Back in July, Marvel Studios announced their run of films and TV shows for the upcoming ‘phase 4’ of their dominance over the movie industry. Among the titles shown off was a TV show that would explore situations and storylines in the Marvel timeline if they had happened differently. It was titled ‘What If…?’
Clearly a Blues fan needs to throw a lawsuit at Marvel because we’ve been asking ourselves the same question for almost a decade now.
In case you’d forgotten, I’m of course referring to Blues’ famous League Cup win and subsequent relegation in the 2010/11 season under Alex McLeish.
Every so often you’ll see a someone on the ‘bcfc’ hashtag throw out the question, sometimes in poll form, of whether we would have sacrificed the cup win in order to stay up that season – perhaps switching out our moment of triumph for the injury of a certain Roman Pavlyuchenko.
Recently however this very topic of conversation has come up a number times in the mainstream footballing media – only this week did Alan Brazil and Ian Holloway discuss the question on TalkSport’s breakfast show.
To my surprise, both pundits supported the notion of ignoring any sort of cup success in place of a continued Premier League existence.
Terry, an outspoken West Ham fan, called in to argue the very opposite – that a successful cup run means far more to a proper fan than merely enjoying an extended stay in the country’s first division. Brazil and Holloway were taken aback by this, laughing at poor Terry and agreeing that theirs was the correct point of view.
Birmingham fans are experts in a number of things when it comes to football as a whole. Rollercoaster seasons, selling talented young English players for far under their perceived price tag and swapping delicious, trusted brand pies for bland new ones are only the tip of the iceberg – but when it comes to this specific question, 90% of Blues fans could stand up in Parliament and articulate why Brazil and Holloway aren’t quite seeing the bigger picture here.
Life since relegation for us has been a whirlwind of emotions. For every moment we’ve dared enter the forbidden realm of the playoff places there’s been 3 more moments where it seemed the hands of fate were destined to drag us down to League One. From Houghton to Rowett, Zola to Monk and all the way to where we find ourselves now, nothing has ever been sure with the Blues.
But if you were to offer me the chance to erase the last 8 and a half years in the Championship and have them replaced in the Premier League at the expense of our League Cup win in 2011, I’d forcefully feed you the new St. Andrew’s pies in reply.
Sitting in the high perches of the West stand at Wembley, watching Steven Carr lift that trophy after Obafemi Martins scored what remains one of the most hilarious goals of all time will remain one of the best days of my life – and no amount of Premier League existence can ever tell me different.
Football is a business now, a product to be advertised to the world and players are mere pawns in a glorified car boot sale for oil tycoons. Moments of success are fleeting, with cup wins seemingly pursued and celebrated less and less each year.
With the dominance of monetary power in top-tier football and the winning of a domestic tournament not even close to being as profitable as gaining a place in Europe or finishing in the top 6, the allure of these competitions has seemed to peter out.
With this in mind, you can forgive younger fans for seeing the Premier League as the footballing equivalent to the Garden of Eden and promotion as a skyrocket to long-lasting success.
But as the likes of Fulham, Cardiff and Huddersfield have shown, Premier League status can be taken away as soon as it’s given and you can find your team staring down the same slippery slope that Sunderland wave at you from the bottom of.
So allow me, for a moment, to step into the shoes of an aspiring Marvel Studios writer. Hopeful and full of ideas, I pitch an episode of ‘What If…’ to a board of executives, visibly confused as I detail the livelihood of a West Midlands football team as opposed to the life of Thor, the God of thunder.
Years after falling at the final hurdle, Birmingham City ponder on what could have been if they’d won that Carling Cup final back in 2011. It was a 90th-minute winner for the gunners as a loose ball dealt with by Laurent Koscielny (who almost took off his keeper’s head in the process) soared over the Blues defence and found its way to Nicklas Bendtner, who slotted it past the helpless Ben Foster to break the hearts of the Bluenose faithful that cold day in February. Years had gone by and Blues now sat in 14th in the Premier League, an unbeaten run of 3 games trumping their poor start to the season. Craig Gardner, club captain and centre midfielder now turned centre back, mulls over their existence in the UK’s most prestigious league. Narrowly missing out being relegated after his winner against Tottenham, they’ve enjoyed living in limbo where success is something that they constantly chase. Finishing no higher than 10th but no lower than 15th has proved a mundane continuance, with players coming and going every season as they look for more exciting opportunities. Sam Allardyce sits as team manager, enforcing rugged but effective football after Billion Trophy Asia, who took over in late 2011, continue to cycle through a mediocre spending budget every window. Craig sometimes wonders what could’ve been if they’d won the cup that day 8 years ago – but he dispels the thought quicker than it came about.
No amount of continued existence within the Premier League will ever eclipse the glory of winning the game we were so heavily tipped as underdogs for.
We all want promotion, there’s no question about it, but what for really? Realistically, promotion would be mean 1 of 2 things – coming straight down within 2 seasons or gruelling it out for an extended period of time in order to solidify a place as the next Watford or Bournemouth; content, but unsuccessful in the grander schemes of things.
Only a massive investment from a foreign source would see possible success in the long run, but even then it’s not guaranteed (looking at you, V*lla).
For me, at least, that’s not Blues.
Don’t get me wrong, I want more than anything to see us go up, but the pastures aren’t always greener and the other side isn’t always better – especially not at the expense of being the only team in the West Midlands who’s actually won something major in this decade.
One moment of defining underdog glory in this era of football is more to show for than most of the 92 clubs across the country, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a Bluenose who’d trade that for anything.
Apart from the new pies.