David Gold, David Sullivan and Karren Brady are names that evoke strong reactions from Blues fans. Some will tell you that Gold and Sullivan were good for Birmingham City, taking the club from a parlous financial state, leaving it financially healthy and in the Premier League.
Others will point to the huge ticket prices and the overambitious signings that never quite came off around season ticket renewal time as evidence of their greed. When the Golds (David and Ralph) and Sullivan came into the club in 1993, it’s safe to say things weren’t great.
We’d finished 19th in the newly renamed Division One the season previously having spent three years languishing in Division Three. As a 15-year-old Blues fan at senior school it wasn’t much fun listening to fans from the other side of the expressway taking the mick out of my team, and the arrival of Gold and Sullivan seemed to me at least to be a chance for things to get better.
As it turned out, things got worse to begin with; Blues started 1994 with no wins in 14 games and while they did pick up 17 points from the last seven games it wasn’t enough as we went down on goal difference. However, from 1994-95 things got better. We bounced back into the second tier in one season, and then steadily improved our position in what became known as the Championship under legendary former player Trevor Francis.
We even reached the final of the League Cup in 2001 before finally making the bright lights of the Premier League in 2002 under Steve Bruce. Such steady improvement over that period of time, coupled with a massive overhaul of the ground should have ensured that Sullivan and the Gold brothers were remembered with fondness by Blues fans. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.
Take transfers for example. I can remember stories about us attempting to sign all kinds of world-class stars; Jean-Pierre Papin admitted to the press that a move to Blues was a possibility, Swedish star Kennet Anderson was lined up by Barry Fry in 1996 while apocryphal legend has it that Blues even tried to sign Diego Maradona.
None of it happened. Curiously, all the stories seemed to come out while season tickets were on sale and seemed to go off the boil as the tickets were snapped up. Scepticism of transfer news became a harsh reality as time and time again players were mentioned as being targets before deals seemingly collapsed.
Ticket prices were another issue. Our debut season in the Premier League should have been all about how we’d built ourselves up into a team not only capable of playing in the Premier League, but staying there. Wins over our old enemies in claret and blue and a World Cup winner in Christophe Dugarry wowing fans with his magic should have been hallmarks of a fairytale season. Instead fans became increasingly disgruntled by just how much money they were expected to stump up to watch a game as ticket prices skyrocketed.
However, the most galling thing happened when the time Sullivan and Gold came to sell up. By now, everyone knows about another of Birmingham City’s other former owners, Carson Yeung. Hong Kong businessman Yeung was ostracised by Sullivan and Gold after his initial takeover attempt fell through, and fans were assured that they would not allow the club to be sold to someone who did not have its best interests at heart.
Those words turned out to be hollow when Yeung came back with a huge offer to buy the club – and even more so when Yeung was arrested for money laundering. Sullivan was at least honest about his ownership of the club; he wouldn’t risk his children’s inheritance by blowing it on Blues.
With no chance of a free stadium in the offing after the collapse of Birmingham’s “supercasino” bid, there was no point in them owning the club any more. Luckily for them they’ve had more luck on that front in east London with West Ham United and the Olympic Stadium.
My personal opinion of Gold and Sullivan is a guarded one. While I’ve always quite admired Sullivan’s bluntness, I would have to admit that I’m one of those who are sceptical of his and David Gold’s motives. If you want a steady club, with a chairman who likes interviews with helicopters in the background, they’re the men for you. If you want a bit more substance to the words, maybe not.