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Birmingham Report

By: Tony Butcher
Date: 16/05/2001

A bright sunny day in old Birmingham Town with a breeze blowing through the open corner where the 250 or so Town fans were plonked. Not huggin' and a kissin' in the back row were three very C-list celebrities - Coldicott, Clare and Croudson.

No one invaded their personal space and they were left to ruminate amongst themselves.

Birmingham 1 Grimsby Town 0

The ground was full, apart from the little Town corner and the locals intermittently crooned morbidly for their team. The programme was plastered with "Fortress St Andrews - home to the team that plays with pride and passion" Well if they say it enough times they might end up believing it.

The pitch looked green and flat, but appearances can be deceptive. And why would Birmingham want a good pitch? That'd only help the opposition.

Town lined up in a Lennie special 4-3-1-2 formation as follows :- Coyne, McDermott, Groves, Raven, Gallimore, Pouton, Butterfield, Campbell, Donovan (hole), Livingstone and Cornwall. The substitutes were Hyldgaard, D Smith, Jeffrey, Willems and Mr K Black. So we even had a replacement hole on the bench in case Donovan got filled in. Butterfield "anchored" the centre of midfield with Pouton on the right and Campbell the left. Donovan fluttered around wherever he wanted.

1st half

At three minutes past three Town kicked off away from the Town supporters, with McDermott chipping the ball out for a goal kick within three seconds. So far, so normal. From the goal kick, Town won the ball back and played a slick one touch passing move up the right hand side involving Cornwall, Donovan and Livingstone, with Livvo as the rampaging right winger. Livvo tricked his way to the bye-line and clipped a low cross towards the near post. Cornwall sprinted in front of his marker and headed very wide from three or four yards to the right of the near post. Raised and appreciative eyebrows were exchanged in the knot of Townites, though not literally of course. It wasn't "Oooo" worthy, but interesting nonetheless.

A couple of minutes later Birmingham had their first effort on goal. A high ball was flicked on by Marcello from just outside the Town area, on the centre right, and Johnson ran between McDermott and Groves to a position about 10 yards wide of the goal and 6 or 7 yards in from the bye-line. He whacked a first time volley straight at Coyne who parried it away easily. Now there was a surprising Birmingham tactic - hit the high ball and hope the little fast player gets to the ball first. The corner was palmed away by Coyne from the middle of his 6-yard box to Campbell.

The excitement hadn't ended. After a few more minutes of frenetic Birmingham play and a blanket of Town calm, Town won a throw in on the right hand side about 25 yards out. It was lobbed forward and headed on by Livvo to Cornwall, who flicked the ball back and sideways for Donovan, who had run in a big arc into a big space on the right edge of the penalty area. Town's very own Superfly hit a first time rising shot which smacked against the crossbar and over for a goal kick. Now that was an "Oooo" worthy moment. And we duly "OOOOed". The Brummies were silent at this point.

At around this point a small section of Birmingham supporters decided that they would hurl an insult towards the relaxed Town supporters, something that would at once enrage and humiliate us into impotent silence. "You're just a small town near Scunthorpe". Mmmm. Geographically unchallengeable, though they didn't define the criteria for a small Town. It was generally agreed amongst the Town throng that medium sized would have been more accurate, but that wouldn't scan so well in the chant. Well, they are a large conurbation near Wolverhampton and a product of the Industrial revolution. And that would be a useless chant too.

Ah, back to the football. As the half wore on Birmingham forced Town back towards Coyne. The balls were long, with many a winding road that led to Coyne's goal. After 20 minutes or so they realised that Town didn't have anyone playing wide, and their full backs hugged the touchline and pushed up to the Town back line. Fortunately for Town, Birmingham doesn't have many decent footballers and space seemed to be a concept too far for them. Time to think, or to quote from Pipkins, the most annoying children's programme of the 70s, "Time……… kick the ball out". I see Trevor Francis as Octavia the Ostrich.

Well, Birmingham did have quite a lot of pressure and Town were a little fortunate at times. Purse headed high over the bar from about 8 yards out following a cross from the Town right, O'Connor slashed wildly wide and Woodhouse wildly high from outside the area. Just think of an inaccurate Pouton and you'll get the drift. Two or three crosses sailed majestically over everyone in the penalty box and a couple of shots were blocked by Raven's shins. Gallimore tried to head back to Coyne from outside the area, but underhit the ball. Fortunately Johnson wasn't paying enough attention and Coyne was able to rush out and collect the ball at Johnson's feet, right on the edge of the area. For the avoidance of any doubt this was Gallimore's only non-perfect contribution to the day. Read my lips "No new Galli-slips". Marcello controlled the ball just inside the Town penalty area, to the left of centre, flicked the ball over his head and volleyed 3 yards over the bar.

And then there were the handballs, beautifully crafted ones too. Raven stopped an attempt by Marcello (I think) to flick the ball past him by swatting the ball out of the area with his left hand. Howls and caterwauls from the morose Midlanders, hoots of laughter from the tiny Town throng. Towards the end of the half there was an even better, and more obvious, handball. A low diagonal cross was hit into the penalty area, about 15 yards out to the right f the Town goal. Gallimore (I don't know what he was doing over on the right, but he was) caught the ball, dropped it and booted it out. The Birmingham crowd went bananas, and who could blame them. By this time the Town supporters had collapsed in mirth. All sorts of theories were posited for the referee refusing to give the miserable self-styled bluenoses penalties. "It wasn't intentional", "look at the eyes, he wasn't looking at the ball". This, of course, is a theory with tankfuls of water held within in it. What was it that the Adverts sang " Looking through Tony Gallimore's eyes" - what would you see?

In the last five minutes of the half each side had one further opportunity. Livingstone skipped his way past his marker down the left hand side, again showing the dainty flicks and tricks you'd expect from a Gilbertian winger. He got to the bye-line and chipped a cross to the near post where Groves dived in front of a defender and headed very high and wide. In injury time Johnson again sprinted through a gap between Groves and McDermott to receive a flick on from a high ball. This time he was about 8 yards to the right of goal but very close to the bye line. He wellied the ball low to Coyne's right and the consistently yellow clad 'keeper parried the ball out for a corner.

And that was all the action in the first half, wild tackles excepted. Pouton was clobbered twice, once when he was literally volleyed from behind. Birmingham were not subtle, especially Sonner, though they moaned and moaned when the referee gave Town free kicks, and fell over easily themselves. As the players walked off Gallimore and Raven marched towards the corner where the Town supporters were. They obviously had forgotten where the changing rooms were (the other corner at our end of the pitch). They looked up to see 200 Grimbarians pointing to their left shouting "Over there, over there". Galli looked confused but followed our orders to the letter.

Generally a sound performance, with no one having a bad game, not even rocking Danny B. Raven was a revelation, winning everything in the air and not looking like someone who'd only played half a game this year. Quite honestly he was playing like Lever without the "moments". Livingstone (on the few occasions that Town played the ball forward) was looking subtle and lithe (dainty even) and Donovan was absolutely everywhere. One moment he was on the left, then he was the last man clearing a cross in the centre of defence. All very confusing for the experienced Donovan watcher. It was much better than last year's Keystone Cops meet Norman Wisdom debacle. Town looked organised and competent, nothing too exciting, but nothing embarrassing. It was like watching an upper mid-table team play a lower mid-table team.

There was much debate about handball - it was finally decided that Town would only concede a penalty if they caught the ball and then walked over and placed the ball on the penalty spot. Only at that point would the referee consider it likely that Town had handled the ball.

The half time entertainment was a bunch of people walking on the pitch to be given shirts. Jasper Carrot came on and (un)fortunately didn't tell any more "jokes". He clearly hasn't been forgiven for last year's. As the presentations were going on a dozen pre-teen girls ran around in the centre circle, without any music, arbitrarily exchanging places, like a cheap barn dance. Inevitably one of them ran the wrong way. Bit like the Birmingham team, really.

Stu's Toilet Talk - "Are we playing rush goalie?". "What's happened to Donovan - he's bothered". "How are they in the play-offs?" "Oh is that how you do it - one pulls, the other turns"

The report continues in the Second Half

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