A tale of two teams and one city (Part 1)

St.Andrew’s, home of the Birmingham City

Birmingham. One city, two completely different professional football clubs. Two different forms of understanding the most popular sport worldwide. Aston Villa, founded in 1874 and also known as the Villans, wear claret and blue shirts and have been battling on the grounds of professionally organized football since its inception. Villa’s neighbours and sworn enemies are Birmingham City F.C., nicknamed the Blues and whose fans are well-known as Bluenoses.

At this point, you, the reader, might be thinking to yourself that I’m not telling you anything you did not already know. Well, that is certainly true, as far as I know this might be something that basically runs in your blood, something that is so deeply ingrained in your everyday life that all these facts strike you as superfluous. In fact, you probably took sides even before your teeth started to show. Whereas myself, I never got a chance to do that. You see, I wasn’t born in good old England but in the sunny Spain, where the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona reign with undisputed authority and the rest of teams have to settle for the scraps. This said, the obvious question is what will I be writing about. The answer, of course, is Birmingham City and Aston Villa. Evidently, I will spare myself the agony of trying to imitate a local match reporter. What I will do is plain and simple: I’ll just go to watch the upcoming games with the local fans of both teams and they will have to talk me into supporting their beloved side. Will I become a Villa aficionado or will I end up rooting for Alex McLeish’s bunch of laborious players?

On Sunday, desperately seeking  answers from the people that know the most (the fans, obviously) I set off for St. Andrews, home of the Blues. Birmingham City were facing the most controversial team in the Premiership, rich and powerful Manchester City.

In the vicinity of the stadium I found everything I needed. I selected one of the many nearby burger stands on Tilton Road, indulged in a greasy but revitalising hot-dog and walked into the local pub to experience the atmosphere from the local fans. The place was, as I was hoping, brimming with people. For the time being, I let myself go unnoticed, didn’t want to scare away anyone with my Spanish accent and camera wielding-enquiries.

I decided I would just try to relax and watch the match in the pub grabbing an extra cold pint of lager, while virtually everyone else swarmed over to the ground.

Judging by what I could see on the television, this football match must have left many Birmingham City players and supporters scratching their heads, thinking how they could let go of two points that should have been theirs.

One of the key factors was Manchester City keeper Shay Given’s superb performance. The Irishman pulled out some miraculous saves to prevent what could have been a real carnage.

I must confess that before the match I could hardly been categorised as an expert connoisseur of the Blues’ squad, but after seeing them putting on some strong performances, they are starting to grow on me. Chucho Benitez, the centre forward, is nimble, has some electrifying moves and I think he will score soon. The defence looks solid and reliable. James McFadden must have been at fault from not scoring from a penalty, but he is skilful and should be one of the footballers that will lead the team into  long-sought glory.

Overall, even though it was a nil-nil draw, it was an exciting game, one of those you don’t want to take your eyes off.

With the final whistle, the crowd rushed to the pub en masse.So maybe not the best time to decide to order a second pint, but anyways. I could detect some disappointment among the fans, and while I was trying to make my way through to the bar, I was startled by a tremendous uproar.

The cause for this series of distorted grunts was the mere presence of Gareth Barry on the pub’s TV set. The former Villa captain had been constantly booed by the fans during the match and now I could hear how some were referring to him as a “Villa bastard”.

I was beginning to realise that this long standing rivalry between the two sides was indeed a serious affair.

To find out more about the two sides and their virulent antagonism I approached two charming gentlemen sporting army outfits. This is what they told me when I ask them why should I support Birmingham City instead of Aston Villa.

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I wonder what the Villa fans make of this accusation. I guess I will have to ask them next week. But I had a few other questions for them. How was the match? Which players are the ones I should profess my admiration for?

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Birmingham City sure has a string of valuable players, but in the last months and with the arrival of Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung as chairman of the club, several continental stars have been linked with the club.

As I write these lines, I’m hearing rumours that Ukrainian star on the wane Andriy Shevchenko could be making a move to St. Andrews in the winter transfer window. In my own humble opinion, I think my mate here should be giving some advice to Carson Yeung’s regime…

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My next victims were a few lads at the pub’s entrance. These fellas were not as talkative as the ones I had met before, they thought they were going to be on Spanish national television and reacted being a tad camera shy.

At least I got a colourful line in reply to my question about why they were hostile to Villa. In Spain we say, what’s good, when brief, is twice as good.

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A few hours had gone by since the final whistle and lager’s fizzines was beginning to blur my thoughts. I decided it was time for some final answers. “Just before I leave, would you be so kind to remind me again why should I forget about supporting the Villa”. These are the City fans speaking. Next week I will try to make some acquaintances among the Villans.

A tale of two teams and one city (Part 2)

P1030800 For this second part of my journey through the wonders of Birmingham’s football clubs, I have decided to ditch most of the text and concentrate on colour. This is what has come out of it, I hope you enjoy it.

Villa Park beckons. To understand what Aston Villa is really about, I thought a looking out on Villa Park’s hallowed turf would be a good starting point. On Friday morning I joined the Stadium Tour after paying the moderate amount of ten pounds. As I was waiting in the player’s lounge I was fortunate enough to make some acquaintances among my fellow tour-mates. Now, take a look by yourselves at “the famous ground that boasts traditional heritage with state-of-the-art facilities”. Well, at least that’s what the advert on the website says.

Next day was match day in Aston. My idea was to watch the match on the nearest pub’s TV set and collect some of the regular’s impressions, as I have done last week in St. Andrews. Problem is I was completely ignorant about some of this country’s regulations or what is the same: I didn’t know they don’t show three o’clock matches on Saturdays, for God’s sake! But there is a solution for everything in this world, or if you want to be more specific: the internet has a solution for everything. At this point, you might have figured out what I did, so I’m not going to get myself into trouble by giving out the details. If you want to be really picky, I suppose you could ask me: “Why didn’t you buy a ticket, you tight bast***?” Answer: Because I am a student. By the way, before this I had the chance to share an interesting conversation with an Aston Villa of over 35 years. His name is Dave Sherwood, and as he told me, he is “over 50” and “chases people for money”.

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There is not much I can say about the match itself, you probably know everything about it. Villa trashed helpless Bolton in a 5-1 demolition. Bolton’s defensive incompetence helped to expand the score in favour of Villa, nevertheless some of the home players put in breathtaking performances. Brave James Milner was my absolute favourite, giving two goals and scoring once.

And so concludes this second chapter.  Before you leave, please help me out on this one, tell me which other football ground I should write a story on. It is time to expand my horizons.

Bodies Revealed: a guide to the human body


The Bodies Revealed exhibition is currently running at the Custard Factory in Birmingham. It focuses on how the body works, major illnesses and development. Hashbrum headed along to get the full guided tour from Medical Director Dr Roy Glover

The Controversy: where do the bodies come from?

There has been a lot of controversy about this exhibition, some people are upset about the use of human remains, others are concerned about the source of the bodies.

Google search: Bodies Revealed: Controversy

Preparing the Bodies

So, how are the bodies prepared for exhibition?

Creating the sliced displays

Some of the displays at Bodies Revealed are full bodies, others are organs and some are sliced cast in plastic. Here we find out how that is achieved.


The bones

terms: carpal tunnel

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Factsheet

The brain

Meningitis Research Foundation

Intestines and kidneys

International Foundation of Gastrointestinal Disorders

Kidney Research UK

Lungs and Smoking

Smokefree – quit smoking

Cancer Research UK

British Lung Foundation

The Beginnings of Life

Stillborn and Neonatal Deaths Charity

Efterklang, The Asylum, Birmingham, 29/10

Posted by Dan Davies On November – 5 – 2009

I didn’t receive the most encouraging response when I announced that I was going to attempt Twitter based audience participation when reviewing the Efterklang gig.

Chris Unitt was the first to tweet with

‘Interesting that. Not planning to review this one though – thinking too much (incl afterwards) often detracts from enjoyment.’

This was swiftly followed by Pete Ashton

‘Reviewing gigs via Twitter is so 18 months ago, darling! (I’ll be photographing but you go for it).’

I fired back with

‘@ChrisUnitt Fair point, especially as [Efterklang are] immersive. Guess I’m more interested in experience than analysis. And @peteashton pix=1,000,000 tweets’.

However, within almost 280 characters I must admit my convictions had been fairly shaken. What was I doing?

Twitter isn’t particularly original or interesting way to review a gig. In fact if you present it in similar way to Giles Coren’s recent food review, it’s funny but ends up being more about the technology than the subject. Chris Unitt (who also kindly passed me that link) had a point, how much of the gig would I enjoy if I was constantly tapping away at my phone?

So to some extent I abandoned my plans to virtually engage with the crowd whilst the gig was in progress. I must add that I did guide @velvet_grooves to the venue before it kicked off though. But my dodgy old phone meant that there was too much of delay in tweets to actually find him at the gig.

In the end Twitter functioned as a slightly cooler reporter’s notepad which had the added bonus of glowing in the dark. Even button pushing in the corner by the bar seemed like it would be too intrusive for Nancy Elizabeth.

Although endearingly awkward when speaking, she sings with complete confidence, moving between piano and guitar with ease. Her mesmerising style is like all ages of PJ Harvey at once (angry rock chick, twisted goth and alt.folkie) but she’s also wonderfully idiosyncratic, pulling in a wooden chair into percussion.

Having performed at the Barbican with Britten Sinfonia the previous night, you might expect this Danish seven-piece to be feeling feint and flagging. But liberated from the restriction of having to just perform their 2007 LP, Parades in-its-entirety (to promote their recent live album with Danish National Orchestra) the largely spiv-ishly moustachioed Efterklang were full of life. In fact their drummer Thomas Kirirath Husmer was rather pleased he didn’t have a string section telling him to play quietly and it was a raucous affair.

They treated us not only to Parades tracks such as the delightfully skittish Mirador and the choral celebration of Caravan but also songs from their debut album One Sided and whole host of new songs including The Light with another new ‘shaky’ track on the encore. Despite the trademark moustache, lead vocalist Casper Clausen was a complete gentleman throughout the evening’s proceedings, and at the very end he was leading a crowd-sourced a cappella whilst an audience member was adding their joy-filled caterwaul down the microphone.

Who needs social media when you can be part of a community this strong for a night?