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St Andrews
  Birmingham City v Charlton Athletic
Championship League
Saturday August 18th, 2012, 3pm
By James Butler
(Charlton Athletic fan)

Having won league one last season at something of a canter I was looking forward to the new season back in the Championship with great anticipation. When the fixtures came out in June an opening day trip to Birmingham was too much to resist. I had never been to Birmingham, but Del Boy my companion had done the trip several times, although not since the dark days of the early eighties.

As usual we decided to go by coach, using excellent away day service organised by the club. Superb coaches which pick up at convenient points around the area from which Charlton draw their support. A 10am depart from Bexleyheath in South East London seemed very civilised. All went well until we reached the Newport Pagnell area of the M1. After crawling in a tail back caused by an accident for one hour, we stopped completely for another 30 minutes, were upon Addicks fans appeared from everywhere for an early season reunion on the M1 motorway. The traffic then crawled for another half an hour before we got going again, only for the coach driver to declare that he had to do his regulation 30min break at Watford Gap! As you can imagine this did not go down well. Still some light traffic on the M6 around Birmingham, a first, and some slick coach driving in town saw us arrived at St Andrews with 15 mins to spare.

Arriving so close to kick off we went straight in to ground without really taking in our surroundings or encountering any of the natives. The concourses behind the Gil Merrick stand, our position for the afternoon seemed very dark and cramped, but we were keen to get straight to our seats as the Charlton fans were already getting the atmosphere going.

The view from our seats was uninterrupted and from near the back of the stand more than adequate. I suspect that if we had intended to sit, which we did not, the leg room may have been little tight. The rest of the stadium was a pleasing mix of old and new. The home end and one side been of the new and rather identikit variety and the Main Stand a real throw back to days gone by. I would liked to have had a better view of the stand we were in as it seemed to be the most interesting.

The game itself was entertaining with both sides having their chances without overworking either keeper. Charlton certainly did not seem daunted by the step up in class and gave as good as they got against a team who reached the play offs last year and are tipped to do well this time around. However what surprised me the most was the almost library hush coming from the home end. Okay the Charlton faithful were right up for it, even more so than away contingents usually are the length and breadth of the country, but for most of the match and certainly the first half it was almost like a home game for the visitors. I had heard that the Blues home support was right up there with their normally fantastic away support, well those guys must still have been on their holidays. As the game wore on it looked as if  a 0-0 was on the cards, only for Leon Cort to score with eight minutes to go. This sent the away section in to understandable raptures. Very soon after Lee Clarke introduced Zigic for the last few moments. It seemed an obvious chuck the long ball to the big guy ploy. It worked, but not like that, he scored a well taken goal with his feet on 90mins +4. Gutting, but we would have taken 1-1 before the game so it was a case of “get over it” for the Charlton Fans.

The stewards were great before, during and after the game. One was shaking the hands of as many away fans as he could on entry, even sneaking a crafty kiss from one particularly attractive young lady. One sensible intervention was required to clear a block gang way. The only black note of the whole day occurred when Birmingham equalised. One throw back to the afore mentioned dark ages of the eighties decided he would celebrate by trying to spit across the gap between the two stands, a disgusting, if albeit futile gesture. Even given the goading the home fans had receive following the Charlton goal, did not justify this,  the rest of the home support just gave back what they had received, fair enough.

Clearly a hostile reception is a fairly regular thing at St Andrew judging by the excellent and well drilled police and Stewart operation after the game. The Charlton coaches and a number of cars were held for 20-30 mins in their own secure compound right outside the away turnstiles. I had read and heard that away coaches often  can get attacked, but this neither seemed likely or possible, indeed we received one or two friendly waves as we drove of out of town. I was  back home in doors by 8.30 that evening

Overall a great day out, I would defiantly go back, but would advise caution to any visiting fan. Not all the locals are as friendly in Birmingham as they are in London SE7.

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