Something For The Weekend (87)
By Steve Wade
I was very glad to resume the mindless numbing routine this week and feel the sensory deprivation, which is the lot of me and my fellow droids, wash away the last vestiges of the emotional obstacle course which the tradition of Christmas has habitually become; happy to have survived, even if a little bit fatter and perhaps a little more sadly wise, but still very aware that it is a very long haul through the depths of Winter, until it will be possible to start thinking about longer days and the hope of Spring.
It was the usual Christmas in front of the telly and finding wisdom and consolation in short supply from my kith and kin, I had to look for it there. Or, more precisely, it actually found me, like some fairy godmother or guardian angel. I was not only not looking, I actually avoided the stuff that it has been the tradition for me to watch. So, there was no Casablanca; no Its a Wonderful Life; and definitely no Bishop's Wife; as I attempted to avoid those bear-traps which hope habitually falls into and onto a bed of spikes.
Instead it was left to Fletcher, possibly the greatest comic philosopher of all time, to provide the best thirty seconds of Christmas consolation seen. There he was sitting up in bed, in the medical wing of Slade prison, having won his little battle, and was eating his HMP Christmas dinner, with the sort of relish not seen in the free world, since Dawn French met her last plate of buns. A fine example, I thought, of the stoic art and a reminder that the spirit of Captain Correlli lives on. The same sort of defiance and unquenchable human spirit you can hear from the audience, on Johnnie Cash at Folsom Prison - those guys cheering always gives me a lift.
And, then a film to add to my shelf marked 'therapy', which includes Harvey, Groundhog Day and The Treasure of Sierra Madre. This came in the form of David Lynch's Straight Story, which is as sentimental as Blue Velvet is not.
The fairly persistent message being: just keep going and every now and then stop and take a look up at the stars, which is just what you need when there are seven or eight weeks before you can even start thinking of Spring.
As for looking up at the stars, there aren't many at Villa these days but those they do have certainly sparkled over the holiday fixtures. O'Leary suddenly found his critical-mass (no not the fans) coincided with the right fixtures and what with a goal-fest against Everton, a 3-3 draw against Fulham and then an unexpected stalemate against the Arsenal, confidence was high going into the Baggies game and they should have made the score more convincing. Suddenly the lousy run of bad luck with penalties was reversed and they emerged with enough points to make continued Premiership football look rather more likely than it has done for a very long time.
With Villa looking a bit better at the back, Brian McBride's exhibition in heading notwithstanding, O'Leary's team began to look like they might end the season with a positive goal-difference, after crashing in four against Everton and stifling Arsenal. At last Milan Baros is beginning to look like he might pay back the fee, after scoring three and making at least two, as he belied his head-down reputation by providing slide-rule passes (kids - ask your dad what a slide-rule is) for both Luke Moore and Juan Pablo Angel to run on to. The latter prompting such enthusiastic thanks from Villa's struggling Columbian, that it very much looked like tongues were involved - such was the misfiring striker's gratitude. Baros might not be the butchest Czech alive, not while Martina Navratilova is still breathing anyway, but he's still a very decent little player. Although, if it wasn't for the zillion chances Crespo managed to squander over the holiday, some might say that he might have scored a few more.
It was indeed a very encouraging Christmas programme for the Villa fans but no one is kidding themselves, that things are going to get any easier, especially as Villa's on-off takeover, makes the signing of reinforcements, at the very least, look very unlikely. With such a small squad, Villa are only a couple of crucial (or is it crutiate?) injuries away from disaster; and you don't have to be a negative, pessimistic, moaning, greeting (thanks Gordon) Brummie to reach this conclusion. While Villa's fellow competitors and natural peers will be signing reinforcements Villa will not.
As it always seems the case at Villa, whether they are building a stand or sorting out the training ground, things always take longer than any other club. And, while Villa's takeover turns into a saga, the Portsmouth chairman simply looked-up 'Russian billionaires' in the Yellow Pages and the job was done. I am not saying that it is a job that should be rushed but due diligence is beginning to look like due dithering. Even so, I still think that Chairman Doug will want to see his 'greatest achievement' and his 'pride and joy', continue to enjoy the sort of financial stability, which has been the mark of his tenure - football success per se has never been what motivates him. Even with so-many millions in the bank, an unstable Aston Villa would seem like his lifetime's work being flushed down the tubes. As we have found this season, there is an awful lot to be said for Premiership mediocrity, as opposed to Championship mediocrity. When you see Coventry get a crowd of 14000 in their splendid new ground, you begin to perceive the depth of the blackhole.
It's with this in mind that tomorrow's chilly trip to Hull, is rather a low priority in my list of concerns. With any escape route seemingly cut off from them, as regards recruiting reinforcements, Villa need to return
unscathed from a fixture, which tradition and a sense of romance, tends to give the underdogs a certain amount of licence not seen in the Premiership.
No doubt I will be just as miserable as last years defeat by Sheffield, should Villa be particularly poor but I have no doubt what my priorities are and I take nothing for granted.
If I am going to look up to the stars, at least let them be in the same division as the Villa.