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Nationwide Division One, 1/10/00
Birmingham City
Mind-crushing conceit
By Matt Rowson

During much of the seventeenth century, Abyssinia was ruled by an Emperor Fasiledes. His mark is most permanently left on modern Ethiopia's second city Gondar, which he installed as capital and where he built a fortress that still stands today. He was, legend has it, an outrageously hairy chap, something that his royal livery tended to conceal from his people. Less ignorant, of course, were the Abyssinian women with whom the Emperor chose to share his private time.

So concerned was the hirsute Fasiledes, however, at the possibility of word of his hairy problem getting out that he executed each concubine shortly after the consummation of their relationship. Wonder if Mickey Droy shared his concerns.

Any lineage linking Fasiledes to Birmingham City's manager Tricky Trevor Francis has been lost in the mists of time and, one assumes, less hairy genes. However, the mind-crushing conceit lives on as incontrovertible testimony to Francis' unlikely heritage.

Francis' reaction to his brave boys being beaten by Watford's rotters in the dramatic, hair-curdling 1999 play-off semi-finals bordered on the apoplectic. It was everyone's fault, the referee, Watford's big nasty strikers, the planets, Nick Bateman. Not Trev's, though. Absolutely not.

By last April, Trev had calmed somewhat. As Sky's pundit during our encounter with Manchester United, he restricted himself to suggesting that Watford "just lacked that little bit of quality", with grapes so sour that even Richard Keys winced. Keys, incidentally, has presumably got hold of Fasiledes hairy genes somewhere down the line. A month later, the only Watford fans who didn't smirk at the Blues' capitulation to Barnsley in the home-leg of another play-off semi-final were those who laughed out loud.

Must confess to having been one of the latter.

In goal for City will be Ian Bennett, who has once again wrested the keeper's position from Kevin Poole. On the right, loanee and petulant git Gary Charles was sort of destined to play for Birmingham at some point, but his Villa heritage counts against him and he is struggling with a hamstring problem. More likely to feature is former non-league man Jerry Gill.

On the left, the imposing Martin Grainger was man-of-the-match against Tranmere at the weekend, whilst David Burrows, signed in the close season, continues to struggle with injury. In the centre, David Holdsworth is an all too familiar face, doing us a favour by his sending off in the play-off tie at St.Andrews. His regular partner is Darren Purse, strong in the air but occasionally erratic. City's defence has looked far from stable at times this season, something that the departure of Gary Rowett will have contributed to. Also missing is Michael Johnson, so impressive two years ago, who lost his place amidst controversy surrounding time spent pursuing a now-lost Jamaican team place. He now has a hamstring problem.

On the right of midfield, Nicky Eaden is another summer signing, more frequently a right-back with Barnsley. Danny Sonner is another new arrival, and another former Wednesday man is Graham Hyde, who has not convinced since his signing two years ago. Bryan Hughes is talented but inconsistent, whilst Martin O'Connor should return for Tuesday's cup-tie following injury. Stan Laziridis returned from Australia's disappointing Olympic campaign with flu, but should be fit for Sunday. Jon McCarthy, meanwhile, broke his leg in a fixture with Tranmere last season, descriptions of which as a "frantic brawl" are entirely believable.

Up front, Francis' bitterness at the unfair size of Watford's strikers didn't stop him from recruiting Yorkshire brute Geoff Horsfield. Paul Furlong is on-loan at QPR, and Dele Adebola has been linked to both Luton and Gillingham. Both would have to be classified as pretty large if we were to push Trev on the point. Perhaps "not fair that they're large and good" was what he meant. Brazilian Marcelo rarely progresses beyond the bench.

More diminutive options are youngster Andy Johnson, another inconsistent talent, transfer-listed Peter Ndlovu, and Mark Burchill. Burchill, one of the three hundred and seventy six players linked to the Hornets last season, is on a three-month loan with a view to a permanent move, and impressed as substitute on Saturday. Trev, noticeably, has already claimed credit for the "Scottish Michael Owen" moniker that we heard so often last season.

Sunday's is the possibly the biggest fixture of the season so far, and certainly sets the pulse racing more than it has since the opening day. There have been occasional suggestions at Birmingham, at home to Man.United and at Cheltenham that it's no longer obligatory for us to be "sh*t on the telly", a good thing. Rest assured that Fasiledes will be watching from wherever he is; he has a vested interest after all. Probably unfair to expect Trev to conduct his post-match interviews in Amharic, however much more tolerable that would make them, but to be frank now that Mark McGhee has another job in football nothing would surprise me....