Birmingham City began life as Small Heath Alliance in 1875 when a group of cricketers from the Holy Trinity Church formed the team and named it after the local district of Small Heath. They were trailblazers early on as they became the first English club to become a limited company with its own board of directors. Perhaps less glamorously, they initially played on a patch of wasteland not far from their current home of St Andrews. They did finally move into the stadium in 1906 briefly after adopting the new name Birmingham Football Club. The team were known as “The Heathens” in the early days, a nickname taken from their name Small Heath, but this was ditched for the more typical tag “The Blues” which is a reference to the colour of their kits and continues to be used to this day.
Birmingham City competed in 11 seasons of association football in regional leagues before being invited by the Football League to join the Second Division. In its inaugural season “The Blues” won the title, only missing out on promotion to Division One because of an antiquated “test match” system. The following year they would finish second and go up via the same rule. They then yo-yo’d between Division One and Division Two until 1920 when they won the Second Division again and began a sustained period of almost two decades in the top flight. Despite this consistency, they struggled in the league, and relied heavily on England goalkeeper Harry Hibbs to make up for their lack of potency up front. They were finally relegated in 1939, the last full season before the Football League was abandoned for the duration of the Second World War.
The post war period brought some success to the club. In 1943 they officially became Birmingham City FC and under manager Harry Storer they captured their third Second Division title in 1947 with their watertight defence conceding only 24 goals in 42 games. Sadly they only lasted one season and went back down for a few more years until in 1954-55 they became four time champions in the second tier. Over the following decade they established themselves in Division One and even went on to blaze more trails in Europe, becoming both the first English team to compete in European competition when they lost to Barcelona in the semi-finals of the first ever Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1956, and the first to reach a European Final when they lost again to Barcelona in the final of the 1960 Fairs Cup. In 1963 they won their first major piece of silverware beating bitter rivals Aston Villa to win the League Cup. However, this period of glory and European adventure came to an end with relegation back to Division 2 in 1965.
The three decades which followed were anything but boring as Birmingham were promoted to and relegated from the top flight every few years, reached several domestic cup finals and played some attractive football at times. Perhaps their most notable star during this era, Trevor Francis, was sold to Nottingham Forest in 1979. In the process, he became the first ever player transferred for a fee of £1 million. He had scored 133 goals in 329 appearances during his 9 year stay at St Andrews. This time of ups and downs reached a low point in 1989 when Birmingham were relegated to the Third Division for the first time in their history.
After a financial and footballing rebuild, The Blues enjoyed more success in the 2000s. Cult heroes like Christophe Dugarry and Mikael Forssell formed part of a great squad, led by former player Steve Bruce, which helped Birmingham achieve relative consolidation in the top flight. Further on in the decade, former Scotland manager Alex McLeish provided fans with their second taste of major glory when they overcame the odds to defeat Arsenal in the League Cup final and once again qualify for European football when Obafemi Martins latched onto a loose ball in front of goal and tapped it home, somersaulting away in victory. Unfortunately they were relegated the same season which saw them in the unique position of being both a Championship side and in Europe. That didn’t last for long as they failed to reach the knock-out stages of the Europa League.
Today, The Blues are unfortunately a side constantly embroiled in relegation battles. The past four seasons they have narrowly survived in the second tier. They will be hoping that former Real Madrid defender and Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka can lift them up but fans have little cause for optimism with top flight derbies against their most hated rivals Aston Villa seemingly out of reach.