Writer: J P Fear
Date:Friday April 20 2007
Its been a 'marvellous' week.
The Villa won AGAIN and enjoyed a few days in the top half of the table and what with the sun shining, the blossom hanging heavy on the trees, and the young pretties wearing barely enough clothing to keep them alive, I seem to have spent the whole week, exclaiming the word 'marvellous'. Slightly nutty, I know, but it does tend to cheer you up, so why not try it yourself. Just look at what ever delights your eye and say it out loud - Marvellous!
Villa's win was pretty bloody marvellous (sorry about the expletive but the superlative needs emphasis) and if three goals weren't enough, the fact that it was against Middlesbrough, added to the sense that it was a bit special. There's nothing in particular to really dislike about the Teesside club; they have never been that good to excite real enmity. Okay, so they decided that Yorkshire wasn't good enough for them and they had the ego to think they needed a whole county to themselves. And, having only turned professional in 1899, some might consider them a bit of a Johnny-come-lately club. But their relationship with Villa is historically unique. I seem to remember that it was Middlesbrough who beat Ipswich to ensure Villa won the Championship in '81 and then a certain Stuart Gray (just back from surgery) heroically scored the equalizer at Villa Park against them, in 1989, which kept Villa up and sent them down - one of the most significant goals in Villa Park history and the consequences for Villa, Graham Taylor and of course England, which arose from it, were very significant.
More recent history tends to gloss over this and the name Middlesbrough these days, is mostly associated with them enticing Villa's better players away, with offers of better wages. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Middlesbrough's present Premiership status was entirely dependent on their Villa acquisitions, especially the twin defensive pairing of Ugo Ehiogu and Southgate and their present decline has coincided with these players' retirement or departure. For Villa fans, this was rubbing salt into their wounds, as it provided a rather glaring contrast between their own chairman at the time and Middlesbrough's Steve Gibson, who had obviously under-written the deals. When the Teessider's, won the first trophy in their history (the League Cup) and then went on to reach the final of the UEFA cup, it looked to the Villa fans that someone had not only nicked their car but was cruising in it with their girlfriend too. This looked rather like ingratitude, as Middlesbrough's actual survival as a club arose entirely from the days of ex-Villa heroes, Bruce Rioch (manager) and Brian Little (coach).
Villa's resounding result, combined with Harry Enfield's brummie, in my head, muttering something along the lines of, 'Excuse me, but our Chairman is considerably richer than yarn', added substantially to the satisfaction of the day.
Watching the FA cup semi-finals, which resulted in the final New Wembley's bag men desperately wanted and the FA craved for, you couldn't help but see Villa's ambitions, of joining the elite, as rather daunting. On another day, Blackburn might have won their tie but Manchester United seemed to toy with Watford and the emergence of Alan Smith, in his new role, as seemingly yet another Ferguson creation, was a reminder of what Villa are up against. Brilliant management combined with a daunting amount of resources.
More and more it seems, that when it comes to domestic honours, the middling clubs can reach the final but cannot expect to win anything, not these days. It seems from this that Villa's transition must consist of learning to come second and not being put off by that inevitability. Coming second is the difficult first phase and every League Cup winner except Wolves have had to come second, at some time, (Arsenal & ManU 4 times each), before enjoying ultimate glory. I have always considered Villa's reaction to coming second in the FA cup (2000) and subsequent retrenchment, revealed the lack of real courage at the heart of the club.
Coming second and not being daunted by it, seems the real measure of solid long-term ambition.
Of course, we are all hoping that when Villa come to replace Angel, who departed for the US of A this week, that they show some ambition. Angel in his pomp, was undoubtedly a class act and often amongst squads consisting of too many journeymen, he stood out like the proverbial silver tanner in a chimney-sweep's ear. Like many Villa strikers in recent years, he was expected to thrive on rather meagre service and spent a lot of his energies doing mundane work in midfield. His link-up play could be excellent but which inevitably tended to take him away from goal. He was never blessed with great pace but his excellent touch and intelligence made him very effective. He was famously picked out for special treatment by Birmingham City in their first Premiership encounter with Villa and Darren Purse produced the sort of x-certificate tackle from behind, thought to have been eliminated from the game. Not being a very physical player, seemed to make him unpopular with Graham Taylor and it was only when David O'Leary arrived that he produced his best form and scored 16 goals in the season 2004-2005. He was undoubtedly well rewarded by Villa and was often reported as Villa's biggest earner but his goals went a long way to ensuring Villa's Premiership status, when it was too often in doubt. A knee-injury seemed to rob him of the little pace he had and he has struggled ever since. He was obviously on a very good contract with Villa and I am sure it was an important factor, in determining his personal contentment and loyalty to the club. He could obviously continue to play a very important role at some level in the British game but I am a little relieved that he has chosen to chase the dollar in America, rather than add glamour to one of Villa's rivals. I wish him luck and will always have happy memories of him. He shares the same birthday (24th Oct) as Wayne Rooney and Roman Abramovich: not many people know that.
Seeing his goal against Chelsea on Youtube again, had me saying out loud -
By Steve Wade
Date:Friday April 20 2007
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