As the final whistle blew at White Hart Lane and Birmingham’s relegation was confirmed, the look of Craig Gardner’s face seemed to sum the whole sorry mess up. The look of complete loss on the boyhood Bluenose’s face was the same feeling of dejection felt amongst the travelling blues fans in the stands, and of the rest of the Birmingham faithful up and down the country.
Upon signing for Blues, Gardner revealed just how big a Bluenose he really was, and that was reiterated in his following performances. He prided himself on passion whilst playing in the royal blue and white of Birmingham which was apparent in his attitudes on and off the field.
You see a lot of badge kissing amongst players who have no real affiliation to the club they are playing for, but when Gardner scored his first goal for Blues, in the 2-2 draw at St. Andrews against Everton in 2010, you saw a young man who had achieved the dream that so many desire: playing for your boyhood club. He kissed the badge, and you know he meant it.
When we won the Carling Cup he was like a little kid at Christmas. He orchestrated keep right on with a flag someone had handed to him whilst parading round the Wembley pitch, and he later bounded into a Ben Foster interview, all smiles, singing 'We're On Our Way’.
I’ve wondered since then that, if the opportunity came, would he leave? After a series of unwanted events, namely relegation, my question was finally answered today. It was not the answer I was hoping for but I guess in the back of my mind, I knew he was never going to finish his career at Birmingham.
I do wish him well in his future at Sunderland. He was a real driving force in midfield and epitomised the spirit and work ethic which is required at Blues. Passionate and professional, Gardner contributed not only great performances but plenty of goals too in his short 18 month spell at Blues; his strike which fittingly sent Blues to Wembley being the most memorable.
However, as his decision to leave seems to be his own, i am inclined to be somewhat critical of him. As he himself admitted in an interview with Tom Ross, which sparked debate amongst Blues fans, he needed to make sure he could “look after” his family and that the Premier League is “the place to be.”
Indeed, in Gardner’s ideal world he would be playing week in, week out in the Premier League with his boyhood club; but Sunderland’s offer of Premier League football and a large wage packet seemed to tip the scales. Money and top league football versus hero status and playing for your boyhood club. In the current climate, the former is sadly the choice for the majority of players.
He will be remembered for his passion and drive in his short-lived Blues career, but unfortunately he will also be remembered as the Bluenose who jumped ship when times got hard. He could have lead his team back to the Premier League, gained hero status, been a legend. Had he been just another player with no ties to the club I would have been less disappointed about his decision to leave, yet being a self-proclaimed Bluenose his choice to leave when the club is at a real low disheartens me. This is another harsh lesson in reality and loyalty for me, and I’m sure I will encounter many more in years to come.