form.
  • Blues home form has been terrible this term- teams that can’t win at home get relegated.
  • Blues have been conceding lots of soft goals-relegated teams tend to do that.
  • Players will be sold (our best ones obviously) in the transfer window-weakening a team just above the relegation zone.
  • We have the worst manager in the league, a man to who is to astute management what Ron Jeremy is to sensitive lovemaking.   

The last point in particular is of particular and continuing relevance. I wrote several months ago, after our abject 5-0 capitulation against Barnsley that Lee Clark needed to be dismissed as a matter of urgency and that we were in serious danger of going down; with the awful financial implications of such a turn of events, we couldn’t afford not to sack him.

What has transpired since (a dismal return of 15 points from the 16 games played since that nadir) has only served to demonstrate how poor a job he is doing in what is hardly a vintage league. The only positive thing one can say is that there have been no further 5-0 defeats, although the defending has continued to be abysmal.

We were promised so much more this season. With a half decent squad at our disposal, particular in comparison to the poor standard of much of the opposition, even those of us not prone to hyperbole assumed that Blues would be at least be challenging for a play-off berth. Most of the pre-season predictions had us in the promotion pack, and quite reasonably, when our record the previous season was taken into account and the squad we were starting the season with was arguably stronger than the one we had at our disposal last time out.

While clearly there are extenuating circumstances (a raft of injuries, chronic uncertainty off the pitch) Clark has demonstrably failed to galvanize the team, and unlike Chris Hughton last season, seems incapable of producing decent results in challenging circumstances. I think a few points are of relevance here:

  • Hughton had to deal with a squad that had been totally eviscerated after relegation, the ever-present threat of further player sales, and the additional demands of a European campaign and yet still led us to fourth. Clark on the other hand has not had a fortune to spend but has not had to rebuild the team completely. He inherited a team that the previous season had been one of the most exciting in the division and of those that remain (i.e. most of them), to a man they are playing far worse than they did last year (with the possible exceptions of Marlon King and Nikola Zigic)
  • Clark has failed pitifully to spend what money he has had. The signing of (and persistence with) the useless Hayden Mullins has to go down as one of the most inexplicable in the history of the club (with some astonishingly awful competition for that honour over the years) and other players like Darren Ambrose (who we paid a fee for) and Peter Lovenkrands have done nothing. (To be frank, if the only piece of evidence I had in my case against Clark was the signing of Mullins, I would have enough to rest my case…….)
  • The frequency of us having to try (and often fail) to come from several goals down after appalling opening periods is now a firmly-established pattern, and the fault for that must surely lie squarely at the door of Clark and the way he is setting the team up. It is happening far too often to be a coincidence.
  • Reading the Blues’ forums and blogs one can still find a vocal section of the fanbase firmly behind Lee Clark, who they think is doing a decent job in difficult circumstances. If he had money to spend and better players to work with then things would be different, we are told. Interestingly of course, Lee Clark has been in that position previously, at his last club, Huddersfield Town, where he had the biggest budget in League One and could call upon the services of the best forward in the league at the time, Jordan Rhodes. He failed to get them up and was eventually dismissed as the board came to realise that he was taking them nowhere. His replacement, Simon Grayson, not exactly a modern-day Brian Clough himself, led them to promotion at the first time of asking with the team that Clark had been given such lavish funds to assemble.

Huddersfield had seen through Clark and had realised he was a blustering, incompetent, tactically inept jackass. I wonder how long it will take my beloved Blues fans to realise the same. I defy any Blues fan to provide me with a single piece of evidence to suggest that Clark would have us challenging at the top if circumstances were different. We’ve seen his previous record and what he has done at St Andrews so far and there is no indication he has a plan to get us out of this mess. One of the first tasks of any new owners would be to sack him.

An endless diet of mediocrity is nothing new in the history of BCFC, but there has been something soul-destroying about this season. Tempers are getting frayed and my understanding is that the atmosphere at home matches has often been quite poisonous. Many feel compelled to make their displeasure felt, whilst others feel that we should turn up every home match in our droves, hand over our money and “ just get behind the team and the manager”, as if the roar of the crowd is simply the difference between success and failure. They also seem to think that the only people entitled to a view are ‘the real fans’, and by ‘real’ they mean those with the time and money to go and watch them every other weekend. What’s more, some of them think that things are actually going quite swimmingly at the moment. Here’s a good example from a comments thread on the premier Blues blog, Often Partisan:

How many of you on here went today?

But for 10 minutes in the second half we were all over Burnley but in the end gave em 2 goals. After scoring the opener (which as Dan said was a result of a sublime Hall cross) Davies let their player in for the equaliser than gave away the free kick which was slotted away beautifully. In that weather with all the kids and once again a ref who gave us nothing it was a great effort. Lots of great performances out there but I was impressed with Zigic who led from the front and gave the kids someone to look up to.

Loved it. Can’t wait for Barnsley and Bolton away.

So, blame the ref, check. Blame the weather, check. Blame the kids, check. Blame the rest of us for not paying £30+ plus, check.

And another:

There is far too much negativity, last season everyone was saying Reading were going to be relegated around this time, but they managed to win 17 out of 23 games. Now I’m not saying Blues will be able to accomplish such a feat (unless there is a takeover sorted and LC is given significant investment to play with by mid-January.) But it shows that teams can turn a season round (David Moyes has done it year after year at Everton with very little funding) and I don’t see why once Marlon and Keith are back Blues can’t make the top half of the table by the end of the season and in my eyes that would be a step in the right direction for now. Fans just need to get behind the players and the manager, no board members are at the games so there isn’t much point in directing negativity at them. LC may not be getting great results at the moment but he has still got a certain spirit distilled in the players for us to comeback in so many games, it’s just a shame that so often we have had to go behind before we start playing. Can anybody honestly say CH would be doing a better job than LC right now because with the current situation I couldn’t see Sir Alex or old Arsene doing a better job down at St Andrews.

I can honestly say that Hughton would be doing a better job than Clark. My evidence? Last season. To repeat, Hughton was working in unbelievably difficult circumstances and still managed to get us playing well. Clark has taken us backwards. We do not need to ‘just get behind the manager’. We just need to get rid of him, as the only place he will take us is down and no amount of thoughtless, boundless enthusiasm can cover the fact that he is shit.

I have to confess to getting a little exasperated at all this brainless super-optimism and holier-than-thou posturing. Firstly, it is childish naiveté to think that we are not in a relegation battle as I’ve already amply demonstrated. Secondly, I am a busy man and am not prepared to spend a large proportion of my disposable income (and free time) paying hugely over the odds to watch a team led by an incompetent dunce and then cheering him and his badly-led charges on as if they are the best thing since sliced bread, and will not be made to feel guilty for refusing to do so.

One of the smug delusions of many Blues fans is that we are not like our ghastly colleagues over at Villa Park. We don’t make a big scene when things aren’t going well, ‘turn on our own’ and we don’t get nasty when the club appoint a manager not to our liking, as they did when they kindly took Alex McLeish off our hands 18 months ago.

But what is commonly seen as a vice at Aston Villa is actually a virtue.

They expect better and have a lower tolerance threshold for mediocrity.

We should expect better too.

If the owners want a good price for the club then they must surely know that a team in League One (whether it is next season or the one after….) is worth rather less than a Championship one. In which case, they need to take the short-term hit and get rid of Lee Clark now.

A few thoughts on the travails of Aston Villa

Just before the start of this season Robbie Iscariot Savage caused a bit of a stir in the media when he predicted that Aston Villa would be relegated. It was a typically provocative act by a mercenary tosspot man not well-disposed to the club, and the feeling was reciprocated, naturally. Villa fans and blogs were outraged at comments being uttered by a former player of the hated Birmingham City.

Now, while it is also worth pointing out that Savage, the Welsh Benedict Arnold, is even less popular amongst Blues fans for his jaw-dropping act of treacherous avarice, the reaction was as angry as it was for reasons other than his time at Blues.

It rankled as it was not an unwise prediction and had touched a raw nerve. There was good reason at the time to think that Villa would struggle this campaign. Our own DC, capable of rather more astute analysis than Savage, commented just before the start of the season:

Inheriting a squad short on depth and woefully lacking in quality, Lambert has added only Eredivisie journeymen and a League 1 full-back to the mix…….. (they’ll finish) Lower-mid-table if Lambert is all he is alleged to be but will be in for a relegation scrap if he is merely a good manager.

And following Villa’s fairly dismal 1-1 draw at home to relegation rivals Norwich City on Saturday, it is starting to look like DC has once again been vindicated and Robbie Savage may, probably inadvertently, have also hit on something.  Villa have accrued a pitiful 6 points from nine games, their worst start in many a year. And as I’m sure I don’t need to point out to you, a failure to improve significantly on that form in short order spells the dreaded drop.

How did it come to this?

When boyhood Villa fan Randy Lerner took over just 6 years ago, hopes were high that the club would re-take their place amongst the game’s elite. And yet now, they are in arguably worse shape than in the last years of Doug Ellis’ reign, and fans are quite reasonably calling for Lerner to go.

What has happened at the Villa in recent years is a troubling reminder of what awaits clubs who spend big and fall just short. Put simply, the three sixth place finishes of Martin O’Neill’s tenure weren’t quite good enough, and largely because that number 6 was never a 4.

DC has also dwelt at some length on Martin O’Neill’s failings, so I won’t re-tread old ground, other than to say that vast sums were squandered and with the benefit of hindsight his approach to tactics and team selection was somewhat hidebound.

And when O’Neill’s reign petered out, it became clear that Lerner didn’t want to play anymore. He no longer harbours ambitions of making Villa a regular top four club. The wage bill has been slashed and successive managers have been appointed that point to a less ambitious approach. Although hard to imagine now, at the time O’Neill’s appointment at the fag-end of Ellis’ tenure, coupled with Lerner’s takeover, marked a serious commitment to breaking into the elite. O’Neill’s successors of course have been even less inspiring.

Gerard “I don’t mind losing 3-0 to Liverpool” Houllier never really had time to show that he was up to it but I doubt he would have anyway, even without his dicky ticker.

Alex McLeish’s accession to Villa throne appeared to be simply an act of stubborn bloody-mindedness by an owner worried that he was looking weak in the face of fan protests. McLeish presided over a listless, spineless, soul-destroying campaign that had it been replicated in previous years would have seen Villa relegated. I’m sure Villa fans are uneasy being reminded that last season McLeish garnered fewer points than the previous season, when he was managing Blues, and took us down (and I’m pretty sure it’s Mcleish’s dismal record of two relegations in three years that prompted the wave of fan anger at Villa Park, not that he was managing Birmingham City……..)

Paul Lambert has a far more impressive CV admittedly, but the results and performances have been so poor thus far that the sheen has long since come off, and already some Villa fans are wondering aloud if he is up to it.  I think it’s a little premature to be talking in those terms, but then I haven’t watched them much this season so can’t attest to exactly how poor they’ve been.

Now to a degree this lack of ambition is perfectly explicable. Despite Lerner’s obscene wealth, he knows that he can’t compete with the spending power of Chelsea and Man City, and the club cannot generate the kind of revenue that Man United, Liverpool, Arsenal and possibly even Newcastle can, and has cut his cloth accordingly. In a previous generation a man like Lerner could have bought success, but that is no longer the case, and in an ideal world I’m sure he now wants out.

The problem is that his lack of commitment spells serious trouble for the club. Players have been sold and the cheaper replacements have been sub-standard, and almost inevitably that means a slow decline and eventual relegation. Whilst I don’t think James Milner, Stewart Downing, Gareth Barry and Ashley Young are world beaters, not by a long stretch in some cases, the players that have been brought in after their departures have been even worse. Amongst others, Stephen Ireland has been unfathomably poor, Jean Makoun was (predictably) desperate and Charles N’Zogbia is a second-rater, frankly.

Promising but raw academy players have been promoted largely because there is little alternative, and as already pointed out Lambert’s signings this summer are those of a manager who knows he can’t seriously compete in the transfer market. Limited triers would seem a good summary (and one struggles to see the rationale for leaving Norwich when he appears to be signing exactly the kind of players he would have brought in there…….) There is also an increasingly pervasive sense though that Lambert prefers working with players without flair but who put in a shift in, a la O’Neill. It’s a slightly small-time mentality, not really befitting a club of Villa’s stature and previous accomplishments. Hard graft can only take you so far in football.

So Villa are in a bit of a bind. On the one hand their fans quite reasonably place them amongst the biggest clubs in the country, but on the other the owner seems happy for them to tread water.

The only problem with treading water is that unless you start swimming at some point, eventually you’ll drown.

Lee Clark still needs to be sacked

It’s interesting how quickly things can change in football. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece on these very pages arguing that Lee Clark needed to be dismissed as manager of Birmingham City as a matter of urgency. I think I presented a rather good case, even if I say so myself.

However I think it’s also worth pointing out that mine was a minority viewpoint at the time. I felt pretty sure that events would vindicate me however. I wouldn’t consider myself a football authority in the same league as our peerless DC (and I can’t wait for his piece on Dinamo Zagreb so fucking well get on it with son), but I can spot a managerial turkey a mile off.

And so it has proved.

Another, disjointed, largely listless performance at home to a palpably superior (although not on paper, it is very important to add) Huddersfield side (Lee Clark’s former club) has led to the voices calling for Clark’s removal growing louder and more numerous. Many who argued that he should be ‘given time’ are now seeing that more time is simply giving ourselves less time to turn it round when he Clark is eventually given his marching orders.

I simply do not believe he has the wherewithal to turn it around, regardless of whether the media reports arguing there is unrest in the camp (link) turn out to be nonsense (and considering they emanate from the Daily Star, there is a rather more than even chance that they are utter bollocks)

Many were also arguing not so long ago that it was impossible for him to be given the heave-ho considering the parlous state of the club’s finances. As someone else once sagely remarked however, things are often impossible, until they suddenly become inevitable.

It’s interesting how quickly things can change in football. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece on these very pages arguing that Lee Clark needed to be dismissed as manager of Birmingham City as a matter of urgency. I think I presented a rather good case, even if I say so myself.

However I think it’s also worth pointing out that mine was a minority viewpoint at the time. I felt pretty sure that events would vindicate me however. I wouldn’t consider myself a football authority in the same league as our peerless DC (and I can’t wait for his piece on Dinamo Zagreb so fucking well get on it with son), but I can spot a managerial turkey a mile off.

And so it has proved. There is no evidence of the much-promised improvement.

A disjointed, largely listless performance at home to a palpably superior (although not on paper, it is very important to add) Huddersfield side (Lee Clark’s former club) has led to the voices calling for Clark’s removal growing louder and more numerous. Many who argued that he should be ‘given time’ are now seeing that more time is simply giving ourselves less time to turn it round when Clark is eventually given his marching orders.

I simply do not believe he has the wherewithal to turn it around, regardless of whether the media reports arguing there is unrest in the camp turn out to be nonsense (and considering they emanate from the Daily Star, there is a rather more than even chance that they are utter bollocks)

Many were arguing on the various Blues discussion boards and forums not so long ago that it was impossible for him to be given the heave-ho considering the parlous state of the club’s finances. Paying him off would be prohibitively expensive. As someone else once sagely remarked however, things are often impossible, until they suddenly become inevitable.

These arguments are still being made but are getting less and less convincing as every defeat game passes and the people making them sound less and less sure of themselves. It may be a statement of the obvious but if Clark continues to preside over defeat after defeat, he will surely be dismissed come what may. Ergo, the arguments regarding the cost of paying him off irrelevant. The only debate is how bad it will need to get before Clark is shown the door. I think we reached that point several weeks ago.  

Personally I am fast coming to the conclusion (not that I consider it any great insight) that Lee Clark’s clueless bumbling will get us relegated if he is retained for several more months. And considering the owners are clearly desperate to sell, one would assume that they would know the effect of another relegation on the club’s value.  

That is not to say that I am necessarily convinced that Lee Clark will be sacked soon. I have no idea what is going on in the minds of the people running BCFC. However I simply cannot believe that too many more home defeats will be tolerated.

It may seem to be slightly hyperbolic to be arguing we are already in a relegation dogfight so early in the season, and its not as if the writers on these hallowed pages are immune to over-stating their case somewhat, but on this occasion I think I speak the unalloyed truth. Blues have been desperately poor all season, and at the time of writing this piece we lie one place above the relegation zone. Combined with the ever-receding likelihood of an upturn in performances and fortunes under Lee Clark, our status in the second tier is under serious threat.

Of course not everyone sees it that way. There are a couple of other arguments are used by Clark’s ‘defenders’, aside from the ‘can’t afford to sack him’ line:

  • Clark is operating under incredibly difficult circumstances with regard to the uncertainty and much-documented financial problems at the club. In truth he is. But so was Chris Hughton and I would argue that he Clark has had far more latitude in the transfer market than his predecessor, who in many respects was building a new team entirely from scratch. I don’t accept that off-the-field uncertainty necessarily impacts upon performances on the pitch. Again, there were plenty of bad headlines around the club last season and it had no discernible effect on how we played.

I am firmly of the view that the squad currently at Clark’s disposal (even accepting a few injuries) is capable of sustaining a promotion challenge with the right leadership. We still have one of the better teams in The Championship and certainly have enough goals in us to win more than we lose.

  • The injury crisis. Undoubtedly, Blues haven’t had a lot of luck with players getting injured, especially Paul Caddis who was looking pretty handy until he did his shoulder in. However, Clark has been allowed to sign four defenders on loan (plus Mullins permanently, who supposedly can play at full-back……) and has a couple of promising youngsters that could be thrown in. It’s very telling that he already has no confidence in one of his own loan signings, Chelsea’s Ben Gordon. Ultimately a good manager adapts and comes up with something, however imperfect.

Other Clark signings have either bombed (Darren Ambrose) or he refuses to select them (Ravel Morrison). Players who were exceptional last season have been a shadow of their former selves (Chris Burke, Marlon King, Curtis Davies).  

  • Probably the most serious argument is around who we would replace Clark with. Could we really hope to get anyone better? There are not a large number of British managers that spring to mind, I would agree. However I do not believe there is no one, anywhere in the world right now available to us that could do a better job than Clark and his backroom team. I would rather take a risk with a foreign coach or a relatively inexperienced one from the lower leagues with a few new ideas and a less Neanderthal tactical approach. A progressive, forward-thinking recruitment process could surely throw up one or two promising names who would be willing to accept the club’s problems in return for managing a team capable of at least challenging for top flight football. We are still a big club.

We are not too big to go down however.  

Time for Lee Clark to go

Today I could write a philosophical piece. Something about Libya or the Lib Dem Conference. My slight suspicion that the local paper only ran with John Hemming’s refusal to join Nick Clegg in apologising for his party’s tuition fee pledge after I had put something on the Mambo about it.

But instead, being a self-indulgent sort, I want to dwell on football, and specifically Birmingham City’s capitulation against Barnsley on Saturday evening. A result and performance that angered me greatly.

As a Blues fan, you get used to losing and disappointment. In fact, the comparative success of the last few years have gone against the grain and the current crises at the club are in some respects merely a case of normal service being resumed. And the club that tore us a new arsehole the other night have previous when it comes to Blues:

 

A formative day in the football education of a Junior Mambo. I swore that day that I would never pay to watch a football match again. Naturally it was a fit of pique, and one that toughened me up.

But despite the club’s lack of glamour and distinct propensity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, there has been one trait that has defined our history. We do not go down without a fight.

That trait wasn’t much in evidence at the weekend. To lose in that fashion, and against opponents so undistinguished, represents one of the worst nights in the modern history of the club. A nadir.

Credit to Barnsley however. They played wonderfully, were well-organised and the scoreline flattered us and not them. They should be congratulated on an excellent night’s work, in particular their 4-goal hero Craig Davies, who ironically is a Blues fan.

However their away form prior to this game was played three, lost three and conceded 10. Their wage bill is a fraction of ours despite our well-known financial problems. Very few of their players would get in the Blues team.

Blues were complete shite. Defensively we were as poor as I can remember. We were second to every ball. Barnsley cut us open at will. Clark’s tactics and selection were abysmal. Too many players were left on the bench who simply should have started with no indication given why they did not. I am unclear why we have signed Ravel Morrison if we refuse to play him. He may be a sociopath, but he has shown even in his cameo appearances that he is the most naturally gifted player in the squad (although admittedly that isn’t saying a lot). He should be playing.

DC remarked to me when we first signed Hayden Mullins that he had “no idea what he was actually for”. A fair question, after another appearance where the wisdom in signing a 33 year old who was a pile of shit even in his prime has to be seriously questioned.

As I listened to a fans phone-in afterwards, I reflected on some of the wider issues for the club that this evisceration raised.

To my mind the result confirmed that Lee Clark needs to be dismissed. This performance was no aberration and the “turned corner” of the last couple of weeks is a chimera. We have been dreadful ever since he was appointed. He has taken a squad that produced some of the most exhilarating performances in the club’s history last season and turned them into a gang of strangers who appear to have been given instructions to smash it down the channels and hope for the best. His decision-making is rash and simultaneously horribly conservative, which contrasts starkly to the sure-footed, calm, incisive and intelligent tactical, selection and transfer market choices of his predecessor, Chris Hughton.

Much has been made of the club’s much-documented off-field problems/ownership issues and how they are a contributory factor to the problems on the pitch. To be honest I don’t buy it. We have better players than Barnsley even after the mass exodus of the last couple of years. We were at home. We should not be losing, at least not like that.

Hughton was working under the same financial constraints last season and arguably Clark has had more scope in the market to bring in players like Morrison, Paul Caddis and Leroy Lita as well as paying a fee for the hitherto anonymous Darren Ambrose. And this season we don’t have the gruelling distraction of a European campaign to stretch the squad still further.

We may only be six games in but as far as I can see the die has already been cast. Clark is out of his depth and there is no indication whatsoever that he can turn it around. None. No indication of a plan. No response from him other than incoherent clichés, crude management psycho-babble and empty promises that he will re-double his and the players efforts. Nobody doubts that Clark is trying his best right now. That’s the problem………

I’ve never bought into “the manager needs time” mantra. You know pretty quickly if they are going to turn it around and giving a donkey more time is only delaying the inevitable, and risking the future of the club. It was apparent early last season, despite some indifferent results in the first few league games, that we had a manager who knew what he was doing. It is already apparent that we have one now who doesn’t know what he is doing.

Clark’s previous record provides no hope that he has the capacity to turn this around. No one at Huddersfield would take back a manager who failed to get a club with the biggest budget out of League One. That was his first and only managerial role before Birmingham. This isn’t Alex Ferguson at Man United.

It’s also been argued elsewhere that Blues cannot afford to sack Clark. To this I would respond with a couple of questions:

  • Will Lee Clark still be in a job if we lose our next 5 games 5-0? Answer: no. He will be sacked come what may and the finances will not come into it, and we all know it.
  • It is not inconceivable at the moment that next season we will paying Nikola Zigic £60k a week in League One. At present we are the softest touch in the league, excepting Peterborough maybe. Can we really afford to allow that to happen, or would replacing the manager be cheaper in the long run?

His appointment was a mistake and he needs to be dismissed as a matter of urgency. We don’t need to ‘play the kids’ or start whacking our opponents harder. We need to replace the main source of our current problems on the pitch.

It isn’t too late to salvage this season.

Birmingham City Ladies win the FA Cup

Many congratulations are due to the Birmingham City Ladies team for triumphing in today’s FA cup final against Chelsea. The cockneys played pretty well and it took a penalty shootout to separate the two teams.

It’s the club’s first trophy in 44 years (sexual equality clearly exists when it comes to BCFC…….) and is richly deserved. The club faced meltdown less than a decade ago so it is quite some achievement .

It’s also a testament to all the hard work that chairman Steve Shipway has put in over the years in helping the club back from the brink. His unstinting efforts cannot be praised enough, and is quite a contrast to the shitbags that pollute the men’s game.

I mentioned this a few months ago but if we have one thing to be thankful for at Blues it is that Carson Yeung has actually backed the women’s team, unlike the parasitic mercenaries Brady, Gold and Sullivan, who weren’t interested as there was no money to be made from it. Cos that’s what football is about, obviously………..

Sadly the BBC didn’t show it on TV. I suppose the F1 qualifying was a far bigger priority and as Arsenal weren’t playing, in London, it wasn’t likely to get our media very interested.

The BBC’s scandalous indifference aside, it’s excellent news for BCLFC and for women’s football more generally. The grip that Arsenal have had over the women’s football in recent years has been suffocating the game and it’s good that someone else is capable of winning something (and challenging them).

It’s boring when the same team keeps winning all of the time.

Hopefully it’ll be the first trophy of many. But this is Birmingham City we’re talking about of course…….

In praise of Chris Hughton

If there is a god, this is what he’d look like

As a child I was warned by my world-weary father that my life as a Birmingham City fan would be one of constant disappointment. So our recent history of promotions, top division football and cup wins has maybe led me to being a little complacent. I’d nearly forgotten that play-off game at home to Barnsley 12 years ago where we lost 4-0 and I spent the rest of the week swearing blind that my relationship with Birmingham City Football Club was at an end. Period. I soon snapped out of it though.

So, like all Blues fans I was disappointed and not a little shocked that our club was deservedly knocked out of the play-offs by Blackpool, a team that has its merits but has hardly set the Championship alight this year. It was a somewhat anti-climactic end to what has been by all accounts an extraordinary season. However I wish Blackpool all the best in the final and sincerely hope that they beat, nay, thrash West Ham.

Yes reader. I did say it. Extraordinary. We have achieved so much in such difficult circumstances. And that is down to Chris Hughton. A modern day miracle worker. Jesus without the long hair.

We were all feeling nervous before the start of the season. The cup-winning squad had been eviscerated and what remained was a motley crew of kids, journeymen, free transfers and second-stringers from the previous season. It looked fairly bleak to be honest. Off the pitch the finances looked a mess and owner Carson Yeung faced tax evasion charges back in China. No one saw any further than mid-table safety as a realistic aim, and that would have come as a blessed relief.

Everyone thought that Hughton was a good appointment considering his sterling efforts at Newcastle. But our squad was palpably weaker than the Geordies during their time in the Championship and a repeat of their ruthless promotion campaign was never on the cards.

But we came close.

Hughton worked with what he had, with no complaints. He has been the epitome of quietly determined dignity and appears to have always accepted that there will be severe financial constraints. He took what remained of last year’s squad, the players who McLeish had brought in before he legged it across town, added a few low-cost recruits of his own and rapidly moulded it into an imperfect but at times scintillating unit.

Take David Murphy. After rotting in the reserves under McLeish, he was restored to the first team largely by default (i.e. we didn’t have anyone else) by Hughton and stepped up.

It was also immediately apparent that Hughton had a very different football philosophy to Alex McLeish. Mcleish sought to avoid defeat at all costs. Hughton wanted to attack. The first real inkling of that change in approach came in the 3-0 victory over Nacional in the Europa League play-offs. Hughton’s approach was perfect. A clean sheet in the away leg followed by a crushing victory at home saw us qualify for the group stages.

Relegation had rendered Blues European campaign as a meaningless distraction to many, and maybe it was. Maybe it cost us a crack at automatic promotion this season. But it was a fantastic distraction, and Blues gave it real go. Swatting aside a dreadful Nacional side may not have been an event of world-historical significance. But going to Brugge and winning, something that no English club, let alone a penniless second-tier outfit, has ever managed in a competitive fixture certainly was.

Domestically Hughton and the players achieved some superb results and led us to a highly creditable fourth place. A 4-1 victory over Leeds at Elland Road and a 6-0 win at Millwall are particular highlights. Hughton always got us to get the ball down and attack, and we were always highly entertaining. We conceded a fair few but normally our offensive play was enough to offset that weakness.

Hughton transformed a team of mediocrities into one of the most fluent and feared in the Championship, and that was some achievement. The players always looked like they were enjoying themselves and there were times where we completely out-played opposition that were on paper vastly superior. The first game of the Chelsea cup tie springs to mind.

It’s a shame that we fell just short but probably not that surprising. The number of games, the thinness of the squad and various bits of bad luck probably did for us in the end.

I’ve no idea if Chris Hughton will still be Birmingham manager next season. I’m sure there will be offers for him considering his seeming ability to transform sows ears into silk purses. If he goes, I can’t begrudge him the opportunity to test himself at a club in a higher league or with greater resources. I’m sure I speak for all Birmingham fans when I say that I hope he remains but he has my best wishes wherever he goes next.

And what next for Blues? Well the finances remain as murky as ever and clearly there won’t be scope for serious transfer activity in the summer. Nikola Zigic will be on £50k a week for another two years. Most of our high-value assets have already been sold and allowing players like Curtis Davies, Chris Burke, Nathan Redmond and Jordon Mutch to leave now would appear to be insanity, but I don’t think anyone knows what the summer holds.

We need new owners. I don’t think Yeung et al are trying to bleed us dry (he needs something of value to sell on) but the perpetual uncertainty and mystery is unsustainable.

It wouldn’t be Blues if it was simple though. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is what we do.

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