Something For The Weekend (103)
By Steve Wade
One of the recurring lessons, which seems to be a permanent feature on the syllabus of the University of Life, is that some things come a bit too late, if at all. The chances are, that most people are at their richest, the day after it is too late to spend it. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the girl with the body to die for, which you loved beyond distraction in your youth, will wait until you are well beyond the powers of Viagra, before she confesses that she'd always had a soft spot for you. Not the sort of news likely to soothe your throbbing self-inflicted carpal tunnel syndrome, in your dotage. Good news in the Summer of '69, can sound like mockery in the Winter of 2009.
So when the news broke this week, that several bids had come in for the purchase of Villa, and the likelihood of Ellis actually selling the club improved by the odd percentile; hopes were raised but not by much. It quickly became apparent that for all those who had cancelled their season-tickets in recent years, on the proviso that they would not renew until Doug Ellis was gone (and there are literally thousands), that it was all happening a bit too late - the dream is dead and beyond revival. Killed, murdered and destroyed by the selfishness of you-know-who, and never likely to see life again. Click your heels as much as you like, no one is going back to Kansas little Toto.
There was even a little panic, as many, actually thought they might be reminded of their old promises to return once the Deadly one had gone. Appeal to their sentiment all you like - retell the old tales of pride and tears in the Third Division. Recount the tale of European glory against all the odds. Mention the golden names. Number the golden moments. Do what you like - the old dreams may still excite a flicker of their dead Villa souls but the present reality is a killer. High prices, over-paid and pampered lethargic players; games on every day of the week except Saturday. Cold winter nights in coughing creeping traffic-jams. Arriving home late, too stressed-out to sleep. Feeling shit in the morning. And all for what? To buy some piece of human dirt in a football shirt, a new pair of diamond earrings? Or, to provide the soundtrack for the benefit of the television audience. Its a crap reality and it doesn't compare very favourably with a night in front of the box, with a shot of cocoa in your Villa mug, the channel-changer and your twinkle-toes nestling cosily in your Villa slippers. A few years off, from the undiluted live experience, and it is going to take something really special to drag them back again.
Its going to take Ben Kingsley's character out of Sexy Beast, to persuade them to come out of retirement and probably with the same result.
So I tend to think that appeals to moribund sentiment are not going to work. For Villa to start filling the ground again, they need to attract new customers, not try and bring back the old ones and there's only one way to do that - build the mystique of the club and put money on the pitch where the fans can see it. Leave all the sentimental bollocks to the granddads who don't go any more and leave them to their dreams of the smell of Dubbin and cheap rates for Servicemen; Villa need to think 21st Century and not 19th. Kids don't nag their parents for a pair of McGregor boots, they want the latest big brand stuff and they want the same from their football team. A kid wants to be able to hold his head up and wear his shirt with pride, with knowledge that his team can win something this century, not the last. This will take a lot of dough and the sort of vision which is capable of lifting the oppressive gloom, which is Ellis's real legacy. A Villa shirt should be a prestige item and not the equivalent of a pair of Lidl trainers.
This will take big bucks and being able to afford to buy the club is not enough, its how much change you have left which counts.
The only way forward is to build Villa into a world brand and a football powerhouse. Any plan based on picking your staff, on whether a person once wore the shirt, looks destined to fail. What they need, is the best professionals available - anything else is a step backwards and a mere continuation of what has been a failed business-plan.
At this point, I find the Neville bid the least attractive, for one very important reason: a man who always insists on being interviewed in his garden, is obviously ashamed of his furniture. If he's got MFI furniture, perhaps he fancies building an MFI Villa?
But good furniture or bad - I am not sure whether it is good news arriving too late.