Every so often, well away from the absurd self-importance of the whole bloated shooting match, the egos, the ridiculous wages, the wall to wall TV obsession, there’s a reminder why millions of us fell in love with football in the first place...
Any Blues fan will have been reminded of that feeling last Saturday. There they were, seconds from an ignominious drop into football’s third tier – even though it is confusingly called League One – when a journeyman by the name of Paul Caddis suddenly conjured up an injury-time equaliser at Bolton.
It’s fair to say that the memory of that moment will accompany thousands of Blues fans to their graves, decades after Caddis eventually hangs up his boots. Football has that sort of impact on the lives of its followers.
Remember, Birmingham City fans have had little to shout about in recent times, apart from a similarly dramatic win against Arsenal in the Carling Cup final in 2011.
The man who led the takeover from Sullivan and the Golds, Carson Yeung, is currently languishing in a Hong Kong prison cell after being convicted of money laundering.
The Yeung era had been punctuated by a succession of largely bewildering announcements to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange by parent group Birmingham International Holdings invariably revolving around attempts to raise money.
Debt for equity, share suspension and convertible bonds may not be the conversational currency of the average Blues fan, but the endless financial machinations in a Hong Kong boardroom ultimately led to the chain of events which culminated in Paul Caddis’s dramatic late intervention at the Reebok Stadium last Saturday.
Starved of funds in the wake of those aforesaid financial manoeuvres out in the Far East, manager Lee Clark had to rely on cutprice wheeler-dealing in the transfer market and homegrown talent to assemble a side capable of clinging on to second-tier status.
He did it, with seconds to spare. Clark was in tears at the end, an unashamed display of emotion which would have been replicated among a significant proportion of the 3,800 fans who had made the pilgrimage to Bolton Wanderers’ stadium, more in hope than expectation. And that Blues moment encapsulates why football at its purest will always transcend the gargantuan egos of the managers, players and broadcasters.
You can take all your strutting Allardyces and Warnocks, your self-promoting Linekers and Savages with their cheesy grins and even cheesier tweeting, the overgrown playground activities of the John Terrys and the Ashley Coles, the Sepp Blatters who sell the World Cup to the likes of Russia and Qatar and all the other grotesques who populate the landscape of the global game and none of it could ever compare with the pure joy for every Blues fan as that Caddis goal hit the back of the net.
Birmingham City’s Great Escape in the North West may only have registered a brief tremor across the ever-rumbling earthquake which characterises football’s global footprint – but it serves to remind the many millions whose lives revolve around this phenomenon why football will always matter, and why it will survive all the monstrous egos.
There was a time, distantly but most memorably recalled by some of us on a golden July afternoon nearly 50 years ago at Wembley Stadium as the late Bobby Moore climbed the steps to hold aloft the World Cup, when football still represented a glorious ideal, a way of life that transcended mere money and added colour and excitement to drab, everyday existence.
That sporting and cultural ideal has been shattered into a million pieces in the intervening decades. England will never again win the World Cup, at least not whilst the self-serving bureaucrats who prey on the game’s once noble soul choose to flog off the most glittering family silver in the cabinet to Russia or Qatar.
Roy Hodgson’s men will travel to Brazil next month with the hopes and ambitions of millions alongside them every step of the way. They will do well to get out of the group stages, with homegrown talent often struggling to hold down a place at a Premier League top table stuffed to overflowing with overseas ‘stars,’ some of them mere mercenaries out to make a fast buck whilst the TV revenues continued to roll in.
But, and this is where the Blatters, the Jack Warners and all the other committee men can never hope to win with their relentless politicking, the ‘Football Man’ will always survive. The late Arthur Hopcraft wrote some of the most stirring prose summing up the game’s appeal for his seminal 1968 book, The Football Man.
“No player, manager, director or fan who understands football, either through his intellect or nerve-ends, ever repeats that piece of nonsense trotted out mindlessly by the fearful every now and again which pleads ‘After all, it’s only a game.’
“It has not been only a game for 80 years, not since the working classes saw in it an escape route out of drudgery and claimed it as their own. It has not been a sideshow this century.
“What happens on the football field matters, not in the way that food matters but as poetry does to some people and alcohol does to others: it engages the personality.
“The crowds can be vindictive and brutal, but they can seldom be deceived. They know about their football intuitively, as they know about their families.”
All those joyous Blues fans who celebrated Paul Caddis’s goal last Saturday might not have put it quite so lyrically, but they would have instinctively understood Hopcraft’s timeless sentiments.