Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I’m in no way saying a deal is done.
I would hope that after the last year, there is a realisation that it’s impossible for me or anyone else to say “it’s done” until the ink is dried on the paperwork and the metaphorical names have been changed over the door.
However, despite the caveat above I believe that it is possible to have a discussion now about what Blues fans could want from future owners; especially with the games on the pitch looking increasingly like dead rubbers.
We all know that the club needs major investment; whether it be in the team, the stadium or the training ground. I’m not here to argue the order that this needs to happen or the amounts that are needed.
Instead, I wanted to offer some thoughts of what I think is the bigger picture.
A Restoration of Trust
One does not have to search hard online to see that there is a huge amount of cynicism from fans towards the club right now. Scepticism is running at an all-time high, which has turned the gallows humour from some into a genuine victim complex from others.
Right now, I think if the club declared the sun had risen, some fans would go outside and look up to check.
While I accept that social media is the home of hyperbole and it shouldn’t be taken that seriously, I think this cynicism has seeped into the mindset of the average fan.
I don’t think that there is any coincidence that attendances have fallen at the ground in the past year.
I’ve spoken to so many people who have just fallen out of the habit of going to the match, worn down by years of poor results and a growing lack of hope that things are going to change.
The deep-rooted apathy that has grown towards the club is going to be difficult for any new ownership to shift.
However, if a consortium is going to make any success of owning the club, then it is vital that they are able to reverse this trend.
While some fans might say that quick wins like cheap tickets or even tickets given away would help, I honestly believe initiatives like that are treating the symptoms of a problem rather than the root causes.
Likewise, while communication from owners via the club website and social media might offer some initial hope, those words will quickly become seen as empty promises without immediate actions to back them up.
I think everyone is going to have to face facts that it’s going to be a long road for any new owners to restore the reputational damage caused to the club over the last decade or so.
That means that the journey to a restoration of trust is going to be one of many small incremental steps.
It’s going to be impossible to get everyone onside from the start; especially if the deal done ends up being this horrific three-tranche deal done over a period of a couple of years.
The stadium repairs are a good example of this.
The club have confirmed that they are taking place this summer and have shared some details of the safe standing which will be implemented into the lower Tilton stand.
When it was initially communicated that the stadium repairs were to be completed this summer, there was a lot of disbelief.
I’ll freely admit I was one of the cynical types. The whole thing has been such a mess, with failures from the board to properly understand the scale of the issue let alone communicate it to fans. Were these just words from the board to quell the latest grumblings of protest?
As more and more details have been announced, there has been more and more acceptance that this will be happening from fans. Even so, many remain unconvinced until the work starts taking place, with some so deeply cynical they won’t believe it until it’s done.
My hope is that when works do begin this summer, the club shares news and pictures on a regular basis to show what is happening.
More importantly, I hope the club has the bravery to share with fans any issues that may crop up.
I’d like to think people are more accepting of things going wrong if they are told about it in an honest and timely manner – and this management of expectations will help ensure small problems don’t become huge issues down the pike.
I’m a big believer in under-promising and over-delivering; something I think the club has struggled with in recent years.
Keep the promises small and the timelines clear and as you keep delivering them, people will naturally trust you more.
One of the biggest things that I think has held Birmingham City back in recent years is a lack of collaboration or even co-operation with outside bodies.
While the situation with the EFL is much improved since the days of former Blues CEO Ren Xuandong and Shaun Harvey, I think there are other entities the club could and should be working with to help improve the club’s future.
A good example of this would be Birmingham City Council.
Over the last decade or maybe longer, Birmingham City Council has had a reputation among some Blues fans at least of being unhelpful.
Indeed, some of the more hyperbolic fans will go further and claim that the council has such a bias towards the other club in the city, that they will actively act against Blues.
While I’m 100% sure that the council aren’t actively biased against Blues, I can believe that there has been a reluctance from the council in the past to work with the club.
From a PR perspective at least, it must be difficult for the council to be supportive of the club right now, especially considering some of the well-known issues surrounding the ownership of Blues.
My hope is that if a new owner comes in, then that potential for reluctance will disappear.
After all, the leader of the council Ian Ward is a Blues fan; surely there is a desire from him to help move the club forwards?
While I’m not expecting the levels of investment that have been put into the area surrounding Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, I do think lessons could be learned from what has been done around that stadium to help improve St Andrew’s and the area around it for the benefit of both the club and the local community.
I think it’s also important that any new ownership regime reaches out to deal with the West Midlands Combined Authority if they can.
One of the main things the WMCA deals with is transport in the area; something I think that is a big issue at St Andrew’s.
I’d like to see new owners work with the WMCA to help improve public transport links for the longer term, whether Blues are to stay at St Andrew’s or move to another ground.
The more partners the club can work with, the more chance I believe the club has of long-term sustainable success.
One of the biggest things we have been lacking as Blues fans in the past few years is hope.
The continued entanglement with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange has left us feeling frustrated that anything could change, while the terrible transfer deals and new contracts done by people like Ren have made it difficult for the club to bring in fresh blood to the team.
A new ownership regime will hopefully end once and for all the dark shadow the letters HKSE cast over the club, while the forced austerity of the last few years is slowly coming to an end as the huge hangover contracts of the Dong days come to an end.
Hope this season for many including myself was that Blues wouldn’t finally get sucked into the relegation plughole after circling the drain so many times. The fact that the team is almost mathematically safe with five games to go is more than a lot of us expected last July.
Such meagre expectations aren’t great for the long-term health of the club and has absolutely contributed to the malaise felt by many now.
Hope is the hardest thing for anyone to restore, as it doesn’t come from promises and “three year plans”.
It can only come from hard evidence of positive things happening and of positive outcomes on the pitch.
Hope will grow as the team scores goals and wins games; as young players flourish and people are proud once more to be Blues fans.
In some ways I’m glad that FFP constraints will ensure that the club cannot spend wildly in the 2023/4 season, as it will force whoever owns the club to look at organic ways to grow the squad rather than another trolley dash like the summer of 2017.
Being forced to promote from within will give young players the hope that they can achieve a career in professional football at Blues and will help to attract other young players seeking to fulfil that ambition.
Making those steps towards a team of our own players rather than one filled out with loanees will give me hope that the long-term future of the club is more secure. The more secure the long-term future, the more chance Blues have of pushing on permanently.
It is a huge ask, but it’s the one thing I want most from new owners.
While I have no doubt there are people out there who will disagree with me, I hope this article can start a conversation that we’ve not dared to have for a while.
For the first time in a long time, this summer could be a real chance for change at St Andrew’s.
If that happens, it’s imperative that the impetus is not wasted and things move on.