In the footballing calendar there are always particular moments in the year you look forward to as a football fan. Such as the Boxing Day fixture, or the September and January Transfer Deadline Day sagas, but none can match the excitment and buzz that surrounds the opening game of the season.
Every team will feel that they can win the match, every team will have that optimism that they are going to achieve success this season by winning the League, or promotion or even a Cup. Every team will feel that they can land that 'marquee' signing to make a difference to their performances and every team will believe at some point in that season, they will feature at Wembley.
Being a Rochdale supporter, we found ourselves in a unique situation with Peterborough were both teams would face each other, at the 'Crown Oil Arena (formerly Spotland Stadium) for the third consecutive year in the first game of the season.
What is unfortunate is that I had agreed to visit my In-Laws during that same weekend in the Midlands and so, not to miss out on the 'opening game excitment' I made plans to tick of a League ground in a city I had yet to visit, Birmingham.
I had a choice of obviously, Aston Villa or Birmingham City, depending who was at home and with Villa away to Sheffield Wednesday, it was the Blues at home for me.
As it happened I was at a family BBQ 30 minutes and 11 miles away from the stadium so it was a no brainer to leave and commute to the fixture (by car). When I bought my ticket 3 weeks ago what I didn't take into consideration was a) the England Cricket team playing Pakistan at Edgbaston and b) roadworks and one way systems.
My commute from Barnt Green saw me pass the Cricket ground and join a horrendous queue of traffic into the city centre, to where hopefully my Satnav would place me near the Stadium.
As a supporter, when groundhopping I generally chance looking out for one of these unofficial 'match day parking' car parks with a wooden billboard and a bloke in a High-Vis taking a £5 note off of you. Unfortunately driving into the area I saw no signs whatsoever for supporters to park, even more alarmingly, from my direction I also saw no signs for St Andrew's Stadium.
I must have unknownly passed some unmarked fan car parks but unless you are a Birmingham City supporter or know the city, you didn't have a chance of parking up. I spent about 30 minutes negotiating fans and traffic to end up parking on an Asda supermarket over a mile away. To say I was disappointed in the parking situation was an understatement. By the time I arrived by foot to the ground, I had missed my opportunity to buy a club badge for my groundhopping collection. Never mind!
Moral of the story - do thorough research on parking near stadiums if commuting by car.
Less about the awful commute and no existent signs. Let's talk about the football fixture and venue!
So St Andrew's Stadium was built in 1906 and currently has a capacity of 30,016 seats. The stadium comprises of a wrap around stand similar to Bury's Gigg Lane and Blackpool's Bloomfield Road, with the goal end (Tilton Road) and the Kop stand merged into one. The away end is behind the opposite goal whilst the main stand, the Paddock hosts the dugouts and technical areas. Finally, the tunnel can be found between the away end and the Paddock stand. In conclusion, St Andrew's stadium has modernised over the past 30 years but keeps its traditional look and placement within the heart of the city.
The match itself (the parts I watched anyway) wasn't anything particularly special or impressive. Both Birmingham and Cardiff were feeling their way into the fixture, both not wanting to concede points on the opening game of the season (which, phycologically is a clever move) meant they both immediately had points on the table.
The game had 0-0 written all over it, with both teams having tame chances either end of the pitch during the first half. There were several counter attacks from both teams which amounted to nothing, whilst set-pieces didn't threathen the target at all. The fixture needed a mistake by the opposition or a moment of brilliance to break the score as both teams were defensively sound.
Shortly after the re-start I decided it was time to leave. The horror story which was my journey, the fact I was on a 2 hour car park, the problem of the city centre roadworks and the Cricket traffic were factors in me resigning to the fact I needed to leave. Thankfully, my judgment was correct as the game finished 0-0 and I was able to eat some BBQ food by the time the final whistle went.
St Andrew's is an impressive stadium, I would recommend visiting as a supporter (home or away) if possible fellow Groundhoppers, not as a neutral on a Saturday afternoon in August. Given the hassle getting here I would say St Andrew's Stadium is Birmingham City's best kept secret (literally!).