Club Focus – Birmingham City – Derby day blues for City and Carr

In the aftermath of Sunday’s Midlands derby, the big question currently doing the rounds in Birmingham is: how did we not get a result from that game? The answer will vary from fan to fan, from allegiance to allegiance but in the immediate aftermath of the game, the most obvious answer, or indeed, moment of the game, is that penalty decision.

Whether it was a penalty or not will be debated interminably for the foreseeable months (or until Birmingham City beat Aston Villa) and consternation about how decisions like this can still be made without the influence of technology will ensue. However, although the result was unfair and Birmingham should have at least drawn the game (Alex McLeish’s admission that Birmingham should won was a little unfair on an Aston Villa side that also had numerous chances in the game), there was plenty in the performance to suggest that the gap between Birmingham and Villa is closing at an increasingly rapid rate.

In the post-match press conference, Blues manager Alex McLeish told the gathered press that the performance was testament to the change in his side since their heavy 5-1 defeat to Aston Villa in 2008. On that occasion, McLeish admitted that his team played like “frightened rabbits” but on Sunday, their efforts were fantastic and led McLeish to say: “I am proud of the players. They were magnificent today.” McLeish is right, Birmingham were fantastic and the tight intensity of the game suggests that in the coming seasons, Birmingham may be challenging Villa for European positions.

Unfortunately, there were a few unsavoury moments that muddied what had otherwise been an admirable effort by the blue side of the Midlands. Captain Stephen Carr, who has, up to this point, been a model of professionalism and performance levels, let the moment get to him on at least three occasions. His first, a lambasting of referee Martin Atkinson after the penalty award was perhaps the most understandable as it was a contentious decision that had gone against his side. Forgetting the respect the referee campaign for a moment, it is warming to see a captain with so much passion for the club vent his feeling. However, his action immediately before the penalty kick was taken was petulant and should not be condoned. Carr scuffed the penalty spot and then after the final whistle had rung around a boisterous Villa Park, Carr made obscene gestures towards gathered Villa fans. It appears that Carr will rightly be punished for his actions – the FA released a statement confirming that it will look through various pieces of video evidence and then take the necessary and suitable actions.

Just as Birmingham City were turning the corner, just as they were beginning to have a new image, an image that was far better than the perception of the club under the Davids (Gold and Sullivan), just as all that happened, this result and action occurred to create a bittersweet image of Birmingham City. On the one hand, the on-looking football nation will feel empathy and sympathy towards Birmingham. They will have felt what Birmingham have felt, that overriding sense of injustice at an officials decision. They will feel for Birmingham that they lost a derby that arguably could have had the same score line vice-versa. However, there will be those that are appalled by Carr’s actions.

Far be it from our duty to criticise a player in the heat of a derby but there are certain things that should just not happen in a football game. As a collective group, fans want (or should want) to see the games reputation grow – the game needs to be seen as a cleaner, friendlier and more sportsmanlike sport. As long as the gestures of Carr (and the spot kick scuff) and others of a similar ilk continue, the game we love will be continually be brought into disrepute. For that reason, fans should be appalled by Carr’s actions. The Premier League should punish Carr for what he did. Perhaps Carr should apologise. Whether any of that will happen is unknown yet but it is still a disappoint event to have to discuss.

It cannot be ignored. Anyone that suggests such occurrences can be avoided are wrong – essentially, Carr insulted fans. Not his own fans, admittedly, but fans nonetheless. Without said fans, football would not be able to continue (not in the way we love, that is) and Carr would not live such a privileged and blessed lifestyle. Carr insulted the very people that have made him successful and for that, he should be ashamed.

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