If you think back to June 2011, Birmingham City faced an extremely certain future; manager gone, players departing and Carson Yeung arrested for money laundering. The future looked bleak, that’s if there was a future, and the impending doom surrounding St. Andrew’s was hard to take. So at the start of the season, with Chris Hughton at the helm and an army of bosman free transfers at his disposal, most were expecting a top half finish, if that.
No one could have predicted just how incredible the 2011/2012 journey would be; indeed we knew we would have the excitement of a European Tour, but even the most optimistic amongst us couldn’t have imagined such an adventure. Qualifying for the group stages with an emphatic win, two away wins, a memorable night in Brugge, coming back to draw 2-2 in the reverse fixture at St. Andrew’s, and giving last year’s finalists Braga a run for their money in their own back yard. It culminated in Blues finishing just short, although acquiring a respectable tally of ten points which any other year would have seen them progress.
It was then time to turn to the league, where a swift rise up the table saw Blues finish in fourth place. A 6-0 demolishing of Milwall, an FA Cup run which saw Blues hold Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and take Sheffield United apart by four well-crafted goals, as well as fantastic end of season run in which saw multiple important away wins, and ended in a 2-0 win over champions Reading. Those were just a handful of highlights from a season where there was next to nothing to complain about. We came out of each game smiling; we supported the manager throughout; we were able to see young talent like Nathan Redmond flourish; we saw plenty of goals and attacking football, and as a result got a deserved play-off place.
But after a mammoth 60 games, their 61st and indeed their 62nd seemed one step too far. It could be labeled typical Blues that in our two most important games of the season we forgot to turn up. Yet we can most definitely call the last thirty minutes of last night’s encounter typical Blues; not giving up until the last and just when we thought they were down and out, they came back fighting like they always do with some thunderous support from the fans to drive them on. But credit to Blackpool who deserved their victory, and were the team who deserved it over the two legs.
The devastation on the players’ faces at full time was plain to see; they wanted it just as much as we did. Player of the season Chris Burke applauded the fans in floods of tears, whilst the ardent supporters applauded their team non-stop, singing loud and proud to salute what has been a fantastic season that no one could have imagined would be this good. The one thing this team, manager and all his staff have done this season, without fail, is make us proud of supporting them. Last night should not been seen as a setback, but a missed opportunity that will be there for us again next season if we work just as hard to achieve it. Players will depart, and so may the manager, but the club will always be there. A club I am – and always will be – proud to support.