To many, following Birmingham City is a religion, so it is perhaps fitting that the Football Club’s origins lie in the church and that the stadium its loyal supporters call home is named after the parish’s former place of worship.
Founded in 1975 as Small Heath Alliance, in acknowledgement to the area in which the Club was born, professional status was obtained within a decade and entry to the newly formed Second Division granted in 1892.
A first league title was delivered to Muntz Street - the Club’s former ground - that very season as the team scored 90 times in just 22 matches but were denied promotion via a ‘test match’ system they would overcome 12 months later.
In 1905, the Club’s name was changed to Birmingham and a year on there were further sizeable movements as a relocation to St. Andrew’s was completed in time for a Boxing Day visit of Middlesbrough. That fixture, amidst heavy snowfall, ended in a goalless draw, but the ground’s nets were christened three days later when Benny Green struck upon a goalscoring tune and was rewarded with a piano for his efforts. Four years on, Bob McRoberts became the first dedicated team manager, following on from the largely administrational efforts of Alf Jones and Alec Wilson until the former fans favourite from his playing days retired before the outbreak of the First World War.
Renowned for being the beating heart of its community, there is little surprise that Blues assisted the wartime efforts as St. Andrew’s became a rifle range for training soldiers and a home on matchdays for injured servicemen who were issued complimentary tickets.
Football was suspended due to the conflict between 1915 and 1920, with Blues marking its return by finishing third in Division Two ahead of being promoted as Champions for a second time in 1921. A first FA Cup final was reached a decade down the line as the Club were in the process of recording 18 consecutive seasons in the top-flight.
This period saw the Club’s stock continue to rise at an immense rate, with Birmingham City (suffix attached in 1943) legend Joe Bradford coming to the fore, roofs being added to the Railway End and Tilton Road stands, as well as foreign opposition visiting B9 for the first time as Real Madrid were beaten 3-0 in an exhibition match.
World War Two again saw the Football League halted and the Kop sustained damage from bombing, whilst the Main Stand – when operating as a Fire Station – burned down. Various ingenious solutions were sought to ensure the show went on as the previous competitions resumed and another second-tier title was secured in 1948.
As Blues’ fluctuating divisional status continued to entertain, they reached FA Cup final number two in 1956 and it was such a venture that led to the adoption of the Club’s renowned anthem, Keep Right On.
Additional endeavours included a new Main Stand constructed midway through the 1950s and an inaugural floodlit match versus Borussia Dortmund in 1956. That game ended 3-3 and was a further milestone in the Club’s continent-wide tradition. Earlier that year, Blues had become the first English club side to compete in European competition, beating Inter Milan on the way to a semi-final against FC Barcelona in the Fairs Cup.
Such pioneering exploits and achievement was followed up in 1960 when Blues became the first side from England to reach a European final, losing out to their previous last-four nemesis’ before reaching the showpiece event again in 1961 where it was this time AS Roma who pipped them to the trophy.
The arrival of a first major honour seemed inevitable, and it was delivered in the sweetest of manners during 1963’s League Cup final. Facing their Second City rivals over two legs, a Blues side managed by legendary former goalkeeper Gil Merrick ran out 3-1 aggregate winners.
Further swashbuckling football under both Stan Cullis and Freddie Goodwin brought more serious flirtations with silverware, whilst opponents citing Blues as a threat to their own ambitions chose to prize their greatest assets. Striker’s Bob Latchford and Trevor Francis – the first million-pound player – raised great funds at either end of the 1970s before a decade with the Club on a seesaw.
Promotion, relegation, promotion and then two demotions in three years saw Blues consigned to the third division for the first time in their history. However, as only seems to bestow players that wear the famous royal blue, a roaring spirit born out of adversity ensured the time on the third rung of the English football ladder was infrequent and even came with the added filler of two Football League Trophy triumphs enjoyed on each occasion by over 50,000 fanatical Blues supporters.
On the up, sights were set on the newly formed Premiership with Blues mounting a quartet of assaults on promotion via the end of season play-offs in a St. Andrew’s that had undergone major redevelopments to become recognisable as the stadium known and loved today. And, true to the spirit of the Club to Keep Right On, the fourth and final of these in 2002 carried Blues into the promise land.
Manager Steve Bruce was indebted to the nerveless, fearless enigma of youth when true blue Darren Carter converted the winning penalty in a shooutout victory over Norwich City at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. The trip to the Welsh capital also saw Blues banish the memories of defeat to Liverpool on the same pitch a year earlier in the Worthington Cup final.
Revenge over the Reds would follow in the first of three stellar top-flight seasons, during which they recorded four memorable wins in meetings with their near neighbours. Although the fourth campaign ended in a return to the Championship, an instant return was secured under Steve Bruce before Alex McLeish repeated the trick in 2009.
The Scotsman followed this up by achieving the Club’s highest league finish for over half a century. Blues then backed up this statement with another one that leaves the class of 2010/11 immortalised. On Sunday 27 February 2011, they toppled hot-favourites Arsenal to win the Carling Cup and secure their second major trophy at Wembley Stadium in front of more than 30,000 Bluenoses.
What followed by virtue of the League Cup glory was entry into the Europa League, with Blues, in spite of being back in the Championship, making their mark on their adventures away from home. Perhaps none being more astounding than the victory over Club Brugge, when Chris Wood scored in the 100th minute to reward the loyal travelling support.
Late goals are something often at a premium in football, but Blues seem to specialise in the commodity. And none were celebrated as emotionally as Paul Caddis’ close- range header that wiped out the possibility of relegation to League One in the dying embers of the 2013-14 season. This kickstarted a trend of unappetising situations but nonetheless enthralling survival missions, including under the guidance of Harry Redknapp in 2017.
Now, amidst the 2021/22 Sky Bet Championship season, with former player Lee Bowyer at the helm as Head Coach, investment and innovation powered by the Club’s ownership is fuelling a positivity and progression that is the envy of opposition throughout the game.
The Birmingham City Football Club ‘globe’ is probably one of the most recognisable club crests in english football.
However, it was only officially adopted and patented by the Club back in 1972.
Prior to that date there had been two previous crests in use.
The first one dates right back to 1905 when the club used to use the City of Birmingham's coat of arms as its own.
This came about following the club's name change from Small Heath to Birmingham, although this was not always worn on the shirts.
The next crest to be adopted by the club was in the 1970's when the intertwined letters 'BCFC' were used on shirts worn by the likes of Trevor Francis and Bob Latchford and displayed in the centre of the chest.
The current design first saw the light of day in 1972 following a competition in the Sports Argus newspaper to design a new badge for the club.
The winning entry came from Blues fan Michael Wood, a conversion engineer with the West Midlands Gas Board, who lived in Burntwood.
The design incorporated the line-drawn globe and ball, with a ribbon carrying the club name and date of foundation, in plain blue and white.
Details of the design were revealed in the club's official magazine dated 25/3/72 which said: "Here it is the new Birmingham City club badge which has been designed by Argus reader Michael Wood.
"The players will wear it on their jerseys next season and will also be worn on club blazers and ties.
"It was picked out from the huge entry in a special competition organised by the Argus."
Blues' Commercial Manager at the time Geoff Greaves commented: "We think it is modern and gets away from the normal type of design.
"It is forward looking and introduces the globe and the idea of European football which is what everyone at the
Blues wants to see at St. Andrew's."
Although it was adopted in 1972 it was not worn on their jerseys until the 1976/77 season.
An experiment was made in the early 1990s with colouring in the globe and ball, but the Club soon reverted to the plain version.
KEEP RIGHT ON TO THE END OF THE ROAD.
For all Blues fans on the terraces of St.Andrew’s today, belting out the strains to “Keep Right On to the End of the Road” till your larynx is red raw comes with the territory. It's something you've always sung since you were old enough to squeeze through (or under) the turnstile, as did your father and quite probably even his father before him, it's what you were put on this earth to do!
For more than 60 years Blues fans have proudly sung KRO during the good times and the bad, but has it ever occurred to you just WHY we sing it? What are the song’s actual origins and just how did we adopt this rousing rendition as our famous football anthem? Eric Partridge explains how it all came about...
It all began in Edinburgh in 1870 when Henry (Harry) Lauder, the eldest of eight children, was born into poverty. When he was just 12 years old, the family was orphaned, leaving Harry no option but to work in the local flax mill to make ends meet.
In his early teens he was forced to endure the gruelling conditions of the coal mine which is where he began singing to bolster his spirits. Such was his talent he was encouraged by his fellow miners to enter a local singing contest which led to him being invited to sing in small music halls. His rise on the vaudeville circuit was rapid, quickly establishing himself as a highly talented comedian, singer/songwriter to eventually become the highest paid entertainer of his day. During World War 1 (1914-1918), Harry worked tirelessly to recruit performers and organise concert parties to entertain British troops serving overseas. In 1917, his own son Captain John C. Lauder was killed in action at the Somme. Harry later received a letter from a fellow serving officer who was in his son's company when he was tragically felled, describing him as a leader of 'great gallantry' and who, in his dying words, had ordered his troops to 'carry on'!
Harry was so emotionally affected by this correspondence that it inspired him to pen the words to what has since been adopted as Blues' own battle anthem, “Keep Right On to the End of the Road”.
Despite the death of his son, Harry continued to perform and raise awareness of the war effort always ending each of his wartime shows to the rousing strains of “Keep Right On...” and in the years that followed, the song became regarded as a Scottish classic. Harry trod the boards well into his 70's in music halls throughout the land and abroad but sadly, on 26th February 1950,aged 79, Sir Harry Lauder passed away, leaving behind a legacy of fine Scottish music and numerous films.
Almost six years later in January 1956, Sir Harry's memory was revived in the most unlikely of circumstances when on the way to Leyton Orient in the fourth round of the FA Cup, the Blues squad was in 'full voice' - a pre-match ritual instigated by team manager Arthur Turner to calm the nerves before a big game.
Blues legendary winger of the mid 1950’s Alex Govan recalled at the time "After beating Albion in the fifth round, we were drawn against the mighty Arsenal in the quarter final, not an easy prospect in those days either," said Govan who passed away in June 2016 aged 86. "We left our hotel at Hendon for the short journey to Highbury and as usual after just a few yards down the road we were lifting the roof off the coach! I remember singing a couple of Scottish favourites as my 'party piece', one of which was “Keep Right On to the End of the Road”.” What Alex couldn't possibly have realised at the time is how such a simple, random choice of song would soon be immortalised by generations of Blues fans to this day.
"The skipper, Len Boyd, was belting out 'Any Old Iron' for the umpteenth time when the gaffer bellowed up the coach, 'Let's have one from Scotland, Alex'. I duly obliged with “Keep Right On to the End of the Road” once again. This time some of the other lads joined in the chorus and one by one they quickly caught onto the words, we sang it again and again until the entire coach was rocking as we pulled up outside Highbury!
"I remember the coach was one of the older types which had wind down windows alongside the seats. It was a warm day so all the lads had their windows down and with the strains of “Keep Right On..” going at full belt, the Blues fans who always congregated outside the ground to welcome us to away games could hear us coming several streets away! They had picked up on the words too and were all singing it as we filed off the coach.
"We won 4-0 on the day, so it must have worked," the free-scoring winger recalled a few years after Blues’ Wembley journey. The rest, as they say is history!"
After the next round, Blues’ boss Arthur Turner, not known for displaying his emotions, admitted he was greatly moved by the fans' reception and felt that the passion created by the rendition of such a powerful song both before and during the game played a major part in overcoming Arsenal 3-1 in their own backyard to reach the semi-final against Sunderland at Hillsborough. Even more Blues fans had learned the words by this time and inspired a rampant Blues to a one-sided 3-0 victory over the Black Cats and a place in at Wembley for the first time since 1931. At the final itself on 5th May, “Keep Right On” was even included in the community singing schedule, a pre-match tradition of the time, but for balance "She's a lassie from Lancashire" was also sung in deference to Blues’ opponents that day Manchester City.
Despite the noise from the Birmingham end encouraging Messrs Boyd, Brown and Govan with regular renditions of Sir Harry Lauder’s famous lyrics throughout the final, it failed to lift the favourites on this occasion and the Cup travelled back to Manchester after the 3-1 defeat.
Govan, a Glaswegian by birth, had signed for Birmingham from Plymouth Argyle in June 1953 for a fee of £6,500 and the promise of a house. He scored on his debut and finished that season with eight goals to his credit. The combination of the prolific Eddy Brown, regular top scorer Peter Murphy - a Division One title-winner with Tottenham Hotspur, former fellow Plymouth winger Gordon Astall and Welsh international Noel Kinsey, Blues' forward line outclassed any other in the old Second Division. All five reached double figures when the club won the 1954-55 championship.
In 1956/57, Alex was the club's leading scorer with 30 goals in all competitions including no fewer than five hat-tricks - a remarkable tally, especially for a winger.
Before he passed away in 2016, Alex used to grab every opportunity he could to see his beloved Blues on television and was a regular visitor to St.Andrew’s too, even in the season before his death. When he heard the fans break into a rousing chorus of 'Keep Right On to the End of the Road', he admitted to being a little choked.
"Some of the words have changed from my day," he recalled, "but I must admit I still get rather emotional as it brings back such happy memories, not only of the 1956 FA Cup run itself but also of the great fighting spirit we had in the team in those days.”
Over the years the opening verse of 'Keep Right On' has certainly been modified to identify more with Birmingham City as a football club and a couple of lines in the chorus have changed over time, but all in all it's the same wonderful song composed by Sir Harry Lauder in memory of his son which brought a tear to Alex’s eye every time he heard it.
Just as “I’m forever Blowing Bubbles” is associated exclusively with the fans of West Ham, likewise “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to the fans of Liverpool, over the last 60 years “Keep Right On” has become synonymous with the fans of Birmingham City and is accepted throughout the world of football as OUR anthem. Back in 1956, Blues’ winger Alex Govan could never have realised that his spontaneous rendition of Sir Harry Lauder’s famous music-hall composition on the team bus to Leyton Orient would one day earn him a place of immortality in Blues proud history. And rightly so. KRO Alex!
Actual words as originally composed by Sir Harry Lauder in 1917
Ev'ry road thro' life is a long, long road,
Fill'd with joys and sorrows too,
As you journey on how your heart will yearn
For the things most dear to you.
With wealth and love 'tis so,
But onward we must go.
Keep right on to the end of the road,
Keep right on to the end,
Tho' the way be long, let your heart be strong,
Keep right on round the bend.
Tho' you're tired and weary still journey on,
Till you come to your happy abode,
Where all the love you've been dreaming of
Will be there at the end of the road.
With a big stout heart to a long steep hill,
We may get there with a smile,
With a good kind thought and an end in view,
We may cut short many a mile.
So let courage ev'ry day
Be your guiding star alway.
Words as sung by Blues fans today
As you go through life it's a long, long road
There'll be joys and sorrows too
As we journey on we will sing this song
For the boys in Royal Blue.
We're often partisan - la la la
We will journey on - la la la
Keep right on to the end of the road
Keep right on to the end
Though the way be long let your heart beat strong
Keep right on to the end
Though you're tired and weary
Still journey on 'til you come to your happy abode
With all our love we'll be dreaming of
We'll be there at the end of the road.
Alex McLeish’s side pulled off one of the biggest upsets in League Cup history with a 2-1 victory against overwhelming favourites Arsenal.
The Gunners were riding high in second place in the Premier League table and on the tails of Manchester United in the race for the top flight title. In contrast, Blues were down in 16th and only two points above the relegation zone – a fight against the drop that they would ultimately lose.
But, despite the major disappointment of relinquishing their place in England’s top division at the campaign’s end, the memories of the unlikely success at the national stadium ensured that it will always be an historic season to cherish for Blues and their tens of thousands of fans.
The cup run had begun back in late August. It was a decidedly shaky start though as McLeish’s men found themselves a goal down at home to League One side Rochdale. Blues recovered to sneak though to the next round with a 3-2 win, a game that saw 16-year-old Nathan Redmond become the Club’s second ever youngest player after a late cameo performance.
Blues brushed aside MK Dons with much greater ease in round three (3-1) but a third successive tie against League One opponents almost proved a banana skin.
Brentford were seconds away from victory at St. Andrew’s when Kevin Phillips popped up with a stoppage-time equaliser (1-1) to take the game to extra-time, Blues eventually prevailing on penalties with goalkeeper Maik Taylor saving the decisive spot-kick.
The quarter-final draw pitted Blues with their city rivals Aston Villa in a mouth-watering and eagerly-anticipated St. Andrew’s showdown. Giant striker Nikola Zigic provided the perfect climax to a nail-biting contest as his late winner sent the hosts through to the last four (2-1).
Blues took on West Ham in the semi-finals and found themselves 2-1 down after the first leg at Upton Park. The tie was delicately poised going into the return match at St. Andrew’s, but then a first-half Carlton Cole goal looked to have shattered the hosts’ Wembley dream, trailing by two goals on aggregate with only 30 minutes remaining.
But this Blues side was made of sterner stuff and Lee Bowyer and Roger Johnson put the tie back on a knife edge and locked at 3-3 on aggregate after 90 minutes. Roared on by the deafening noise of the home crowd, local boy and self-confessed Bluenose Craig Gardner fired Blues through to the final with a 20-yard winner.
Over 30,000 lucky Bluenoses headed to Wembley, with many more watching on TVs around the world, as their heroes went into battle with a star-studded Arsenal side under the Wembley arch.
Zigic delivered the first blow as he headed Blues in front after Roger Johnson had nodded on Seb Larsson’s corner. But Blues held the advantage for only 11 minutes as Robin Van Persie equalised before the break.
Arsene Wenger’s side had been fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men and concede a penalty within the opening two minutes of the game, when Wojciech Szczesny brought down the onrushing Lee Bowyer inside the area when the midfielder was clean through.
The Gunners escaped courtesy of the assistant’s offside flag, but frustratingly TV replays showed that the former West Ham man was a good yard onside. So Blues deserved any luck that went their way in the second-half when a magnificent backs-to-the-wall display repelled every Arsenal attack.
On the occasions that Wenger’s team did get a sight of goal they found Ben Foster in scintillating form. The Blues keeper pulled off a string of top-class saves to keep the Gunners at bay, before providing the assist for a dramatic 89th minute winner.
Foster pumped a high free-kick into the opposition penalty area and a mix-up between Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny gifted an almost unmissable chance to super sub Obafemi Martins, who had only been on the pitch for six minutes. The Nigerian striker, making only his fourth appearance since joining the Club on loan, had the simple job of rolling the ball into an empty net.
Blues held on comfortably through four minutes of stoppage-time before the referee’s final whistle sparked scenes of unbridled joy, both on the pitch for those wearing royal blue and the thousands in the stands.
Stephen Carr help the trophy aloft to confirm Birmingham City as 2011 Carling Cup winners and set up the enticing prospect of European football at St. Andrew’s.
Foster received the Alan Hardaker trophy as the man-of-the-match, an accolade he’d won two years before with Manchester United, but this victory meant so much more to the Blues keeper. “It was a given at United that you were going to win trophies but with a team like Birmingham it was against all odds as we were the underdogs,” said Foster. “We’re not a fashionable team, but we showed the togetherness and team spirit and we did it.”
Those sentiments were echoed by defender Liam Ridgewell. “You only have to look back to the Brentford game a few rounds back. We were dead and buried but came back, got to penalties and won. We have always given our all to the very last whistle and we’ve done that again.”
We’ll leave the final word to match-winner Martins. He was to make only two more appearances for Blues during his brief stay in the Second City, but his Wembley goal etched him a permanent place in the annals of Birmingham City history.
“It was the easiest goal that I’ve ever scored in my career but it was also the most important,” said the striker. “I think we deserved it overall, and you can see what it means to the Birmingham fans so I’m glad we did it for them.”
ON MONDAY 27 MAY, 1963 BLUES LIFTED THEIR FIRST MAJOR TROPHY BY BEATING ASTON VILLA IN THE LEAGUE CUP FINAL.
It would be almost half a century before success of that magnitude would be repeated.
A crowd of almost 32,000 - the third highest St. Andrew’s attendance of the season - crammed into the stadium on a Thursday night in late May for the first leg of the final. The competition, now into its third year, finally took on a whole new appeal to the silverware-starved Bluenoses. In four days time one of the captains would be lifting a shiny cup aloft, with the added ingredient of local bragging rights also up for grabs. The shackles of a relegation scrap now removed, it was the home side that set about the challenge with vigour and no little panache. Unsurprisingly, Merrick named the same side that pulled off the final-day rescue act against Leicester but they looked anything but a team that had only narrowly avoided relegation. Meanwhile, Villa, who had won the first ever League Cup tournament two years earlier, were found lacking in quality on the big stage.
The visitors were up for the fight though, a little overly so during the opening exchanges. Scottish striker Bobby Thomson didn’t endear himself to the home fans as he slid in on Blues keeper Johnny Schofield. And Wales international wing-half Vic Crowe brought fellow countryman Ken Leek crashing to the ground with another wince-inducing tackle. But when it came to the cultured side of the game, it was Blues that produced all the best moves.
Harris was unlucky to see his shot turned onto the crossbar by an inspired Nigel Sims between the posts for Villa. But the fans didn’t have to wait long to see the opponent’s net ripple for the first time. On 14 minutes, Harris fed the ball out to Bertie Auld on the left wing and the Scot’s pinpoint cross was clinically converted by Leek.
Bloomfield became the next victim of Villa’s overly-physical approach as he was forced to leave the action to have his thigh bandaged but Mercer’s side were unable to take advantage of their numerical advantage. The visitors relied too much on lumping high balls into the Blues area, a tactic that played right into the hands of the hosts who could call on the commanding figure of skipper Trevor Smith to repel such unimaginative forays. However, the first time that Villa launched an attack on the ground four minutes before the interval they drew level. Gordon Lee and then Harry Burrows advanced with the ball before teeing up Thomson, who let fly with an instinctive effort that caught Schofield unawares and nestled into the corner.
Blues were unfortunate to find themselves on level terms but in the second-half the hosts made their superiority count. Just seven minutes after the restart Harris, Auld and Leek combined again to terrific effect. The latter was put through on and he kept his composure with a cool finish beyond Sims for his second goal of the game. With so much at stage, tempers began to flare on both sides. Crowe felt the full force of Auld’s flailing elbow, Charlie Aitken shoved Blues winger Mike Hellawell in the chest before John Fraser and Harris squared up to each other and had to be dragged apart by team-mates.
But whilst Merrick’s men were getting embroiled in the unpleasantries, when it came to free-flowing football they were the undoubted masters of the show and carved out a crucial third goal on 66 minutes. Harris slid the ball through to Bloomfield who weaved his magic. He tiptoed past two Villa defenders as if they weren’t there before brushing aside a challenge from Sims and pushing the ball neatly through the narrow gap between the goalkeeper and his near-post.
Blues strolled through the remainder of the game and could have racked up more goals if it wasn’t for the heroics of Sims, as he pulled off two more stunning saves late on to deny Leek and Auld. Harris, who produced his best performance of the season on just the right occasion, admitted that his side should have chalked up a more comprehensive first-leg lead. “It could have been 5-1 at St. Andrew’s,” insisted the striker, who was involved in the build-up to all three Blues goals. “Nigel Sims was outstanding that night. I had a shot which he tipped onto the bar and he made numerous other saves.”
But overall it was a thoroughly satisfying night’s work from Merrick’s men and set them up nicely for the return leg at Villa Park the following Monday.
It was a script that even the Roy of the Rovers comic strip writers might have felt was a little far-fetched. Blues had gone 74 years without any major trophy to show for their endeavours, despite spending 36 seasons in the top flight of English football and regularly playing in front of bumper crowds of 30,000-plus. That long wait for silverware was potentially about to end as Gil Merrick’s men went into the second leg of the 1963 League Cup final with a healthy two-goal advantage from the first match at home. But standing in the way of that first ever triumph was the small matter of near-neighbours and arch-rivals Aston Villa. If Blues could hold their nerve then skipper Trevor Smith would not only have the honour of lifting the club’s first cup but he’d be doing so on enemy soil.
Blues had gone into the first meeting of the sides in buoyant mood following their final-day escape from relegation. Unburdened from the intense pressure that had enveloped the squad during the closing weeks of the league season, Merrick’s side produced some terrific free-flowing football to take total control of the St. Andrew’s encounter and rack up a 3-1 lead. Top scorer Ken Leek’s brace was added to by a goal from Jimmy Bloomfield, with only a strike from future Blues striker Bobby Thomson for Villa putting a slight dampener on proceedings. In truth the hosts deserved to win by more than two goals and the only question was whether they would live to regret that failure to make the most of their dominance.
Memories of their last visit to B6 could have cast seeds of doubt in the minds of Merrick’s players ahead of the second leg. Two months earlier Joe Mercer’s team had recorded a 4-0 home league victory over a Blues side that were on a bad run of form and bereft of confidence. But this newly-invigorated Birmingham would prove a very different proposition.
It was virtually the same group of players that ran out onto the Villa Park pitch from the ones which lost so heavily on their previous trip across the city. Jimmy Bloomfield was the only change to that side, although the inside-right almost missed out again. The former Arsenal man sustained bruising to his thigh during the hard-fought first leg and he was only passed fit for the rematch just 30 minutes before kick-off, with the injured leg heavily strapped to enable him to take part. It was decision that Merrick later admitted was “a gamble - that paid off”.
Six of the Villa side had experienced a League Cup final before, when coincidentally they had bounced back from a two-goal first leg deficit to beat Rotherham United by three goals at Villa Park to become the inaugural winners of the competition. There never looked to be any danger of a repeat recovery mission this time around.
There was one other member of that victorious Villa side from 1961 that took to the turf again, but by now full-back Stan Lynn was an integral member of the Blues team. It was to be a happy homecoming for the former Villa stalwart as he enjoyed a particularly good game, as did his defensive colleagues. It was Smith that took most of the plaudits as he negated the threat of Villa’s most dangerous attacker Thomson. The home side’s 22-goal top scorer Harry Burrows was also kept well and truly out of harm’s way due to the close attentions of former team-mate Lynn.
It was the visitors that actually came closest to opening the scoring during the first period when Jimmy Harris scooped his shot over the bar from Mike Hellawell’s cross. Villa enjoyed plenty of possession but lacked the imagination and creativity to unlock the determined and steadfast Blues backline.
Mercer’s stubbornness in leaving Northern Ireland international striker Derek Dougan out in the cold following a fall-out between the pair played right into Blues’ hands. It robbed Villa of any real aerial menace and allowed Blues’ captain fantastic Smith to easily soak up everything that the hosts had to offer in terms of an attacking thrust. Experienced wing-half Vic Crowe tried his best to pep up his shot-shy side and went close with one drive as well missing the target from another opportunity.
But visiting goalkeeper Johnny Schofield wasn’t truly tested during the whole 90 minutes and Merrick’s charges comfortably saw out the game to clinch a 3-1 aggregate success. Blues may have employed a few time-wasting tactics, which included prolonged bouncing of the ball inside the penalty area by Schofield in an era when pass-backs to the keeper were permitted and there was no such thing as the six-second rule, but the team certainly didn’t go there intent on holding on to what they’d got.
Scottish winger Bertie Auld insisted: “The manager reminded us that we were winning 3-1 but there were no instructions to keep it tight, that wasn’t in his vocabulary at all. He was a typical Blues supporter and he wanted to beat them at Villa Park. It wasn’t your normal 0-0. It was a great open game, even though there weren’t any goals. I think the cup was written all over us from day one.”
As the final whistle blew thousands of Blues fans streamed onto the pitch from all three occupied sides of the ground - the roofless Witton Lane stand having been closed to spectators. Hellawell can still recall the atmosphere created by the 37,921 crowd. “It was electric,” says the winger, adding “It was a helter-skelter match and the ball was flying all over the place.”
It was highly appropriate that man-of-the-match Smith should be the player to receive the trophy from Football League vice-president Joe Mears. But unlike their successors of 48 years later, there were no great on-pitch celebrations. Harris recalled: “We didn’t go overboard. Trevor just picked up the cup and we all walked back into the dressing room. Each player received a small tankard and we drank champagne from it afterwards.” However, the Scouse striker added: “It was a nice feeling to lift the cup at Villa Park.”
The reserved Hellawell can remember toasting Blues’ victory with “a cup of tea and a bun” but Terry Hennessey made more of the opportunity to gloat at his opponents’ expense. The wing-half remembered: “I was friends with some of the Villa boys and after the match we had a beer together. You know if they’d have beaten us then the beer wouldn’t have tasted so good!”