I’ve been putting this off, largely because I haven’t wanted to think about the play-off final. Why? Because it’s terrifying and surreal. Terrifying for obvious reasons, surreal because we’re actually poised to win something. Up til now, it’s all been fun and games, always another day, another possibility. After the final, well, season two in the promotion stakes will be final, for good or bad. I really just want to wake up and see that we’ve won.

Maybe I’m confusing terror with the nausea brought on by me thinking about me watching the game and sweating every single second, never mind every single touch. Mainly it’s about how excruciating 90 minutes of winner-take-all football can be. God only knows what penalty kicks would be like. Seems like strong drink is a virtual necessity. Other medications should be taken as needed. In the end, I know I’ll watch every second, however triumphant or traumatic, even though I’d rather be hiding behind the couch. And that’s what has me thinking about me watching the game. Maybe I’m too focused on the negative possibilities.

Because should we fail at the final hurdle, we know what comes next: wailing and gnashing of teeth; tears of regret pouring into our beers; walking around in a dazed and demoralized state for days or weeks; casting blame and aspersions; searching for answers; enduring the taunts of rival supporters. Debating Steve Bruce, the players, the performance, and of course the season overall. We’ll wonder at the cruelty of coming so close only to be denied, of all that could have been.

Then we’d get stuck into the remaking of the team and the realities of FFP. Which will likely be just as hard to bear as losing. I would imagine the odds are high we’d be saying goodbye to Jack Grealish, for example, just as we’ve come to love him. John Terry, naturally. Which others? Hard to say, what with math, age, ambition, and all. Robert Snodgrass would likely be gone, for one, but I have the troubling feeling Ross McCormack will somehow still be on our books, even if we don’t know where he’s at. Josh Onomah and Axel Tuanzebe? Alas we hardly knew you. Sam Johnstone? Still a bit raw, but a keeper nonetheless. Does Henri Lansbury have a place? Would Birkir Bjarnason be around? Mile Jedinak? Albert Adomah? Scott Hogan? Alan Hutton? Johnathan Kodjia? Jedinak? Elmo? Taylor? It’s a long list of question marks.

And then of course, Steve Bruce. After what he’s gone through personally, and the remit professionally, it’s hard to imagine him returning if Villa have a third season in the Championship ahead of them.

Anyway, getting ahead of myself.

There’s also the distinct possibility of winning and joining the scrap to stay alive in the second tier of the top tier. And getting stuck into the remaking of the team in a different way and the realities of FFP. Why does that keep coming up?

But before it all comes to pass, I will say that however much we moaned, it was a fun season. Perhaps we underachieved and should instead be sitting back, debating the PL remodel, and placing bets on who’ll be joining us and Wolves. Perhaps we’re exactly where we should’ve been.

Regardless, it was fun. It was football, a lot of it, and it meant something every week. We had proud days, dog days, and everything in between. Villa Park was full again a couple of times. Players played like it meant something—we grew to appreciate rather than despise them. Most of them, anyway. A degree of professionalism was restored along with the sense that we may indeed be exorcising the demons—that whether we go up or stay put, our club is finding its soul again. In other words, we do have things for which to thank Steve Bruce and Dr. Xia.

So, I’ll get into the actual match-up against Fulham here in short order. Basically I just wanted to take a moment before the emotion takes over. Win or lose, Aston Villa are better off than the club have been in a long time. And that’s something worth celebrating. And when it comes to the game itself, all I ask is that we give it everything we’ve got. Leave nothing on the pitch. If we lose, at least go down swinging and leave the supporters with the small consolation that it wasn’t for lack of effort, invention, or application. Just give us a good showing, lads.

And while you’re at it, go ahead and win the damn thing. Why not? Would certainly do me a world of good.

Over to you.

Comments 45

  1. JC
    Thanks for the writeup, & I couldn’t agree more.
    It’s interesting that Bruce felt the need to let out that he had to cut the training short because it was getting feisty, & he didn’t want us to peak too soon.
    I won’t be able to fully engage until there is no choice.

  2. Well JC, I hope the players are not feeling the same as you describe in the early part of your script. Cup finals are for winning. There’s no room for players that don’t turn up.

    I’ve played in finals (lower level of course) and seen excellent players the subject of intense bollockings because they’ve frozen by the occasion. A simple mindset applied during the whole of the game that “we just need one goal” should work. Spud and the players will know this.

    Let’s hope the occasion gets to Fulham more than us. After all, they couldn’t handle small heath when the pressure was on. COYVB.

  3. Come on John – remember the Monty Python song – Always Look on the Bright Side Of (Aston Villa) Life?

    Positive thought is now essential if not for us but for the team; I’m glad the training showed the desire to be part of a winning side.

    I think the body of your post comes on Sunday whatever the outcome on Saturday.

    I for one will be sitting up at 2315 Thai time urging the team on, hopefully telepathically and wishing I was there with the Villa supporters.

    Last time I was at Wembley was the last final at the old ground (I still have the pennant that was on the seat). Now we are Wise after the event (pun!) and will be strong in team spirit and not as nervous as our opponents who have never won a play-off.
    UTV – cheer them on world-wide Villa supporters

  4. elmo the only doubt.

    which for me is a big blow.

    effects snoddy too. those 2 have forged an excellent understanding down that side.

  5. Plug,

    You’re absolutely right about players and the occasion. We’ve gotten used to saying “Which Villa will turn up?” And it comes down to that, whether we’ve a bunch who embrace it.

    Seems to me the side do better as underdogs. Also seems to me that the older players, especially Terry, should be a calming influence around the camp. We’ve talked about the mix, average age, etc., but you should be able to take confidence from someone who’s been there and done it on the biggest stages.

  6. Clive,

    I’m always terrible with these things…over a life supporting various teams in different sports, you tend to lose your share of big games. Never really matters how you feel going in. So I do like being slight underdogs. I think it helps the mentality all round.

    I know that I’d much rather be playing than watching. You’ve no control as a supporter, but I know that as a player, I’d be able to do something, give every ounce, and go after the game.

    Overall…let’s just say it’s somewhat ritualistic for me to take a certain approach as a supporter. Not negative, but wrapping my head around the worst case before the fact.

    And like I say, as I do that, I really do have to look back over the season and be grateful for what’s already happened.

  7. Andrew,

    Agreed, they play well together. But Bree grew into the Boro game after showing a few nerves in the beginning. If Elmo’s not going to be available, then it’s good he was out earlier and Bree had a chance to feel the occasion, the crowd, the pressure.

  8. jc
    are you a sadist ,our season fun
    losing to sides we shouldnt have,scrapping no score draws at home
    if we win on saturday the doc will have got away with it ,if not the sh#te hits the fan

  9. Ha…Maybe, JG?

    It was a ride, one that’s still got a happy ending in it, and I’m in a bit of an expansive mood at the moment. Always games you should win and don’t, games you should lose and don’t. That sort of thing. You’ll note that I’m not considering the whole play-off business fun…unless of course we win through.

    I think more than anything it’s about the league, and Villa, being competitive. I want us back up, of course, but as a number on here have noted, it’s a double-edged sword. I think the ambition is there, but cracking the ranks of relevancy in the PL is no sure thing.

    What I’m hoping is that we’ve learned something about winning and losing along the way. Good teams seem to have gotten our attention lately, and we’ve been much better dealing with them. In all honesty, I’d have thought we could be more consistent and ruthless throughout the season, but it’s water under the bridge. Until we get to the season in review.

  10. Prutton has predicted a Villa win.
    That’s a first!
    JG – Yes the road has been & is rocky.
    Also the vibe is definitely better than 2 years ago as JC said.
    If we lost it could all go a bit south of course.
    But hey, the Birmingham Mail has said we are under dogs, so woof!

  11. Getting down to the nitty gritty or the short strokes. The go big or go home game. The been there done that mentality Bruce must have by now should put him over the top again. All the wailing over his player personnel appears to be the big advantage Villa have over Fulham. The depth of experience is comforting.
    After saying all that, the first goal will be a telling one. If it’s fulham will the expectations of the Villa crowd be too much? Or if it’s Villa, will it crush Fulham with waves of noise coming down.
    Experience, talent, and supporters will do the trick and Villa have all of that.
    Don’t lose your grip boys—you’ve got this.

  12. And in other news. . . .
    3 days before the play off final James Gill announces that if Villa lose he will be in search of fans to throw his s**te at
    . . . . so thanks for that motivational contribution

  13. Hey JC,thanks for an outstanding summary,spot on.If we win great,if we lose,life goes on.maybe now I’m older,it doesn’t hurt as much..,maybe a differnt semse of perspective dunno.
    But,you’re right,we are in decent shape,slowly we are being repaired,and I’m still proud of what we’be achieved,could’ve been better or a lot worse.
    Snoddie my player of the season.Let’s win for Steamer,you are still missed Gary.
    COYVB

  14. Hey r0bb0 – “And in other news. . . .
    3 days before the play off final James Gill announces that if Villa lose he will be in search of fans to throw his s**te at
    . . . . so thanks for that motivational contribution”

    Absolutely spot on! I came on to this site again to think about writing again, saw that great comment on the eve of a huge game for the Villa and thought – Naaahh, just won’t bother with that sort of attitude on here. There are more upbeat people than JG in the cemetery ……

    And I hope your comments to r0bb0 weren’t serious IanG or are you backing up JG’s comments?

    Till we meet in the next world,
    oldvilla

  15. OV
    2 wrongs don’t make a right.
    because it is others who are slinging the shyte at him doesn’t make everything else positive, in fact to the contrary.
    I’m saying keep our focus & togetherness, which also applies to you mate as well as robbo, because JG was not attacking anyone. no need to scapegoat, especially now

  16. And in other, other news. We cancelled our season tickets when we dropped to the championship because there are too many midweek games ( that we can’t get to from Devon)

    My wife books our tickets to games and I just may have said (a few times) ” do make sure they are allocated to both of our booking references dear”

    So, when we come to book tickets to Wembley and I find that they’ve only ever been booked on my account and therefore we can only get one ticket and not two, should I have:

    1) said . . . ” how many times did I say use both reference numbers. . . . well I’m going anyway!”

    2) bitten my tongue and said. . . . ” oh it’s ok, we can get more done in the garden and watch it together on tv”

  17. Sadly, I can only claim half a point as I couldn’t help the initial ” but I did say”. . . . . before stopping myself and appreciating how much more productive a day it will be if I spend it mixing concrete.

  18. JC- Thanks mate, I know how you feel so I am sticking to how I think it might go until the event happens then I’ll know how I feel instead of inventing it in my noggin for a week 🙂

    I think we will go at them and try to close their passing game down as they have to many good individuals to attempt an Adama again. This may work initially and I pray it brings a goal and if the Gods are kind two, then its all hands to the pump. If the worst happens and we concede all bets off.

    Now we have an old experienced side, point to us, they have a young less experienced but versed in passing and keeping the ball side point to them. Saturday is supposed to be 26 C in London, I am hoping that changes as chasing a passing side in the heat might not be the best idea and after watching how Knackered they looked after the semi’s where we mostly kept in shape?

    Jack is crucial, we know that, I hope they think they do but ignore him enough.

    Robbo- I will look forward to you not being negative toward others if we win 😉

    On the ticket front, I would go as most of England is going to get rain and storms Saturday, this will leave you with no gardening, no Wembley final and an equally p*ssed off lady, this will be the only play off final involving us you might get, it certainly wont be the only telling off from your lady you will see in your lifetime (unless your proper thumbed up). Better still drop her in Harrods with your credit card while you go.

  19. Mark
    Yes it is quite a slagging, & that includes a third of it that I couldn’t understand.
    I hope he comes unstuck.
    I too will be happier if we score first.

  20. IanG- I can’t understand what possessed him unless thats him being upfront and honest 🙂 at least he hasn’t called Bruce Spud head? I’m looking forward to the game and probably will be for about 20 mins unless we score.

    Loads of tickets floating about got offered one in a Box with a corporate bunch and apparently the Fulham fans can buy 5 tickets, don’t think they are going to be heard much above our lot, in fact half there allowance could be our lot with a lot of selling going on.

  21. Omen of the day- Villa park is one metre less wide same length as Wembley while Fulham’s is 5m less wide and 5m shorter, god bless google

  22. Hiya frem I’m feeling like its me thats going going to play, raring to get on with it, I want to smash them, hoping for a demolition in the Bristol and wolves proportions

  23. JC
    The Jedi alluded to it & called the game ‘a sliding door moment’.
    He & the others see it as a case of raising the determination level even more, one more time.
    Got to start with high intensity & keep it going for as long as it takes, & leave the bus at home in the garage.

  24. Mark
    As for calling Bruce spud head, that was probably in the part that I couldn’t understand.
    We can slag him cos he’s our spud head, but no one else can & get away with it.
    Fulham’s white wall looks like it’s going to be a bit tattered, I mean 5 tickets each!
    Anyway I haven’t got a 13th Rolls Royce taking me to the door to be met by a man with a wheelchair, so it’s making sure I’ve got a beer or 2, & hope the stream doesn’t freeze.

  25. IanG,

    Yeah, was really struck by the honesty from Jedi in the piece. Hope it is motivating rather than a millstone. Like he said, every drop of sweat.

  26. Nice leader, JC. Thanks for that.
    Like all of us I’ve learned to be a bit more realistic about our chances. That said I’ve put $27 on a Villa win. The first bet I’ve made in decades. The local betting agency has Fulham as firm favourites. They did beat us 2-0 earlier on and I remember our last trip to Wembley for the FA Cup final against Arsenal was a wee bit embarrassing. Nevertheless whatever happens will happen. Who knows? Villa might actually win and get what they’ve asked for. That’ll be something to roar about.
    UTV

  27. Great leader JC, and a great piece from the Telegraph, which really brings home the point that this game is a one off for Villa, and as big to me as the 1957 Cup Final, where Villa were the under dogs, and a certain Peter McParland made the difference.

    I hope today that the guy with the sleeked hairstyle of McParland is Jack Grealish, and that he smashes home two great goals to win the game for us!!!

    Off to Villa Park shortly , taking a few of the local boys, but at the moment , I have no tickets for the coach or the game…..but hey ho! That i9s another story…..Got sent to the wrong address…!!

    Let’s hope that my next piece on here will be praising Steve Bruce and the boys for a fantastic result, but will not be before Sunday…!!!

  28. JC – I had a link to a similar article that expands on the fortunes of teams that lose play-offs – I decided not to post it here until tomorrow whatever happens.

    Like Paul I was at the 1957 final (aged 15) and also at the ‘Dennis Wise (cheeky cockney) final – I still have the pennant that was on all the seats – last Final at old Wembley.

    Let’s save any inquests until after the game whichever way it goes and be thankful we got there considering where we were when SB took over.

  29. Any sports scientists amongst us?
    I’ve heard it suggested that on a warm day on a big pitch the younger team will have the advantage.
    Really not sure that’s the case. If anything, mightn’t it be the younger players who struggle with stamina?

  30. Mark: Robbo- I will look forward to you not being negative toward others if we win

    Hey, if we win we’ll all be one big delighted happy family!

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