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'If It's Football, It's Vital'

Something For The Weekend (88)



By Steve Wade

It was interesting to hear Richard Hammond of Top Gear fame, being interviewed the other day. Apparently, he is one of those guys who women find gives them the hots, which is annoying, and he has some web-site dedicated to his total cuteness by some worshipping fans. But that is
neither here nor there, as it was what he had to say which took my interest, rather than his hamster features. He was explaining why he thought two women
head the table, for the fastest lap of the Top Gear track in their reasonably priced car - Jody Kid and Ellen McArthur.

True, there was an element of sucking-up to the ladies about it but it was hardly noticeable compared to Ben Elton's usual exhibitions of public self-castration.

'Its because they do what the Stig (Top Gear's faceless racing driver) tells them', he said; 'where most guys think they know it all and screw it up'. It sounds familiar I thought and a truism not too far from home, while I mentally noted various instances where I had come unstuck by doing my own thing, in defiance of accepted practise. Not my most happy thoughts, if I'm
honest, but in my own defence, in my case it is more down to genetic predisposition rather than bloody-minded defiance.

Knowing this, it is not surprising that I have unstinting admiration for those who by dint of steady application and their ability to stick to the plan, seem to achieve far more than their perceptible talents might suggest at the outset. But ultimately, I think that perhaps an ability to make sensible choices and show good stickability, is probably a talent in itself,
even if the honours and plaudits are generally handed out to those who possess rather more garish plumage.

My favourite example of those for which doing as they are told and staying with the plan comes totally natural, are the Ghurkha recruits from Nepal, who are legendary soldiers, despite their rather diminutive stature, and whose record of bravery and heroics provides a welcome antidote to all that British Grenadiers guff.

The memory which sticks in my mind and which induces a rather awe-struck chuckle of delight, is of a film I saw some years ago, where the British army had picked its men and was teaching them to swim (not a common skill
amongst landlocked Nepalese). The film showed a crocodile queue of these dauntless lads waiting at the top of a high board in some typical council swimming baths, and then on command were ordered to jump in, what must have been the deep end. They all jumped without the slightest hesitation.

What it showed was the absolute faith that these recruits had in their drill instructor, that he would not let them drown, and once in the water they did
exactly what they were told and were actually swimming in an amazingly short time. I couldn't help but compare my memories of the tears and water-wings approach, which characterized the swimming lessons of my British childhood. Although, to be honest, in those days, it always seemed that school gym teachers, saw drowning the odd snot of a kid, as just a perk of the job. But
that notwithstanding, the CO was then seen to explain to camera, that there is no better material to make a soldier than a Ghurkha. I couldn't help but agree.

So watching the Villa troops in action last Saturday as they manoeuvred up and down Hull's pitch in more or less text-book formation, I could see O'Leary's plan at work and I began to understand his habit of crushing egos,
with all that 'honest bunch of lads' guff, which can seem so annoying, for a fan wanting to hear what a great team he supports. It just seemed that he sees keeping his lads in check and getting them to play within his system, is the only possible way to maximise the points-yield from his rather meagre resources. And, the last thing he wants is a loose cannon to break rank and
expose the whole team.

Even though Villa showed far more quality than Hull, which you would expect, individually it was far from an error-free performance from the Villa lads but whenever they gave the ball away, which was quite often, there was
usually a team-mate in the right position to cut out the danger, which was only made possible by disciplined positional play, something even more important, when you have just endured a Christmas programme, likely to sap
even the most youthful of legs.

In the end it was a very professional and controlled performance all round, which ran in defiance of the hopes and expectations of both the broadcasters and the watching neutral fans. No player looked outstanding for Villa but every player could look to his mates and know that each and every one of them had done his job. It was far from the Roy of the Rovers stuff, the fans still dream of, but it is a very decent starting position for building team spirit and the right sort of approach, they will definitely need to get them through the next three months, as other clubs spend millions to try and get an advantage over a club who will spend nothing.

This is not how it was supposed to be and according to my own early-season fantasy, Villa should have changed ownership a couple of weeks ago and the fans should be enjoying the new owners' golden hello, right now, as players of renowned quality arrive every couple of weeks. But alas, it seems that my prayers, got misdirected and Portsmouth are getting all the goodies meant for Villa.

Instead the papers tell their stories of doom, which are then followed by reassurances from those involved, that negotiations continue, while I am left to be consoled by certain waggish acquaintances, who like to tell me
that their very own existence, was the result of a once rumoured, successful Irish withdrawal, which after only a short wait proved not to be the case.

Cue - big Irish grin.

In the meantime, Villa have a very interesting game against West Ham, which should they win, might actually take them into the top half of the table but should they lose, especially in the manner of the Upton Park encounter, they will seem to confirm their status as strugglers. So come Saturday night I fully expect to be either talking about Europe, relegation, or even both.
But no doubt, whatever the result, the pessimists will see reason to stay pessimistic and the optimists will still feel optimistic.

When it comes to the fans, you can always be sure that they'll keep the same formation, however the battle is going.
The Journalist

Writer: J P Fear Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Saturday January 14 2006

Time: 11:39AM

 

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