From my Birmingham Mail column on Wednesday Oct 17th 2018
Growing up in Birmingham Football Clubs were an integral part of the local community with most fans living within a few miles of the ground. However in the 60’s as the slums were knocked down and replaced with new estates lots of fans were moved out to other areas in the case of my own family they were moved to Erdington by Brookvale Park. This along with the increase in wealth in the “you’ve never had it so good” era of 60s and 70s saw people moving out of the inner city to areas such as Erdington, Short Heath, Sutton Coldfield, Castle Bromwich, Solihull et al. The football club’s fan base was spreading further afield but the reality is that it was no longer a close knit community other than on match days.
All clubs have a “football in the community” department usually funded by outside sources rather than the club itself. They do some fantastic work within the community providing opportunities and facilities for the disabled to enjoy playing the game as well as working within the community at schools etc.
But fans also want to see the first team players being out and about within the community and to a large extent most clubs do provide players for the usual hospital and school photo opportunity visits which is never-the-less to be applauded.
However I have noticed a culture change at Blues which has coincided with the arrival of manager Garry Monk and PR and Engagement Manager Claire Boden.
Some weeks ago Garry Monk was telling me how his players were knocking on his door and asking to get involved in the community and that to be honest is unusual to say the least. Most clubs have a rota for community/hospital visits with players doing what they are asked in line with that rota and posing for PR pictures.
However it is different at Blues where the board led by Dong along with the manager and players are definitely re-building a bridge between the club and its supporters. A bridge that, in recent times, was virtually demolished by owners and some directors.
Garry Monk, who definitely gets what Blues as a club is all about, has been out feeding the homeless with Geoff Horsfield while his assistant Pep and winger Viv Solomon Otabor both went to a house that Geoff was renovating to house the homeless and helped out by doing some DIY work.
I was somewhat sceptical at first but it transpires that this came from coaches and players asking to go and do something positive.
The club captain Michael Morrison led by example and rallied to the players to donate stuff for the homeless.
Kristian Pedersen who has only been at the club a short time heard about a young fan who was ill and asked the club to arrange for him to get involved and do something.
Similarly with Jacques Maghoma and Lee Camp who approached the club and insisted they visited a lifelong Blues fan who was in a care home and celebrate his Birthday with him.
There was a story in the newspapers about a young 3 year old girl who had a very complex medical condition and needed a special bed. The players heard about this and without any prompting raised money for the bed.
The list is too long to go through and to be honest I was amazed at how long the list was of things the players are doing over and above the usual hospital and school visits.
The sad thing is that they and the club can only do so much and as Claire said “we as a club would love to help every single supporter however that is just not possible logistically”
It is refreshing to see how much the CEO Dong Ren and director Edward Zheng along with the manager and players are doing to demonstrate that the fans really are important and are vital members of the club and not just a revenue stream.
Their support for what Claire and David (Davo) Brown are doing is exactly the way it should be.
Finally how fantastic that on the 5th of December thirty vulnerable people will be treated to Xmas lunch at St Andrews with the players serving the food. While on 14th December 40 women who have suffered domestic abuse will be served lunch by the players of Blues women’s team.
On 21st October the Women’s game v Chelsea will be dedicated to Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid.
Of course like fans of any club I want my club to be winning games but I also expect my club to embrace the community and use their profile in a positive way. Fans want to feel part of the club and when I see what Blues are doing it makes me feel extremely proud.
I am sure a lot of local clubs will also be doing some excellent work in the community however the change in culture at Blues regarding those less fortunate than ourselves is something to be proud of and admired by every supporter