Tuesday, 24 March 2015

As Sherwood takes the reigns, here's my Aston Villa prayer

I’m a very lucky Aston Villa supporter. I’ve seen the League title, a European Cup, many League Cups – and this year, I’ll complete the set as the Villa win an overdue eighth FA Cup!

Born during Villa’s steep decline in the sixties and too young to remember it, I emerged as witness to unprecedented glory in the early 80’s. Mind you, I knew heartache too – there were two successive 8th place finishes in those early years!

Back then, we had a priceless commodity – continuity. Ron Saunders was manager from 1974 to 1982. He had a quiet charisma and an inner certainty schooled in English tradition. Many talk of teams playing 4-4-2 back then – but Villa appeared to me 3-5-2 off the ball and 3-2-5 with it, Wasn’t that the way dating back to the fifties too?

My first game was in the Holte with dad, a 4-1 midweek thrashing by Manchester City in 1977. I was too small to see the action – so I concentrated on staring at the floodlights imprinting “AV” images on my closed eyelids!

This is the game http://youtu.be/GPmD_yNdDFM

Dennis Tueart scored a hattrick – and the Evening Mail reported we were about to sign him for £300,000 - but he preferred New York Cosmos instead! #mistake

I’m a third generation Villan. My grandfather, a professional footballer of note in the twenties (a Championship winner in Vienna by the name of Ben Posaner) came to Birmingham in 1939. From the late 40’s, he owned the typewriter shop directly next door to Aston Railway Station and Lover’s Walk. He used to take a lunchtime pint in the Britannia.

The first team I remember gave birth to the Championship side. Ron replaced players but kept formation and roles the same. It was Burridge, Gidman, Robson, Philips, Nicholl, Mortimer, Deehan, Little, Gray, Cropley, Carrodus. A silverware-winning side and the sign of things to come.

Were the ’77 League Cup winners better than the ’81 Champions? It’s debated by many of us who remember. All I can say is there was considerable upheaval between the two trophy captures and luck played a part as we stayed remarkably injury-free through our league winning season using only 14 players. A record which will never be broken.

If today’s Holte Enders think pressure’s greater on bosses today, think again. In 1979, when Andy Gray was sold to Wolves for an equivalent £60m in today’s money, we just couldn’t score. “Saunders is a w***er” echoed from the skies! He faced the sack, no question.

Also, the newly-built North Stand had created a drainage problem and a muddy pitch, the Bendalls and Doug Ellis were having a live scrap on Gary Newbon’s ATV sports show too.

Echoes of today, eh? That’s what I mean about luck. There was a lot of turmoil in the background.

Then finished-product Peter Withe was brought in from Newcastle to replace Gray’s misfiring replacement, David Geddis.

Gary Shaw, Colin Gibson, Gary Williams and Gordon Cowans came of age and John Gidman was moved on also for big money - and replaced by Chelsea’s Kenny Swain. Allan Evans and Ken McNaught were already mainstays of an emerging team.

There was nothing wrong with the FOOTBALL at the club as it turned out!

I went to the pop-up Champions League museum before the Wembley Final in 2011 which Aston Villa were of course, part of. It’s with immense pride I recall Rotterdam. The champagne bubbles of success never truly subside and we sit forever among the pantheon names of European football with Madrid, Milan, Munich and Manchester.

This should be the inspiration and catalyst for every season. It just hasn’t been for at least a decade.

There’ve been exciting seasons since. Graham Taylor’s second-placers in 89/90 and Big Ron and Andy Gray’s Premier League runners-up three years later.

Big Ron took full advantage of Liverpool’s jettisoning of top stars like Houghton, Staunton and Saunders and he kept McGrath on the straight and narrow. Dalian, Dwight and Deano marauded upfront – but what Ron and Andy fully understood so clearly was the Villa tradition. That’s why we played with excitement and veuve. The lights were truly on at Villa Park in the 90’s.

I live in London. If I talk to a Spurs or Arsenal fan like this, they don’t know what I’m talking about it.

Fast-forwarding to today: I’m heartbroken at our slide down English football. Our decline is not as apparent as that of say, Leeds or Forest because unlike them, we’ve never been relegated from the Premier League – but our chances of winning the title are frankly, only marginally better than those clubs (in that we’re in the same division as Chelsea!)

We were genuinely level with Arsenal and Liverpool at the start of the Premier League era – but we haven’t shown faith to invest in the way they have. It’s as though the belief that the grand old club, Aston Villa is beyond the memory of all who’ve run it since.

I see the Premier League as made up of three divisions: the perennial Champions League qualifiers, the wannabes  – and the fodder. Let’s get back to being a wannabe, eh?

It’s a disgrace that mainstays of the Premier League are even in the bottom-half, let alone in an annual relegation scrap. We’ve been buoyed by incredible TV cash for twenty years – like Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool – but where are we? Lost.

Aston Villa needs to connect with its past to understand the potential moving forward. Everyone aged 40 and above knows it – anyone under 40 needs to dust off the history book and imagine it.

The McGregor statue and the lantern are welcome reminders of our truly unique tradition in the world of sport – but we need to be less museum, more thriving community and I’m hoping Tom Fox and Tim Sherwood’s arrival are a flag in the sand pointing to better days, just the like one I enjoyed as a 9-year-old in 1976.

This has turned into a prayer for a brighter Aston Villa future – but I hope it’s one we can all say together!

Up The Villa!