Michael Dawson knows why Birmingham won the CCup

7 Mar

Michael dawson knowsMost football talk is nonsensical, football hyperbole doubly so. When we hear about the competitiveness of the premier league it’s usually someone shouting about how the premier league is the most competitive league in world and every game is difficult! Or else it’s someone screeching about how a club has fielded a weakened team and devalued the competition. Generally no one bothers to look at whether this schizophrenic never-say-die defeatism comes to favour one club or another.

That’s why it was good to hear Michael Dawson talking after our bewildering result at Blackpool the other week. He basically said what a lot of Spurs fans have known for a long time: The premier league is harder for us than for our rivals. The Blackpool game was a clear example. Consider if Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea or even Man City had beaten Milan a few days earlier. It probably wouldn’t have been viewed as a shock or even much of a triumph – Man City would have been breaking new ground but with such an expensively assembled squad victory comes with a dull inevitability. It would have had little bearing on the game at Blackpool. In our case we were perceived as plucky heroes who could be taken down a peg or two.

It’s more than that, Dawson explained: ‘It is not just this season. Tottenham are a massive club and teams want to beat us. Maybe our status is going up.’ This is the crux of it. Our status has gone up, we’ve become a choice scalp for opportunistic Braves lurking lower down the table. But, at the same time, unlike our notional rivals, we’ve not perceived as having the hard head necessary to see off such challenges and everyone knows it.

I can recall a time, maybe twenty years ago, when Manchester United fans would claim the league was harder for them because other teams approached their matches like cup finals. That may or may not have been true then, but it certainly isn’t now. The pressures of the premier league and the disparity in resources between top and bottom have meant that teams will essentially write some games off, that they’ll field weakened teams, that they’ll assume they’ll get nothing from certain matches. It’s logical. If you’re Wolves going away to Chelsea it would be pretty daft to count on coming away with some points. So when things start going against you there’s no imperative to dig in and every reason to think about that upcoming game against your fellow relegation battlers where you have to win.

But against Tottenham? Would you field a weakened team? Would you skip over that fixture when you’re plotting where you points will come from? Of course not. You’d be stupid to. History has shown Tottenham are mentally weak (even though this season we’ve toughened up and won a lot more points in the last few minutes), Tottenham are struggling to combine the Champions League and the domestic program (even though the stats say otherwise) etc. etc. There’s a litany of reasons why you should aim to beat Tottenham. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a vicious circle. Something we have to deal with whereas our rivals, to a large degree, don’t.

This is why I suspected Birmingham would win the Carling Cup. You’ve got a situation that rarely occurs in the Premier League: a ‘lesser’ club up against a ‘bigger’ club where both teams are equally motivated to win. For everything people say about the league, that rarely happens. Professionalism is important but football is a lot more than just professionalism. This was a game that could only be approached on its own terms, where there was nowhere to run, no way for Birmingham to rationalise defeat and say well, even if we’d won we probably have been knocked out in the next round.

They went toe to toe with Arsenal and got the result. It would be nice to think that it could inspire teams when they come up against the Chelseas and Man Utds. Chances are though, it’ll probably inspire teams when they come up against us.


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