Bruce targets Morrison as Blues plan for Premiership

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The Independent Football

Clinton Morrison, the Crystal Palace striker who is bound for the World Cup finals with the Republic of Ireland, may become Birmingham City's first capture following their promotion to the Premiership on Sunday.

The Birmingham manager, Steve Bruce, worked with Morrison at Palace earlier in the season and has offered a club-record £5m for the Londoner, who turns 23 today. But the Palace chairman, Simon Jordan, will be reluctant to sell to Bruce after the bitter legal dispute with Birmingham over his former manager's defection from Selhurst Park to St Andrew's last autumn.

If the money proves irresistible to Palace after the ITV Digital débâcle, Morrison's move is likely to be completed before the Irish fly to the Far East. His name will head Bruce's agenda on Thursday when he meets Birmingham's co-owners, David Sullivan and David Gold, at the former's Essex mansion to discuss how much of an expected £25m windfall to spend on players.

After a 16-year exile from the élite division, Birmingham are eager to make up for lost time. "We're the last of the sleeping giants," Gold, the chairman, said yesterday. "But we've awoken and at long last to challenge those great clubs in the Premiership.

"Our name says it all. We are Birmingham City. I don't see London City. There aren't many teams with the name of a big city, and therein lies our potential. We have a massive fan base. We even took 52,000 to Wembley for an Auto Windscreens final against Carlisle."

However, amid the euphoria of their penalty shoot-out victory over Norwich in the First Division play-off final, Premiership and potential are not the only "p" words on Gold's mind. Prudence was vital, he argued. "I'm a dreamer because football fans are, but I'm also a realist. You must have a balance."

That said, Birmingham expect a cheque for £10m shortly, the first instalment of their television revenue. At least, reflected Gold, he no longer had to worry about how to fill the £3m hole blown by ITV Digital. "I'd rather have the problem of how to spend the money to turn us into contenders," he added.

"The first requirement is to secure our place, which will be tough when you consider the clubs, like Bradford City and Barnsley, who have gone back down and are now in serious trouble."

Like many a "Bluenose", Gold found it hard to believe Birmingham were actually up. "I remember being in Wolves' boardroom at Christmas when they were 20 points ahead of us, thinking: 'I wish we were Wolves'. Now we're in the Premiership and look where they are."

Gold wore a vindicated smile over Bruce's triumph, a mere five months after the compensation dispute with Palace was settled. When the 41-year-old former Manchester United captain finally arrived, two months after the sacking of Trevor Francis, Birmingham lay 12th. The draw with Norwich took their unbeaten run to 13 games.

"We've been so close so often and now, thanks to Steve, we've done it," Gold said. "I hope he becomes an Alex Ferguson in terms of performance if not personality. I want a manager who revels in victory but is magnanimous in defeat."

Karren Brady, a bold appointment as Sullivan's 23-year-old managing director nine years ago, pledged "to extract as much money as possible from Mr Gold and give it to Steve". She added: "We're in the Premier League for the long-term, not as one-minute wonders."

When they left the top flight in 1986, St Andrew's was a ramshackle venue and crowds averaged 10,899 compared with 21,000 this season. Even the derby with Aston Villa, next season's most fervently awaited fixture, attracted fewer than 25,000. By 1993, when Sullivan paid the Receivers £700,000 for control, Birmingham's commercial income was a paltry £400,000 a year and their turnover £1m. Commercial revenue now stands at £10m and turnover at £13.5m, a figure likely to treble during the next year.

The stadium, as it can now be called without provoking sniggers from Villa Park, has 30,200 seats. The main stand is the only dilapidated area and will be refurbished this summer. Even if his Palace coup is successful, Bruce will need and expect further substantial funding for his own reconstruction scheme.

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