Born to be Blue By Nick Xydias
“Soccer isn’t the same as Bach or Buddhism. But it is often more deeply felt than religion, and just as much a part of the community’s fabric, a repository of traditions.”
― Franklin Foer
My father, Angelo Xydias, arrived in Birmingham from a small village in Cyprus called Mazotos in 1959. He couldn’t speak a word of English and arrived with barely the clothes on his back. He began to lodge with his elder brother in Small Heath and dodging school and smoking soon became his hobbies.
Within a few weeks of his arrival, he was wandering through the streets of Small Heath on a Saturday afternoon cursing the local climate, when he saw a tide of people bedecked in blue and white, heading in the same direction. He had no idea who they were or where they were going but decided to join them. And “join them” he did in the truest sense of the word.
55 years later, and back in Mazotos, blue and white blood still courses through his veins and he still awaits with interest (and a degree a resignation) the full time Blues score at the end of each game. As the crickets chirp and the sun sets over the nearby vineyards, Saturdays are not complete until he finds out the Blues score.
Once I reached the age of 5, he used to take me on his shoulders along the Coventry Road to watch the likes of Francis, Burns, Kendall and Gallagher. The smell of cigarette smoke, the whiff of boiled onions from the hot dog stalls, the initial glimpse of the greenest of green turf and the murmur of anticipation amongst the fans would all combine to transport me to wonderland. My cold hands on his stubbly chin felt like the safest place in the world. I was hooked from the very first match. A blessing? A curse? Who knows?
To say life has been eventful as a Blues fan ever since is perhaps an understatement. No other team can transport its fans from the sublime to the ridiculous with such Germanic efficiency. Promotions. Relegations. Receivership. A European campaign. Riots. Elation and despair. We just don’t do things in the way that other Clubs do. The phrase “typical Blues” best encapsulates the feeling the Blues will always be adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, cure opposing teams of winless streaks and concede way too many goals to former players. Take a look at the grizzled and even haunted faces of the seasoned Blues fans at St Andrews and you’ll see a lifetime of joys and sorrows imprinted there.
Yet what is it about being a Blues fan that still makes my weary old heart skip a beat when I see that flash of blue and white emerge at the tunnel before each game at St Andrews?
It’s a million and one things. The belief that the Club has a brighter future ahead (maybe tenuous I know in the present circumstances), the joy of watching an academy product play his heart out for that ball and globe on his chest, the gallows humour and wisecracks from the tired and weary as the game unfolds and that sheer, unadulterated euphoria when the ball hits the net are just a few.
The reality is that football is cyclical. For each receivership, there’s a cup semi-final, for each relegation, there’s a promotion and for each Lee Clark, there’s a Steve Bruce.
My son is a Blues fan. He has no choice, of course. At his central Birmingham school where there are only 2 Blues fans in his entire year, life isn’t easy when it comes to supporting Blues. The vast majority of kids in his school follow Man City, Man United, Chelsea or Liverpool without any geographical or familial link to the club. Most haven’t even seen their chosen team play. A crying shame if you ask me, but in an age where Sky’s monster is growing in power and where silverware is the currency in the playground, it’s inevitable that support for struggling local teams will dwindle until their demise is reversed.
It’s the unpredictability of football, the tribal and instinctive loyalty it generates and demands and its capacity to toy with and elevate the human soul that makes it addictive. When that love you have for your club grabs you, it grabs you very tightly!
On 22nd March 2003, in the middle of a wedding service, I punched the air and hissed a very loud “YES” when I received a text telling me that Geoff Horsfield had scored against West Brom. My wife suggested I leave the church fairly promptly or face being headbutted by her.
A colleague at the Bar tells a true story. His father, a dyed in the wool Bluenose kept a secret diary. It contained his inner most thoughts and reflections. A few years after he got married, his wife found the diary. She immediately turned to their wedding day, expecting to find declarations of love in the purest form. The entry was concise and to the point : “Blues played Villa. 1-1”.
When Blues played Arsenal at Wembley in February 2011, most neutrals never gave us a chance. As we took our seats at a time when the stadium was virtually empty, I said to my son Angelo, named after his grandfather in accordance with Cypriot tradition, “ Son, remember everything about today. The sights, the sounds, the smells. Everything. Keep it”.
Four hours later, we were sat on a club coach heading back to Birmingham. I’d never felt such pride and happiness following my Club. We’d humbled Arsenal. At Wembley. Against all the odds.
Some men crying, some laughing, others stunned. I just sat in silence with a huge smile and something in my eye as the songs were belted out on the way back. My son fell asleep on me, kept warm by his Blues scarf, dreaming of Europe.
Its as though we’ve paid a grotesque price for that day ever since. Relegation followed 3 months later. Our brightest stars sold. Our owner imprisoned. Surviving relegation to the third tier by virtue of an extra time goal in the last game of last season.
Has it diminished my love for the Club? No. Has it made me doubt my sanity? Of course. Would I change a thing? Never.