Mad Men - Part 1: The defenders.

Birmingham City is a big city club with a history of heroic failure - the ultimate yo-yo club. Yet it has attracted plenty of big players in its time, including its fair share of “mad men”. Why do Blues continue to favour the more psychopathic among the fooballing fraternity?

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One theory as to why is that the catchment area for Birmingham’s fans is depressed. It’s where hard people live hard lives and Blues fans have always identified with those who are willing to die for the cause. Many is the time fans have vented frustration at the end of a match because the team has not “put it in” for 90 minutes. I’ve heard those same fans clap the team off many times because they got stuck in, even if they lost.

Mean: Kenny B in full Scottish battle dress

My first encounter with the ‘mad man’ syndrome was watching Kenny Burns as a kid. Kenny, a demented looking Scot, would throw himself around and generally lay waste to any defender or midfielder who dared to get in his way. The fans loved him. He later went on to prove his winning mentality under Brian Clough, who converted him to a central defender at Forest.

Archie Gemmill, although a midfielder, was in the same mould. Although he had the body of a small child he would go through players three times his size like a rabid Jack Russell through a pack of Rottweilers. He, needless to say, was warmly received by the Blues faithful.

It was always warmly received by Blues’ fans when an aggressive guy in a blue shirt laid waste to opposing ‘fancy dans’ in a bid to win possession or prevent further humiliation.

The first real psycho I remember in a Blues’ shirt was the legendary Mark Dennis. He was involved in no end of off the field antics but Mr Dennis was equally tapped on the field of play. A left-back of some talent he was also blessed with the ability to cause trouble in an empty house.

He played 130 times for Blues between 1978-1983, scoring one goal, but his more impressive statistic was his disciplinary record. In a 259 game career that also took in Southampton, QPR and Crystal Palace, Dennis managed 12 sendings off and 64 bookings. This was not poor luck on his part, I can assure you.

Nutted: One of Dennis's more famous victims

I once watched him have a running battle with the late Alan Ball, then of Southampton, at St Andrews. World Cup winner Ball, no shrinking violet himself, finally had enough of Dennis’s attentions and kicked out off the ball. Dennis, never one to turn the other cheek, ran 10 yards and nutted him, pausing only to clap the fans as he walked straight off the pitch. Ball was sent off too, to cries of “hang your balls up Alan Boot” from the Kop.

Mad Pat van den Hauwe, who went on to win two League winners medals with Everton and played with distinction for Spurs, was also a psycho left back around the same period. Blues nurtured ‘Psycho’s’ menace as a youngster and he made his debut in 1978, going on to make over 150 appearances between then and 1984.

If he was playing today even Nick Griffin wouldn’t be safe from him if someone told Pat he was a right-winger. Many a hapless forward ended up in row Z off the boot of Psycho. Happy days.

The next incumbent to successfully wear the mad man tag was Julian Dicks. Dicks, was another who would see the red mist at the first sign of antagonism, in a career that saw him represent Liverpool and West Ham (twice) in addition to Blues.

Ironically the man nicknamed ‘Terminator’ had his career terminated by a serious knee injury, after years of crippling wingers mercilessly. He played for Blues between 1985 and 1988, making 89 appearances. He was famously banned for stamping on Chelsea forward John Spencer’s head, a charge he still denies. Indeed Spencer, probably realising he would have to face Dicks some time in the future, wrote to the FA on his behalf saying it was an accident!

Having had three complete nutters occupying the left-back berth over a 10-year period, Blues had a break before they recruited Martin Grainger in 1996 from Brentford. Deadly from set pieces he made 266 appearances and scored 28 goals, most of them crackers. He was also deadly to wingers who tried to get past him and quickly found his way into the Blues hall of fame as a feared exponent of the psychopathic arts.

Grainger had to retire in 2004 after failing to recover from snapped knee ligaments. It was a sad loss to Blues but his final act was to score a cracking free-kick against Man Utd.

Next we’ll take a look at the mad men of midfield.

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