Wednesday, 5 November 2014


You can be trapped for an eternity in the industrial backstreets of Digbeth. 

Whenever we meet at Hennessey’s and try to walk to St Andrews we get lost and walk in circles.

Like a bunch of teens in a budget horror film, we wander the dim-lit side roads, bypassing abandoned warehouses, occasionally stopping to check Google Maps for a few seconds before the phone battery conks out.

The place has the feel of David Bowie’s Labyrinth, where the young Jennifer Connelly tries to navigate through the giant puzzle but every night the goblins emerge from the drains and move all the walls and doors around to totally change the configuration of the maze and push her back to square one.

Except there’s no goblins here, just dodgy mechanics and clampers.

Of course we missed Gary Rowett’s WWF style entrance where they beamed his portrait on the titantron and the new messiah emerged from the tunnel to the adoration of the fans. 

We were jogging up the Cattell road at that point. As we entered the ground a bouncing, bespectacled, smiley woman in an oversized fluorescent steward’s jacket, resembling a Mr Men character, chirped:

“You missed the goal lads. The Blues are winning. Hurry up!

Bloody hell, we’d missed THE home goal. It might be another season before we saw the next one.

The pack of Blues dogs had pounced on Watford’s effeminate defence after sensing an opportunity and picked its pockets to recover the ball in a dangerous area. Donaldson smashed a deflected effort into the back of the net to set up the perfect start for the #RowettRevolution.

Watford quickly equalised with a really frustrating astro-turf goal. Lloyd Doyley ran to the left-hand by-line, Forestieri held his run and made himself available for the cut-back [which you could see coming a mile off]. Blues were slow closing him down and the dramatic Italian fired two attempts on goal with the second flying in.

The Blues fans started to panic – they’d seen this story play out before. The Watford 2nd was a matter of ‘when’ in their minds. 


My great auntie used to have a rescue cat. The poor bleeder had been locked in a fridge by its previous owners, so whenever we went to her house and opened the fridge to get a drink, the cat would scarper. When the Blues fans saw their players trying to play out of defence instead of just ‘getting rid of it’ they too allowed previous bad memories to freak them out. They started getting jittery, they shouted at the players, created a nervous vibe. Luckily the Blues players ignored it and played some lovely patient football.

The move of the game came about when Blues passed the ball from out of defence and worked it wide to Caddis who pinged a bullet cross to the back post which saw Shinnie misjudge the flight of the ball and head wide when it was easier to score.

Blues continued to carve Watford open and create a plethora of gilt-edge chances.

Like a scorpion, Blues held back, kept a controlled shape and when they saw a weakness in Watford they jabbed them with a stinging counter-attack. When the move broke down, Blues quickly re-assembled into defensive positions. Rowett had brought a plan to proceedings. A Blues manager with a plan, how….rare.

The game reached 40 minutes, 50, 60, even 70 and it played out in the same manner. Blues were in control tactically, creating chances on the counter, restricting Watford to pot-shots at Barry sitting in row Z in the Gil Merrick stand.

Shinnie was looking tired. Where other managers would have hauled him off for Callum Riley to shore up and take the point, Rowett knocked everybody off-guard and brought a second striker on.

Aye up! Make or bust time. Hold on to your hats.

It wasn’t too long before Thomas won a 50-50, held onto the ball, laid it back to Cotterill who bent a cross into Donaldson to powerfully head the ball into the back of the net - sending the crowd wild.

‘Gary Rowett’s blue and white army’ echoed around the storied stadium. Keep Right On was belted out, shaking the foundations of the stands as it reached ear-popping levels of volume.

Here we were, under the floodlights; the players were putting in a spirited performance; the Tilton and the Kop were packed; the atmosphere was electric. This was the Blues of old. The ghosts of Steve Bruce, Enckelman, Horsfield, Richard Wright, AJ, looked on from the old famous nights. BIH hadn't taken our souls.

The full-time whistle blew and the crowd continued to dance and clap and sing Gary Rowett’s blue and white army.

Rowett walked onto the pitch and saluted the four stands who cheered back. The Brummie hordes floated out of the stadium on a river of positivity.

We all melted back into the night, back into the industrial side-road labyrinth.

We got lost again and couldn’t find the bloody car of course, but nobody really cared about that…the Blues were back.

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Psychology of Rowett

Since the Blues decided to embrace technology [about ten years after everybody else], ticket availability has been advertised via an online map of the St Andrew's stadium, which in turn is divided into 'sectors'. 

A green sector means you can take your family, your picnic hamper, a rug to sit on and you're likely to not lay eyes upon another mortal soul for 90 minutes.

Yellow?....So-so. You might be wedged in front of a couple of Bronx hat-wearers, spitting bits of peanut at the back of your head while they heckle the ref. But you can move. There's spare seats.

Red? Well we've not seen a 'code red' since the before time, the glorious Bruce days, since the 2005 Galacticos set the league on fire. A red block on the e-St Andrews map means it's sold out and there's not a seat to be had.

Well something weird happened today....we've got a code red.

Even as I write this, whole blocks are changing from green to red, one after another. It's almost akin to a sci-fi film when a ship's force-field is failing under prolonged attack.

You might imagine Amir [the excitable and amiable ticket office assistant] as the St Andrew's version of Scotty, twirling on his office chair back and forth across the room while a siren blares, smoke shoots out of the pipes and all the phones in the office ring unanswered. The club can't keep up with the demand.

Status report Amir?

'St Andrew's is 15% green laddy, and plummeting quickly!'

What's causing this surge in uptake? What's smashing the availability of tickets for tomorrow's game with Watford?

It's not the Klingons, or the Daleks or the Ewoks....

....It's Rowett fever.

Go to Birmingham and you'll see a city frantically chatting away. The foreign bus drivers are talking about Gary Rowett, the fruit sellers are discussing Rowett, the kids are talking about Rowett, the Birmingham internet forums are alive with the sound of Rowett. Members of the Blues Trust are sending their servants into their grand, opulent, attics to dust down their late 90s Auto-Windscreen emblazoned shirts and present them ready to wear.

The appointment of Gary Rowett has created a tidal wave of optimism that has smashed into the people of Birmingham, washing away the negativity and the misery, cleansing them of despair.

On the face of it the delirium seems misplaced. The uncaring, mysterious, distanced and damaging Hong Kong regime 'BIH' still own the club and look no closer to even wanting to sell. Finances are still cripplingly tight. The squad remains a mish-mash of young unproven academy products, free transfers from the lower leagues and wrinkled, aging pros on a last meal ticket. Blues fans continue to look to the transfer window with sheer terror. The overall situation hasn't changed much.

Yet Rowett's appointment has sent the masses into euphoria. Why?

Being an idiot who will occasionally buy a psychological book in the best-sellers stand at an airport bookstore, I must admit that I find the area fascinating when I get around to dipping my toe into literary titles like 'The 48 Laws of Power', 'The Art of Seduction' and 'The Chimp Complex' - all works loosely based on the techniques you can use to improve how others view you.

Rowett seems to embody a hell of a lot of the principles found in these books - conciously or subconciously.

Firstly the man, whilst not classically good looking, has an attractive vibe to him. Researchers everywhere from Ancient Greece to the London School of Economics have found that the more attractive you are, the better people treat you, think of you and behave around you.

Dr Gordon Patzer studied the phenomenon for three decades:

"According to Dr. Gordon Patzer, who has concluded 3 decades of research on physical attractiveness, human beings are hard-wired to respond more favorably to attractive people: “Good-looking men and women are generally regarded to be more talented, kind, honest and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts.” 

Patzer contends, “controlled studies show people go out of their way to help attractive people—of the same sex and opposite sex—because they want to be liked and accepted by good-looking people.”  Even studies of babies show they will look more intently and longer at attractive faces, Patzer argues."

Dion, Berscheid & Walster called this 'the halo effect':

"Results showed that participants overwhelmingly believed more attractive subjects have more socially desirable personality traits than either averagely attractive or unattractive subjects."

Part of Rowett's appeal is that he's a good looking bloke, and we therefore subconsciously assume he's going to be a good manager.

The 'halo effect' has undoubtedly added to the success of managers like José Mourinho, for example.

I believe the opposite is true too. Ugly managers have to work their bollocks off to get praise. Steve McLaren and Steve Bruce being two great examples. 

Like Mourinho, Rowett also employs another devastatingly effective social tactic....he's immaculately dressed.

By switching the muddy tracksuit for a smart shirt, chinos, shoes, a neck-scarf, even a snood. This creates status, engenders a sense of professionalism.

If you look the part, people will assume that you are the part.

'That guy's wearing a scarf and a suit, he MUST be a good manager'. 

Rowett knows this, and again, adds this tactic to his arsenal.

The visual will only get you so far, however. Looking the part must be coupled with high status behaviour.

When Gary Rowett joined the guy off Blue Peter and Peter Beagrie during the reflective post-match show after Blues drew with Wolves at Molineux on Saturday morning, he seemed to steal the focus by talking slowly and calmly in a relaxed, informed, confident manner that emitted an aura, a sense of gravitas. Not only did the viewers learn about the game from the content of Rowett's post-match comments, but the way Rowett used the tools of rhetoric so effectively added to this 'cool' reputation that is building quickly.

In many ways Rowett is the anti-Ed Miliband, whose ugliness, geekiness and awkward, nasally, way of speaking is making what should be an easy Labour win in the next election appear shaky to say the least.

When you add the innate attributes Rowett has that make him appealing on a psychological level to the fact he's an ex-Blues player himself, and is born in the suburbs of Greater Birmingham, you quickly start to realise just why this guy is getting a lot of Brummie love.

All peoples in every corner of the globe idolise that which reminds them of themselves. In Rowett, when we hear his soft South Birmingham tones, it immediately resonates with us. Exactly the same reason Peaky Blinders is immensely popular in the West Midlands region. We're proud when we see one of our own succeed - especially because there is a perception that Brummies and West Midlanders in general are largely beaten down and ridiculed by the rest of the nation.

Rowett has emerged as a Brummie Julius Caesar type character, ready to rally the Brummie legions together, create a siege mentality and drag Blues up the table kicking and screaming.

It also helps that he's coming across as extremely positive. He refuses to mention the 8-0, the prior management, he's bringing players back in from the cold, he's pumping out a positive message in between making thoroughly complimentary remarks about the club and the fans in heartfelt way.

The Blues fans are absolutely desperate to find a messiah too.

They are the romantic, working class hordes of the city. Simple people, the people of the earth. They will follow unquestioningly, and they have been ill-treated time and time again.

Chris Hughton will never be held in such high regard as he was at Blues. The fans worshiped him, forgave every mistake, afforded patience, yet he abandoned them on the sinking ship as he fled to Norwich.

This is a fanbase that put up with McLeish's horrific anti-football for the best part of four seasons, witnessed two relegations because of it and didn't even boo in protest, when other fans [such as Blackburn, Blackpool, Newcastle, Villa] would have burned the ground down in similar circumstances.

When Birmingham first reached the Premiership, and they signed their first big, foreign type player [Aliou Cissé], the guy was treated as the king of Birmingham despite being a really average, cumbersome, central midfielder.

The Birmingham fans are desperate for something, somebody, to get behind, a receptacle for their unwavering passionate support.

In Rowett, they may have finally found such a figure.

And Rowett himself is on to an obvious winner. Faced with a fanbase that is at its lowest ebb and in search of a hero; taking over a team that is in the relegation zone and has just lost 8-0, and having all the psychological 'cool tools' at his disposal - it's difficult to see Rowett failing at Blues.

If Blues go down, Rowett can rightfully say 'it wasn't my fault' and blame the ownership problems or even the previous manager. If Blues stay up, the Brummie Julius Caesar will have the desperate hordes eating out of his hands. Rowett will be raised to demi-God status.

Ultimately if the ownership issues don't change, Rowett's charm will one day work on a club in the Premiership, and the drive and ambition in the man that saw him leave Burton for Blues will see him leave Blues to progress.

On such a day the Blues hordes' love for Rowett will turn to anger, with the vitriol of a spurned lover.

I'll probably have to dig out a new internet username too.

But in the mean time, let's enjoy the journey. Let's ride this tidal wave of positivity, let's get behind local lad Rowett and his attempts to unite the Brummies, let's turn all of those green sectors red for the Watford game tomorrow.

Otherwise if you don't you'll upset Amir in the ticket office, and that'd be ever such a shame.