Birmingham 0- Arsenal 3
Alex McLeish looks to have removed a few bulbs from the floodlights to hide the club's poor form and whatever may be causing it.
The gypsy curse is lifted on Boxing Day as it’s 100 years. Hopefully we can celebrate with another victory because we probably need 13 more wins to go back up automatically. It’s a fantastic club considering we’ve won nothing and it will be great to celebrate 100 years.- Steve Bruce, manager Birmingham City
The Small Heath Alliance was formed by a church group of cricketers in 1875. Three years later they changed their name to Small Heath. Before they moved to the new St. Andrews ground in 1906, they changed their name to Birmingham, and in 1943 to Birmingham City—a name shortened, changed, and lengthened.
What the Small Heath Alliance called their home pitch was also an industrial waste site. Undeterred by the dump at first, they quickly gained popularity. They soon outgrew the site and moved to a ground with a capacity for 3000 spectators, and in 1877 moved again to a site bordered by farmland, called Coventry Road (later called Muntz Street).
Support continued to grow and the club added tiers to the modest stadium going from a capacity of 10,000 to 30,000. The last addition to the stadium was its classiest, a crowning grandstand purchased from Aston Villa, who must have been pleased to memorialize the hierarchy through secondhand exchange.
Despite living with an organ of its enemy, the strategy proved to be sound business as capacity increased without incurring the costs of a move. Nearly ten years later, the stadium landlord, responding to a flow of money squarely into the tenant’s pocket, raised the rent to an unsustainable level, while at the same time forbid further construction. Soon after, Birmingham was forced to move to the current St. Andrews.
The stadium’s new site was described as both an undesirable piece of land and a favorable location due to its accessibility to other parts of the city. If this sounds like the Small Heath Alliance’s home pitch, then it’s because the new stadium was a stone’s throw away.
Similar to building a stadium today, the 1906 plan had to solve the financing, transportation, and land use issues, as well as opposition from local residents, which in this case was a well-established gypsy camp occupying the land.
The gypsies have a long history of finding it difficult to live in England. Not only foreign, but mobile, they were perceived to be masterless and deceitful clans with untrustworthy cultural practices. The Egyptian Act of 1531 called for expulsion. A 1554 law made being a gypsy punishable by death—to name a couple of the worst provisions. The most repressive laws were slowly repealed in the 18th and 19th century and some protections implemented, but the eviction of this camp was legal and simply a matter of implementation—or so the new stadium advocates thought. Before they packed up and departed, the gypsies placed a 100-year curse on the club.
If the curse stirred the old nativist fears to get the gypsies out of there as quickly as possible, the club must have also thought this hocus pocus to be a silly and ineffective protestation. No matter how weird, the witches and goblins weren’t going to stop this stadium. From the grave, those Blues fans had the next hundred to see that they were wrong. Over the following century, Birmingham has one first division trophy, the 1961 League Cup. Steve Bruce would be the one to precipitate final peace when the curse ended in 2006. Respectful of the club’s history, he had to honor the curse.
As the seasons of failure mounted, the curse grew more prominent, either as a real threat or real scapegoat. Manager Barry Fry (1993-1996), in a desperate attempt to end the team’s poor run of form, resorted to counter-incantation by urinating in each of the four corners of the field. Take that Gypsy curse.
From the 2005- 2006 season through 2009-2010, Birmingham City was relegated and promoted in succession. In 2009-2010, their 9th place finish was their best in over 50 years. With this recent loss to Arsenal, they now occupy one of the relegation spots.
How could this be explained? Birmingham’s 9th place finish was built on an unyielding defense. From a financially “strong” position going into the 2010-2011 season, money could be invested in an offense. Birmingham brought in the Chilean Jean Beausejour, who performed well at the World Cup, the 6’8” Serbian Nikolas Zigic, a one-dimensional Peter Crouch whose height would translate into goals off his head, and the loaned Alexander Hleb to breach defenses’ edges and feed passes through. After 19 games, only 6 teams have allowed fewer goals, but 19 teams have scored more. In the 2009-2010 season, 9 teams conceded fewer goals, while 14 teams scored more goals. These statistics don’t offer much to explain the severe drop in form.
Many of the legally sanctioned discrimination policies against European gypsy populations have been repealed, but Europe’s politics, making use of loopholes, has shown how far it lags behind the spirit of law.
Last year saw the greatest efforts to dislocate European populations since the Balkan war thanks to the “anxieties” of the French, who expelled French gypsies with a legal right to be in France and to return. But the French were not alone. All over continental Europe, the gypsies were facing hostility.
There are many examples in archaeological horror films of ignorant people suffering at the hands of a curse, from building tract homes on ancient burial sites to travelers returning home having “acquired” some dusty token. They fight, endure, and get to know the curse until they put an end to it, although it’s never really put to rest.
Romany expulsion in France and Birmingham City sitting 10 places below last year? Now that the snow has relented, it may be safe for Alex McLeish to have a few pints and set about relieving himself.
A far more narrow set of unfortunate circumstances is meeting a healthy Arsenal first team. Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie have returned to full fitness and appear to be regaining their rhythm. Both have played segments of games together this season, but have yet to find individual and collective form. Health permitting, one assumes it to be just a matter of time before they combine the memory of past collaboration and the system’s new features brought about by the maturation of Samir Nasri and Jack Wilshere, as well as the successful integration of Marouane Chamakh.
Van Persie, in a sign of growing confidence and comfort, looked hell-bent to score. His direct kicks are not yet finely tuned and his goal from 20+ yards was aided by deflection; what he lacked in touch was compensated by determination.
Psychology, as a quasi-scientific and subjective field, makes for an often complicated and mysterious practice. It is a relief on those rare occasions when it’s rendered simple, as the case study of Cesc Fabregas proves. On Fabregas' hamstring injury Wenger said, "It is more a restriction he has in his head. So we have to move the hamstring out of his head." If the injury had affected Fabregas mentally, it also Wenger subtly alludes to the hamstring injury of the mind, the reverberations of a difficult summer and patchy form that may or may not be related. It is time for his captain to shed the weightly obstacle and lead this team.
Calling the hamstring and being hamstrung out into the floodlights, rendered it charms powerless. The patient can see it, and the patient can see that everyone sees it; the shadowy hex is nothing more than a receding obstacle that Fabregas simply had to step through. Unfortunately, Birmingham can’t do this with their gypsy curse.
Fry should have learned from his predecessor Ron Saunders who, in 1986, as Birmingham City was again floundering, blamed the curse for the team’s poor form and thought it plausible that the historical weight of a heathen faith could be lifted by hanging crosses from each of the St. Andrews’ floodlights. Perhaps Saunders was calling on the stadium’s namesake, the first century proselytizer, Saint Andrew, who dedicated his life to spreading the word of Jesus Christ until his noble efforts were put to an end when he was crucified.
Andrew’s last act was the most lasting. As a deeply humble servant, he refused to be crucified on the same kind of cross as his savior, opting instead for a cross in the shape of an X, called a saltire or St Andrews cross. It partially reveals itself at various moments in the evolution of the Birmingham City kit—anticipatory in 1875, further manifesting in 1913-1926, disappearing until spotted on the neckline in 1975, only to lie dormant again until it appears as a swoosh-like form on the jersey and socks of the current 2010-2011 supporters’ choice kit.
Saunders, lost in one of St Andrews’ lengthy absences, could have intuited the infrequent manifestation and set about to resurrect it. But this would depend on what kind of cross he hung. He may have been less deranged than he appeared. The same could be said of Fry (likely not) if his trek to the four corners cut a diagonal instead of a perimeter. The Saint Andrew’s cross, the only marking on the Scottish flag, having now reappeared on this season’s kit, could not have been missed by Alex Mcleish. But what would he do with this anyway?