St Andrews - Birmingham City
Saturday March 11th, 2006
V West Bromwich Albion, Premier League, 3pm
By Tim Joyner
I was looking forward to visiting St Andrews as it has always been one of my favourite grounds due to the “real” football atmosphere the home fans can create and the traditional football ground location in an area full of pubs, a mile or so from the city centre and of course Birmingham being a local rival.
I’ve visited St Andrews to support Albion about 6 times in the past, the ground is very easy to find for non locals by simply walking through the new Bull Ring shopping complex and following the crowds for the 20 minute walk to the ground, alternatively there are a number of buses that head in that direction but unless the weather is really bad it’s probably easier to walk it. There is a nearby station at Bordesley but trains only stop there on match days and are not that frequent and in addition they run from Birmingham's local stations at Snow Hill and Moor Street and not from New Street.
We travelled into Birmingham city centre on the train from Kidderminster which took about 40 minutes. Most Albion fans make their own way to this game although the club do run a number of official travel coaches. Before the match we visited a pub in Digbeth (on the main road from the Bull Ring in the direction of St Andrews) called The Kerry Man, a traditional Irish Bar, there were both Blues and Albion fans in the pub and no sign of any trouble although if you don’t know the area I would not advise going in any of the local bars outside the city centre en route to the ground in your club colours as this is a down market area really for locals only.
St Andrews has always been a medium size ground, similar in size to The Hawthorns, it’s close to residential housing and has little real initial impact in the approach, the entrance to the away section is easily found and is at the first part of the ground you arrive at. There is a reasonable amount of space underneath the away stand where you can buy food and drink including alcoholic drinks. You share the Railway stand with Blues fans who are to your left, separated by a no mans land of empty seats and a large number of stewards.
The game itself was a very lively local derby with a lot at stake as both clubs are in serious danger of relegation this season. It was noticeable how quiet the Birmingham supporters were and the old atmosphere they used to generate seemed to have all but gone, after saying that the other local teams, Albion and Villa are in the same boat as the gentrification of football, at least in the Premiership, takes over more and more. In addition the majority of Blues fans were probably expecting a top 10 finish this season not a down to the wire relegation struggle, Albion supporters being far more comfortable with pressure having not experienced a mid table finish for about 6 years now. It is interesting that Albion supporters have adopted the “Yam Yam” song, initially started by Blues fans as a mickey take at the Black Country accent. This is sung to the Dambusters theme while waving one’s arms like an aeroplane’s wings!!
After the game you leave via the same entrance straight onto the road back into Birmingham, while there is a police presence you do walk alongside the hundreds of Blues fans walking in the same direction. I have personally never encountered any problems in terms of aggression or hostility and quite a few Albion fans were wearing the team shirts and there were no signs of any problems, I think in general if you are sensible you’ll be fine.
From our perspective it was a good day out, in the West Midlands the Blues v Albion clash is about the nearest you’ll get to a friendly local derby with both clubs sharing a longstanding traditional football rivalry with Aston Villa and for the most part the supporters being resident in different parts of the West Midlands region. An easy trip and a good performance that really merited 3 points rather than the 1 we ended up with. For the traditional football experience I would always recommend a trip to St Andrews.
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