Whilst transfer deadline day brought no new signings for Birmingham, it marked the end of an era for the Midlands outfit, as Blues stalwart Damien Johnson left the club. Johnson was the only remaining at the club since that epic 3-0 victory over Aston Villa in 2002, and typified everything good about Birmingham – he was strong, intense, defensively minded and driven by a passion for traditional, robust football.
As he leaves the club to join Plymouth Argyle, he leaves behind seven years of loyal service, seven years that have seen the club yo-yo from the top team in the Midlands, to a Championship side, right up to today where the club are arguably in their best position in modern memory. Looking back on the starting XI from that glorious September day brings back some fantastic memories for Birmingham fans and is still one of the favourite anecdotes for supporters to regale in front of Aston Villa fans – in particular Villa goalkeeper Peter Enckleman’s infamous own-goal. On that day, Birmingham outclassed Aston Villa – players like Nico Vaesen, Robbie Savage and Geoff Horsfield were all heroes for a day but now, seven years on, none of those players tread the St Andrews turf.
The paths that they have taken are all massively different. Vaesen is now retired after short spells at lower league teams, Savage is still plodding his way through with Derby County and Geoff Horsfield is currently player and assistant manager at Port Vale. His story is perhaps the most poignant; after successfully recovering from testicular cancer, he signed for Lincoln City in January 2009. These players were all good players, but never players that looked like they could take the next step, mainly due to age. Now however, although there is still experience, Birmingham have a plethora of players that look like they may have the talent to move to a bigger club or play football internationally. It is no secret that Scott Dann and Roger Johnson have been touted as future England central defenders, an idea that makes sense considering the ageing defenders that currently occupy such a position. Then there is Joe Hart – although a Manchester City player – it is under McLeish’s tutelage that he has been given the recognition as one of the league’s best goalkeepers.
James McFadden is already one of Scotland’s best players and if Barry Ferguson can agree a return with the SFA, Birmingham will have two of Scotland’s brighter talents at the club. Further afield, Sebastian Larsson is now frequenting with Sweden and Christian Benitez is beginning to play for Ecuador more often. Littered in between these internationals are solid, experienced players such as Lee Bowyer, a member of the one international cap club, retired Irish international and recent club captain Stephen Carr and Kevin Phillips. To the neutral fan, Birmingham are now a completely different club and team. They have hope and talent in abundance, they have players that other clubs envy them for, they have a manager that is envied and they have a board that seem to want to push on – all things that they did not have in 2002. Damien Johnson’s move to Plymouth will have no affect on the team at all as he was only a bit part player this season but it has signalled the end of an era at Birmingham City – the only thing that remains from 2002 is the blue strip and St.Andrew’s.
Meanwhile, in recent news, vice-chairman Peter Pannu told the Press that the club’s tentative transfer window activity was the result of owner Carson Yeung’s decision to announce to the world how much money McLeish had available to him: “It was not particularly helpful that our president indicated a desire to buy players in January and spend some money.” This was a huge mistake from Yeung and was pointed out as one immediately after he made the flippant remark. Although fans want to know how the club is thinking about spending money and how much money is available, the club’s hierarchy needs to keep their cards close to their chest in future if only to minimise the risk of seeing transfer fees put towards them in an even more inflated manner than usual.
It seems that Pannu thinks had Yeung not told the Press of McLeish’s budget, Roman Pavlyuchenko would now be a Birmingham City player: “With Pavlyuchenko we managed to negotiate down from £13m to £10m but when we put in a written bid we were told after three days of negotiations that he was not available for sale at £10m.” Perhaps with more nous in the media and a continuation, Birmingham City will kick on from where Damien Johnson left.