Paranoia, inadequacy, humiliation: it’s hard to let go of the bad old days
Last night, I had a nightmare.
Villa manager Graeme Souness had announced his determination to return us to the Premiership where we belong, and catch up with our illustrious blue neighbours, now owned by a consortium backed by the Sultan of Brunei and The Lord Jesus Christ. The scaled-down refurbishment of Bodymoor Heath had just been unveiled to wild acclaim; groundskeeper Ted Prole declared his new shed to be “the envy of the third world”. We had made a great start in the transfer window, swapping the entire first eleven for Lee Cattermole and a spare tyre for the team coach. And the reanimated corpse of Doug Ellis was seven weeks into his hard-nosed negotiations over Titus Bramble’s haircut-related bonuses.
I awoke to damp sheets, and not for the first time. It wasn’t until I had removed the cling-film from my bed that I remembered that it couldn’t be more exciting to be a Villa fan if General Krulak presented undisputable evidence to George Dubya that St Andrews is secretly developing nuclear capabilities.
The possibilities for next season have me salivating wildly, which is probably why I keep getting threatened by parents on the bus. But there is a cautionary voice in the back of my head; that same voice that tries and fails to prevent me from spicing up a first date by turning my pockets inside-out and doing an impression of a somewhat malnourished elephant.
Supporting Villa for the last 20-odd years merely amplifies that voice. I missed out on the euphoria of the European Cup win due to the misfortune of being more interested in Lego at the time – I was four – and have jealously lived among Villans fondly reliving the glory days ever since. I keep throwing myself in front of moving vehicles in the rather unrealistic hope that I’ll be Life On Mars-ed back to May 1982, and I’m fast running out of intact bones.
I constantly – and, with things the way they currently are, rather unreasonably – fear a return to the mentality that saw us fail to buy a Brazilian midfield genius whilst leading the Premiership just so Doug could buy a jacuzzi filled with money. The same mindset that, in the early nineties, was responsible for putting Les Sealy in a big green sandpit rather than on a football pitch. Although some might say that was the best place for him.
I tremble at the thought of Villa displaying the ineptitude that we showed against Scunthorpe. Or, indeed, in the entire 2005-06 season, regardless of how “small” and “honest” our “lad”-comprised squad was. But the darkest heart of my terror can be summed up in two words: The Blues.
I was at Villa Park in 2003, confident of returning the humiliating 3-0 slap that they’d given us at the Sty months earlier. Until that point, I had never really hated the blues (and was therefore never allowed to stand up at Villa Park; I used to crawl to my seat), by virtue of the fact that most of my Villa-supporting life had been untouched by their presence.
But after Enkelmangate (if Southgate had arsed up so badly, would it be called Southgategate?), I was filled with a disproportionate, uncharitable hatred for Birmingham City. Previously a tolerant, open-minded hippy type, I was transformed by a hatred I had never felt. I had become the Daily Mail, and Birmingham City FC was an immigrant paedophile single parent on benefits. I demanded vengeance.
My memories of that night have the same vibe as the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. OK, so Tom Hanks never got sent off for violent conduct at the Normandy beach landings – it would’ve made for a much less entertaining film. And I don’t recall a scene where a jackbooted Geoff Horsfield strolled behind Alliance lines while our soldiers stood and watched patiently. But then it was only an 18 certificate.
I was so livid that night, I had a good mind to walk right up to Graham Taylor The Second and expose myself graphically, and I probably would have but for the fact I had seen a pretty girl in the Trinity stand earlier that night and didn’t want to ruin my already pathetically limited chances. And Robbie Savage was on the pitch.
I am buoyed by the matches from two seasons ago: O’Leary’s hilarious attempt to salute Dougie at St Andrews whilst telling the ref to go forth and multiply; bouncing off the ceiling when Cahill’s goal at VP flew in; and even the rare treat of being able to cheer the efforts of Milan Baros. Good memories.
But I recently saw The Enkelman Incident on a clip show – Football’s Most Traumatising Examples of Ineptitude, I think it was called – and my heart sank as that lobotomised prick ran out from the stands to mime his favourite hobby to our ‘keeper.
So the Blues are coming back up again, full of beans and attitude. Even if we finally lived up to our audacious boast of being By Far The Greatest Team The World Has Ever Seen, the Blues could scrape a 1-0 against us and they’d be smugger than Lee Hendrie after a night with Steve Bruce’s wife, daughter and family pets. Which would leave us feeling rather like Stefan Postma after a quiet night in with a camcorder.
I’m loving all the positive vibes floating around the Villa at the moment – I even like the new crest. But, haunted by years of Doug, Ormondroyd, Kinsella and Venglos, I just can’t let myself believe it. Not, that is, until I see Villa assault the blues like foreign policemen getting stuck into some nice peaceful Liverpool fans.