Intriguing stuff at the bottom of the Championship (football’s second tier in England and Wales). Rotherham United are already down; the second bottom Wigan Athletic must win tomorrow (away, against Reading) and next week to stand any chance of survival while Blackburn Rovers – once the winners of the Premier League back in the mid-1990s – are currently in the last danger zone.
Blackburn play host to Aston Villa tomorrow, whose bitter local rivals, Birmingham City, are one of the teams most threatened by relegation, if Blackburn and Wigan somehow revive from their comas. Birmingham are at home against third place Huddersfield Town but that’s a third place that they can no longer better so Huddersfield might be playing with cigars now as the play-offs are their next destination. I wonder what’s going through the minds of the Villa fans: those traveling to Blackburn and those keeping across the game on the radio? Villa cannot go up and they cannot go down….but they can certainly make Birmingham and new manager, Harry Redknapp, do that thing of pulling their collar away from their throat with their index finger if they lost the game.
As a Bristol City supporter, if it was City in Villa’s position and we could damage Bristol Rovers by losing, I’d go to Blackburn and be tempted to ‘test the water’ by singing for Blackburn…and I’m sure that Bristol Rovers fans would feel the same. Crikey, if this was widespread among Villa fans, you’d have the whole of Blackburn’s ‘Ewood Park’ all giving Blackburn their verbal backing tomorrow. The media would have smoke coming out of their ears and would run around in circles if they detected such a fan reaction. Which would make the idea all the more funny. Also, if a club was going to ‘text it in’ themselves, could the authorities make a charge ‘stick’ any longer, along these lines?
They used to fine clubs for not trying during FA Cup games but the naming of the squad, and playing anyone from that squad, at the start of the season has stopped all that. Sometimes, you can see your side literally not try and consequently the club can offer refunds to those who traveled, like those who saw Bristol City get hammered 5-0 up at Preston. Players, too, just individually look like they’re almost ‘making a phone’ with their little finger and index finger as they phone it in: at the end of the season; or have a transfer due; or whatever: very hard to make a charge stick when this behaviour is so prevalent and when Villa have nothing ostensibly to gain.
What if Birmingham don’t win tomorrow nor on their last game at Bristol City yet stay up because Blackburn couldn’t put anything together? Harry Redknapp, Birmingham’s new boss, made great play of not taking any money in helping Birmingham in their hour of need but he’ll certainly accept the £250,000 bonus for keeping Birmingham in the Championship, even if they lose all three games under his tenure and he, in effect, earns quarter of a million pounds for four and a half hours of game time. Like minding a shop on a nightshift and not seeing a living soul; not making any positive contribution, but still getting a huge amount of money. Still, it’s all on Birmingham’s plate, this mess. They fired Gary Rowett when seventh, thinking that they should be doing better, and they’ve been in freefall ever since.
I’m going to be seeing their (possibly) crunch game as I’m a season ticket holder at Bristol City. From what I can glean, the poor Birmingham City fans are so utterly exasperated at the way that their club’s running, many are of much of a mind that they deserve to go down: ‘serves us right’. That might slightly change for a while during the game a week on Sunday, so sorry, in advance, for my hearty singing of “Going down!” while pointing and for the chants and songs against the Birmingham boss. Although the Bristol City fans will be somewhat fleet-of-foot because the current Birmingham City assistant is ex-Bristol City boss, Steve Cotterill.
He’s still beloved here, even by those fans who, shamefully and disgracefully, wanted him gone after our first season in the Championship wasn’t working out too well. Even if we had gone down last season my guess would be that Cotterill’s City would be bouncing back up into the Championship right now, only stronger. Cotterill turned a total shambles of a club into winners of the League One title and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in one season and he got let go. For shame. He still lives in the Bristol area. I’d be all for him returning to his old job one day.
It all might be moot, though. If Blackburn don’t win while Birmingham do tomorrow, that’ll be that. Or a Birmingham defeat would still leave it down to Blackburn having to win their last game. One reason why Villa will certainly not lie down is that it might be even more of something to hold over the heads of the blues and remind them every chance they get of the time that Birmingham went into total shambles and chaos and lost their last three games of the season but still stayed up because Blackburn couldn’t win either of their last two matches: that Villa helped Birmingham stay up. And that would be a horribly bitter pill.