It's a good time to be a Bluenose. It was just under a year ago that Birmingham City were denied the chance to go to Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final. Liam Ridgewell's 'goal' was wrongly chalked off, and Blues fell at the hands of possibly the worst team in the League, Portsmouth. Blues fans were crushed. I was devastated. This was the chance. This was meant to be it. This meant everything. This was the one chance to go all the way and get to Wembley for the first time in too too long.
When the final whistle blew, the typical 'told you so' attitude of the pessimistic football fan came out, and fans were resigned to the fact that it may never happen. Would we ever see our team at Wembley? Would we ever get a bit of luck?
Fast forward 11 months. We're here. It sounds so unreal every time I say it and think about it, but it is true. Birmingham City FC are going to Wembley, in the Carling Cup Final. Whenever I talk to any of my friends who don't talk football much, I proudly tell them that I am going to Wembley to support my team. I'm often met with the same response:
'But you support Blues? How the heck did they do that?!'
...And then I recite the story of how Rochdale, MK Dons, Brentford, Villa and West Ham fell by the wayside on our merry journey all the way to the start of Wembley way.
It's fantastic. The Club Shop has sold out of Wembley gear, and this has caught the imagination of Blues fans everywhere. The ticketing situation was as astounding as it was chaotic. On the final day of ticket selling, Blues fans had been queuing since 2pm the day before, in scenes that defy all kinds of logic, but draw such admiration and grins from fellow football fans who understand why you'd put yourself through it. It's worth it. It was for Wembley. Thirty-one and a half thousand tickets were sold in a flash and while many more 'Noses were left disappointed, it left you dreaming of what attendances at St Andrews could be, if Blues fans sold out game-after-game as they did in years gone by.
For me, it's impossible to describe or put into words how I am going to feel on Sunday. Just thinking about it gives you a massive shock through your system. It's as unbelievable as it is enjoyable. The walk up Wembley Way, the view when you step into the ground, the sight of watching your players line-up...the sight of the trophy.
In all honesty, the game is probably going to be secondary to the day and the occasion. Hotels across London will be packed full of Brummies, and pubs and bars will be full of punters going through every possible scenario in the build up to the big game. Sunday promises to be a once in a lifetime opportunity for all those involved. Whether Blues go to Wembley ever again (maybe even this season!) or not, those who are in London this weekend will be able to say "I was there when we went back to Wembley. About time too."
Many of the Blues squad will have never believed that they would go to Wembley. The likes of Scott Dann, Roger Johnson and Cameron Jerome are players who were plucked from the Championship's finest, but there was no indication when they signed that they could walk out under the famous Wembley arch (it's got nothing on the Twin Towers). While the likes of Foster, Carr and Ferguson will know what it is like to compete in a Final, many of our squad could feel trapped like rabbits caught in the headlights. It will be up to these players to turn around and look after and nurture the younger players. None of our players can afford to let this occasion pass them by.
If anyone is not on their game, we will not win. It is as simple as that. Even if everyone performs at their maximum level, you must ask whether Blues can go all the way. The next question for McLeish is who to play? What formation? We need to stifle Arsenal, but we can't just sit back - this could be our only chance.
Personally, I would go for a 4-4-1-1, with Foster in goal, Carr, Jiranek, Johnson and Ridgewell across the back, with Larsson, Gardner, Ferguson, Fahey in midfield and Jerome (Hleb, if fit!) playing behind Nikola Zigic. IF we can stifle the Arsenal attack, then at least we have an aerial prowess up-front and players who can cause real damage.
It feels like there is so much that could be said, but so much that would just come out as the excited rantings of a child in the body of an adult. Occasions like this bring out the very best in our nature. Excitement, nerves, and sheer passion.
This could be our time. Keep Right On, all the way to Wembley.
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