Inside the Ownership, New and Old, of Birmingham City
Birmingham City is a football club of contradictions. They boast an enormous fanbase, and yet the success of the club doesn’t match its size. Birmingham have only ever played 5 seasons of Premier League football, the most recent being 2011. Astonishingly, despite being relegated that year, they also won national silverware by beating Arsenal 2-1 in the League Cup final. They are the only big midlands club to win a trophy in the 21st century. This exceeds clubs who have spent far longer in the Premier League, such as West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and their bitter rivals in Birmingham Aston Villa.
Since 2011, though, they have been languishing in the Championship, the second tier of English football. That’s thirteen straight seasons without Premier League football.
So why the perennial underachievement? The answer is simple: ownership. Like many clubs in the Premier League-hungry Championship, Birmingham have been plagued by parasitic and incompetent owners. When the club were in the Premier League, Birmingham was owned by Hong Kong businessman and ex-hairdresser Carsen Yeung, a man since imprisoned for money laundering offences. His successors were no better. In fact, they might have been worse. The Asian consortium Trillian Trophy Asia took over the club in 2016. They oversaw the hiring of seven different permanent managers, two different points deductions, two failed takeovers, innumerable fan protests, neglected asbestos damage to the stadium, and, most astonishingly, a training ground fire. Under Trillion Trophy Asia, Birmingham City became a soap opera of a club. A mess. A joke.
It’s hard to recall a time when Birmingham had ‘good’ owners in the modern era–‘good’ meaning, at the bare minimum, ‘not a criminal’. So you can imagine the outpouring of euphoria, and disbelief, that has accompanied Trillion Trophy Asia’s replacement.
The new owners of Birmingham, who took over in July 2023, could not be more different. They are visible. They are charismatic. They are ambitious. Birmingham fans watched incredulously as Knighthead, an American hedge fund managed by Tom Wagner, took over the club. They watched in utter bewilderment as Tom Brady, American Football legend, announced a minority stake in the club. And they watched with anxiety when their Brummie-born manager John Eustace was sacked in favour of Wayne Rooney. Eustace had stabilised the club on the field, avoiding relegation last season and taking them up to 6th in the table. And yet he was sacked in favour of a more illustrious name who remains unproven in management.
Birmingham’s new owners have already proved themselves to be different, and superior, to Trillion Trophy Asia. Again, it’s a low bar, but at least they aren’t criminals. They have invested in a dilapidated stadium and a below average playing squad. They have brought back optimism, even indulgence, to the club. Time will tell whether the Rooney appointment pays off–many suspect it won’t–but one thing is clear as day. Birmingham City’s new owners don’t want the club to be treated as a joke. They want it to be taken seriously.
In other words, they want Premier League football. But Birmingham fans have been mistreated for far too long. They don’t want ‘promises’ or ‘ambition’; at this point, all they want is results.
Image: Wikimedia Commons