Writer: Chris Heath
Date:Tuesday April 24 2012
Not lemons, but maybe Fieldy! Chris Heath has interviewed our illustrious leader to aide his University studies, and it's a jolly good read even if I do say so myself. A bit personal, a bit Villa and a bit Vital - what more could you want whilst we try and forget there's a game tonight! MF
A strange twist in life can bring the best out of you, Jonathan Fear`s own words of how he went from having a degree in Government and Politics to becoming a respected award winning sports writer.
'A totally strange twist in life to be honest, I`d just finished a degree in Government and Politics when I was took ill with a brain disease. I realised I needed to do things from home and having not fully recovered, I started thinking about getting a computer.'
This is where Jonathan`s journey into journalism began, but I wondered who exactly would I be interviewing? Someone to match the stereotype of somebody with a degree in Government and Politics; well groomed and spoken, or a journalist who are, nowadays, seen like the plague to some.
Far from the stereotype of a politician, he wore the claret and blue of Aston Villa, signifying the team he supports and the team that surrounds his career.
Bold, witty and looking full of facts, he looked like a fan who knew his history but more importantly looked like somebody who was living the dream job of writing about the team he supported and admired.
The journey that was Vital Villa began when Jonathan joined holteenders.com and started writing for them:
'I just Googled and found Holteenders first. I started contributing and Mike Field (administrator) noticed a talent (LOL) when he saw one and got me writing on the front page.
'I got frustrated with the old.com because of the invasions on the forum by bluenoses, so with Mike, set up an independent holteenders.co.uk and from there, we decided to branch out and hence Vital Network was born.
'It also set me up in a business, it isn`t just Vital Villa, I co-own the entire Vital Network which is the largest fans network going.'
So after what some could call 'a big decision` what was next on the agenda after deciding to tackle the proverbial beast that was journalism. With an obvious passion for football, what else interested the life-long fan:
'Football and music is where my passion lies but I find I can turn my hand to most subjects, but if you write about a passion it is so much better as the words just flow.'
The next step was to build on the achievement of the ever growing incarnations of his Villa website and forge a mutually beneficial relationship (where appropriate) with the club itself. As J walked through the doors that started opening for him following his involvement with the Villa Fans Combined group (VFC), he was able to start associating with high profile figures at the club such as Chairman Randy Lerner, former CEO Richard FitzGerald and later Paul Faulkner, as well as heroes like Ian Taylor, Dennis Mortimer, Tony Morley etc.
Associations like this benefit the club but more importantly the fansite gains because it can provide unbiased feedback; opinions; anger; happiness and over the years J has played his part in doing just that. Whilst not every complaint can be acted on, having a working relationship has allowed many issues to be taken on board and fixed. Rather than just being a 'voice` online, the fansite can exist and improve the club they love.
J`s involvement with the VFC saw him help head a campaign against Doug Ellis and share duels at Villa AGM`s thanks to becoming the Chairman of the Aston Villa Shareholders Association:
'That was my first experience of meeting such people; in the early days a few of us had a board meeting with Doug, Steve Stride and Mark Ansell. It was, how shall I say? Interesting!
'As time went on, I had the pleasure of meeting other people associated with the club and I must admit I was nervous when I took Dennis Mortimer to a game; I just kept thinking I`d get tongue tied or not know what to say. Total rubbish obviously, we had a common interest in football and got on very well, we still do. I don`t forget what an honour it is to have been able to get so involved in the club I love and to meet so many fantastic people.
'The protest days were interesting but tiring. One of the best parts was the small role I played in advising a few of the interested parties on takeovers. Those were exciting times and that led to good relations with the new owner. I had good relations with different departments previously but it`s never been better and means fan complaints can really be listened to and fixed.'
With the more than controversial appointment of Alex McLeish at the start of the season, Villa Park attendances have dropped. J himself was quoted as saying the appointment was 'mission impossible` - but once appointed, he, like others tried to be positive, but sadly what was feared has happened as the season progressed:
'I`m disappointed that some feel so strongly as to stay away, however, the way this season has gone, I can only see that getting worse. I`m tired of the lazy journalism accusing fans of not liking Alex because of his Blues connection. You only have to look at how we`ve played and capitulated this season to know the real reason. McLeish appears to be presiding over our worst ever home record.
'A few of us met him in the summer, he was calm, assured and he was chuffed to be here, so proud! That was refreshing compared to Houllier`s Liverpool love in the season before. In our heart of hearts most knew this just wasn`t the right appointment and he wouldn`t be accepted unless he gave us a great season, but even then it was a big ask for some. All he has done sadly is prove his negative football reputation to be right.
'It`s a shame he ever came really, it`s been a PR disaster but hey, it`s done now; the next step is to see if this mistake can be corrected ready for next season.'
On moderating the forums on Vital Villa, obviously it`s nothing of an easy task when fans are as riled up as they currently are with the situation at Villa and J instantly acknowledged it:
'They`ve made a massive mistake in appointing Alex McLeish and to be fair, McLeish a mistake in taking the job, fans aren`t at all happy with the current situation - I don`t think anger has ever been higher. There was a report the other day saying a director of football and a new manager will be coming in. I hope that`s true, I think it would re-energise the fan base and I`m sure we`d all mostly move on from this wretched time. However, I fear he has the summer to spend and then until Christmas to 'prove` himself as suggested by a different paper! Let`s be honest, none of us know what Randy will decide.'
Moving away from the current turmoil at Villa, I wanted to know what was behind the ability to create a network like this, especially whilst battling health issues.
'It`s been my own-self-belief despite all my health setbacks along with a couple of decent chance meetings with people who have the skills that I don`t have and a bit of luck along the way which has brought about a network with over 1 million unique users at our peak.'
So I wondered, what was next for the man who played a part in bringing Vital Football to the masses.
'We launched Vital F1 last year and Vital Cricket more recently. Sites can be slow to build but I`ve put great editors in charge. I would like to launch a Vital Music at some stage.'
J had already commented on the strange twists in his life that have helped lead him to his current position, but there was another twist back in 2008 when he won Best Editor at the New Football Pools Fanzine Awards, The New Football Pools and UK`s leading football research expert. The Football Fans Census award was designed to celebrate the writing skills and editorial talent which have created the football fanzine phenomenon.
Asked about how it felt to win such an award J smirked:
'I must admit when I was first told I ran down the street naked. I thought I'd won the new football pools and was dreaming of how I'd spend the million, but seriously, I thought it was great to have made the shortlist, but feel very proud to have won as I was up against some very tough competition. There, and you all just thought I was a madman. Now it's official, I'm the best madman in town.'
Whilst it`s clear J takes plenty of things in life seriously, it doesn`t appear taking himself too seriously is one of them. Maybe that`s a quality we all need in life and maybe that`s why he`s been able to take each 'strange twist` as it has come in his life and made it successful?
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Date:Tuesday April 24 2012
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