Aston Vanilla by Uber Lowey
Man and boy, I have been following the Villa for 25 years now. My first game at 9 years old was Boxing Day 1989: a 3-0 victory against a bang average Man Utd side managed by a guy lucky to still have his job.
Back then we were a good, efficient side. We had not long been promoted after dropping down a division under Billy McNeil, and we were leading the charge to win the league under Graham Taylor. We had a great blend of youth (Daley, Olney) and experience (Spink, Mountfield, McGrath, Cowans) and arguably one of the best young players in the country at the time (Platt).
As the years pass, and managers have come and gone, we’ve been close to winning the league again under Big Ron and won a trophy. We’ve been top 4 under Brian Little and won the same cup. We’ve flirted with finishing in the Champions League places with Martin O’Neill (and really should have got there) whist this was all interspersed with relegation battles under Venglos, Taylor version II and some mid table dross under O’Leary.
This brings me to the last 4 years…. Oh wow. It’s been disgustingly bad. I’ve sat here and thought about some of the key decisions made by the ‘powers that be’ at the club and it’s truly astonishing. I think it’s got to the point now that most fans of clubs in the land would actually revel in us being relegated. We are becoming much disliked. Quick summary of the last few years….
Post O’Neill, we appointed a guy who had a history of heart problems. Yeah, not stressful at all is it being a football manager. That was a good move. He had the right philosophy but he also bought Jean Makoun. I do wonder, had he remained well, where we’d be now. There was genuine interest in Yohann Cabaye who is now playing Champions League football, and talk of him restructuring the club from top to bottom. I think he is some sort of director of football for the Red Bull franchise now which is probably the perfect role for him.
Houllier goes through ill health and we have a pre-season to think about who we get next. The usual names are bandied about, Moyes, Sven et al. Paul Faulkner allegedly receives a recommendation from Sir Alex that Alex McCleish is underrated and deserves a crack at a top club. (Classic case of looking after a previous faithful employee). I’ve met Paul a few times now – top, top bloke, intelligent, easy going, funny – but still really struggle to get my head around what he was thinking here. I remember seeing the rumour on Twitter and remember laughing out loud at the thought of something so utterly ridiculously. As the odds tumble, my heart sinks and days later McCleish arrives. Haha. Funny huh? We somehow survive in the league thanks largely to Andi Weimann’s last minute winner against Fulham and in Mcleish’s last away game at Norwich, the fans start singing for Paul Lambert. He’s young, he’s ambitious he’s done a great job at Norwich and Colchester, and he plays open attacking football doesn’t he? Ace! A month later he arrives. The appointment is a disaster – he unearths the odd diamond in the transfer market, but he also signs an awful lot of turkeys. We’ve still survived, not sure how, we’ve retained our premier league status (but also been beaten by Bradford in a major semi final over two legs, Millwall, Sheffield United and Leyton Orient).
It’s Feb 10th 2015, we are struggling in the league yet again through a sheer lack of scoring some actual goals and a truly confused way of playing. We’ve gone from just about watchable counter attacking football to a dire possession game because Paul Lambert met Pep Guardiola and decided he could implement what Bastian Schweinsteiger does with Tom Cleverley. It’s not going particular well because you can’t score goals passing sideways and since the change we have scored 2 goals in what seems like 3000 hours of football. We are playing Hull away. It’s a no lose game. We cannot afford a defeat here. We get turned over easily and its curtains for Paul Lambert. Relegation is looming and it looks extremely likely. We have become the equivalent of Vanilla – we are the ‘flavour’ no one chooses, we are dull and uninspiring, if there’s 19 other ‘flavours’ to choose, we are the last to be chosen. Bar our own fan base, and taking away the rivalry from the other teams in the city and surrounding areas, people aren’t bothered about us. People don’t choose to watch us, the press take the mickey, and even Roy Keane jumped ship early (he clearly couldn’t be bothered with it). We’re talking about a big club here – the training ground, Villa Park, the history that surrounds the club. It’s decaying badly and a very large percentage of the UK would take great delight if we got relegated. We’ve got to the point where players like Rickie Lambert would rather sit on the bench at Liverpool then play first team football for us.
I don’t get to go much these days with a young family, but it doesn’t mean I care any less. I realise many others have young families and still go, but it’s also compounded by the fact that I couldn’t face spending my well earned cash on watching a side managed by Paul Lambert. It actually makes my eyes bleed and watching a game under him is like death by a thousand cuts. I’d call myself a realistic Villa fan. Our fan base is arguably split in half – one half frequenting Tamworth, Lichfield, Gloucester and Cheltenham – they go to all the games, they are loyal, but a decent percentage of them still think we are a top 7 club that should be after Jurgen Klopp as manager. The other half live in Birmingham suburbs – they know the score – they know we are garbage at that the moment and it’s fruitless harping on about the old days. They are realists. It would probably take relegation to restore some realism. They’ll be a time soon when I go back, take up my old seat in the Holte, and enjoy it again. Getting relegated would be disastrous, it wouldn’t stop me going, but the thought of watching the fans of a load of perennial strugglers in the championship enjoying it fills me with dread. We could easily struggle again – how many times have we seen that? Leeds, Forest, Fulham, all languishing, that could easily be us. We’d lose our big players – Delph, Benteke, Vlaar. Not like we can fall back on youth anymore because it’s a fallacy we are producing any and our U21 side is absolutely awful. You hear on Talksport and on Sky that Villa have some ‘great young players’ – have we? Where are they then? Post relegation I can see us bringing in the kind of players you sign to get try and get you promoted – the Clint Hills and David Wheater’s of this world. *Shudders*
Ian Holloway once described us as half-arsed place that used to be famous. He’s right. It’s representative of just about the whole country. No one cares we won the European Cup 33 years ago and – come on now – we won our last trophy nearly 20 years ago. There are now young adults who have nearly graduated that weren’t alive when we won our last trophy. They were probably conceived post match. About time we started being realistic but let’s hope we fight and stay in the division first.
Viva Tim “if you’re having relegation problems I feel bad for you son, I’ve got a 51% win ratio which is second to none” Sherwood and UTV.
Happier times – I was studying for my GCSE’s at the time