Something For The Weekend (101)
By Steve Wade
You never give me your money, you only give me your funny papers.....
Well folks, it's that time of year again, when those habituated to their Villa fix, must start thinking up some feasible excuse for renewing their season-ticket. The real problem is trying to explain to those who have spent the past ten months listening to the moaning, whinging and bleating, that perhaps, you might just 'give it one more go'. In fact, giving it one more go, or giving the manager, the chairman, that centre-half, or that misfiring forward, that one last chance, has kept some Villa fans going for thirty, or even forty years and longer. And, I am sure that even as certain fans are being lowered gently into their boxes, with the beloved scarf around their withered necks, they will still be giving it one more chance. But those who make it to a claret and blue urn or similarly decorously adorned coffin, are a glorious elite and a tragically small minority. The rest are all mouth and tacky Villa knick-knacks. Most people who take on the guise of Villa fanatic never quite make it a lifetime commitment and they are more likely to stick to a hair-style longer than actually going down the Villa.
Is being a Villa supporter these days, the same as once being a Duran Duran or Rollers fan? Is it just a phase to get through?
For Villa fans the burn-out rate is horrendous and the trouble is that I have never heard anything less than a totally convincing argument from an ex-Villan at any time or in any era, as to why, he/she wasn't going to bother this time round. Its not as though they need an excuse but I suppose if you are going to go from presenting yourself as loyal follower to outraged and disillusioned backslider, then it is best if you can explain yourself, even if it is only to salve your own vanity. When you suddenly stop believing, surely there has to be a reason for it? But was there any reason to believe in the first place?
Of course, at Villa the fans have a longer list of ready-made excuses than just about every other club STILL in the Premiership and they have to be grateful to Mr. Ellis for that at least. But the numbers actually don't stack up and the factors which determine how many loyal supporters Villa can rely on, actually have very little to do with whether the chairman is a bum, or the manager's an arsehole; or, even what division the club is in, or, what sort of football they are being expected to watch.
So whatever the reasons given or how brilliant the argument, as to why they must drop out this time round, the fact is that those who do drop out, and many will, are merely doing what thousands have done before them, under better and even under worse circumstances and there will be nothing unique about this year's fallers. Just more brummies who lost heart.
Villa may look with envy at Man City's fans or even Newcastle's but whatever qualities the fans of those clubs have, it is mostly absent in the claret and blue city. Even with a million souls on their doorstep and many millions more in the football deserts beyond, Villa can never find more than a few to support them. It has to be accepted that enthusiasm, spirit and loyalty do not come easily to people of Birmingham. Changing the chairman, the manager, or half the team, will not substantially alter that fact.
The club can only ever be as big as the number of fans willing to make visiting Villa Park a habit.
The numbers are quite fascinating. Villa had better crowds at the start of their second season in the old Division Three, than they did for the opening of the season when they last won the league championship. For the first five home games of the 1971-72 season Villa averaged 25,507 and for the championship season of 1980-81, they averaged 25,097. Even in the year (92-93) when football was at its absolute peak in terms of popularity and when the team under big Ron was playing some of the best football seen in the post-war era, the opening five home fixtures, only attracted an average of 24,230.
It doesn't take a genius to work out that there is little basis for thinking Villa are a big club. It doesn't take much imagination to conclude that Villa were better off, in business terms (costs as a ratio of income) when they were in the Third Division, than when they were the best team in the First and then in Europe.There seems very little basis to believe that substantial investment would lead to anything except, marginal increases in attendances and crippling debt. It is not surprising that there seems to be a shortage of takers for Ellis's £64m fire-sale.
Is Villa now seen as a poisoned chalice?
So for all those who are busy rehearsing their excuses, as to why it has suddenly all become unbearable, you are wasting your time and your breath. And, be warned, all those contemplating taking French leave; that despite the many empathic smiles and nods of understanding, ultimately the judgement will be harsh. Get Perry Mason as your lawyer and get the Pope as a character-witness, no matter, history will only say one thing; that you lost your bottle and that perhaps you were beginning to show your age. Just another Villa pilgrim who lost their way.
Given the facts about the extent of the support and the reality of just how big the club is, you can't help but think that the delusions about Villa are destructive and have a big negative effect on the drop-out rate of the fans. Its possible that a lot of players become victims of this as well, as they are unfairly compared with players at richer and bigger clubs. Perhaps if the fans had a more realistic view, they would be less prone to frustration and disillusionment. Maybe if they could grasp the reality, they would enjoy being a fan more and suffer less from the glass-half-empty syndrome, which spoils everything the club ever achieves and turns what should be celebration into a bitter sense of disappointment that there club is not Man United or Liverpool. Perhaps if you can't change the reality, you have to change your perception.
And in the middle of the celebrations you breakdown.....