BCFC: The Stress Test

Tuesday night was a good night to be a Blues fan. The weather held off, the team finally managed to break its scoring duck and Tony Mowbray secured the first home win in the league for Birmingham City since November 25th. All in all it made for a good warm up for what appears to be main event on Saturday when Sunderland roll into town.

St Andrew's vs Blackburn

Many Blues fans have risen to the challenge since the release of the Tom Wagner video speaking of the initiatives the club have come out with in an attempt to sell out the Sunderland game on January 31.

It’s going to be a close-run thing whether every seat is sold, but there is no doubt that this will be the biggest crowd at St Andrew’s for quite a while.

The last time Blues recorded an attendance in excess of 25,000 fans was the infamous derby game where Paul Mitchell etched his name into the history books for all the wrong reasons in March 2019.

Since then, a combination of various factors have done much to encourage fans to find other ways to spend their Saturdays away from B9, and this will be a chance to hopefully reverse that trend.

While it’s obvious on the surface that it’s important for Blues to push to sell out big games for both football and financial reasons, I also believe that the Sunderland game will be an important stress test of how far Blues have come.

When I say stress test, I’m not referring to moments like the one at the end of Tuesday’s game where a long throw had Blues fans collective hearts in their throats in fear of conceding.

The Sunderland game is going to be the biggest test of stadium infrastructure since Knighthead took on ownership last July.

It’ll be the first real opportunity for Knighthead to properly see what they still need to remedy on matchday, and what the blockers are that stop the club from regularly having huge crowds.

I can already see people lining up to think that piece is going to be negative, but I honestly believe it’s important to come at this problem from a positive and proactive place.

Just as I’ve seen other fans rising to the challenge to make the matchday experience better for Blues fans, I want to talk about where some of the pain points might be ahead of Saturday in the hope that we can all be prepared for them.

Safety and Security

The aforementioned Paul Mitchell incident was not the finest hour for the club and has had ramifications which impacted on us all.

Not only did the incident change the momentum of the game for Blues and potentially helped cause the defeat on the day, it also landed the club in hot water with the footballing authorities.

The incident ensured the club had to take visible steps to help ensure it couldn’t happen again. It gave the Safety Advisory Group (SAG) added impetus to demand extra security in place as well as more segregation measures to hinder fans from being able to invade the pitch.

It’s been nearly five years since that incident, but in some ways I think the club is still paying the price.

On arrival at the stadium before the game, one can’t get to the turnstiles before being searched by security staff for weapons or prohibited items.

With normal crowds, this isn’t really an issue as there are enough staff to process fans without too big a queue forming although it can get busy in the last few minutes before kickoff.

However, with a much larger crowd than usual expected on Saturday this could be the first pain point for fans – particularly if a large proportion arrive in the immediate run up to the match.

I’m interested to see how turnstile operators cope with the additional demand too. The increased crowd will mean a larger number than usual of walk-up fans, some of whom may not be used to how the ticketing system works.

While I don’t anticipate any problems with tickets, I’d hope that Blues station a few additional staff here and there at entrances to deal with the inevitable odd problems that will happen to keep queues flowing quickly.

Wristband for Safe Standing
Courtesy Lee Brookes

For those in the safe standing area, there is an additional final ticket check before taking up their position in the lower Tilton.

The SAG have demanded that all fans in the safe standing area have a wristband given to them prior to entering their area, so that the club can be sure tickets have been checked properly for people standing behind the goal.

For ordinary games this hasn’t been too much of a problem but with a full lower tier and some fans maybe not aware of this situation there is a chance that this could cause queues particularly in the last few minutes before the game.

However, having a full lower tier means the club can properly see if the system works as it should at full capacity and will have the opportunity to work out any changes that may be needed as crowds get consistently larger.


I believe one of tne of the biggest remaining bugbears with regards to the matchday experience for fans is the catering options both before and during the game.

I don’t have to look hard on social media to see people complaining about things – be it the kiosks running out of hot water for drinks to the standard of food not being up to scratch.

During busier games, there is no doubt that concourses can get crowded and even without a full stadium I’ve known games in the Gil Merrick Lower where I’ve not even considered half time refreshment because it seems pointless.

You’ll get fans giving the somewhat facetious point that maybe it’s not necessary for a pie and a pint at half time, but this kind of revenue is important to help the club remain sustainable.

Saturday is going to be interesting because it’ll be the biggest crowd Elior have had to deal with by far since they took the outsourced contract on in 2021.

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Elior have struggled to deliver the best service as caterers. The standard of service varies wildly, and while I’m sure staff try their best even on a quiet day there are issues which are irritating.

As an example, on Tuesday evening I both got overcharged for my food and drink, and then was forced to wait for a longer period of time than necessary as the server struggled to pour out the bottle of Coke Zero without it overflowing the plastic cup.

Concourse Queues
Courtesy Chris Goulding

Neither problem was anything more than an irritant on Tuesday, but with bigger queues in the concourse come bigger pressures and lower patience from fans.

I think Saturday is also an opportunity for the club to see how fans act with busier concourses than usual.

We know from experience that it can get very busy in the stand concourses on a matchday, and I would hope that the powers that be use the game to figure out how they can potentially create more space for fans outside of the stand.

That in turn would hopefully create more opportunities to sell refreshments and merchandise to fans, which in turn will help to improve financial results.

While the Elior contract is not due to expire until 2026, it’s my understanding that there is a potential break clause at the end of this season which I’m almost certain the club will exercise.

Assuming this is the case it’s imperative that the club learn from all the issues Elior have had to make for a better situation next season.

Travel and Parking

One of the things the club has least control over is also one of the biggest problems the club has right now.

Parking around the ground has always been contentious, especially as resident schemes have been brought in to prevent fans parking in certain locations close to St Andrew’s.

However, the recent spate of vehicles having their fronts stripped by thieves have added a new dimension to the issue of getting to the games for people.

It has reinforced a need for secure parking around the ground as well as improved public transport links between the centre of the city and St Andrew’s.

While the club cannot do much more than it already has, some fans have stepped up in an effort to try and improve the situation.

Paul Delves, vice chair of the Official Supporters Club HQ (OSC HQ) has spent time researching secure parking for fans which he has shared on Twitter, while meetings along side chair Sukhveer Singh Athwal and West Midlands Police have been arranged.

With additional fans comes additional traffic, and I believe this game will be a good example for Knighthead to understand the issues with traffic around the ground and usage of public transport.

I’m hopeful that they can then use that data to go to the West Midlands Combined Authority and Birmingham City Council to push for help with public transport links to the ground.

The recent improved relationship between the club and local authorities can only be a good thing and I think games like this can help show the local authorities the value Blues can bring both to the local area and the city.

As crowds continue to improve and the club grows, this can only be a good thing for the area and I’m hopeful that if these kinds of problems can be worked on quickly they will not become larger headaches in the future.

Despite one or two hiccups on the pitch, this season has been one of positivity. The stadium has finally fully reopened and we’ve already seen some of the investment into making the matchday experience better.

Saturday has potential to have some teething problems but it also has the potential to inspire new fans and reconnect with old ones.

Being self-aware of where we’re at and what needs to be fixed can only be a good thing, and hopefully should be another driver of the virtuous circle we’re currently experiencing.