That long ball from Ben Foster; Laurent Koscielny’s swing of the leg; Wojciech Szczęsny’s fumble; Obafemi Martins’ gleeful finish and subsequent cartwheels. The 2011 League Cup final still gives Arsenal fans nightmares.
The decisive moment came in the 89th minute as the Gunners produced the ultimate calamity to throw away a very winnable cup competition. They were, in fact, odds-on favourites.
A strong team featuring the likes of Robin van Persie, Andrey Arshavin, Samir Nasri and Jack Wilshere shouldn’t really have been losing to a side later relegated from the Premier League that the same season.
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The 6ft8 Nikola Zigic had given Birmingham City the lead before Van Persie’s spectacular volley drew Arsenal level.
Arsenal bombarded the Blues’ goal, but Foster kept attempts from Nasri, Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner out before the sucker-punch of all sucker-punches left the Gunners distraught and Birmingham celebrating their first major cup success since 1963.
So with all that in mind, what became of Alex McLeish’s unlikely lads?
GK: Ben Foster
- Age: 38
- Birmingham appearances: 43
- Clubs post-Birmingham: West Bromwich Albion, Watford
Man of the Match from the 2011 final Foster also won City’s Player’s Player of the Season award before joining rivals West Brom on loan after relegation. He stayed there until the summer of 2018.
Foster is now back at Watford, performing well in goal for the Hornets as he enters his twilight years and helping the club back into the Premier League this year.
RB: Stephen Carr
- Age: 44
- Birmingham appearances: 121
- Clubs post-Birmingham: Retired
Carr played on for another two seasons at St. Andrew’s after their relegation. The former Tottenham and Republic of Ireland defender called it a day in 2013 because of recurring knee problems.
CB: Roger Johnson
- Age: 38
- Birmingham appearances: 88
- Clubs post-Birmingham: Wolverhampton Wanders, Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham United, Charlton Athletic, Pune City, Charlton Athletic, Bromley
Between 2011 and 2013, Johnson suffered three consecutive relegations. After that various loan spells filled his time, as did a brief stint in the Indian Super League, before returning to Charlton in 2016, who were relegated from the Championship. He was most recently with National League outfit Bromley before retiring and becoming the club’s U-23 manager.
CB: Martin Jiranek
- Age: 42
- Birmingham appearances: 16
- Clubs post-Birmingham: Terek Gozny, Tom Tomsk, FK Příbram, FK Dukla Prague
Jiranek made just 10 appearances for Birmingham after signing from Spartak Moscow and following their relegation he quickly made his escape back to Russia, taking in both Chechnya and Siberia. He is now retired after finishing his career in his native Czech Republic.
LB: Liam Ridgewell
- Age: 36
- Birmingham appearances: 175
- Clubs post-Birmingham: West Bromwich Albion, Portland Timbers, Wigan Athletic, Brighton & Hove Albion, Hull City, Southend United
Like Foster, Ridgewell joined West Brom before heading to MLS.
In between those two moves, though, was one note-able incident that got Ridgewell into trouble: he took a photo of himself using money for its unintended purpose on the toilet. Later, he explained to the Sun: “The photo was taken in the privacy of my home around eight months ago as a joke to wind up a mate, who I had just won a personal bet with.
“I only intended him to see the photo but now it’s public, I can understand how it will be viewed. I am sorry for any offence it causes.”
Ridgewell found further success with Portland Timbers across the Atlantic, where he won the 2015 MLS Cup after having been included in the All-Star team the year previous. Before retirement, Ridgewell had short spells with Hull and Southend.
RM: Sebastian Larsson
Birmingham appearances: 205
Clubs post-Birmingham: Sunderland, Hull City, AIK
Larsson was known as a dependable Premier League midfielder, swinging in free kicks and putting in tackles for Birmingham and Sunderland. Now, he’s in Sweden with AIK, having left Hull City in 2018, and won the Allsvenskan in his debut campaign.
CM: Barry Ferguson
Birmingham appearances: 84
Clubs post Birmingham: Blackpool, Fleetwood Town, Clyde
Ferguson moved to Blackpool, where he was immediately named captain and became caretaker boss, winning just three of his 20 games in charge. He also took in brief spells at Fleetwood Town and Scottish club Clyde, whom he managed until February 2017. Ferguson is now back in management at Alloa Athletic.
CM: Craig Gardner
Birmingham appearances: 125
Clubs post-Birmingham: Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham City
Birmingham’s top Premier League goalscorer in the 2010/11 season followed a well-trodden path and ended up at West Brom, where he occasionally unleashed screamers and was name-checked by none other than Xavi Hernandez.
“Did you see that volleyed backheel from Riyad Mahrez last night?” the former Barcelona and Spain midfielder once told FourFourTwo. “Pffft, outrageous. I flicked over from La Liga just to watch it. It was an awesome free-kick from Craig Gardner, too.”
Gardner returned to Birmingham in 2017 before retiring three years later, staying on at the club as a coach including a brief role as joint-caretaker manager.
CM: Lee Bowyer
Birmingham appearances: 94
Clubs post-Birmingham: Ipswich Town
Like many teammates, Bowyer left Birmingham after relegation, spending a season with Ipswich Town after signing on a free transfer. He then took up a role as the coach of Watford’s Under-21s side. On 1 July 2017, Bowyer was appointed assistant manager of Charlton Athletic before taking over the top role in September 2018. He subsequently guided the South London club back into the Championship via the 2019 play-offs but suffered relegation the following season.
Bowyer is back with Birmingham now as manager.
LM: Keith Fahey
Birmingham appearances: 144
Clubs post-Birmingham: St Patrick’s Athletic, Shamrock Rovers, Bluebell United
With Bowyer and Ferguson gone, Fahey, who hit the post in the 2011 showpiece, was the top dog in Birmingham’s midfield. He stayed for two more seasons before then returned to his native Ireland, where he retired following knee problems.
CF: Nikola Zigic
Birmingham appearances: 159
Clubs post-Birmingham: Retired
Having been signed for around £6 million from Valencia at the start of the season, the Serbian striker was one player Birmingham couldn’t shift. As the last remaining member of the cup-winning side, he stayed until 2015, when he was released after his contract expired. He retired from playing and reportedly assumed a backroom staff role with the Serbian national team in 2019.
The 36-year-old played for Wigan Athletic before moving to the brilliantly named Colo-Colo, and then on to Club Universidad de Chile in his native Chile. He now plays for Coquimbo Unido.
The 34-year-old played for Stoke City and Crystal Palace before joining Norwich City, where he suffered relegation back to the Championship in the 2015/16 season. He is currently playing for MK Dons after leaving Turkish club Göztepe in August 2020.
The goalscoring hero is now 36 and has seen some sights since his brief loan spell at Birmingham, playing for Levante and Seattle Sounders before heading to China in 2016, joining Shanghai Shenhua where he remained until 2018. Martins now plays for Wuhan Zall.