There's No Place Like Home...
Before last night, I hadn`t been to a home game at Villa Park since our 1-1 draw with Litex Lovech when Marlon Harewood scored the opener.
Before last night, I hadn`t been to a league game at Villa Park since our 2-1 win over Everton in 1997-98, with Savo Milosevic and Ugo Ehiogu cancelling out a Gary Speed penalty.
I haven`t had the luxury of being able to go to Villa Park as frequently as I`d liked, for various reasons, but after recent performances and results I decided that I needed to answer the call. My heart has been breaking all season, but last night I believed I could do something about it. I grabbed my cousin, told him I would cover his ticket as he couldn`t afford it (I paid for both tickets out of mine and my fiancee`s holiday fund - now £43 less than it was) and off we went.
45 minutes before kick-off we arrived, and Villa Park was a different place to the one I remember as a young lad. There weren`t huge numbers of claret and blue warriors with places to go. There was no singing, no cheer. The place was like a ghost town. Understandable given the current situation, but I thought there would be more hustle and bustle than there was. We grabbed a steak burger for £3.80 from the stand between the Holte and Trinity Road (best burger I`ve ever had from a burger stand, by the way), had a quick scoff and got into the ground.
We took our seats in Holte L2 with a real buzz of anticipation. "We`re gonna win this," we told each other. "2-1, 3-1, yeah, we`ll do it." Then kick-off came and the belief was there that we would achieve something tonight, from the fans and seemingly the players too. Heskey was our most influential player. The Holte was buzzing, breathing, encouraging the lads towards the goal, and it was working.
hen something amazing happened. In the 61st minute Stephen Warnock did his best goal-poacher impression and put one away in front of the Holte. It felt like the roof was gonna come off the place, we were that ecstatic. Then when I sat back down, it was 2-1. The last 61 minutes had just been undone. Mr Hyde`s potion had worn off, and the beast that once was became Dr Jekyll again, a meek man with an extremely feeble amount of willpower and courage. In short, the Premier League team I knew and loved became a pub team. This lasted for the rest of the game.
The supporters have gotten a lot of stick for not backing the team when things have been going wrong. Last night, for 80 minutes until the players stopped trying, the support was spot on. Speaking for myself, my throat is raw as hell due to the amount of singing I did, and I rarely stopped. Neither did anyone else. Only when they realised that they`d paid so much money to feel short-changed again did the atmosphere become tense and irate. This was then directed towards the dugout.
We were waiting for our lift home and decided to go round to the car park to check out the players leaving. Some good souls stuck around to sign autographs before shooting off. Quite a few ignored the fans` pleas for a signature; Charles N`Zogbia, Gabby and Fonz to name a few. The sheer arrogance of men who get paid ridiculous money and can't even be bothered to take time out for the people who make their lifestyle possible. Heskey was good enough to trot over and scribble on a piece of paper for me. Players who looked genuinely gutted after the performance; Given, Warnock, Weimann, Albrighton, Bannan. Sid Cowans also made time for the fans but looked as gutted as the rest of us felt. My cousin even managed to get a couple of words of support from Owen Coyle. My cousin: "Don`t take us down with you." Owen Coyle: "Don`t worry, you`ll be alright." Top man. Let`s hope he`s right in 3 games` time.
So in one night, my view of Aston Villa was broken. On one hand, I am a passionate fan who was heartbroken to see his formerly confident, supreme-passing, home-scoring claret and blue machine reduced to that of a Sunday league team level. On another hand, I spent £43 to watch half a moderately entertaining football match. On a third hand, I need to justify that money by accumulating more into my holiday fund. I fully understand and agree with every supporter who disagrees with paying the astronomical figures for tickets and season tickets just to be disappointed every week. On a sidenote, seeing that the defeat hurt some of the players showed that some of them do really care about doing well for the club and aren`t just picking up a pay cheque (N`Zogbia). It also made me think even more about the cause of the problem.
I have previously been of an open mind about McLeish as Aston Villa manager. Not directly opposed to him, but not wholly supporting either. I can see arguments as to why he could be good for us, but after last night I have no doubt that the man has 42,000 impossible mountains to climb, and with good reason. After the performance last night, it`s clear that there is no confidence in the manager from the players. If there was, surely we`d have won more games than we`ve drawn/lost. The players aren`t totally blameless either; despite their opinion of the manager and his tactical stance, they all know how to play football. They know how to pass and they know how to shoot. They are either excellent at pretending they don`t, or we really have got some rebuilding to do in the summer. Either way, it is time for the board to recognise that they made a mistake in appointing McLeish, and it is time for McLeish to recognise that he has taken on too big a challenge with Aston Villa. He may well be a nice guy, we hear this so much, but nice guys finish last. Let`s hope that it is 17th, at the very least.