A 12-minute bus ride from Birmingham International – make sure you have the correct change – sits National League side Solihull Moors’ five and a half thousand-seater stadium, a ground they gladly share with Birmingham City Women. The humble surroundings suit the club that despite peaks, remains a small fish in a growing pond.
Not fully brought in-house by Birmingham City FC until the end of 2016, having had an up and down relationship with the club and its different owners over the previous decade. From the days of David Gold and Karen Brady reneging on a commitment to invest in the club – an eleventh-hour donation from a player’s parent all that saw the team saved from withdrawing from the league. To the open relationship with subsequent majority shareholder, Carson Yeung that prompted vice-chairman Sammy Yu refer to the team as “family” although it would be another six years before they further integrated.
As the men’s team has had its ups and downs, so too the women’s team has had its highs and increasing lows. At one point boasting a quarter of the England squad, the team remained the little sister to that of Arsenal, Charlton Athletic and Fulham (before the latter two canned their women’s teams). Enjoying one of the best spells of their history at the start of the WSL era that saw the team from the Midlands claim the FA Cup crown in 2012 as they finished the season in second for the second time.
Under the careful management of David Parker, the team that leant on homegrown talents enjoyed a blistering run to the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-finals in their second season in the competition. Knocked out of the UWCL at the first hurdle their first season – undone by a stoppage time goal from Cristiana Girelli – the Blues came back fighting in their second season and even managed to keep a clean sheet against giants of the day, Tyresö at Damson Park. The second leg one that saw the Swedish powerhouse ease to a victory with goals from Christen Press and Marta.
The way down
But for Birmingham, the success and achievements were fleeting, their back-to-back second place finishes in the league never to be bettered or even matched again. They would return to the FA Cup final again in 2017 but be thoroughly humbled by Manchester City, the same team that had found a way beyond them in the league cup final in extra time the previous season.
More and more money would be pumped into the women’s game leading Birmingham’s better players to leave the Midlands, bigger paycheques and revitalised charges for silverware promised elsewhere. The team that enjoyed so much successes developing younger players through their academy saw its numbers dwindle, the exit of Marc Skinner, a man who had all but made the club his life signalling the end of a chapter.
There was little Marta Tejedor could do at the end of the 2018-19 season, as contracts were up in Birmingham. The Chilean had been an out of the box appointment after Skinner’s mid-season departure but managed to keep the team ticking over as she adjusted to her new surroundings. The 2018-19 season not the biggest success in Birmingham’s history but a fourth-place finish – two points off of Chelsea in third – arguably a respectable one. But the summer came all too fast and the players left in their droves, losing 11 players between the start of the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.
Birmingham’s defensive foundations that had been the backbone of the side for so long were pulled like a rug from under the feet with the departures of Aoife Mannion and Meaghan Sargeant. Kerys Harrop, the Blues’ longest serving player, the only continuity from the heyday of the team, her continued presence a testament to the strength of the Centre of Excellence at the club.
2019-20, the season to forget
Tejedor was asked to rebuild the team ahead of the season with modest resources, the team falling foul of injuries as results have gotten away from them. One-nil losses to Everton and West Ham set the tone for the season, the team struggling for results throughout although the football they have played has been a long way from the worst in the league. The mistakes have been costly but more so the lack of goals and the constant reminder of how much they miss Ellen White’s impact now she’s at Manchester City. With seven points from 12 matches, the team are mathematically in a dire straits without much of a cushion, one of the three WSL teams threatened with relegation.
As Brighton have pulled clear – albeit having played more games, the Blues as well as fellow strugglers Liverpool and Bristol City incurring multiple postponements, Birmingham find themselves in a three-way fight for survival. More porous than Liverpool, who have seldom lost by more than one goal but with less successful strikes than the Robins, the surefire way for Birmingham to secure their status is to stop being so wasteful when in. Their clash against Bristol this weekend one with all weight placed on it, although the Blues are well capable of finding results (be they draws or wins) against half the opposition they’ll be facing later in the season.
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