One-Season Wonders is a MatchPint series looking at those players who delivered a single, standout season in the Premier League, how they got there, what caused it and why it was never replicated again.
The post-Millennium has been a funny period to be a Birmingham City fan. The personnel assembled in the mid-’00s under Steve Bruce looked to be the start of a new era - until relegation in 2006. Five years later, the Blues’ League Cup victory over Arsenal brought them European football but at the cost of another relegation. Ever since, their exit from the Championship has looked just as likely to be into League One than it has the Premier League and even now they teeter just above the drop zone.
Yet their most successful season - 2009/10’s 9th place finish - came from Alex McLeish’s newly-promoted Blues, a modest band of largely British players who helped them to their best league position since 1959. Efficiency was the name of the game for McLeish that season, with none of Birmingham’s 13 victories coming by more than a one goal margin.
Birmingham’s top scorer was a 23-year-old Cameron Jerome, still a young striker at this time with a point to prove - which he just about achieved with a vaguely memorable 11 goal season. As a teenager, Jerome had put away 18 goals in the 2005/06 Championship season for Cardiff City and the England U21 man was considered a rising star.
His route to the Premier League came via the well-trodden path of Four Four Two’s Top 50 Players in the Football League list, which placed Jerome at no. 8. Speaking to the same publication for the Talentspotter column (AKA ‘The Boy’s A Bit Special’), he told readers, “I wouldn't like to compare myself to anyone. I'm the type of striker who likes to drift out wide, but can also be a poacher in the box.”
This self-assessment (as well as the revelation that Michael Ricketts used to bring him back hip-hop mixtapes from the States) fits rather well with how Jerome would go on to fare in his return to the Premier League in 2009, after his relatively disappointing 7-goal season in 2007/08. His style was hard to pin down; capable of pinging a long-range wondergoal, he could also be the guy in the right place, at the right time to poach one in the six-yard box.
Jerome’s campaign was slow to get off the mark, but when his first goal came it did so in sensational fashion. On a November Monday night at Anfield, he produced something spectacular on the stroke of half-time to give Birmingham a 2-1 lead. Call it a fizzer, a rocket, a screamer...whatever it was, Pepe Reina didn’t have a clue how to handle it and Jerome turned to the only true goal celebration of sheer delight: the belly slide.
Daniel Ivery is a Birmingham City blogger and author of Haircuts and League Cups: The Rise and Fall of Carson Yeung. He has fond memories of that goal at Anfield. “The standout memory for me of Cameron Jerome is probably the same one for every Blues fan. Liverpool away, and into injury time at the end of the first half. Blues clear their lines with a header, Jerome holds off Javier Mascherano and then smashes the ball into the net from 30 yards.”
“I can watch the video now and STILL not believe he scored it”, he continues. “That goal - and that season - was the best return we ever got from Cameron Jerome.
Sometimes maligned for his talent but never ever for his work-rate.” Sadly, it was a striker of significantly less talent - David Ngog - who spoiled the party that day, diving for a Liverpool penalty so Gerrard could tie the game up for 2-2.
The game was also notable because it was the first time Jerome’s strike partner Christian ‘Chucho’ Benitez got on the scoresheet too. The Ecuadorian striker had arrived as one of the most prolific players in the Mexican Primera División but those goals did not immediately translate to English football. Instead, he was more of a foil to Jerome - a skilful sideman who allowed the Englishman to enjoy his best season in the top flight.
Sadly, that would be the only season the pair lined up together. Birmingham chose not to hang on to Chucho in the summer, as he returned to Mexico (to score over 70 goals) before his tragic death in Qatar in 2013, at just 27.
Chucho’s passing hit Jerome hard. Remembering their time at the club together, he reflected, “That was my most enjoyable time at Blues. I couldn’t believe we didn’t sign him after that season. What a bloke.”
Away from the frontline, the rest of the Birmingham side were turning St Andrews into a fortress. Arsenal, Chelsea, City, Everton, United, Liverpool and Spurs all failed to come away from that ground with more than a point that season, as the stubborn backbone of Scott Dann and Roger Johnson’s partnership in front of a maturing Joe Hart (on loan from Man City) proved difficult to break down.
As well as these big-name (defensive) scalps, the centrepiece of that season was a 12-game unbeaten run that lasted from October and all the way through Christmas to January 27th, with a 3-0 defeat to the eventual champions Chelsea. During that run, the mini-Invincibles won five games on the bounce, the fifth marked by a Jerome brace against Blackburn.
His first was a scrappy one but the names of the others involved make for nostalgic reading: James McFadden played a short corner to Seb Larsson, whose outswinging cross was headed down by Chucho, shinned across the face of goal by Liam Ridgewell and turned home from a yard out by Jerome. His second showcased his technique: a cool, first-time finish past Paul Robinson, which Jerome enjoyed so much he was booked for overcelebrating. Afterwards, McLeish challenged him to keep on improving and described him as “a work in progress”, as if he was capable of even greater heights.
As overperforming teams tend to though, the season wound down as safety became certain and Europa League football out of reach. A bonus came for Jerome at the end of the season when the Dubious Goals Panel (in all their wisdom) deemed an own goal originally given to Burnley keeper Brian Jensen to have been his. This took his final tally for the season to 11, finishing level with Nicolas Anelka.
Jerome had said after the Liverpool game, “I’ve not scored one like that before, and I don’t think I will probably come close to scoring another one, not even in training, for a long time”. He was right - but he did score a better one in 2012 for Stoke City, a wonderfully hit half-volley to equalise against Southampton.
That’s probably been his most notable contribution to football since, unless you’re a Norwich fan - in which case his 18-goal promotion season in 2014/15 must’ve been rather enjoyable. Glancing over Jerome’s career numbers since the false dawn of 2009/10, a rather wince-inducing 15 goals in 146 Premier League appearances, it becomes pretty clear what he really is: a fine Championship striker, unable to maintain the standards he set as a young player in that exciting breakthrough season.