Sunday, 12 September 2010

I will always be a Villain

So, Aston Villa have a new manager. To be precise, their 24th manager and only the second (we don't mention Jozef Venglos's name if we can avoid it) in the club's history to come from outside of the UK and Ireland.

I say 'their' when of course what I mean is 'our'.

For I have have been a long-suffering 'Villain' since September 1st 1992. Why so precise a date? Because (and I whisper this very quietely), until then, I was a *cough splutter* Liverpool fan.

It goes without saying that I knew nothing of football at the time. Indeed, I was merely a 9 year old when I recall Liverpool beating Sunderland 2-0 to win the FA Cup final that year. The reason I supported Liverpool? Well, not un-understandably it was because two of their top players, Ian Rush and Dean Saunders, were Welsh.
For some reason though, I made what could arguably be said was the best or worst decision of my life on that fateful September day when 'Deano' moved to Villa Park - I switched allegiances and moved with him.

Ron Atkinson & the Class of '92/'93
It was coincidental, but it was a significant moment in the history of Aston Villa and in the history of British football that I had just inadvertantly stepped into.
It was the start of a new enterprise. A new era. It was the dawning of the Premier League and as a school boy entering his final year in primary school, it was exciting times entering what was in both cases, unchartered territory.

What a year we had! My first as a proper football fan is still one of the best that I've been blessed to have witnessed these past 18 years. The Saunders/Dalian Atkinson strike partnership was insatiable. We had Daley, Teale, Staunton, Houghton, Bosnich and of course, Paul McGrath.

As the song went, "Who needs Cantona, when we've got Paul McGrath".

In the end we fell short and came second behind a team that would go on win another 10 Premiership titles to date.

Wembley Wins
We followed this up with League Cup wins in 1994 and 1996. The first was a particular delight as we beat Tranmere Rovers in an electric 2-legged semi-final on penalties after a 4-4 aggregate draw before stopping Manchester United in their tracks from becoming the first team to win the 'domestic' treble. No team still has. We beat them 3-1 with a Dean Saunders penalty late on the nail in their coffin.

We returned, with a new manager Brian Little to win again in 1996 against Leeds United 3-0. Savo
Milosevic was with us and scoring goals by then.

14 years and counting of waiting...
Since then, we've not won any major honours. We've had a 2000 FA Cup Final and a 2010 League Cup Final appearance to our name but that's it. We've shown signs of improvement but then have then invariably fallen back down.

I've been to Villa Park 3 times. I've seen us beat Charlton, draw against Newcastle and lose to Arsenal. I've also seen Villa play twice at Old Trafford (from within the ranks of home fans - that's an experience and a half I can tell you) - securing a league draw and falling to a last minute FA Cup 3rd Round defeat.

Houllier the Saviour?
So, we turn now to our new manager, Gerard Houllier. Good luck to him. He's a good, solid manager with a winning past at Liverpool and at Lyon. He's no slouch and I certainly prefer him to a Bob Bradley or a Gareth Southgate at the helm.

But he's no Martin O'Neill either and having been utterly amazed and delighted when he took the Villa job 3 years ago, I was equally gutted when I heard in Prague on my hoildays last month, that he had resigned.
Houllier has a very tought act to follow and of course a lot to live up too at a club that is one of the marque's of British Football.

A Pedigree of which to be Proud
Though the recent years have been relatively fallow ones for the Villa, the pedigree is there and the fans expect. This is a team with 7 Leagues titles and 7 FA Cups to its name. An original member of the Football League in 1888 and one of the few to have completed the 'Double', Villa went on in the year of my birth, 1982, to do what only Liverpool, Manchester United, Nottingham Forest and Celtic have done - to win the European Cup.

So Gerard, no pressure then!

The Eternal Pessimist
Since Martin O'Neill left I've cast any hopes of a successful season to the realms of fantasy. Fighting for the a Champions League place? Don't be silly! This way, if Villa do underachieve then I can just shrug my shoulders in the same way that I have down the years and say, 'never mind there's always next year'.

Perhaps Houllier can do better than that and of course I hope he will and he has my full backing.
But whatever happens, there's one thing that I can guarantee. Whether we win the title, qualify for the Champions League, finish in mid-table obscurity or get relegated, I will still be there this time next year, supporting by boys in Claret and Blue.

Once a Villain, always a Villain

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