Something For The Weekend (104)
By Steve Wade
There's something about August, with its promise of the autumnal hints of September but weeks away, which excites the first traces of lost summer's lament and induces me to get a bit soppy about English holidays by the seaside - not for this week or next week even, but nestling cosily in my pristine filtered past. This consists of me remembering my parents doing the last minute packing, at some shiveringly early hour of the morning, as some huge moth bashed itself to death on the kitchen lightbulb, and the dawn began to break and parental anxieties built. Tensions usually brought to earth by the bane of childhood - the unjust bollocking, or the hurtful implication of congenital wickedness - just because the grown-ups were afraid. Adults always poop the party.
Our self-conscious and unconvincing attempt at playing happy families, never really got started until the last traces of smoky Brummie-town were behind us, somewhere south, where the fields began and with pater's Morris 8, chugging along at speeds likely to exceed 45 mph down the hills. Me and my fellow sib settling our bony arses into the narrow rear-seat under the itchy blanket and smiling benignly, like all good children should, at the passing bucolic mysteries, accompanied by a commentary on the wonders of wildlife and a list of road-kill. By the time I started to hear names such as Moreton-in-Marsh and Stow-on-the-Wold, called out by the chief navigator, I knew it was almost time for the baps to be broken out and the thermos-flask to demonstrate its magic trick. It was at this point that the venal sin of getting under mater's feet had been forgiven (until next time) and we were really on holiday. As they say, travelling in hope, really is the best bit.
Alas, there were many laborious hours to go before we eventually found that caravan at Bridport or Lyme Regis and got to reacquainted ourselves with the smell of Calor and the wonders of gas-mantles. But I tell you one thing, I never ever, ever, ever asked: 'Are we there yet?'
In those days the close season seemed a lot longer but in fact I think it has only been curtailed by a week - the feeling that it is shorter, might have something to do with seeing the end, as something not to look forward to, these days. But the point being, that, however long it is, Villa always seem to struggle to fit in their necessary business, in the time allowed and new signings seem to arrive later and later, if at all. This year's to-do list is somewhat longer and more onerous than usual and I hope Doug has at least got 'sell club' and 'sign new manager' written in bold capitals. I expect the list of players needed, will be written in that special ink that fades with time. But at least it looks like the new manager has now been sorted.
As I write it seems Martin O'Neal is about to accept the job of manager and I really hope it is true. Martin was the pundit's choice for the England job and should it come off, it would be a tremendous coup for Villa. Should the club change hands and the new owners, by means of a golden-hello, give him a few bob to work with, he must surely have to admit, that he will have the best job in football bar none. The list of positives is long. He would be in the unique position of being able to take the club to another level, with the added bonus of a bit of dough, no recent successful predecessor to be invidiously compared with and of course no meddling hand of Doug. He would be daft to turn it down and I have never thought he was daft.
Unlike most of the other rumoured candidates, I would have chosen Martin, simply because I know something about him and what I know I like. For me, he still has stuff to prove, as regards building a Premiership team, and neither his time at Leicester or at Celtic guarantees either success or attractive football. But there is no doubt about the quality of the man and whether it is his recent football punditry or his decision to stand by his wife, during her recent illness, the guy is a diamond. While Shearer was spouting his cliché-ridden football-speak, during the World Cup, Martin remained very much his own man and was notably immune to the naughty-schoolboy jibes of the ex-England captain. He's proven over and over again, his intelligence, maturity and strength of character. I can quite imagine him as some tough-as-old-boots priest, making some sinner quail with a single glance through those scholarly lenses of his. I am afraid to say, that I really like him, which isn't always easy to say about football managers.
Most of all, he seems bereft of the sort of vanity which was O'Leary's besetting weakness and John Gregory too, in my book. Martin is the sort of manager, who looks likely to rely on the tried and tested, and seems unlikely to be gambling the club's money on fancy headline-making exotica. There's a certain part of me, which can't help but want a bit of sex and glamour down Villa Park but its not really the best starting position for Villa, who must as always think long-term, and build slowly and sustainable. I have not thought so highly of a Villa manager since Brian Little arrived. Hopefully he will emulate Brian, in having the ability to nurture Villa's promising youngsters, while possessing the necessary inner-steel to handle the big egos when they arise.
So I welcome him with open arms.
This is brilliant news for all Villa fans and the only thing to really finish it all off, is for Lerner to make his bid and have it accepted. But like with most things, there have been too many false dawns at Villa, to have any faith in any hoped-for outcome and it is all getting a bit wearing. I have woken every day in recent weeks, with one question on my lips.
Are we there yet?