Two footballers have set rivalries aside to come together and celebrate a successful season for Birmingham.

Aston Villa’s Emile Heskey and Birmingham City’s Liam Ridgewell appeared at the Bull Ring shopping centre to mark the city’s rise as a top tourist destination after sponsored both clubs - in a first for English football. The campaign - launched at the beginning of the 2008/09 season - has helped to increase web traffic by more than 20 per cent.

Both clubs are urging visiting fans to stay for the weekend and experience what the city has to offer.

Emile, who has lived in Birmingham for many years, said: “My playing career has taken me to cities all over the world and it always amazes me how diverse Birmingham is and how much there is to do.”

Liam added: “We have an extremely exciting city here with a reputation for world class sport. We are encouraging all visiting fans to stay for the weekend and explore the city away from the football ground.” is the official tourism website for the city, operated by Marketing Birmingham.

Through its sponsorship deal with Villa and Blues the brand has the potential to reach a global audience of 2.3 billion people who follow football.

The campaign also aims to align both clubs more closely with the city to help improve its image as a top sporting destination, using the messages ‘Birmingham City – At the heart of the City’ and ‘Aston Villa – Pride of Birmingham’.

Marketing Birmingham’s marketing director Dave Hodgson said: “The high profile of both football clubs has enabled our message to be shown across the world. Our branding has been in the media spotlight on programmes such as Match of the Day, Sky Sports and Setanta, with fantastic results.

“We are maximising every opportunity before the end of the season with a series of events that will demonstrate we are united when it comes to our affections for the city and show visiting supporters that Birmingham is more than just a place to come for 90 minutes on a Saturday.”