BLUES IN EUROPE - PART ONE 1956-1958
HOW IT ALL BEGAN….
The Inter-Cities Fairs Cup was the brainchild of Ernst Thommen from Switzerland, along with Italy's Ottorino Barrasi and the English FA general secretary Stanley Rous, all of whom later became senior officials at FIFA.
The competition was set up to promote international trade fairs. Friendly games were regularly held between teams from cities holding trade fairs and it was from these matches that the competition evolved.
The first tournament was to be held over two seasons to avoid clashes with domestic leagues fixtures. However, because it was also intended to coincide with trade fairs, it ran over into a third year.
It commenced in 1955 and eventually finished in 1958 and the cities that entered teams included Basle, Birmingham, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Vienna, Cologne, Lausanne, Leipzig, London, Milan and Zagreb.
Invitations were extended to the city hosting the trade fair rather than to individual clubs and some cities, including London, entered a select XI consisting of players from more than one club.
But as Aston Villa rejected the opportunity to field a combined Birmingham XI team, Blues became the first English club side to play in European competition when they took to the field for the opening fixture in Milan on 16 May 1956 (not May 15 as incorrectly widely stated).
FIRST STOP - MILAN
Manager Arthur Turner
The 1955/56 season remains to this day the most successful in the history of Birmingham City with the team finishing in their highest ever league position of sixth in the old First Division.
Blues also reached the FA Cup final for only the second time but, despite going into the match as massive favourites, Arthur Turner's side suffered Wembley heartbreak as Manchester City lifted the trophy after a 3-1 success
But Turner and his troops got an immediate chance to get over that disappointment as just ten days later they jetted off into Europe for the first two away games in the inaugural Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, with matches against Inter Milan and then onto Dinamo Zagreb.
An overseas trip was not a new experience for the club; in fact Blues had embarked on numerous international tours to places such as Sweden, France, Switzerland, Germany and Holland in the years following the Second World War.
However, this new competition brought a first chance to compete against foreign clubs for silverware and, as the British club pioneers, Blues were determined to do well.
BOYD'S LONG JOURNEY
Len Boyd and Gil Merrick
There were some notable absences from the Blues travelling party that flew out from Elmdon Airport, including that of wing-half Len Boyd.
But while Jeff Hall and Gordon Astall were on international duty with England and Trevor Smith was touring Germany with the Army team, Boyd's reason for not boarding the plane was slightly more unusual.
The Blues captain had a phobia about flying, so instead he opted to travel alone via ferry and then train across France to Italy, and he was on the steps of the hotel to greet his team mates when they arrived in Milan.
Boyd went to all that trouble to make the trip despite the fact that he was carrying a back injury that made him a fitness doubt for the matches.
He was also not exactly in the good books of boss Arthur Turner after the pair had a changing room bust-up during the half-time interval of the cup final at Wembley.
Turner criticised Boyd for not keeping tight enough reigns on Manchester City danger man Don Revie and the row escalated into a full-blown spat.
The game was still locked at 1-1 and the incident undoubtedly had an affect on team morale as Blues went on to lose to two second half goals.
Boyd was not selected by Turner for the game in Milan and although he did play in the following match in Zagreb, that proved to be his final appearance in a Blues shirt.
STALEMATE IN FAIRS CUP OPENER
Blues' first competitive appearance in Europe turned into something of a damp squib as the teams played out a largely uneventful goalless draw in front of a paltry crowd of just 7,000.
The game was moved from Inter Milan's main San Siro stadium to their former 30,000-capacity ground, which they now used as a training base, but as it was located in the city centre rather than one of the outer districts it was hoped that this might persuade a few more of the home fans to turn out.
However Italians were not overly keen on floodlit matches and the 10pm kick-off may have put some off but it was perhaps more to do with their team's poor recent form.
Inter were lying fourth in their league which was considered as a calamity by the club's fans.
Those that did turn up spent must much of the game jeering at their own players after a below-par home performance. But that's not so say that Blues' display was any better.
Gil Merrick was the visitors' man-of-the-match as he pulled off two point-blank saves to keep Inter at bay.
Arthur Turner's men had made a promising start to the match with Peter Murphy firing just over the bar and then Geoff Cox breaking clear but being denied by Italian international goalkeeper Giorgio Ghezzi.
But that was the sum total of both side's attacking forays and the game petered out into stalemate.
Blues boss Turner declared himself satisfied with a draw against such illustrious opponents, particular considering that he had fielded a defence that included four reserves due to the absence of Jeff Hall and Trevor Smith and injuries to Roy Warhurst and Len Boyd.
Jack Badham was the most impressive deputy as he kept the experienced and speedy Inter fans' favourite Lennart Skoglund in check.
The Swede was one of eight internationals on show in the home ranks and that too added credit to the result, one that was to prove pivotal in Blues' bid to finish top of the group and progress to the knockout stages.
Milan: Ghezzi, Fongaro, Giacommazzi, Masiero, Ferrario, Invernizzo, Lorenzi, Vonlanthen, Fraschini, Celio, Skoglund.
Blues: Merrick, Badham, Green, Watts, Newman, Warmington, Cox, Kinsey, Brown, Murphy, Govan.
Following their goaless draw against Inter Milan Arthur Turner's side spent six days in Italy before embarking on a long train journey to Zagreb to take on Yugoslavian side Dinamo Zagreb.
BLUES ON TRACK FOR GLORY
The team's second and final tour game in this end-of-season European adventure was scheduled for six days later against Zagreb in the former Yugoslavia.
Although Turner declared himself happy with the point from the opening group game against Inter, it had been a rather lacklustre performance from both sides and hardly the confidence boost that Blues had been seeking after the disappointment of their Wembley defeat in the 1956 FA Cup final less than two weeks earlier.
But with almost a week before the match in Zagreb, the players were given a few days to relax in the beautiful surroundings of Menaggio on the banks of Lake Como as well as the romantic city of Venice.
According to the Birmingham Mail's reporter Rod Davies, who accompanied the Blues party throughout their trip and sent back daily reports for the newspaper, he could see the tension that had built up amongst the players visibly lifted during this short sabbatical.
They needed to unwind because ahead of them lay a strenuous 13-hour rail journey, although it was more comfortable than you may first imagine as the train in question was the Orient Express.
WARHURST MAKES LONG-AWAITED RETURN
Arthur Turner had a long train journey in which to contemplate his team and as they pulled into Zagreb the Blues boss had decided on an all-change approach.
The main piece of team news was the return of defender Roy Warhurst, who had been out of action since early March with a thigh injury picked up in the FA Cup quarter final win over Arsenal.
It was widely considered to be Warhurst's unavailability for Wembley that had contributed to Blues' downfall in the cup final against Manchester City.
He was close to making the big game but wasn't risked by Turner and, to this day, team mate Alex Govan insists: "If Roy had been fit then there would only have been one winner."
Warhurst still flew out with the team for this European jaunt and, although it was felt that the hard pitch in Milan was not a suitable surface to make his comeback, the young wing-half had proved his fitness in training and was pencilled into the side to face Zagreb, in place of Peter Warmington.
Substitutes were not introduced into English football until the mid-1960s but for this competition two players could be replaced up to half-time so Turner at least knew that he had that option open to him.
That may have been the reason that he also selected Len Boyd, another wing-half who had been struggling with a back injury and was left out of the Milan game, replacing Johnny Watts.
Turner made three further changes with George Allen in for Ken Green, who had been allowed to return to England due to his business commitments, and Jackie Jane and Bill Finney forming a new right wing partnership in place of Geoff Cox and Alex Govan.
Despite rotating his squad, Turner desperately wanted to beat Zagreb after hearing that some of their club officials had been to watch Blues in Milan and come away saying that they would win this match easily.
It was always going to be a difficult game, arguably tougher than Inter, but the Blues boss was riled and determined to put one over his hosts.
BROWN GOAL SEALS WIN
Blues needed all their battling qualities to secure their first victory in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup against an experienced Zagreb team.
The home side fielded no fewer than six Yugoslav internationals whilst Blues included five players who were considered to be reserves.
But, to a man, the Blues team rose to the challenge and summoned up every last morsel of effort left in their bodies at the end of a long and tiring season to ensure they finished on a high.
Eddy Brown fired his 29th goal of a prolific campaign to put the visitors in front as early as the eighth minute.
Jackie Lane and Bill Finney combined to set up Brown and the Blues top scorer made no mistake, although his shot needed the aid of the post to beat goalkeeper Branko Kralj.
Zagreb enjoyed the better possession after that but on the rare occasion that they were able to breakthrough a resolute Blues defence they found Gil Merrick in magnificent form.
Turner decided to make a substitution after just half an hour with Geoff Cox replacing a frustrated Jackie Lane, who had found himself on the receiving end of some rough challenges from the home side and was starting to retaliate.
And it was Cox that came closest to adding to Blues' tally when he saw his chip over the goalkeeper bounce back off the post.
A combination of some great goalkeeping and two last ditch clearances off the line from Roy Warhurst and Jack Badham kept the visitors' clean sheet in tact and secured an historic victory.
The Blues players got a tremendous ovation at the end from a home crowd that had appreciated their fulsome attitude to the game.
And, in return, Turner's men distributed bouquets of flowers to the fans as a show of gratitude for the wonderful hospitality they had received ever since they arrived in the city.
It was a nice finish to a productive tour and one that put Blues in an excellent position to qualify for the knockout stage of the inaugural Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, with the return matches to come against Zagreb and Milan at St. Andrew's.
Zagreb: Kralj, Beseredy, Crnkovic, Santek, Horvat, Resek, Conc, Abadzic, Medved, Firm, Lipsinovic.
Blues: Merrick, Badham, Allen, Boyd, Newman, Warhurst, Lane, Finney, Kinsey, Brown, Murphy.
Next: Blues welcome Zagreb to St. Andrew's for the return game needing a maximum points haul to keep pace with group leaders Inter Milan.
BLUES SEE THE LIGHT
When Teddy Eden of the Birmingham County FA first mooted the idea of entering a side into the Inter Cities Fairs Cup the initial thought was to have a representative XI with players chosen from all the clubs in the region.
He invited Birmingham City, Aston Villa, West Brom, Wolves, Walsall and Coventry to consider the suggestion.
All expect Birmingham turned him down and so it was that Blues became the first British club to take part in European competition.
Villa later admitted that they missed a trick and it was perhaps a lack of ambition and foresight on their part. Instead they watched as Blues play host to some of Europe's elite clubs in competitive matches.
Villa's reluctance may have been to do with the requirement for floodlights so that the games could be played on midweek evenings during the winter months.
Blues went ahead and had lights erected at St. Andrew's during the summer of 1956 and they were officially switched on for a friendly match against Borussia Dortmund on October 31 that year.
Chairman Harry Morris stage-managed an illusion trick by only putting the lights on at half-power when the players walked out.
There were some glum faces until Morris called for "Charlie" to turn them on to full power and gasps of astonishment rang around the stadium.
Nowadays we have games under lights all the time but this was a new phenomenon in the 1950s when fans and players alike were only used to having games during daylight hours.
Bryan Orritt scored twice with Alex Govan getting the other goal as the game finished in a 3-3 draw witnessed by 45,000 fans.
So everything was in place and ready for Blues' first competitive European fixture - and the return match against Zagreb.
GREEN: "I'LL PLAY ANYWHERE"
Blues' preparation for their big European night at St. Andrew's was disrupted by a host of injuries picked up during a weekend goalless draw against Tottenham.
Trevor Smith and Johnny Newman (both ankle injuries) along with Gordon Astall (thigh) were casualties of a bruising league encounter with Spurs.
Boss Arthur Turner also had to plan for the Monday night fixture without talented right-back Jeff Hall who had left to join up with the England squad for a World Cup qualifier against Denmark later that week.
The Blues defence had been decimated and the manager spent his Sunday mulling over the options before approaching long-serving left-back Ken Green.
Turner asked him: "How do you feel about playing at…." And before he even knew the position, Green replied: "That's alright by me!"
A real clubman, Green was happy to fill in at centre-half while in the full-back positions Turner went with reserve players Brian Farmer and George Allen, the latter had not featured at all that season while Farmer had played just once.
Winger Geoff Cox was another member of the squad to have clocked up just one first team game before that night but he was drafted in to replace the injured Astall.
And Turner made a fifth change with Alex Govan coming back into the side instead of Noel Kinsey, although the Welshman still had a role to play as substitutes were allowed in this competition, but only up until half-time.
Blues had beaten Zagreb by a single Eddy Brown goal in the reserve fixture earlier that year when goalkeeper Gil Merrick performed miracles to keep the hosts at bay - the local Yugoslav papers the following day calling him the "The great Jill".
Zagreb had also failed to score in their other group game, a 1-0 defeat at home to Inter Milan, and to try and buck up their attack the Zagreb FA selected some different forwards for the trip to St. Andrew's.
They were also forced into a change in goal with Branko Kralj unavailable having been selected for international duty and he was replaced by 23-year-old law student Gordan Irovic.
But the rookie keeper had an experienced defence to protect him, all five of whom could boast international caps for their country.
So it still looked like being a difficult night for a much-changed Blues team.
BLUES MARCH ON IN EUROPE
Over 40,000 fans filed through the St. Andrew's for an historic night of football but, believe it or not, this was viewed as a disappointing crowd.
The club had expected many more but a petrol shortage in the UK at the time had had an impact.
With only the group winners progressing to the next round, Blues knew that a victory against a Zagreb side without any points was a must if they were to stay ahead of Milan in the race for a semi-final place.
Arthur Turner's side made the perfect start as Bryan Orritt, who clearly enjoyed playing against foreign opposition, fired the home team in front after just three minutes.
Blues never looked back and in truth should have won by a greater margin than the 3-0 scoreline that they eventually racked up courtesy of second half goals from Eddy Brown and Peter Murphy.
Noel Kinsey became the first Blues player to be introduced as a substitute in a competitive game at St. Andrew's when he came on for goal scorer Orritt just before the interval.
It wasn't just floodlights that were seen as revolutionary in those days, the Birmingham Mail's reporter Rod Davies clearly wasn't impressed with the new fangled idea of subs.
He wrote the next day: 'Remember the first cry after Kelsey was injured in the Welsh goal against England? It was for goalkeepers only to be substituted when injured in international matches. I said then it would be the thin end of the wedge. Now we have 'cup-ties' as the first addition. And now it need not be a goalkeeper either. How short is the step to flat out substitution and complete chaos in the American football-ice hockey fashion?'
Blues: Merrick, Farmer, Allen, Watts, Green, Warhurst, Cox, Orritt, Brown, Murphy, Govan.
Zagreb: Irovic, Banozic, Crnkovic, Rezek, Horvat, Mantula, Benko, Conc, Jerkovic, Medved, Dvornic.
Next: Blues face a winner-takes-all contest against Italian giants Inter Milan at St. Andrew's to decide who goes through to the semi-finals.
A MUST-WIN AGAINST MILAN - 17 April 1957
Blues' first involvement in European competition has begun in encouraging fashion with a goalless draw away to the mighty Inter Milan.
Yugoslavian side Zagreb were then despatched home and away - a single goal success for Arthur Turner's troops on their travels following by a 3-0 victory at St. Andrew's.
This just left the return match against the maestros from Milan and, despite the decent start to life in Europe, Blues needed to win this final group game because their opponents had not only matched the 1-0 win in Zagreb but then won 4-0 back in Italy so therefore boasted a one better goal difference.
Although confusion reigned in the build-up to the game with Turner quoted as saying: "I am not quite certain about the position but I think goal average will count so we have got to win to reach the semi-final."
The Blues team of 1956/57 were struggling to match their history-making sixth-placed finish of the previous campaign and were without a win in nine Division One games ahead of Milan's visit to St. Andrew's.
The Fairs Cup group decider came as a welcome distraction from the league for Turner's team, particularly after their 5-1 hammering at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane just four days earlier.
The Blues boss had demoted regular first-team strikers Eddy Brown and Alex Govan to the reserves on that weekend but the pair were recalled, along with Johnny Watts, for the midweek match against Milan.
In the games against Zagreb both teams had been allowed to use outfield substitutions up until half-time with a change of goalkeeper permitted at any time.
For this encounter it was decided that only keepers could be introduced to the action with Turner explaining: "This is what we agreed upon for the first 'leg' in Milan last May. There will be no other substitutes."
This was in a day and age when subs were not common place at all and, in another unusual move, Blues played in red and white to allow their visitors to don their famous pale blue and black stripes.
LONG JOURNEY FOR MILAN
Following the Superga air disaster of 1949 that had wiped out the whole of the Torino football team, Inter had opted to embark on any overseas trip by land and boat only.
This meant that it took the Milan players a whole 24 hours from departing their homeland to arrive at their Leamington hotel base.
Even after that tiring journey, it would still be a tough challenge for Blues as they faced up against an Inter side boasting no fewer than seven internationals.
Goalkeeper Giorgio Ghezzi, left-half Fulvio Nesti, right-half Enzo Bearzot, left-back Giovanni Glacomazzi and centre-forward Benito Lorenzi had all represented Italy while the team also included two imported international stars, Swiss outside-right Roger Vonlanthen and Swedish outside-left Lennard Skoglund.
Whilst Blues were floundering for form, the opposite could be said of their illustrious visitors who had recovered from a poor start to the campaign and were now lying in second place in their domestic league, hot on the heels of city rivals AC.
GOVAN BRACE SENDS BLUES INTER SEMIS
Nearly 35,000 crammed into St. Andrew's for this all-or-nothing clash and witnessed an impressive start from the foreign visitors.
Inter wasted three good chances during the opening 15 minutes that could have put the tie beyond doubt but as the game went on Blues grew in belief and got the opening goal that they so desperately needed just before the interval.
Gordon Astall surprised the Italians by putting a low free-kick into the area rather than a high ball and, after two Blues players jumped over it leading to more confusion, Govan was left with the simple job of shooting past Ghezzi.
The Blues number 11 was in the right place again 11 minutes after the break to convert Brown's inch-perfect right-wing cross as the two returnees to the side made their point to the manager in the best way possible.
Inter opted to use their sub keeper Enzo Matteucci at this point, which seemed a little harsh on Ghezzi who was hardly at fault for either of the goals. And the deputy shot-stopper denied both Brown and Peter Murphy as Blues looked to make sure of the victory.
Lorenzi did grab a consolation for the Italians just two minutes from time with a neat lob but it was too little, too late. Inter were left to curse their poor finishing during the opening stages of the game which could have led to a very different result.
And after the game, the name on the lips of the Italian club's officials and journalists alike was that of Leeds United striker John Charles, who had been strongly linked with a move to either Inter or Juventus.
Ironically Blues came up against the big Welsh international in their next match at home to Leeds and even though Charles notched a brace, the win over Milan had clearly given Turner's team a terrific boost and they ran out comprehensive 6-2 victors with Govan claiming his fifth hat-trick of the season.
Incidentally, it was Juve and not Inter that came up with a then-British record fee of £65,000 to lure Charles to Italy just a few days later.
MURPHY BLASTS VISITORS' PHYSICAL APPROACH
After the Milan game many of the Blues players felt aggrieved by the spoiling tactics employed by their illustrious visitors.
The Inter team included some of the great showmen of the game but they could also mix it with the best when they needed to.
Blues' inside-left Peter Murphy commented: "I was fed up long before the end. We were nudged, tugged and generally obstructed every time we went up the field. I spotted Gordon Astall going down the line and moved into the middle anticipating his cross. But before I reached the penalty area, one of these characters put out his arm as if he was driving a van around the city centre and I was stopped in my tracks!"
But ultimately Blues ground out the result that they required leaving boss Turner satisfied.
The St. Andrew's chief concluded: "Milan played far better than this when we went to Italy but our lads fought well enough."
Blues: Merrick, Hall, Green, Watts, Smith, Warhurst, Astall, Kinsey, Brown, Murphy, Govan.
Inter: Ghezzi, Fongaro, Glacomazzi, Bearzot, Bernadin, Nesti, Vonlanthen, Dorigo, Lorenzi, Skoglund, Campagnoli.
Next - Blues made it through to the semi-finals of that first Fairs Cup campaign and their opponents in the final four were none other than Spanish giants Barcelona in a two-legged affair.
BLUES TAKE ON BARCA - 23 October 1957.
Some 18 months after taking their first tentative steps into competitive European action, Blues found themselves entertaining one of the greats of world football at St. Andrew's. Having disposed of Inter Milan and Zurich in the group stages, the one and only Barcelona were next on the agenda for Arthur Turner and his troops.
Blues were two months into the 1957/58 season and had been struggling to find any consistency, lying 15th in the First Division table. Their opponents, meanwhile, were riding high in second in the Spanish League, two points behind Real Madrid with a game in hand, and they had thrashed their main rivals 6-1 in the cup earlier in the campaign.
A 14-man Barca squad trained at Elmdon ahead of the game under the watchful eye of manager Joseph Samitier and coach Doming Albania. The only English-speaking member of the party was interpreter William Mauchan, who made some bold statements in the build-up to the eagerly-awaited contest. "Barcelona will win everything this season. They will win the league and they will beat Blues," he declared, adding: "Last week they opened their ground - it is the biggest and best in the world."
BLOW FOR NEWMAN
Blues' inside-right Johnny Newman was forced to miss the big cup game at St. Andrew's after being laid low with flu. It was a big disappointment for the long-serving defender who had struggled to hold down a regular place in the side since arriving at the club as a promising teenager from Hereford Lads' Club in 1949.
In fact only a few weeks prior to the Barcelona game the frustrated Newman came out in the press to say that he was seeking a transfer away from the club to try and get first team football. However, he was recalled by Arthur Turner for a home game against Preston in late September, which Blues won 3-1, and kept his place for the next five matches.
His latest appearance had been at Highbury where Blues geared up for their Fairs Cup semi-final in perfect fashion with an impressive 3-1 away victory and Newman played a key role in the success. That turned out to be his last game for Blues as he was transferred to Leicester City the following month.
Newman was replaced by Bunny Larkin, whose only other appearance that season came in a 7-1 defeat at Tottenham. Another player given a rare opportunity of a run-out in the big match was defender George Allen, who deputised for Ken Green with the full-back sidelined due to a back injury.
STAR KUBALA MISSES OUT
Blues were given a boost with the news that Barcelona would be without their star attraction, striker Ladislav Kubala. The 30-year-old, who represented three different countries, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Spain, was feared throughout the world and a glance at his statistics tells you why - 131 goals in just 186 league games during his decade with Barca.
But Kubala was struck down by flu and the visitors were also without two other internationals in the form of Martin Verges, also flu, and Enrique Gensena, who had broken his arm in training. Barca could still boast five internationals amongst their ranks so it looked like being a formidable task for Arthur Turner's Blues team.
Through the interpreter, Barcelona manager Jose Samitier commented: "It should be a good match. I think we are the more scientific team but the British go all out for the ball."
It was action all the way for the 30,000-plus crowd inside St. Andrew's as Birmingham and Barcelona slugged out a seven-goal spectacular. If the Spanish side thought they would be in for an easy night and a chance to display their exhibition football, they were in for a rude awakening against a fired-up Blues team.
Arthur Turner's charges were straight out of the blocks and opened the scoring after just two minutes through Eddy Brown, who nipped in as Barca goalkeeper Antonio Ramallets attempted to shepherd Bunny Larkin's shot out of play. The shocked visitors hit back straight away as they scored directly from the restart as Justo Tejada picked up the ball on the left flank and curled a speculative shot over Gil Merrick into the net. This set the tone for the whole evening as the two teams traded goals in an end to end contest.
Jose Samitier's side went in front through Evaristo De Macedo and the visitors threatened to run away with it as Eulugio Martinez and Ramon Villaverde both went close to adding a third goal but were denied by great saves from Merrick. Instead it was Blues' turn to respond as Bryan Orritt poked the ball home from close range after Larkin's cross was not cleared properly.
Barca stormed back and regained the advantage with the goal of the game as Villaverde controlled the ball on his chest before turning and hammering the ball past Merrick before the Blues keeper had a chance to move. But the topsy-turvy encounter took another turn as the hosts equalised again as Peter Murphy headed the ball past Ramallets.
After the interval Blues stepped up their tough-tackling approach to try and stem the tide of goals and ensure that the visitors weren't given the time and space that allowed them to score three times in the opening 45 minutes. The tactic worked a treat and paid ultimate dividends when Murphy fired home the winner just after the hour, having seen a previous effort saved by Ramallets.
There was still time for Barca to miss a golden opportunity to go into the second leg on level terms as Villaverde fired over when he should have scored. After the game the Spanish side complained about Blues' physical approach but Turner promised them more of the same at the Nou Camp. "These Spanish players are great ball players, but like a lot of continental sides, don't like good, honest tackling. It would be fatal if we change styles in mid-stream when we go over there for the return match in three weeks' time," said the Blues boss.
Blues: Merrick, Farmer, Allen, Larkin, Smith, Watts, Astall, Orritt, Brown, Neal, Murphy.
Barcelona: Ramallets, Segarra, Gracia, Fltats, Olivella, Boach, Basora, Villaverde, Martinez, Evaristo, Tejada.
BLUES BARCELONA BOUND - 13 November 1957
After beating the Catalan giants 4-3 at St. Andrew's the 15-man Birmingham squad flew into Barcelona with a fair deal of trepidation as they prepared to face a team and its fervent supporters who were determined to gain revenge for their St. Andrew's reversal and progress to the final at Blues' expense. The people of Barcelona have always been soccer mad and the 4-3 defeat did not go down at all well with the occupants of the proud Spanish city. 'Blues will be fighting an uphill battle - a battle against 11 of the best players in the world - and the most excitable supporters,' wrote Birmingham Mail reporter Eric Woodward ahead of the eagerly-anticipated second leg.
And those 60,000-plus fans would be housed in the club's new state-of-the-art Hans Gamper Stadium, now known worldwide as the Nou Camp. Barca's impressive new home had only opened its doors for the first time just two months earlier at a cost of almost £1.5 million, which in those days was a very hefty sum! When Blues became the first British club to play at the ground it boasted 100,000 seats but another 50,000 were scheduled to be added within two years. It was a daunting arena in which to try and keep the star-studded Barca team at bay but on viewing the lush green playing surface, boss Arthur Turner insisted: "This gives us a better chance still."
Looking back on his appearance at the Nou Camp in Blues News a few years ago, Bunny Larkin commented: "The dressing rooms were vast from what we were used to and then we walked through an underground tunnel and came up some steps onto the pitch; your head came out first, it was fantastic. You didn't realise how big the crowd was until you got onto the pitch."
The Blues manager maintained an air of confidence in the build-up to the big match even though the odds were stacked against his side. "I realise we have all our work cut out, but we can win," said Arthur Turner ahead of the match.
The Blues boss visited the offices at the Nou Camp and was mightily impressed with what he saw, adding: "They have a permanent staff of 50 and 700 part-time helpers. No wonder they are a great club with such administration."
The Barcelona players had complained of overly-rough treatment from the Blues team during the first leg at St. Andrew's. One member of the Barca backroom team who had sympathy for Blues and the criticism aimed at them was reserve team manager Emilio Aldecoa. The 34-year-old, who coached at Blues later in his career, turned out as player in this country for Wolves and Coventry. He admitted that the Spaniards had overreacted somewhat. He commented: "Spanish players will not have strong tackles. I tell my players that they are more like ballroom dancers at times, but the lesson for them is hard to learn. The crowd will not object, however, if it is clearly shown that the Blues are playing the ball and not the man." Turner responded by insisting: "We will play hard - but fair."
Meanwhile Barcelona manager Joseph Samitier declared: "I hope the Birmingham people liked our play when we visited them, but we can play better than that and we shall against them here."
Blues' preparation for the second leg wasn't ideal as the team lost two First Division games on the bounce, shipping three goals on each occasion. Arthur Turner opted to recall Jeff Hall, who had not played in the first team for month after losing his place. This had led to rumours in the press that the England international had requested a transfer but those stories were quashed by Turner in the build-up to the return match against Barca, with the Blues boss saying: "He has not asked for a transfer, and is not going to ask for the transfer." Hall had been playing in the reserves as Turner felt that he needed to regain his form and some impressive displays for the second string brought about a return to the team for the big match, with Brian Farmer making way.
Turner made three other changes from the side that had lost 3-2 at home to Sunderland on the Saturday. Bunny Larkin and Noel Kinsey replaced Johnny Watts and Bryan Orritt while regular left-back Ken Green, who had missed the first leg due to a back strain, was again forced to sit out due to injury, with George Allen taking his position.
Barcelona's star man Ladislav Kubala missed the first leg at St. Andrew's due to a flu virus but the Hungarian hot shot was fit and available for the second match. The striker was now playing his international football for Spain and had recently bagged a hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Turkey.
LATE PAIN IN SPAIN
Blues came within just eight minutes of sealing a cup final berth only to be denied by a late strike from Barca danger man Ladislav Kubala. Up to that point Arthur Turner's side had performed a marvellous rearguard action and rebuffed wave after wave of attacks from their illustrious hosts.
"They did me proud," commented Turner afterwards. But the late goal meant that the aggregate score finished level at 4-4 and with no 'away goals rule' in those days the two teams would have to go through it all again in a replay. Despite having come so close to a famous result, after the match the Blues players were more concerned about what they felt had been unfair treatment from match referee Don Manuel Asensi. The official continually blew for fouls against the visitors before they had got anywhere near the ball.
Jeff Hall said: "If you go on your back in a tackle here you are automatically judged guilty of a foul." And his team mate Peter Murphy added: "That Spanish referee seems to have ideas all his own. It was idiotic - quite a farce instead of a soccer match." The referee explained: "I did not want this match to develop into a battle so I made decisions on question of intent rather than results."
After being criticised for their 'strong tackling' in the first leg, this time it was the Blues players that felt aggrieved by the underhand tactics used by some of the Barca team in the rematch. The visitors' man-of-the-match, Dick Neal, commented: "Every time I went to head the ball the whistle went and all the time someone was giving me a dig in the ribs. They don't like our tackling. They come out with that idea and then the fun begins. We will go flat out again when we meet again."
So the scene was set for what promised to be another fiery encounter for the third meeting of the clubs within the space of five weeks in the Swiss city of Basle..
Barcelona: Ramallets, Segarra, Gracia, Olivella, Flotats, Verges, Basora, Evaristo, Martinez, Kubala, Tejada.
Blues: Merrick, Hall, Allen, Larkin, Smith, Watts, Astall, Orritt, Brown, Neal, Murphy.
BRIGHT LIGHTS OF BASLE
After Hungarian hot shot Ladislav Kubala scored the only goal of the game for Barcelona in the Nou Camp second leg to level the aggregate score and break Blues' hearts, the two clubs could not agree on a venue and to date to play the re-match.
In the end the competition authorities had to intervene and made a decision and their choice was St. Jakob Stadium in Basle on Tuesday 26 November 1957.
Blues would have preferred the previous week but both clubs were happy about the fact that the game would be played under floodlights which meant more gate money and indeed 20,000 spectators filled the ground, many of them neutral Swiss fans.
Although the majority of the locals were willing Blues to pull of a shock as their national side had lost to a Spain side containing three of the Barcelona team just three days earlier.
Blues boss Arthur Turner opted to field the same side that had remained unbeaten in their previous two league fixtures - a 2-0 win at Everton followed by a goalless draw at home to Blackpool. The Blues boss commented: "How can I change a side that has done so well?"
Turner did concede that Bunny Larkin had been unfortunate to miss out having played in the previous two matches against Barcelona. The Brummie wing-half sustained an injury during the game at the Nou Camp and was forced to play through the pain barrier after confusion over the allowance of substitutes. Blues were shocked when contrary to a pre-match agreement, the Spanish officials would not allow Johnny Watts to come on as a replacement for Larkin.
Watts subsequently played in the Division One games against The Toffeemen and the Seasiders and his performances persuaded Turner to stick with him for the Barca rematch.
Larkin still travelled with the squad and so did number two goalkeeper Johnny Schofield, even though Gil Merrick's deputy had only recently been released from hospital after being hurt in a pit explosion at Baddesley Colliery. A Blues official said: "Johnny declared himself fit the day he left hospital. You know what he is like - mad for football! If Merrick is hurt the biggest problem will be trying to stop Johnny from playing."
BROWN'S BARCA-BLUES REPORT
So how did Blues fare in Basle? Well, who better to describe the goings-on than someone that actually played in the game?
The Birmingham Mail's coverage of the game the following day was provided by the Blues number nine Eddy Brown! The striker was an unconventional type of footballer who often turned his hand to journalism. Here is Eddy's report in full…
So it's 'bye 'bye Blues. We've tried to bring a cup to St. Andrew's for the first time and failed. We could have won - we nearly did - but there are no complaints from us.
We were beaten by a brilliant team of ball players who played up to their St. Andrew's form. And from the way they reacted when the final whistle went I reckon these men from Barcelona were mighty relieved senors.
Best players on the Blues side were Gil Merrick - who had a very good game - and Trevor Smith.
The match atmosphere was tense - just like a cup final. The teams knew one another very well and there was a feeling that one slip would settle it.
Unfortunately we made that slip. About ten minutes from the end Dick Neal pushed a short ball towards the centre of the field when he should have played it towards the touchline. It was intercepted and Juarez pushed the ball through to Kubala who went round Smith and scored. Just one slip - and out we go!
Our best spell was the first ten or 15 minutes of the second half when we pressed really hard. We were on the attack all the time. As soon as one raid was beaten back, we were hitting back again. We were hard and forceful up front - not skilful - but the crowd seemed to appreciate it.
Five minutes after the break Peter Murphy equalised - and although the full-back kicked the ball away, the referee was on the spot to award a goal. Incidentally the referee is a good one by Continental standards.
And, about 15 minutes later, I could have won the match. I headed the ball really hard - it could have gone anywhere but it went straight at the goalkeeper and he saved!
In the first half I did get the ball into the net, but as I had punched the ball onto the bar in the first place, I did not expect to get away with that! As I say, this referee was smart.
ACCLAIM FOR TURNER'S TROOPS
The battling Blues side received the plaudits of the neutrals after the 2-1 defeat and even their illustrious opponents were full of praise.
Following three titanic battles, the Barcelona president Miro San said: "We needed 270 minutes to down Birmingham and by the closest score. I'm glad it's over because they gave us a hard time. I was especially impressed by Merrick and Murphy."
Blues boss Arthur Turner commented: "We did not disgrace Birmingham by our display. We played well, defensively we were magnificent, but although we made more chances than Barcelona we did not take them. A few minutes from the end we gave the Spaniards a gift goal - and that was that.
"I should say that this has been an outstanding performance. We beat Milan, a fine side, and now we have narrowly lost to Barcelona - who are supposed to be one of the best club sides in Europe. I should say our performance was nearly as good as getting to Wembley (in the FA Cup final of 1956)
"For a 20-minute spell we had them in trouble. Their defence panicked and their goalkeeper made three or four fantastic saves."
Blues chairman Harry Morris vowed: "We will be back next year….at least we hope to represent our city again in the next cup series. It was a close contest. Maybe we will have better luck next time."
The magnitude of Blues' achievements in pushing Barca all the way in three very even contests was shown up when the Spanish club hammered a London XI 8-2 on aggregate in the final. The London side was selected from all the clubs in the Capital and included the likes of Jack Kelsey, Danny Blanchflower and Jimmy Greaves.
Blues: Merrick, Hall, Smith, Farmer, Watts, Neal, Astall, Orritt, Brown, Murphy, Govan.
Barcelona: Ramallets, Segarra, Gracia, Olivella, Flotats, Verges, Basora, Evaristo, Suarez, Kubala, Tejada.