In 1875, a group of cricketers from Holy Church in Bordesley Green got together and formed a football club, originally known as Small Heath Alliance. Nicknamed the Heathens, they rented their first ground from the Gressey family on Muntz Street for £5 a year and almost immediately struck up a rivalry with Aston Villa by winning their first match by a score of “one goal and a disputed goal to nil.”
In 1885, the team turned professional, arranging to split half the gate proceeds among the players. By 1888, they had adopted a limited liability form of incorporation and joined the Football Alliance. Four years later, Small Heath and the other Alliance teams were invited to join the newly formed Football League Second Division.
Despite winning the Second Division championship in 1892-93, the club was not promoted to the top tier, owning to losses in test matches. Only after finishing runners-up in 1893-94 and having greater success in the tests did the “Blues” (in reference to their blue-coloured kit) attain First Division status.
In 1905, the club changed their official name to Birmingham F.C. The new moniker must have suited them as they went on that year to win their first major piece of hardware—the Birmingham Senior Cup. The following year, the Blues settled in at new grounds on the current St. Andrew’s site with hopes of even greater success. However, by 1908 they were relegated and were unable to return to the top flight until after World War I.
A Second Division title in 1920-21 and a runners-up finish to West Brom in the 1931 FA Cup were the highlights of the period between the two world wars. Around Birmingham, 1920-35 was known as “The Bradford Era.” That’s when Joe Bradford, the club’s all-time record goalscorer, amassed 267 goals in 445 appearances, while winning a dozen England caps on seven goals.
Past-World War II, Birmingham F.C. showed up as a force with which to be reckoned. They were the Football League South Champions of 1945-46 and they took the Second Division title in 1947-48. Another Second Division championship followed in 1954-55. Then, in 1956, they made a return visit to the FA Cup Finals, keeping the scored tied 1-1 through 62 minutes, but eventually falling to Manchester United 3-1.
As runners-up in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in both 1960 and 1961, the Blues were hungry for silverware. They finally got it in 1963 at the expense of Aston Villa, when the two tussled for the Football League Cup and Birmingham prevailed 3–1 on aggregate, with all of the goals coming in the first leg.
The Blues were promoted to the First Division and reached the FA Cup semi-finals in 1972, kicking of a period of relative stability, including seven straight seasons without relegation. Then came a rough ride on the yo-yo, with the club dropping back to the Second Division in 1979, regaining top status in 1980, only to fall again in 1984.
The yo-yoing continued when promotion in 1985 was followed by relegation once more in 1986. And finally, in 1989, the string broke completely, as the Blues fell to Division Three for the first time in their history. In 1992, the club briefly climbed up out of the cellar, but it was not until 1995’s Division Two (Level 3) championship that they left it behind completely.
The new millennium has given Birmingham fans new hope. They saw their team finish runners-up in the League Cup in 2001, after a heartbreaking loss to Liverpool in a 1-1 draw decided on penalties 5-4 after extra time. Atonement came in 2011, however, when the Blues at last got their second League Cup by taking out Arsenal 2-1 at Wembley Stadium on substitute winger Obafemi Martins’ tie-breaking goal in the 89th minute.
Despite an 18th place finish in 2010-11 that dropped Birmingham from the Premiership, they are most definitely a team to watch. The Blues are always in contention for the top of the leader board when playing in the second-tier Champions League, and it only seems like a matter of time till they claim a solid hold on a position in the top flight of British football.