It was possible to get confused Thursday night. Yellow shirts, attacking football: anyone would think they'd turned up to see the South America footballing wizards rather than a team of Bosman signings from Birmingham who, after going 1-0 down, came up with a brilliant fighting performance and a quite unbelievable victory... Well, we can dream that one day we will be as good as Brazil, but what we're doing at the moment is good enough for me.
Due to the ease of getting to Belgium and the affordability, Club Brugge KV was the European away game of choice for many Blues fans: 5,400 in total in the ground and, according to reports, another few thousand watching the game in bars in Brugge. And those thousands of Blues fans went home more than happy, in what turned out to be a brilliant few days and an unbelievable result.
It’s probably worth noting that Brugge had never lost at home to an English team, with Chelsea and Tottenham amongst those who failed to pick up three points in Belgium. So Blues had a mammoth task ahead of them, especially considering Brugge’s record this season has been more than impressive, but coming off the back of three straight victories – two of them away from home – an air of confidence was clear amongst the fans and the players. However, that didn’t mean to say we were sure of victory. Asked many times by barmen and taxi drivers what we thought the result would be: in truth, we didn’t really mind. None of us ever thought we’d see our team in Europe, so a win would be a bonus, especially against a team of Brugge’s caliber.
Blues fans came for the experience. The square on the day of the game from early morning was buzzing. Flags everywhere, beer being consumed and even a game of football with the thousands of fans who were in the square. It was a sight to behold and a nice, good natured beginning to what was to be one of the best days in the life of every single Blues fan who had made the journey across the channel.
The atmosphere continued into the afternoon, and as the game approached the 5,000+ Bluenoses headed on the shuttle buses to the Jan Breydel Stadium. A concrete prison-type building from the outside and not much better once inside, Blues fans filled the away stand and continued brilliant atmosphere from the square earlier on in the day. As the game began the singing continued, but Brugge threatened to ruin the party; and after some very questionable defending from a changed Blues side from the previous game against Leicester, Joseph Akpala was on hand to put Club Brugge ahead just three minutes into the game. It looked to be a long night in store for Birmingham.
After waking up a little Blues began to gather pace and come into the game. Chris Burke particularly impressed in the early stages, getting crosses into the box for the tireless Adam Rooney and Nikola Zigic. In the 23rd minute the whole ground were on their feet, in applause in memory of Brugge player Francois Sterchele who sadly passed away a few years ago in a car accident. All Blues fans had been encouraged to join in and they did just that, in a magnificent gesture towards Sterchele, who was an up and coming star player in the Brugge side before his tragic death.
And Blues were applauding again three minutes later, but for a totally different reason. It was Burke who began the move for the equalising goal half way through the first forty-five, feeding the ball to Wade Elliott who wove through the Brugge defenders and sent a brilliant ball into the box which the incoming David Murphy connected with and made no mistake in slotting it into the back of the net. The already loud Blues fans were sparked into a frenzy, and the away end produced scenes of madness, with no one quite believing that they’d just witnessed an away goal in Europe.
But the best was yet to come. Blues were on the up and chance after chance was being created, with Rooney and Zigic both having brilliant opportunities to put their side ahead. Late on in the second half the front pair, who had worked their socks off all night, we’re replaced with fresh legs in Chris Wood and Marlon King, who both made an instant impact, working together to allow Elliott a shot on goal, firing just wide of the target.
The only downer of the match was the late injury to defender Pablo Ibanez ten minutes from time. A nasty collision left Ibanez on the floor with a head injury so bad it left Guirane N’Daw distraught. Ibanez received a lengthy period of treatment on the pitch which meant an extra ten minutes was added on at the end of the game, and just as the clock was reaching the 100th minute, a moment of absolute magic happened. King picked up the ball and sent the ball into the box with Wood running in. From close range, Wood connected and the ball ended up in the back of the net. The Bluenoses behind the goal went into delirium, fans went flying and players piled in to celebrate with the man who had surely won the match for Blues after, yet again, being in the right place at the right time.
As the full time whistle went everyone went into party mode. The players came over to applaud the magnificent support of the travelling 5,400 and the fans in return congratulated the players who had put everything into the game, with some magnificent performances namely from Burke, Elliott, Zigic and Rooney, as well as the defence who coped with everything the pacey Brugge attack had to offer. For the last two seasons we have been used to battling and hoping to nick a goal; but this current team, even when weakened, still puts in as much of a battling, fighting performance as well as putting everything into the attacking side of play too, and as the game showed: sometimes, it really, really works. You don’t have to have a team full of million pound players to win, after all, you can’t buy passion and fight; something which this set of players really have in abundance.
Brugge fans also stayed behind and videoed the Blues fans, and this youtube video really shows the magnificent travelling support and makes me not only proud to be a Bluenose but grateful that I was there to celebrate a famous victory.
As the party carried on into the night both players and fans celebrated what was a magnificent win, and our fourth win on the bounce: three of them being away from home, two away from home in the Europa League. It was honestly the most brilliant few days of my life and something I will never forget, I just wish I had the money to do it all over again against Braga in November! I’m so glad I got to see my team play in Europe and so happy I got to experience not only a great performance but a win as well. It was worth every single penny at 1-0 down, so at 2-1 up I don’t think any of us could quite believe it: last minute winners are the best ways to win games, without a doubt! I couldn’t have written a better script. This is why I find it annoying when people devalue the Carling Cup, and when teams such as Spurs don't even want to be in the Europa League. Without the Carling Cup we wouldn't be here in the first place, and without the Europa League I wouldn't have just experienced the best couple of days of my life.
Top of Group H. and bursting with pride and, also, confidence. Our Blues are back, and the other night really was just like watching Brazil. Take me back there right now!