Saturday, August 27, 2011

Blues in Europe

Our week away neatly coincided with Blues' first foray into Europe in 50 years. On Thursday 18th our ramshackle squad travelled to the island of Madeira for the first leg of a play-off match with FC Nacional of Portugal's top flight. We drew 0-0, but in typical Blues fashion hit the woodwork three times and should have come away with a priceless away goal or two.

And so to this Thursday night just gone. As to be expected with Blues fans, we dampened down our enthusiasm, despite the fact the game was a sell out. We'd go out on penalties, or battle to a gallant score draw, which would see FC Nacional progress to the group stages on the away goals rule.

What tosh. When St Andrews is full for a night cup game, our fans give a tantalising glimpse of just how powerful they can be. Put simply, we overwhelmed Nacional with consummate ease, 3-0. It could - and should - have been four or five. We played wonderful football - the silver lining of our current stormy cloud - and the crowd lapped it up. Our threadbare squad, so stretched that five of the seven substitute slots were reserved for academy kids, soaked up the crowd and turned on a display to eclipse that glorious night back in January when we beat West Ham 3-1 to make the Carling Cup Final.

Sober fact is we have probably blown any faint hopes of promotion by progressing to the group stage of the Europa League. Six extra games mean no less than four Championship matches will need to be rescheduled and our squad is stretched so paper thin it'll snap at any point.

But it's not about promotion. Not any more. You see, while Neil Warnock says he's happy to be out of the Carling Cup after QPR lost 2-0 at home to Rochdale, you sense that he's missed the point. Football is escapism, it's supposed to be fun, and while financial stormy clouds gather around St Andrews, do you think we care? We're going on a European tour, a tour that means the Carling Cup win isn't just an isolated bright spark in the unremitting gloom of following Birmingham City FC. A whole new generation of Blues fans will get to visit foreign stadia in Belgium, Portugal and Slovenia, while St Andrews will hopefully be packed to the rafters for three more night matches as Blues strive to build on a proud unbeaten European home record that now stretches to 13 games (11 wins), a legacy of our reaching two Fairs Cup finals in the late 50s and early 60s. It may be decades before we ever get this opportunity again.

You never know, the TV companies may even lower themselves to show us in Europe. Think cup football (outside of the Champions League) is dead? You should have been at St Andrews on Thursday night - shame the TV cameras weren't. All together now, "We are Europa League, say we are Europa League..."

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