By Chris Brown @vivabrownie @TLE_Sport
Springfield. The time is 4.30am. A clear, crisp, purple-black sky plays backdrop to a multitude of glistening stars arranged in their numerous constellations. The residents of the famous cartoon town sleep, unperturbed, save for two of its better known characters – Principal Skinner and Bart Simpson – who are conducting various exercises relating to amateur astronomy in the grounds outside the Springfield Elementary School.
This is ‘Bart’s Comet’, an episode wedged firmly in the middle of The Simpsons’ golden era. In the show, Bart inadvertently discovers a new comet while messing around with the telescope as Principal Skinner chases an unflattering weather balloon passing nearby. Unfortunately for Bart, his comet is on a collision course with Springfield and will wipe out all life [including Moe’s bar] in an apocalyptic nightmarish scenario of destruction.
The episode winds down to an end when the comet burns up and disintegrates in the thick layer of Springfield’s air pollution.
The town is saved from annihilation.
Moe stands in the thick of the mob and shouts: “Let’s go burn down the observatory so this will never happen again.”
The crowd then finally march off towards the building of science carrying their flaming torches and pitchforks.
For me, that is a brilliant, brilliant sentiment and sums up not only the irrational anger of the mob, but it’s also entirely applicable to football fans when acting as a collective.
The observatory is scapegoated by the residents of Springfield just because of its association with the comet. It has no direct influence on the comet’s impact, but the mob’s need for a scapegoat, for a sacrifice, overpowers rational behaviour.
There’s an argument that if Springfield is Birmingham and Carson Yeung is the comet, by sacking Lee Clark we’ve just burnt down the observatory.
Sure, it might feel gratifying. It’s quite exciting to see who will replace him. Brummie Moe and friends have satisfied their lust to destroy a scapegoat, but the Carson Yeung/BIH comet is still intact, lingering ominously in the sky, ready to crash into the next Birmingham manager brave enough to pick up the bat.
To be clear, I’m not and have never been a Lee Clark fan. It’s extremely easy for neutrals to look at Birmingham and determine the simplistic formula of ‘no money + dodgy owners + mass player sales + keeping them in the Championship last year = Clark’s done a good job’.
I understand that will be the prevailing thought amongst neutrals who don’t really pay much attention to our fortunes. However on closer inspection the analysis of Clark’s reign is damning. In over three seasons at the club, Clark ended his time at Birmingham with a 28% win ratio. In other words, 72% of the time Birmingham matches ended in either a draw or defeat – that’s bleak no matter how you dress it.
Another stat – over the last two seasons the Blues have won just three home games.
Just ponder that for a moment. Three home games in two seasons, or on average 1.5 home wins per season. Imagine being a season ticket holder forking out in excess of £400 to get that type of return.
The hilarious and also tragic aspect of the home record phenomenon is that last season’s final home win came on the 1st of October. So there were people who sat at St Andrews from the start of October until May and didn’t see a win.
In the few games I attended last season the ground was an empty shell of the cauldron it had once resembled in the early 2000s. There were just scores of old men, sitting forlorn amidst a sea of blue seats, looking shell-shocked, like demented Vietnam veterans rendered inert with pity and madness. They were staring into space, listless, as the likes of Yeovil Town knocked the ball around with flicks and tricks to the joyous ‘olés’ of the traveling 250 cider drinkers in the away corner.
The club was dying.
Lee Clark would react by totally ripping up the team sheet from one week to the next, begetting zero consistency or stability in the side. Players like Brian Howard would be hurriedly brought in, mostly on loan, make a couple of appearances and then disappear back to the salt mines in Siberia never to be seen again, with no explanation.
Clark would face the post-match cameras and strop like a moody schoolboy who’s had his Pogs confiscated. The days that followed the ignominious defeats would see Clark embarrass himself in the local media by making crazy macho remarks about growing up in the ghetto of East Newcastle, fighting for his Christmas presents but then the next day he’d come across as a troubled figure who admitted to being ashamed to leave the house when Birmingham lost [which was every other week], and he’d lock himself inside for days, alone with his thoughts.
Nobody could doubt the sincerity of the man, or his work rate, or his commitment to the cause. He always spoke about the club in lofty terms and rarely bemoaned his situation, but the haphazard team selections; the Tourette’s-style sacking of Terry McDermott and his back room staff; the horrifying home form; the rumours of training ground bust ups and the general lack of controlled leadership always gave the impression that Clark was merely delaying the hangman’s noose.
The reason I used the Simpsons’ metaphor about the baying mob burning down the observatory wasn’t to absolve Clark of any responsibility, but to highlight what I believe has been the bigger problem at Birmingham – that of the fans’ myopic fixation with the manager.
Yes Clark was pretty poor, as has been stated, but the focus with his sacking has allowed the real culprits of our outrageous demise to avoid intense criticism.
Perhaps, like a comet, the distanced, mystical and intangible nature of BIH has helped them stay in the shadows, whereas Clark was there available to attack, in front of the cameras, on the radio, in the papers. If we couldn’t smash the comet, we’ll smash the observatory.
But the problem persists.
And while some elements of Birmingham’s support argue that a decent manager could work with Birmingham’s meagre resources, young playing squad and produce greater results than a 28% winning ratio and three home wins in two seasons – I doubt the improvement will be markedly better, [although I’m happy to be proven wrong].
Let’s be blunt, under Clark we were 21st in the division, under a better coach we’ll probably move up to 15th. Hardly inspiring stuff.
Yes, a decent coach may be the difference between staying up and going down, but if staying up means that that BIH continue to hold onto the club, and this lifeless existence of floating around in the ghost-lands of the lower Championship while all our youth products get prised away by Stoke, Cardiff and Crystal Palace – is it worth it?
A question for another time perhaps.
Clark has barely finished his Bovril and the replacements are being mooted on the Birmingham forums. Burton’s Gary Rowett has emerged as the favourite to take over, and of this I am torn.
Growing up as a right-back, playing for Ulverley Hawks in the Central Warwickshire League, I modelled myself on Gary Rowett [Birmingham’s right back at the time]. I love the man.
The guy oozed class. Perhaps a modern comparison would be Pablo Zabaleta’s knack of winning absolutely everything, with Gary Neville’s sense of statesmanship. Rowett was the best right-back I’ve seen in a Birmingham shirt.
After injuries cut his career short he briefly entered local radio and, bizarrely for local Birmingham media, sounded like he knew exactly what he was talking about, even delivering his opinions in a thoughtful and measured way. He moved into management, and has turned Burton Albion from League Two cannon fodder into one of the strongest teams in the division, on a shoestring budget.
He seems to have…’it’. So why am I conflicted?
Well imagine that Gary Rowett really is the real deal. What a total waste of an appointment it would be if the moment Rowett returned home, the Carson Yeung comet still loomed in the sky above.
We wouldn’t see the real Rowett. He’d be hampered by the same ills Clark had to contend with. Rowett would then leave the club with us never really seeing what might have been had he been given the chance under more stable conditions.
Who knows, a couple of bad seasons and Brummie Moe might be calling for Rowett’s head, while in Hong Kong they continue to knit the next Guy Fawkes effigy for us proles to burn.
Now Clark has gone, Blues fans must unite behind the new manager and unite behind a movement to oust BIH. Continually attacking the manager [even if the manager is terrible] in our current circumstance is becoming increasingly pointless and is only acting as a distraction from the reality of our grave situation.
I wish Lee Clark all the best in the future and hope he finds a club that fits his style and his personality and gives him the chance he needs to fine tune his managerial attributes. Let’s hope he can leave his house this weekend and treat himself with a few Flaming Moes.
As for Birmingham, we cannot allow the changing of the manager to be a smokescreen. The club must be sold. How the fans can bring that about is anybody’s guess – but bickering about the manager’s selection of Neal Eardley instead of Paul Caddis, or whether Wes Thomas should partner Donaldson, or whether the big screen is as big as it used to be, all these trivialities need to stop, or at least take a backseat behind the most important focus – the campaign to get our Blues back.