Birmingham, England’s second city, is constantly growing and improving, and home to a world class test cricket ground and three top football clubs. However the city’s biggest rugby side Moseley are bottom of the Championship table and were relegated today.
Back in the halcyon days of amateur rugby, Moseley was one of Britain’s great clubs. The club acquired freehold rights to its old ground ‘The Reddings’ in 1925 and were soon playing regular rugby against the top clubs in England and Wales.
The first team achieved success by reaching three John Player Cup finals – the now defunct RFU knock-out competition. Although they lost on two occasions, once to Gloucester and then to Leicester, they drew with Gloucester after extra time at the third attempt and shared the trophy with their West Country rivals.
A fantastic number of players have also been capped while playing for Moseley. You can see the full list here, but overall the club has seen 34 players capped, including British and Irish Lions representatives and three England captains.
Unfortunately, the rise of professionalism was also a cause of the demise of the club as a top-level entity. The club’s board wanted to keep the team at the pinnacle of the sport in England, but overspending on players ended with the club entering into administration. The club’s beloved Reddings was sold to housing developers and the side were essentially homeless, but they moved to the University of Birmingham’s facilities at Bournbrook.
After failing to gain permission to build a clubhouse and hospitality boxes, the club moved on again to Billesley Common, just outside Moseley itself. Leasing the land off Birmingham City Council, the club has built a clubhouse and new stands for spectators, establishing itself in the Championship after having being relegated to National Division Two previously. They even won the RFU National Trophy in 2009, which was open to all clubs from Division One and below.
But after a poor season this year, the city’s biggest team was relegated, to join East Midlands’ rivals Coventry in National League One.
Kevin Maggs’ side showed a tremendous amount of spirit away to league-leaders Bristol at Ashton Gate last Friday evening, leading the match until the final few minutes of the game. However, Bristol’s Callum Sheedy landed a last-minute penalty that ended the game 24-22. Although Moseley earned a bonus point in defeat, it would prove insufficient. When Ealing Trailfinders defeated Jersey by a scoreline of 30-24 on Saturday, they consigned Moseley to League One.
For a prolonged period in 1990s and early 2000s the West Midlands was without a top-flight team, but local businessman Cecil Duckworth’s heavy investment in Worcester meant a West Midlands team joined the Premiership for the 2003-2004 season. It was a shrewd move on Duckworth’s part with a massive region of the country, with an estimated population of 5.6 million people, now having easier access to top-level domestic rugby.
Yet Worcester is also under pressure now that Wasps have relocated to Coventry. With a mammoth stadium in the form of the Ricoh Arena, Wasps have the potential to host capacity crowds of 32,600 and another opportunity to see Premiership games has opened up for the people of Birmingham via public or private transport.
However, a city the size and with the prestige of Birmingham should have a Premiership team.
The metropolis is home to huge numbers of clubs; Birmingham includes historic club sides such as Harborne, Bournville, Old Saltleians, Woodrush, Kings Norton, Yardley and District, Aldridge, Veseyans, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham and Solihull (formerly Pertemps Bees), Old Yardleians, Camp Hill, Warley, Spartans, Old Edwardians… The list goes on and on.
The interest in rugby across the city is colossal and when Brum had the chance to host World Cup fixtures it firmly grabbed the opportunity with both hands, hosting fixtures involving Samoa, South Africa, Australia and Uruguay efficiently and effectively.
But a city with a passion for rugby, with a population of over 1 million people and top class teams in both cricket and football now finds itself with no representation in the top 24 teams in the country. How can this be?
Clubs like Worcester and Exeter have succeeded with financial backing from multi-millionaire owners, but they have also built their own grounds and created sustainable business models that have allowed them to excel and maintain themselves as Premiership sides.
One can only hope something similar might happen to a Birmingham club one day, but for the time being the people of this fair city looking for Premiership rugby will have to continue the long drives or train journeys to Worcester or Coventry every weekend, supporting a team that doesn’t really represent them or their city.