Birmingham City legend warns beloved club could “disappear” amid £100m debt and absentee owners

Things are never simple at Birmingham City (Image: Getty Images)

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Garry Pendrey's love for Birmingham City once saw him spill tears on Manchester City's pitch.

An injury-time winner for Fulham in an FA Cup semi-final at Maine Road back in 1975 broke his heart and that of half of the city Birmingham's too.

A 13-year playing career was followed by a stint in the manager's chair. A job, the Brummie said in his first programme notes, that he would have 'walked barefoot over broken glass,' to land.

Since retiring, he has missed but a couple of matches at St Andrew's. Between them, his family own eight season-tickets.

Pendrey is as royal blue as they come.

But these are testing times.

Pendrey up against Spurs' Glenn Hoddle
(Image: PA)

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Birmingham City is over £100m in debt to absentee owners in the Far East. The stadium is mortgaged to the hilt. Before Christmas, two stands failed to pass council safety guidelines.

The club lies four points above the relegation zone and is mulling over the potential disbandment of an academy that has just developed £25m starlet Jude Bellingham.

None of it is pretty.

Neither is the picture of Armageddon that the former left-back paints.

“I don't feel the club belongs to the people of the city of Birmingham anymore,” he said, “I feel we're part of something that really doesn't matter to someone, somewhere. Is that too simplistic?

“I'm not a very clever person who understands balance sheets but I understand debt and when I look at the amount of we have, I think it's frightening.

“And if we are talking about people thousands of miles away who don't care about us, then maybe the club will disappear.

Pendrey worries for his former club
(Image: Birmingham Mail)

“If that's what we owe – £100m – and that's what it says – we could go at the stroke of a pen.

“There is no transparency. By providing none, the owners are betraying the club and the name of the city.

“So, what are we doing? Does anyone out there know, because I don't.

“I get angry and upset – but I don't feel upset for myself, I'm 71 years old now. I've had my time, I've done my thing. But when I look at my kids, grandkids and Birmingham City supporters, what have they got to look forward to? What can they expect? I don't know.

“There's always good people at every club. There were very good people at Birmingham City. But it's hanging precariously. I fear for it, I really do.”

It wasn't always like this.

As far as glory days go, Pendrey was a part of them. In the the early to mid-70s, the country might have been struggling but with boy wonder Trevor Francis and a front line that included Bob Latchford and Bob Hatton, the Blues were enjoying themselves.

Pendrey said: “Trevor was in his pomp. Of course, he had Bob Latchford and Bob Hatton around him, proper players. The rest of us were steady Eddies really.

“Trevor was the catalyst. He was an exceptional player. But he was an exceptional player at an exceptionally young age. That's what counts.

Birmingham City's boy wonder Trevor Francis with Brazilian legend Pele following the visit of Santos in the early 70s.
(Image: Mirrorpix)

“I remember once we were playing Middlesbrough in a night game. It was a horrible, drizzly night and we won a free-kick, 35 yards out – if not further. Trevor took it and I can remember thinking to myself: 'He's not going to have a go from there, is he?' And then I saw the ball hit the net. Incredible.

“He was the cherry on the cake and that filtered down to the rest of us. He was at one level, we were on another.

“But together, we were dragging in crowds of over 40,000 regularly. There was a tremendous camaraderie in those days between the players and the spectators.

“We used to mix with them as well. The club had a pub quiz team, organised by the local pink paper the Sports' Argus, and it consisted of myself, Gordon Taylor, Alan Campbell and Malcolm Page. We had a connection with the fans. You can't imagine that, now, can you?”

What could have seen the club smash through a glass ceiling was that FA Cup semi-final defeat to Fulham. And he still cannot quite get the image of that evening out of his mind.

He said: “I won't ever forget that night at Maine Road. Not just for myself but for the club, the fans…everyone.

“We'd played Fulham in the first semi-final at Hillsborough and not done ourselves justice. We had been so dominant in that second match and to lose it in the last 15 seconds to such a scrappy goal. I can still see the ball bobbling over the line, even now. I was heartbroken.

“It was a turning point for the club. Certainly for the manager of the time, Freddie Goodwin. And not in a good way.”

To his eternal regret, Pendrey was part of that.

Finances were tight when former scrap-metal dealer Ken Wheldon took charge, eventually making a man who was the club's youngest-ever skipper their new manager.

Pendrey in action against West Brom in 1974
(Image: Mirrorpix)

Pendrey said: “I'd been at Walsall, assisting Alan Buckley when we were sacked following Terry Ramsden's takeover.

“People think I'm joking when I tell them how we were told. We were out on the training pitch and a helicopter landed.

“An oldish guy in a pinstripe suit got out and pointed at me and Alan Buckley and said: 'You two are finished – we've got the new manager in the helicopter.'

“So, I was out of work and went to see Graham Turner after a phone call. Wolves were in the bottom four of the fourth division. We took them into the play-offs but we lost out on promotion. Nevertheless, we were going to be offered new contracts.

“I got home a few hours later and the phone rang. It was Ken Wheldon, who owned Birmingham City. He had been at Walsall, so I knew him.

“Well, my lad, do you want the job?” was all he said. My answer was: “Can a duck swim?”

“It didn't go well. For one simple reason: I wasn't good enough.

Pendrey with Gordon Strachan at Celtic in 2005
(Image: Daily Record)

“I saw Jamie Carragher talking about managers taking jobs too soon, the other day on Sky. He was referencing Frank Lampard. I thought back to my own experiences.

“I didn't take the job at Birmingham City too soon. I took it because I wanted it. I wasn't good enough at it. It wanted to do the best I could. I wasn't good enough.

“You find out about yourself. I did know that when I finished at St Andrew's, that I would do what I thought I was good at. And that was being an assistant.”

Since retiring – he spent a large chunk of his later days working as a number two to Gordon Strachan at Coventry, Southampton and Celtic before calling it a day.

But he remains part of the fixtures and fittings at St Andrew's.

“There is no club without the people,” he said, “the former chairman at Southampton, Rupert Lowe, said to us once: 'I'm only the key-holder for a short period of time.

“The supporters are there. They are the lifeblood of any club. My kids and grandkids are royal blue to their core. The only hope I can offer them is that it will change. The only problem is, I don't know how bad it's going to get – and I don't know when that change will come.”

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