Something For The Weekend (94)
By Steve WadeI couldn't help but think of that Jewish joke this week. The one about the mother walking with her cherished son along the beach, when a huge wave comes along and washes the precious lad away. He completely disappears. Just taken from her in a moment; gone forever. The woman throws herself down on her knees and raises her hands in prayer. 'Please God', she cries, 'I beg you. I beseech you. I will do anything, just give me my little son back; he is the only thing that matters to me in the whole world'. The next second, a huge wave crashes onto the beach and deposits her little son at her feet. She looks up angrily at the heavens and snaps, 'He was wearing a hat!'.
The Villa fans were a bit like that, this week, after some crucial results went their way last weekend, not least their own, and their Premiership status, at last, began to look assured. They woke up Monday morning and
started asking what happened to Europe. Suddenly their team was as good as Arsenal. Suddenly, after a long doubt-filled season, during which there were several times when they looked to have caught the dreaded relegation lurgy, they were top-six material.
Speaking personally, there were times when I thought they looked more like gonners than gunners.
Relegation is something I have grown rather too used to over the years, and the symptoms of which, I recognise all too readily. What with having their arses well and truly kicked by lower-league opposition (and I mean a
size-twelve straight up the bum-hole), having the squad decimated by injury and then giving away, God knows how many penalties in successive matches; the writing was on the wall.
The writing said: 'Villa are s**t!'.
Actually, s**t is not quite the right word because the relegation experience, is never actually that glaring unless you are Sunderland. The relegation lurgy is always rather indistinct in the onset and is a bit like
a cross between bad cooking and poorly played music - all the right ingredients but not necessarily in the right order. The team destined for the drop starts to have a certain look about it. There's always loads of
effort but its misdirected effort and with almost no positive outcome.
Managers start talking about 'hard work' but you know that when the phrase 'hard work' gets used, the guy hasn't a clue and you better get used to it. The most distressing symptom of all, is that, on the rare occasions when the team actually plays the best its ever going to play, one individual mistake will cost the team the game.
Villa have had most of these symptoms, on and off, over the season, and I'm sure that when my ring-piece began to twitter, it did not twitter alone.
Now that things are looking rather better I can feel nothing but relief. Reading all that stuff about Peter Osgood last week, I was reminded of just how getting stuck in the lower divisions, completely detaches a team from the history that matters. And seeing Chelsea's 1970 FA cup success, reminded me of how remote the First Division and Cup Final day seemed back then, when Villa (I believe) were looking forward to life in the old Third Division. Playing Bournemouth and Huddersfield might have been as thrilling as any other big game can be (sic!) but Villa were a million miles away from the
real glamour and the best players of the day.
It's a sad reality.
My memories are happy but I am still incredibly relieved Villa have survived, a close run thing. When I see the sort of world-class stuff that Solano has produced lately, with shots, passes and free-kicks sublime; and I
see no one in the Villa team is even capable of going close. When I am told that Sam Allardice has fourteen backroom staff at Bolton and Tottenham have five players in an England team, I just think that that gulf is beginning to emerge again. I look at Villa individually and as a team and I think that if they have under-performed and maybe they have, they have only under-performed by a few points. Three, four, six points at the most - is the measure of O'Leary's failure.
Rubbing shoulders with Arsenal? I don't think so.
If you start to take into consideration, factors such as the actual promise of a takeover (deal done by Christmas) distracting everyone at the club and then the failure of reinforcements to arrive in the transfer-window, when the team were absolutely desperate for a central-defender, then the relative failure seems to be absolutely minimal. It has been a season of survival
A collection of rather unsexy winter draws.
Most of all, Villa have to look to Birmingham City when it comes to offering the most gratitude because should they have had the desire, they could have made it a lot more difficult for Villa, in this season of stasis and atrophy (the only one we're likely to get). With Villa paralysed, due to the impending takeover and with O'Leary hardly enjoying the best of times with injuries, it should have been the season they punished their formerly aristocratic rivals from across the city. Birmingham City are as rich as Croesus (ten times as much doug(h) as Doug?) and unless w**king suddenly
goes out of fashion, which seems unlikely, they will continue to get richer.
Why they are forced to survive on the sc**ps of has-beens and care-in-the-community cases, I have no idea. And certainly, a couple of ambitious signings, could have made Villa's life very much more difficult, if not impossible.
Luckily their big bold venture turned out to be DJ Campbell and not Darren Bent.
Seeing the blue-noses talking on the telly the other week and saying how they would swap five years in the Championship for a single 'day out' to Cardiff (not actually winning notice), had me scratching my head. Its one thing to have a solid and stoical understanding of the true state of your club but to express it publicly in such terms, seemed to be just a bit sad and certainly left the City board sitting pretty. For once I could see the benefit of the Villa fans' tendency for perennial dissatisfaction. And if you never complain, how are things going to improve?
Accepting your future is in the Championship may arise from a firm grasp of reality but it seems a bit pusillanimous to me. What happened to: Do not go gently into the long goodnight? Where was the rage? Where was the passion?
The Villa fans know as well as their manager, that should they accept their lot and silently endure the famine, then there are those who will assume, while patting themselves on the back, that things are just as they should be. While O'Leary takes every opportunity to remind his chairman that he is operating on meagre rations, the fans remind the manager that they have seen
better football produced on a lesser budget. For reasons which are hard to fathom, Villa's manager thinks it is perfectly acceptable for him to do it but unreasonable for the fans.
A bit strange this.
It is not difficult to decide who is actually more guilty of ignoring the reality, when left to choose between those who have had the situation spelt out to them by the chairman, and those who are fed fantasies about ambition through the media.
I forgot to mention - the boy was wearing a Villa hat.