When Jamie Carragher recently described Everton as the worst managed club in the country, many Birmingham City fans were quick to point out that the ownership chaos extends beyond the Premier League. Those fans openly revolted and demanded change with as much passion and fury in St Andrew’s as Goodison Park, having been flung from one crisis to another.
This is a club that has endured heavy points deductions, transfer embargoes, annual relegation battles and a seemingly endless churn of managers since Hong Kong’s majority shareholders, Birmingham Sports Holdings (BSH), completed their takeover in 2016. Birmingham is also at the center of an ongoing investigation by the Football League, which could see the club face multiple charges over allegations it misled the EFL over who runs the club and questions about whether individuals involved in a failed acquisition last year impacted day-to-day operations.
Protests against the hated regime are planned ahead of Friday’s home game against West Bromwich Albion. Some fans threaten to enter the field. Ahead of Friday’s Midlands derby, head coach John Eustace has pleaded for calm. “Birmingham City are the best supporters in the country, they have been fantastic home and away this season and have really followed the team,” he said. “They have a lot of frustrations and I understand that, but the most important thing is that the protest is done in a safe way and does not affect the game in the 90 minutes.”
The problem is that even now there is still a mystery about the identity of who exactly owns the Championship club. Paul Suen is the majority shareholder, but there are no pictures of him online. Wang Yaohui – also known as Mr King – is believed to be heavily involved, but it is unknown how much control he may have, if any. Friday’s protest will have a sense of futility as none of the BSH board members from China are expected to attend. There seems to be no long-term strategy or ambition, and the only priority seems to be to keep the club listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. It is time for BSH to step down, but the complex nature of the current ownership makes any acquisition difficult and time consuming.
Birmingham supporters long for the day when BSH’s control of the club is lifted
St. Andrew’s is a prime example of owner neglect. At Friday’s game, two grandstands are closed due to structural problems. The lower parts of the Kop and Tilton Road End have been closed since December 2020 and may not reopen until next season. A season ticket holder told Telegraph Sport that the stadium is “rotting”. Last season, the academy that helped produce England international Jude Bellingham was stripped of Category 1 status due to a perceived lack of sufficient funding. This has all gone on too long and the only constant throughout these omnishbles has been the unwavering support of fans and the work of loyal staff in the stadium and on the training pitch.
Birmingham’s dramatic 4-3 win over Swansea last weekend, with two goals in stoppage time, proved that the ‘Bluenose’ spirit is alive and well. Renowned as a cunning operator, Eustace is fighting to keep Birmingham out of another relegation battle. His squad is a combination of battle-hardened professionals, including Troy Deeney, Lukas Jutkiewicz and John Ruddy, who play alongside ambitious but inexperienced youngsters. Despite the academy struggles of recent years, the club has continued to produce exciting talent such as 18-year-old midfielder George Hall, Jordan James and Jude’s brother Jobe Bellingham.
This week there was positive news off the field with Frank McParland appointed as head of recruiting to work alongside technical director Craig Gardner. Birmingham take on West Brom in 17th in the table, although Eustace had defied logic and off-field trouble with a fine start earlier in the season. Before the World Cup break, Birmingham could have jumped to sixth place with a win over Sunderland. They lost that game 2–1, and since the resumption of the season, things have been tough with Swansea’s frenzied turnaround ending a run of five consecutive defeats.
Birmingham supporters long for the day when BSH’s control of the club is taken away and some hope looms on the horizon. Canadian businessman Keith Pelley is conducting a due diligence review of a potential £35m takeover and sources suggest further progress could be made by the end of this month. Initially, the plan is to secure a 21.64 percent share. Pelley works with former Motorola and Microsoft CEO Jeremy Dale, plus other investors, and co-owns Veel Partisan Limited: the company’s name is taken from the lyrics to the Birmingham song ‘Keep Right On’.
Funding to complete a takeover is not considered a problem, although the setup of the current ownership and agreement with the HK Stock Exchange is a hurdle to overcome. Birmingham supporters hope it’s not another false dawn. Last year, former Watford owner Laurence Bassini spearheaded a consortium with football financier Keith Harris, but the deal collapsed in July.
Former Barcelona midfielder Maxi Lopez and Birmingham fan Paul Richardson then launched their own takeover bid, even paying a deposit to complete a buyout. This also fell through in December and that deal is now being investigated by the Football League. There are allegations that the club’s day-to-day running was carried out before a takeover. Sources at Birmingham fear the EFL could penalize the club with a suspended points deduction if found guilty.
Meanwhile, Eustace and his players must fight on and keep Birmingham away from the dreaded dotted line. After relegation from the Premier League in 2011, the top division seems a distant memory, but falling back to the third division would be a nightmare. Until the current owners cut their ties with the club there is a feeling that no real progress can be made.