We wax and wane according to the Villa’s match results, and now that the team are around the halfway point in the league table our reasonable selves strive to accept that status. “Well, I suppose that’s OK”, we say, “we couldn’t expect much better this time around given the state of the finances and …”. We try to accommodate what is happening in front of our faces. After all, it could have been worse – couldn’t it?
Now I would be one of the first to say, “Yep, league position wise, this is about where I thought we’d be this season, particularly with the tough array of fixtures to the end of October.” On the other hand, I question whether the way we’ve arrived at this juncture is sufficiently palatable: “Couldn’t we have arrived at this point less painfully?” And: “Is the team building towards the Villa that we want?” On the other hand: “Do we agree on what we want?!” And: “Whatever, does what we feel make any difference to those running the club?”
Going back to 2006 and when Randy Lerner took over, I (wrongly, perhaps) honestly felt that the new owner understood the plight of the Villa fans. I also (wrongly, perhaps) felt that satisfying the fans would be high on his agenda. Jonathan Fear, owner of Vital Football (as requested) produced a detailed report to help the owner. Lerner, initially, made a lot of moves that gladdened our hearts. We built up our dreams; we built our castles in the sky. We expected.
Now I’m not going to go back through all the specific events that have taken place since 2006 and then Martin O’Neill’s departure. In fact, I feel sure that change was being engineered in Lerner Towers by 2009; I was an employee at Villa Park in those days and sensed the change. But since 2010 we have experienced an unbelievable series of events and match results that have brought some of us close to a state of apoplexy. Some unwelcome records have been set or nearly set.
Ignoring for now, all the important issues surrounding things, like how will Lerner back his manager to take the club to higher spheres, I would like to concentrate on the faire on offer at Villa Park where, since 2011, Villa have only won 25% of their league matches, with barely a couple of games worth remembering amongst those 45 matches.
Overall (home and away), the results are ‘OK’ this season, but what is the supporter getting for his (now) extra hard-earned dough, assuming he can’t go to away matches? Does the normal fan want to be bored out of his mind after a hard working week? (I wonder if the board are bored!)
And are the board and the manager in tune with the feelings of the everyday fan? Or is this just another management that thinks, as David O’Leary did, that the fans “are fickle”? If that is the case, then we haven’t progressed since O’Leary and Doug Ellis, have we? Entertainment-wise, we certainly haven’t progressed; even under O’Neill, sunshine wasn’t often on offer.
The issues of falling attendances and lack of atmosphere at the ground have already been debated on this site. Yes, the suggestion of giving free tickets to school kids has an appeal for a number of reasons, but even kids aren’t to be taken as fools! They can see quite easily whether Villa offer heroes, and football on a par with the Manchester clubs, the Liverpool clubs and the main London clubs. And if Villa can’t regularly score in front of their own supporters, then what’s the point of going down to games, unless it’s a receptionist you’re keen on seeing!
To look at the bigger picture let’s take a peek at history, but rather than harp on about my time during the 50s, 60, 70s and 80s, let me instead refer to a state of affairs that existed within the memory of virtually everyone on this blog. I refer to the end of the 1995-96 season – after Brian Little’s first full season in charge, and also not long after the terraces had finally gone.
Villa were looking good then. They had just won the League Cup and had made Leeds United (champions in 1992) look like small fry in the Final. More importantly, Villa finished fourth in the Premier League. It looked as though Villa were on their way to something great – for the first time, really, since those halcyon days of the early 80s, and despite the best efforts of Big Ron Atkinson. Little had performed the wonder conversion of Gareth Southgate from an inside-forward, to a centre-back, to England international in one season. We had Dwight Yorke, Mark Bosnich and Ian Taylor, and we still had Paul McGrath. And at the start of the 1995-96 season, Villa had actually beaten Manchester United at Villa Park, just as United’s youngsters (the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs) were starting out.
But it was from 1996 that the world of football significantly changed. Foreign footballers started to make a much bigger impact on the Premiership, and player-power significantly increased, Dwight Yorke went to United, and Villa – having teased the fans at the top of the league under Gregory – fell away, the club’s purchasing power gone even after incorporation as a PLC in 1997.
In the 2000s the new generation of Villa supporters have had little to gloat about – and that includes no win over Man United at Villa Park since that season under Little, in August, 1995. And there was that disappointment in the 2010 League Cup final when Villa failed to capitalise on a 1-0 lead with United not looking in the best of shape. On top of that, the last time Villa obtained a double league win over United was season 1954-55, when, amazingly, the two clubs finished 5th and 6th.
Since 2000 it’s been mostly downhill, aside from false hopes under O’Neill. These days we also always seem to struggle at home against Liverpool, Arsenal Tottenham Hotspur, and even, of late, against Everton. And the manager is wondering whether the fans are being realistic! Well, I suppose he’s looking at the matter as though history at Villa Park didn’t start until 2012.
Well, we’ve been waiting since 1996 for another trophy-winning side, Mr. Lambert – and a decent side at that. It’s coming up to 18 years since we had something much to crow about.
I’m seeing red!
This week-end, United arrive at Villa Park. They’re not looking quite the side they have been under Ferguson, so surely it’s now a bit – even if only a little bit – more like a level playing field. Can Villa strike while the iron is hot? If not, why not?
We’ve been a Jekyll and Hyde team this season, beating Arsenal, Manchester City and Southampton (scoring 3 each time) but losing (at home) against Liverpool, Spurs and Everton without scoring. And, very worryingly, against the more under-performing teams in the league, we don’t seem able to score. Villa have just had a further lapse at Fulham but then United are also having difficulty.
I believe we have come to a cross-roads, of sorts. We need, in this one, to take the right fork and at least show the best intentions of winning – nothing less. We have a sequence of scoring in only one game at home in the last four (the one that we won). Another home defeat and/or an innocuous performance will not, I’m sure, be well accepted.
For me, this upcoming match is a great opportunity for Villa to indicate whether they are really progressing.
Any fixture against United – for me – is one to measure Villa’s status by. A win (by any score!) against them this time will cause me to think that perhaps we are moving down the right road.
C’mon the Villa!