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01st March 2019 Mike Davies

Sport in Birmingham and the Black Country

Top-class football, rugby and cricket

Sport Birmingham and the Black Country

Aston Villa fans can soak up the atmosphere at a home game

Whether it’s Aston Villa or Birmingham City playing host, there’s nearly always a top-class football match in town at the weekend. With both teams close to the city centre, it’s easy to mix the match with other attractions. Plus with four other local league teams, there’s real football choice. Aston Villa, founded in 1874, are the fifth most decorated club in English football history boasting 19 major domestic club honours (so far!), including seven League championships and seven FA Cups, and are one of only five British clubs to have won the European Cup, now known as the Champions League. Off the field, visitors can also experience a stadium tour – a chance to see the changing rooms and sit on the manager’s bench. Across the city, Birmingham City followed an agonising relegation by bouncing back into the top flight at the first attempt – followed by relegation again!

However, the fans at St Andrews are also ever-optimistic, and the two annual, atmosphere-packed derby games are a real incentive for the Blues to regain their top-flight status. Edgbaston Cricket Ground is a hub of activity all year round. It’s been home to Test match cricket for over 100 years. The ground regularly stages Test and one-day internationals where you can see England battle it out. You can also enjoy a summer of county cricket with exciting one day games and Twenty20 run fests for Warwickshire County Cricket Club. Then throughout the summer months, Edgbaston is home to the Warwickshire Bears hosting over 50 days of cricket.

Whether you enjoy the traditional format of the County Championship or the faster pace of the Twenty20 Cup, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Top class rugby union regularly pounds into action in Birmingham. Moseley take on some of the best on any given Saturday. And, since the repurchase of the club by its members, the team is rapidly rebuilding for a return to the very highest echelons of the game. The squad, always playing attractive rugby, usually includes a good proportion of players who have come up through the club’s youth ranks.

Golf and athletics

Sport Birmingham and The Black Country

Birmingham and golfing history go hand in hand

Golf enthusiasts couldn’t come to Birmingham and not pay a visit to the place where Ryder Cup history was made – The Belfry. As the UK headquarters of the PGA and spiritual home of the Ryder Cup, The Belfry has become synonymous with golf and is a magnet for both professional and amateur players. Walk in the footsteps of legends and sample three very different courses to suit all levels of golfer. The Brabazon is a world-famous championship course. Its meticulous design involves tight fairways, perilous bunkers, lakes and fast, undulating greens, creating iconic holes that have challenged some of the game’s greatest.

Alternatively, be challenged by the PGA National, with its inland links appearance, this course presents a unique challenge, or take it a little easier on The Derby Course. Why not try all three during your stay? As one of the world’s most famous golf destinations, a visit to The Belfry is a must for anyone with a passion for the game.

Birmingham is fast becoming the focal point of Britain’s athletics. With one of the country’s most successful clubs, Birchfield Harriers, and venues where more national and international events take place. Birmingham is home to more world and European events than any other UK city. There are also four principal athletics clubs in Birmingham. The largest and most successful is Birchfield Harriers boasting 100 Olympians over the last 100 years. Founded in 1877, its recent stars include Olympic, World and Commonwealth medallists Denise Lewis, Ashia Hansen, Mark Lewis Francis and Katharine Merry. The club trains at Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr, and has use of Birmingham’s world-class indoor high performance centre.

The Black Country

Football the Black Country

The Black Country is home to the Wolverhampton Wanderers, aka the Wolves

One of the founding members of the Football League in 1888, based at the Molineux Stadium, following promotion last season when they won the Championship League, Wolverhampton Wanderers, aka Wolves, is the only team in the West Midlands to be part of the 2018-2019 Premiere League, their first appearance since 2011-2012. Based 11 miles away at the Hawthorns ground, their fiercest rivals are West Bromwich Albion, known as the Baggies, who were relegated back to the Championship at the end of the last season, meaning that, this year, they won’t be facing each other in the annual Black Country Derby.

Indeed, with the third of the region’s clubs, Walsall, known as The Saddlers and based at the Bank’s Stadium in Bescot, playing in League One, for the first time in seven years there won’t even be a Derby. While these three are to top teams, there are several other local clubs ranged across different leagues. Of these, the most notable are Stourbridge FC, known as The Glassboys, who play in the Southern League Premier Central while the Halesowen-based Black Country Rangers are in the West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division as is Dudley Town FC, aka The Robins, which, founded in 1888, is one of the oldest non-league teams in the Midlands. Cricket has a much lower profile than in Birmingham, but Himley C.C. is the most notable of local amateur teams. Formed in 1883, their biggest claim to fame is having played at Lord’s in 1988 when they reached the final of the 1988 National Village Championship Knock-out.

The sporting future

Sport Birmingham and The Black Country

Cricket is popular in the Black Country

Today, the First IX play in the Birmingham & District Premier Cricket League. One of the biggest sports in the Black Country is speedway and one of the biggest names is the Cradley Heathens (briefly known as the Dudley Heathens) who are based at Monmore Green Stadium in Wolverhampton, one of the world’s oldest speedway tracks. Although built as and still primarily a greyhound stadium, the Heathens race on Tuesday nights while Mondays has action from the Wolverhampton Wolves, competing in the Elite League, the sport’s top division, captained by Speedway Grand Prix rider, Sweden’s Fredrik Lindgren.

Rugby fans are served by Stourbridge’s 1st XV, the Stourbridge Lions and assorted community teams, including the Black Country Vipers, as well as Dudley Kingswinford RFC and Wolverhampton Rugby Union Football Club which has 20 teams at different ages and levels, including the Wolverhampton Ladies. Although there’s no dedicated athletics stadium, the region has fared well in producing track and field stars among them Tessa Sanderson and Denise Lewis.

Mention should also be made of Halesowen’s Jordanne Whiley, back to back singles title of the British Open Wheelchair Tennis Championships as well as a Paralympics medal winner at the 2012 Paralympics. And, talking of international competitions, plans are also in hand to construct a £60 million aquatics centre in Smethwick for the 2022 Commonwealth Games and which will feature an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a 25-metre diving pool and 5,000 spectator seats.

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Image credits: ©Aston Villa FC; Court Prather/Rawpixel/Unsplash

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