BCFC: Time for Protest?

A heavy 4-2 defeat to Bristol City on Saturday has left Birmingham City not only 18th in the Championship table, but has massively increased concerns of relegation among some fans. This lack of form coupled with the collapse of the Maxco “takeover” and news from the far east that BSHL do not wish to sell has in turn caused the idea of protest to once again be spoken out loud.

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

Protest is a difficult concept to talk about for me personally, because it’s often a no win situation.

Talk about it too much and I get shouted at by fans who say I’m not a “real fan” and that I should get behind the team; that it’s not the right time to protest because the team needs us and that protesting is distracting the team from performing on the pitch.

Don’t talk about it enough, and I get shouted at by fans who say I’m not a “real fan” and that I should be the one leading the cause, having all the ideas and generally being the front man for it all.

I’m smart enough to understand that both the viewpoints expressed above are extreme and that realistically I should just ignore them and put them out of my mind; however, I’m not dumb enough to think that I need to be very careful what I say when it comes to protests.

I decided to put this piece together because I think it’s important for us all to understand why the club is in the position it is right now, and because I think it’s important to make the point of what protest can achieve.

Why Protest?

When thinking about writing this piece, one of the first things I thought about is if there is an understanding why some Blues fans might want to protest against the owners.

From reading social media it’s clear that there is a wide range of views not only about what is wrong with the club, but also what has happened to put Blues into the situation the club currently finds itself in.

Therefore I think it makes sense to talk about the club’s current situation in a factual and non-emotional manner to help people to understand why there are so many bad feelings around.

One of the biggest current gripes is a perceived lack of investment both in the squad and in the club itself.

This is most easily shown by the fact that the lower Tilton and Kop remain closed to fans and have been since December 2020.

While the coronavirus pandemic ensured stadiums were closed for a whole season, there is an anger that the problems were not repaired while no fans were allowed into the stadium.

The fact that this has now dragged into 2023 is galling and there is understandable cynicism that the repairs will be completed this close season.

It’s my understanding that the demolition works caried out during the World Cup break were paid for by the Maxco consortium during their attempt to the buy the club, at a cost of around £500k.

I have no information whatsoever that this money has been repaid to Maxco since the collapse of their takeover.

It’s also my understanding that the cost of the repairs that needs to be carried out is in the region of £6m.

At the fans forum in December, Blues Trust reported that these repairs are on track to be done in the close season – however for them to be done they require Board approval in April.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my cynicism that Board approval for the repairs to be completed is not a foregone conclusion and that there is a possibility that this will drag on even further.

On the pitch, the problems are a bit harder to understand.

While some fans might point to the team and say that there is a lack of investment, some of the issues the squad faces remain as a result of overspending in the ill-fated 2017 trolley dash, among other transfer windows.

The chief issue faced by the club relates to the wage budget, which is huge in comparison to the amount of money the club makes.

While the accounts for last season have yet to be produced, it’s my belief that the wage bill to turnover ratio remained above 100%, meaning that the club paid out more than a £1 in wages for every £1 the club took in.

Although many fans will argue that the wage bill has been reduced, there are still players in the squad who earn £1m a year in basic wages, not to mention bonuses etc.

This means that not only is the club not profitable, but it’s also not sustainable and is absolutely reliant on money infusions to keep going. That money has to come from somewhere – be it the Jude Bellingham transfer, or infusions of cash from owners.

Therefore, the idea that the owners of Birmingham City are “asset strippers” is laughable in the extreme.

I think what is more important for us to point out is that it seems obvious the club’s owners have lost interest in the club for whatever reason, and are just funding it enough to keep going without seemingly looking for an exit strategy.

It’s clear the club is a financial millstone around the neck of BSH, so why are the owners being so difficult about selling it?

Of course, the HKSE listing is important, but there has been much time for the owners to find another project to reverse into the listing to allow them to dump the club.

I personally refuse to believe that it has been impossible for the BSH board to find or attract this kind of project, so I’m left looking for other reasons that they might wish to hold on to the club.

Will Protest Work?

One of the big questions I get asked by email is if protests will work and get rid of the owners.

It’s a difficult question to answer, because while on the face of it the possibility of protest causing them to sell looks remote, I cannot say exactly what will happen in the future.

There are things I don’t know – and more importantly things I don’t know that I don’t know. These unknown unknowns could be the variables that when changed could cause the sale to be pushed forward.

The only advice I can ever offer is the general methodology I employ myself on this blog.

It might not be obvious to the casual reader, but sometimes I write things on  this blog for specific reasons beyond informing Blues fans.

There are times I write things to make a specific point to a specific person or group of people, to help get across an idea which may be somewhat lost in the ether otherwise.

There are other times I write things to “shake the tree”. These blogs I write with the purpose of seeing what responses I get from them, so that I can further develop a line of thought and of knowledge.

I’m of the firm belief that protests could also in effect “shake the tree”.

I think there is an absolute 100% correlation between the last raft of protests and the first (and last) statement ever made by the club chairman, Frank Zhao Wenqing.

That statement clearly was designed to convince enough people that there was no need to protest and has been of little relevance – but it showed that they were a little bit rattled.

Who is to say what might happen if protests start up again?

For the avoidance of doubt, I will stress here that protests have to remain with legal boundaries as unlawful protests are going to cause serious problems for everyone.

I have to also stress that people shouldn’t rely on me for ideas. I’m doing what I can but I have my own personal stuff to deal with too and as much as I will support good ideas I can’t be the one to lead them

The biggest thing that needs to happen is that fans need to be proactive.

I see too many discussions on social media about whether fans should protest or not; too many images shared without any action; too many questions about who is going to lead it.

As I’ve said elsewhere, if a fan wants to be involved but can’t find a group or site where protest is being organised then the only alternative is to start one.

In the industry I work in there is an aphorism which I think is applicable here: Done is better than perfect.

What that means is rather than searching for a perfect solution, the thing to do is to go with an imperfect one to begin with. From that you learn what the mistakes and errors are, correct them and try again.

That same attitude can be applied to anyone wanting to start a protest or pressure group; come up with a plan, execute it and work out what went wrong so the next one is better.