The land that football forgot
Does the national football media know where the West Midlands is?
I sometimes wonder.
Yesterday’s match between West Brom and Birmingham was the first of 12 derbies between the big four of West Midlands football this season, the other two — apologies Coventry — being Villa and Wolves.
It’s the first time the four teams have been in the top flight together since 1983.
But this was not considered noteworthy by any of the major broadsheets or tabloids during the build up this week.
Why is the national media’s coverage of the game in the West Midlands so anorexic?
It annoys people like myself, and other football fans from the UK’s second largest conurbation.
And it also discourages us from buying national newspapers — at a time when they are battling rapidly dwindling readerships.
Yet the West Midlands has contributed richly to English football history. It supplied a quarter of the Football League’s 12 founder members, has won 37 major trophies through the years, pioneered the development of black players, and can boast a European Cup triumph — which London, incidentally, cannot.
Admittedly recent times have been lean.
However, that hasn’t stopped the spotlight shining on other success-starved regions — as illustrated by the column inches devoted to Newcastle’s and Blackpool’s promotions, but not West Brom’s.
Lazy journalists looking for a cliched wallow in nostalgia seem happier talking about central Lancashire or the North East. Past glories? Check. Passionate fans? Check. Great crowds through lots of thin and not much thick? Check.
But statistics show that proportionately, people turn out in higher numbers to watch football in Birmingham and the Black Country.
Last season, an average of 118,413 people out of a West Midlands population of 2,284,093 watched the home games of its professional football teams. That contrasts with 109,078 fans from a population of 2,515,442 in the North East. (Attendances source: European Football Statistics.)
And just to prove how much of a statto I am, that means 1 in every 19 people in the West Midlands turns out once a fortnight to watch their local team, compared to 1 in 23 in the North East.
I could go on in a similar vein. But my face would increasingly turn the colour of a Birmingham City home shirt.
In any case, I am becoming less and less bothered by the national media’s cold shoulder treatment.
Yes, it is frustrating and potentially damaging. A lower profile makes it harder to attract players, and means your club’s stars are more likely to move on in search of greater recognition — as Villa have found out with their best two players leaving for the Middle Eastlands.
But if I want coverage of my team, I no longer depend on the crumbs thrown my way from a national journalist’s notebook.
The beauty of the internet means I can use local newspaper websites, supporters’ forums, and blogs such as this one to feed my appetite.
And I’m sure fans from other ‘dispossessed’ football regions feel the same way.