As Small Heath, they played in the Football Alliance before becoming founder members and first ever champions of the Football League Second Division. The most successful period in their history was in the 1950s and early 1960s. They achieved their highest finishing position of sixth in the First Division in the 1955–56 season and reached the 1956 FA Cup Final, progressed to the final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1960 and 1961, and won their first major trophy, the League Cup, in 1963, beating Aston Villa 3–1 on aggregate. They won the latter competition for the second time in 2011. They have played in the top tier of English football for around half of their history: the longest period spent outside the top division, between 1986 and 2002, included two brief spells in the third tier of the English League, during which time they twice won the Football League Trophy.
St Andrew's has been their home ground since 1906. They have a long-standing and fierce rivalry with Aston Villa, their nearest neighbours, with whom they play the Second City derby. The club's nickname is Blues, after the colour of their kit, and their fans are known as Bluenoses.
Birmingham City were founded as Small Heath Alliance in 1875, and from 1877 played their home games at Muntz Street. The club turned professional in 1885, and three years later became the first football club to become a limited company with a board of directors, under the name of Small Heath F.C. Ltd. From the 1889–90 season they played in the Football Alliance, which ran alongside the Football League. In 1892, Small Heath, along with the other Alliance teams, were invited to join the newly formed Football League Second Division. They finished as champions, but failed to win promotion via the test match system; the following season promotion to the First Division was secured after a second-place finish and test match victory over Darwen. The club adopted the name Birmingham Football Club in 1905, and moved into their new home, St Andrew's Ground, the following year. Matters on the field failed to live up to their surroundings. Birmingham were relegated in 1908, obliged to apply for re-election two years later, and remained in the Second Division until after the First World War.
Frank Womack's captaincy and the creativity of Scottish international playmaker Johnny Crosbie contributed much to Birmingham winning their second Division Two title in 1920–21. Womack went on to make 515 appearances, a club record for an outfielder, over a twenty-year career. 1920 also saw the debut of the 19-year-old Joe Bradford, who went on to score a club record 267 goals in 445 games, and won 12 caps for England. In 1931, manager Leslie Knighton led the club to their first FA Cup Final, which they lost 2–1 to Second Division club West Bromwich Albion. Though Birmingham remained in the top flight for 18 seasons, they struggled in the league, with much reliance placed on England goalkeeper Harry Hibbs to make up for the lack of goals, Bradford excepted, at the other end. They were finally relegated in 1939, the last full season before the Football League was abandoned for the duration of the Second World War.
The name Birmingham City F.C. was adopted in 1943. Under Harry Storer, appointed manager in 1945, the club won the Football League South wartime league and reached the semifinal of the first post-war FA Cup. Two years later they won their third Second Division title, conceding only 24 goals in the 42-game season. Storer's successor Bob Brocklebank, though unable to stave off relegation in 1950, brought in players who made a major contribution to the club's successes of the next decade. When Arthur Turner took over as manager in November 1954, he made them play closer to their potential, and a 5–1 win on the last day of the 1954–55 season confirmed them as champions. In their first season back in the First Division, Birmingham achieved their highest league finish of sixth place. They also reached the FA Cup final, losing 3–1 to Manchester City in the game notable for City's goalkeeper Bert Trautmann playing the last 20 minutes with a broken bone in his neck. The following season the club lost in the FA Cup semifinal for the third time since the war, this time beaten 2–0 by Manchester United's "Busby Babes".