The Holy Grail For Villa Fan (Legend)
It'll surprise some of you but I have a friend. That friend is a Villa legend in my eyes, I've mentioned him time and time again for his endless treks (23 years worth) to Old Trafford which was until last weekend the only ground he'd not seen us win on, his last hoodoo, so here from the horses mouth, Nigel Ashford in the pursuit of the Holy Grail... well, sort of!
1) So, when did you first start supporting Villa and why?
From four years old in 74, first memory throwing my villa womble in the air after a goal and it flying down a couple of rows in the old trinity and being passed back. Football memories don’t start til about 76 or 77. From 77-79 I went pretty much every game as my father was unofficial club jeweler and became friends with some of the players. This meant Players lounge after the games, for a 7 year old it doesn’t get much better than that.
I remember really enjoying that side between 77-79 hammering Liverpool and Arsenal although some things that stick in the mind are being bitten by a police Alsatian, being told about United’s red army and fully expecting an army to arrive and as a result being petrified and being in the back of Frank Carrodus’ hire car when he pranged it into a cliff on holiday in Majorca – great times. Why? Grandfather and father born and bred in Aston although I’m a Sutton boy I’m third generation and had no choice. Now I live in London it’s a touchstone to where I came from.
2) Been through he good times and bad times, what is the best memory and what is the worst?
Best – vicariously Rotterdam, in person Cup Final against united 94, Promotion at Swindon, Boro home 81
Worst, all the key games that we bottled and the fans started scuffling amongst themselves, Oxford away 85, Tranmere away, Bolton away cup and Blackburn away when going for the league. I didn’t speak for over 24hours after. Also the games I feared for my days, West Ham pre-hillsborough and all trips to the Blose.
3) So you've been to pretty much every ground to see Villa player, favourite and least favourite? (As we are about to move on to Man Utd, you can't pick them here!)
Back in the day Man city in the old Platt lane with benches was a brilliant place to go and villa always took thousands, Everton as per May 90 and Graham Taylor also was great.
Worst Oxford was a tip, Barnsley was bleak but St Andrews is by far my least favourite. Never felt safe and quite angry what we have to put up with going there. Don’t go anymore.
4) OK, the major point for this interview is your record of seeing Villa win on every ground they have played apart from Old Trafford - until Saturday. So that was 23 years
a) how did it feel yesterday?!
Odd, after all these years I truthfully think it was one of the few times we went in good form and with a settled first choice 11. The fact that United were weakened crystallised it. Other than when we were going for the league and took the lead with Staunton, we always had something going against us. We never for example were in our prime when we went during the golden 94-6 period or went when Angel Yorke or Savo was flying.
After last year, where we played better and United were worst I didn’t murmur a word as the time ticked by I saw a few people thrown out for smoking in the toilets at halftime and I thought how tough because they were going to miss the win. It was then I realised I had an inner calm and belief . I had a tear in my eye at the end and the fact I had some good friends with me to share it with was special. Afterwards my phone blew up with so many people wishing me well which was touching. Problem was I had to run to get the train and stood with no refreshments all the way back to Euston with the Cockney reds – not ideal! Made up for it when I got back to Highbury though
b) what was the worst (you can name a few if you want) trips to Old Trafford
Just the games where we turned up beaten before we took the pitch there’s so many they merge into one. There have been some spankings but generally the whole feel about the place the whole theatre of dreams nonsense means it ain’t no place to lose believe me, you get a belly full of it. Last year was very VERY tough to take though I had to stand in the toilets for ten minutes at a time to get away from it and when we were going for the league and robins killed of the title dream
c) what lengths have you gone to get to the games
Always the first thing I do when the fixtures come out is check when is united away, it rules my year calendar. Many years up and down the M6 including a postponement, then in the middle of my finals from Surrey, then Cape Town straight from the airport we were three down before halftime, and Sydney to Heathrow changing plane and flying to Manchester and just managing kick off, think at least we scored! Must mention the first game after promotion when we took more than Liverpool had and they had to open an extra section, 1-1 and coming out Villa fans up Matt Busby as far as the eye could see. Special
d) will you ever return to Old Trafford?
I’ve said always that as soon as it’s done then that’s me and old trafford going their separate ways. I’m looking forward to not having it rule my year. But a big cup game or Villa needing a win, I’ll be there. There’s nothing like singing loud and proud at Old Trafford ‘And its Aston Villa.....’
5) MON... the messiah? Your thoughts
Randy and MON were the dream ticket and I’m still a subscriber. The five year plan I think we’re bang on it. My take, first year complete experiment just try some things and find out about club/personnel. Second year try for Europe miss out, thirds year try for Europe get it and maybe a cup run, next year try for chps league miss it but get Europe, following year get chps league. With a league cup during that window I think that’s the dream ticket. He dropped the ball with the UEFA last year, I think you under estimate Villa fans thirst for silverware at your peril. Open the programme read your honours no mention of finishing fourth.
6) Randy Lerner, just a little better than Doug I think? I'm presuming you don't miss the old protests?!?!?
I really believe in almost biblical terms we had to suffer to gain our salvation. As bigger ego Ellis had Lerner is the reverse. I actually mailed Pat Murphy when he was moaning about Lerner not speaking. It upsets the journos but after 30 years of Doug’s deceptive horseshit I don’t care, I really don’t.
Everything the new regime does have a class about it that reflects our heritage, everything the old regime did stank of crass self serving cheapness. People used to say why do you care about decor of the Holte suite/trinity road stand facia etc, I did because it was done in the name of Aston Villa and thats something the old regime never got.
Some couldn’t care less as long as the previous Saturday the team won for me I could never rest while the club was run like a corner shop and our great heritage was dragged through poundland. I’m proud of what we did but I don’t miss it one bit. I remember someone screaming in my face as we marched to protest ‘Support you club’, I thought, I am more than you’ll ever realise.
The day at the last Shareholders Association when news came through the ‘Ellis regime was over’* was one of the happiest of my supporting life. We instantly folded VFC and I don’t regret a second. I don’t delude myself that we caused what happened but we did our bit and the club is now in safe hands.
With great thanks to Nigel Ashford for doing this and also putting up with me for 3 decades !
(JPF: *The night of the last Shareholders Meeting we had our votes and concluded business then Sir Dennis of Mortimer was talking and I - sharp intake of breath - interrupted him and read out the text I'd just received. 'Takoever agreed, Ellis era over, details to follow'. There were grown men in tears that night and then myself, Nigel, Carl Chinn, Buck Chinn, Erod and his daughter, David C and I'm sure a few others I've rudely forgotten all got a bottle of champagne and went to the Holte End for a good sing song and celebration. Nights like that really don't come along very often and will linger long in the memory)