Open House Reflections: The Knighthead Story

There are times when I wonder to myself why I put myself through the pain of being a Blues fan. Wednesday night in particular had me scratching my head as to why I let the results of a football team affect my mood so much and why I invest so much emotion in them.

As is normally the way in football, Saturday afternoon once again gave me the answer to that question.

The cursing of myself for hoping once more as I got to my seat gave way to stunned elation as Blues showed that they are capable of both scoring goals and winning. That feeling of hugging strangers, to quote the title of John Berry’s excellent book on the subject.

Seeing video clips afterwards of Tom Wagner joining in the chorus of Keep Right On from the director’s area; of him walking around the pitch urging the crowd on it’s clear that the club chairman has been infected with the same feelings as all of us fans have.

One of the main subjects to be broached at the Open House meeting last Tuesday was why Knighthead got involved with the club in the first place and what they hoped to achieve from their ownership.


Since the Open House last week there’s been a lot of stuff said online by non-Blues types about what was said by Tom Wagner.

Some of it has been inspired by jealousy.

There’s been some world-class copium from some of the mob from across the expressway who cannot believe that Blues might just be emerging from their shadow.

Some of it has been inspired by ignorance too.

There have been quite a few who can’t see past the words “hedge fund” to understand that there may be more to this than some American capitalists looking for a quick buck.

As bad as either of those could be on the surface, I can’t blame anyone for not understanding what Knighthead are planning with only a superficial knowledge of the situation.

Context is required outside of Wagner and Cook’s interviews and speeches to be able to understand why Knighthead bought Blues and are planning investment on such a grand scale.

With so much happening in a short period of time, it’s not hard for people to be a little bit lost as to why.

It was only just a shade over a year ago; on April 12, 2023 to be precise, that Shelby Companies Limited was founded in Birmingham as the takeover vehicle for Knighthead to buy Birmingham City.

On that same day, Birmingham Sports Holdings (as they were known then) made an announcement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that they had signed a letter of intent to selling a 24% stake in the club.

Back then, I had no idea of Wagner’s involvement.

I knew about Jeremy Dale and Often Partisan Limited and had had some limited contact with Dale in the process of him bringing investors online to buy the club.

And as much I liked and trusted Dale from what he told me, I was sceptical of what could happen under new owners.

Truth being told, I felt similar to many other Blues fans.

I had been traumatised into this idea that no-one would be looking to buy Blues in the state it was as an investment.

I figured at best we’d get competent investors who would get the club into a good shape so we’d be okay going forwards, maybe even to a point whereby a rich benefactor would want to get involved.

Never in my wildest dreams did I foresee the investment that was to come from Knighthead.

Yet in hindsight it now looks obvious that the club was at the perfect point for someone with vision to invest in.

Not only was it available at what was and is a knockdown price for a Championship club, but there was a real opportunity for someone to build something huge.

As Wagner himself said at the Open House, what attracted him and his colleagues to invest in Blues was the opportunity to buy the land we know as “Wheels”.

After all, how many other cities have such a huge chunk of land close to a city core that is ready to be redeveloped in the way Wheels is?

Understanding this context makes the rest of the story much easier to digest.

The Knighthead Story

The story as to while BSH sold Blues is one that has been told many times on this website alone, but the story as to why Knighthead bought Blues is one that is much less known.

At the Open House, Wagner told the story of how he first got a look at buying a club.

Having dealt with a restauranteur who needed some financial help, he was invited by said restauranteur to take a look at investment at an unnamed Premier League club.

The deal was one that Knighthead passed on having done their due diligence, but Wagner talked about how the idea of buying a football club intrigued him – especially as a move to investing in something much bigger.

I think this is an important point to understand because I think most of the ill-informed commentary out there is focusing on how Knighthead can get their investment back from the club alone.

It’s an easy mistake to make; after all, how many people have bought clubs with the bright lights of the Premier League in their eyes?

While Wagner was initially cool to the overtures of Garry Cook regarding Birmingham City, he came to realise that Blues was what he was looking for.

And as Cook was insistent, the idea gained traction.

Wagner talked about seeing the potential of Birmingham City. A large club, a passionate fanbase which had seen years of underinvestment.

Most of all, what Wagner saw was that Blues carried the name of the city.

To me it’s almost funny how we overlook it sometimes, but the fact our club carries the name of our city makes investing in it so powerful.

By building the club’s brand to a global, world class level the idea is it will help promote the city to outsiders too.

And this is the crux of why Knighthead invested in the club – because they are investing in the city as much as they were Blues.

While investment in Wheels might be in the billions, it will enable them not only to have a huge stadium capable of hosting all kinds of events, but to build out all the additional leisure and entertainment facilities that will make the sports quarter a destination for visitors outside of match days.

Done right, with a joined up transport infrastructure and hopefully HS2 connecting Birmingham to the capital and further, there is a real opportunity for Knighthead to make their mark.

The Future

One of the big things that I think we all need to take from the Open House is that Knighthead are very much here to stay.

While results have not been going our way and Blues are very much still in danger of relegation, Wagner made it clear that will not halt or hinder their plans for the longer term.

I’ve noticed there have been a few fans on social media unsure about all this news of investment while the club is in dire straits and wondering if now is the right time to be pursuing it.

I’ll admit I had my doubts about publicising it too; I felt it was difficult to talk about ambition and all the great stuff to come if it looked like we were playing League One football next year.

Yet I’ve come around to understanding why it’s absolutely vital that Knighthead continue to push forward and announce plans even if there if we do go through the pain of relegation.

What we have to remember is that things like stadia are long term projects; at the very earliest we won’t see Blues move to the Wheels site before the 2029/30 season.

To be able to move that quickly it was important for Knighthead to strike the deal for Wheels now and get the ball rolling.

Being quick has allowed them to make an offer for the land quicker than anyone else and get it approved before anyone else can think of stealing a march on it.

Likewise, I believe it’s important for Knighthead to continue to build partnerships by making plans now and rolling with the league situation.

Sure, it will make it harder for people like Garry Cook to sell those kinds of deals in League One but I’m sure Cook has the confidence and belief in himself that he can achieve regardless of which division we’re in.

And as Wagner stated, the financial rules in League One are such that it doesn’t really affect how much they can spend this summer if Blues are relegated; it merely makes it a bit more expensive for Knighthead in the short term.

When Knighthead bought Blues I thought £35M was a chunk of change for the club and didn’t think anyone would be that interested as making a return would be difficult.

We know now that on top of what they have paid so far for the club, Knighthead have invested £33.5M in the stadium, maybe another £50M for the land they’ve bought and are considering much huger costs down the pike.

As great as it is to see the club’s owner singing Keep Right On, urging on the crowd and generally in the spirit of things on Saturday, it’s much more exciting that there is so much more to come.