Too often in recent years has the clubs fanbase been undermined by the actions of a small collection of supporters who seem to be doing their utmost to wreck the teams reputation. For three consecutive years Birmingham have soared to the top of the wrong sort of table, running away with the title for being the worst-behaved crowd in English football.
Figures from November showed that, for the third season in a row, more Birmingham fans were arrested than at any other club in Englands top five leagues. It was not even a close title race, either: 95 Birmingham fans were arrested in 2017-18, with Sheffield United coming second with 62.
A wider context, showing that football-related arrests in England and Wales have more than halved in the past 10 years, should of course be noted. For Birmingham, though, the trouble appeared to be getting worse — until this season, at least. Last season there was a jump of more than 30 per cent in arrests, up from 72 to 95, while more than 70 per cent of those took place at home games.
The reality is that if somebody is determined to get onto the pitch, they will get on. To stand any chance of making it impossible, you would need a solid wall of stewards/police all the way around the pitch, which just isnt feasible. The alternative is bringing back the dreaded fences which simply can never be allowed to happen again.
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As ever with these incidents, it is a small minority who represent a major problem, and it is hard not to feel some sympathy for those who are tarred with the hooligan brush. The Blues Trust on Monday placed on record its utter condemnation of Paul Mitchell, the fan who attacked Grealish, saying the incident has tarnished the reputation of the football club that we love and hold dear.
Other fans went further. One lifelong Birmingham supporter, who has been watching the club for more than 40 years, told Telegraph Sport that he was so ashamed by the incident that he genuinely wanted Villa to win the match, and for Grealish to score the winner.
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It is made all the more galling for the club, and the overwhelming majority of the fans, that the Grealish incident comes at a time of genuine positivity on the pitch under Garry Monk. Despite their off-field battle to avoid a points deduction for breaking English Football Leagues spending rules, Birmingham are playing some of the best football that St Andrews has seen for years.
Great strides have been made in relations with the community, with the club doing much in recent months to support the citys homeless through the Geoff Horsfield Foundation. There is subsequently less anger from the stands, and that has translated into less trouble among the fans.
Officers from West Midlands Police last month appeared on the Tilton Talk Show, a Birmingham-centric podcast, and highlighted the huge steps forward that have been taken this season, including a reduction of more than 90 per cent in the arrests at home games. The rate of improvement has been so dramatic, they said, that the force has this season been able to scale back on the number of officers they are sending to Birmingham games.
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So why, then, did a 27-year-old adult feel compelled to attack an opposition player in front of 27,000 spectators and a live TV audience? The obvious answer, of course, is idiocy. But as ever there are separate factors which that apply both to Birmingham and to football as a whole.
Telegraph Sport understands that Mitchell is by no means considered to be part of the small core of die-hard Birmingham supporters. He is not believed to be involved in any wider violent movement within the clubs fanbase. Instead, he is thought to be part of a second category of supporter that has become increasingly prevalent at football matches across the country.
On Sunday, Aston Villa man Jack Grealish was punched by a Birmingham fan during the Second City derby at St Andrew’s while Manchester United’s Chris Smalling was pushed by an Arsenal supporter during the Red Devils’ defeat at the Emirates Stadium.
To call it a new breed of football fan is perhaps disingenuous, but those who attend club and international matches have noticed a growing trend of young adults attempting to attach themselves to the glamour of hooligans past. Work a normal job in the week, leap on the bandwagon at the weekend. The fact, for example, that Mitchells jacket was branded with an enormous Z, harking back to the infamous Birmingham Zulus hooligan firm, would have been notable for many older fans who saw the Grealish incident.
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This is naturally an issue that goes beyond one incident, as is the separate concern over the popularity of alcohol and Class A drugs among some football supporters. But the actions of Mitchell will divert all eyes back to Birmingham and land another punch on the reputation of a fanbase that would have been forgiven for thinking it was making some much-needed progress.
All of the culprits in the incidents have been punished with Grealish’s attacker Paul Mitchell being sentenced to 14 weeks in prison, while the Gunners fan who pushed Smalling has been charged with common assault.
Derby clashes between Birmingham City and Aston Villa last season were marred by four pitch invasions by individual fans, police reports obtained by Sportsmail reveal.
As such, the attack on Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish by Birmingham fan Paul Mitchell should not have come as any great surprise to the clubs or the authorities.
Trouble at Englands traditional derby matches has been on the rise, with police reports obtained through a Freedom of Information request by Sportsmail exposing a shocking catalogue of hooliganism.
Clashes between Birmingham and Villa fans were among the most violent. In October 2017, travelling Villa fans were picked off all over the place following their match at Birmingham.
Birmingham City supporter Alfie Perkins tweeted a picture of Jack Grealish's brother's grave, taken from the player's Instagram story, with the caption: "He might've scored but it'll never bring his dead brother back and that gives me more satisfaction than anything ever could hahahahahahahahaha".
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West Midlands Polices debrief also revealed that masked Birmingham fans attacked officers with metal brackets, scaffold poles, breeze blocks and glasses. One smashed a police carrier with a claw hammer. After a post-match probe, police made 44 further arrests.
Barrington Patterson, described by Birmingham Live as a "reformed hooligan," called Alfie out, saying: "See you kid you are a disgrace say what you want about me I only ever fought people who wanted to fight me you are no blues fan scum spend more time working on that muggy face".
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When the teams met at Villa Park in February last year there were five arrests and 17 ejections from the stadium.
Details published for the first time on Tuesday reveal that the first sign of trouble came when a group of Birmingham fans identified as risk groups attempted to board Aston-bound trains for home fans, only to be thwarted by police spotters.
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At the ground three fans were ejected for vandalising a toilet, while another was arrested after a steward was assaulted in Holte Lower. The report said fans in the Holte Lower chose to stand despite repeated requests for them to desist, while ejections from the ground continued.
A second-half Villa goal saw a fan enter the field of play from the North Stand area. He was detained before he reached the pitch and arrested. Two stewards were injured during the incident, one with a cut to the head, the other hurting a knee.
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Two more home fans were arrested for entering the pitch side, but none got close to players or the away support. Another fan was arrested for throwing missiles at Birmingham fans.
After the game, baton strikes and strong verbal commands were employed to keep rivals fans apart in the city. Punches and bottles were thrown.
When the two teams met at St Andrews in October 2017, the problems were even more serious. Officers no doubt hoped the arrest of nine Villa fans the week before, for incidents around the Cardiff match, would ease the situation.
It began with verbal altercations on Coventry Road, with a mixture of risk groups from Birmingham involved, and a fan was arrested by a coach park used by Villa supporters.
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Birmingham placed 20,000 cardboard clappers on seats. These were thrown at every available opportunity during the game, the report added. Every AVFC corner, free-kick and goal-kick saw numerous missiles thrown at the Villa player. These included plastic beer bottles, coins and clapper boards.
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The referee and the fourth official stopped the game on more than one occasion, with Villa players and the linesman all struck with various missiles.
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Coins were thrown between fans while 30 seats were broken in the away end, and at the final whistle a Birmingham fan ran the length of the pitch before being arrested.
After the game the trouble escalated. A blue smoke bomb was let off and officers were peppered with coins. They also had bottles, glasses and bricks thrown at them as they tried to disperse Birmingham fans near the coach park, with one spotter struck in the face in an incident that lasted 20 minutes.
With Villa fans still locked inside the stadium, police spotters were then confronted by masked males throwing missiles at them, with metal brackets, scaffold poles, breeze blocks and glasses thrown. Officers deployed long shields to protect themselves, while the windscreen of a police carrier was smashed with a claw hammer.
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Villa fans were held in the ground for 90 minutes but officers reported that they were getting picked off all over the place while returning to the city. The behaviour of Villa fans was described as exemplary; Birmingham fans were exceedingly poor – When they couldnt get to Villa fans they were all too happy to attack police officers using a very high level of force.