Well, here we are. 2021, thank god. I’ll make no excuses for my over-exuberance last night, which started out innocently enough with some bubbles, a three-course carry-out to support a local restaurant, FaceTiming with the kids and old friends, then moved on to getting hijacked by our neighbors, setting off fireworks, and dipping into the White Russians. To say I was glad to see the back of dear old 2020 would be putting it mildly. And in some ways, it’s still with me.
I’d meant to pen a New Year’s message, but didn’t quite get round to it. I was thinking, “what a s**t year,” and wanted to put some closure on it. As I was thinking, which can be a bit painful, I realized that it wasn’t universally s**t. Villa had a very good year. As did some billionaires and Amazon.
And just like at Christmas, I took a look back and thought about how much good fortune I’ve enjoyed. Didn’t win the lottery, at least not the one with a cash payout, but when it comes to children, family and friends, I can’t say I haven’t had a winning ticket. Don’t know where I’d be without the missus.
So while 2020 was pretty heavy, and 2021 will be, too, for a while yet, we’re turning a corner. And I hope everyone reading this has weathered the storm so far. My heart goes out to all who’ve suffered losses.
I also realized how much joy something as simple and perhaps meaningless as football has brought us. Maybe it’s been nothing more than a good and necessary distraction. But I took a lot from how Deano and the boys turned things around. I enjoyed the hell out of Restart, even if I thought it was a bad idea at the time and even if almost made a wreck of me watching it. Being Villa, staying up on the last day was just about as good as winning the Champions League. Sitting 5th to start 2021? I’ve enjoyed the hell out that, too.
I really can’t say enough about Dean Smith, Compass, and this Villa squad. When I had the good fortune to meet Dean, shake his hand, and thank him for giving us back our Villa, we’d just come back up and I’d no idea it would look so precarious and then so good. I came away buzzing because he was just what you’d like him to be. He let John Terry, Christian Purslow and the rest of the coaching team walk ahead, stopped, looked me in the eye, gave me his full attention and that earnest smile of his, and thanked me for what I said.
If nothing else, I knew he was a decent and kind man. Humble, hard-working, and fully aware of how much a football team can mean to supporters. I’d missed him earlier when he dropped round the pub one night (owned by a Burnley supporter and turned over to the Villans—flags flying out front and all) and mingled with those who were there. So I was glad to catch him at the end and let him know for at least the thousandth time how nice it was to feel good about the club again and have it in capable hands.
I like this squad. I like these players. I like the way we play. I like how lessons have been learned. I like how hard they work, and I like seeing smiles on their faces when they play. They’re enjoying their football, enjoying their time at Villa Park. And they’re all putting in a shift restoring a bit of dignity to our giant and historic club after years spent years in the wilderness. I really like seeing two of our own leading the way. I really like having good owners who are intent on doing all the right things for the club.
In other words, 2020 wasn’t a complete loss. Villa had my full attention all year and they didn’t disappoint. My wife’s a bit tired of hearing about it, but she’s seen how much suffering football can inflict, how many hours I’ve spent trying to make sense of soul-crushing losses, how little fun it can be continuing to try and remain optimistic sitting at the keyboard when it really does look like more disappointment is inevitable.
What I can say is thank you again, Dean. Thank you Villa. And thank you to all who read and contribute. I like this. I like the banter, I like the differing perspectives, I like the respect we show each other. I really enjoy seeing Villans from all over the globe popping in. A bit like working the bar at a pub and knowing it’s a little spot where people can gather and forget their other cares for a bit. Or cry in their beers.
Today? Well, I hope we make a fist of it and continue to battle without fear. I quite enjoy knowing that whether the performance gives us the result we want, the side will give it their all.
So here’s to 2021, and here’s to having our club back. I do believe the future is bright.
Up The Villa and over to you.