Something For The Weekend (408)
It is not actually possible to avoid getting stuff you don't want at Christmas time but some gifts just surpass all others when it comes to prompting the desire to deprive them of house-room. Others can be downright insulting.
Gladly, Christmas is one thing which has definitely improved since the old days, and not only has the hideous Christmas jumper been given ironic status, so they can be worn without shame, these days, some people actually include the receipt with their offerings, which allows people to take the gift back to the shop, should granny or granddad want to swap their fishnets and basque, for a bigger size, at Ann Summers or the lingerie department of Villa Village Store.
Therefore, it was no surprise that there were queues stretching to Witton island from the Villa shop this week, as countless fans brought back their holiday defeats and tried to swap them for a smaller size. The most unpopular item, as might be expected, was the eight-nil defeat by Chelsea, which fans were demanding should be swapped for a five or a six-nil, which they were saying, was still too big but slightly more acceptable.
Of course, receipt or no receipt, Villa's unhappy customers got absolutely nowhere, and even those who were trying to swap an only slightly over-sized Spurs' four-nil defeat for a three-nil, or the Wigan three-nil defeat for a respectable one-nil, were turned away unconsoled and mostly in tears.
There were a lot of cries of, 'we won't wear it', but it just looks like we will have to; like it or not.
Obviously, there is not much to like about such an ugly blot on Villa's record and the fans' seem to be seeking their main source of consolation by trying to find someone to blame. The candidates range from Randy Lerner and Paul Faulkner, to every manager right up to the present incumbent. This is very gratifying but it actually doesn't get you very far or is very productive, even though there is a lot to be said for a good dose of righteous chest-beating.
I have my own list of favourites which seems to change according to the day of the week. And of course, since I read John Lerwill's book, Aston Villa: The First Superclub, I have increased my options when it comes to candidates for taking the blame.
Obviously Kaiser Wilhelm II is on the list for starting World War One, which changed everything for Villa but I don't think it was anything personal. However, the thing which really keeps me awake at night, is raving about the person who sold Clem Stephenson to Huddersfield, who once appointed as club captain allowed Herbert Chapman to build his reputation, which ultimately resulted in Arsenal's emergence and Villa's eclipse in the 1930's. Probably the most significant turning-point in Villa's history, as far as I am concerned.
Widen the time-frame when looking at Villa history, and there are just too many things to get mad about, which actually put present candidates into a flattering light.
Trawl through Villa's history and plot their decline and the guilty men are many. Wars and economic recessions dog the club's efforts to recover from their periodic bouts of self-neglect. The economic collapse of 2008 is just one of many which have thwarted the club's better efforts at growing the brand.
From the 1973 energy crisis onwards, through the 1980's and 1990's recessions, we see Villa's fortunes decline, with the local economy.
This is not the first time the world economy has scuppered Villa, on the verge of what looked like a mighty leap forward. Unfortunately, Randy Lerner's wealth wasn't spent, it went to the same place as the 20% most people have lost on the value of their houses since 2007.
Oh yes, and Paul Lambert is a very good manager, who is only guilty of a little bit too much hubris; so no good fussing about that.
Therefore with all other candidates eliminated from my investigation, there is only one suspect remaining, and that would be the media.
It seems no coincidence that Villa's slump in form, from the rampant vanquishers of Norwich and Liverpool to the cannon-fodder of Chelsea, Spurs and Wigan, came after they started to get praise and love in the media, from the newspapers to the punditry on Match of The Day. Having prematurely booked their passage on the relegation express, they went the other way entirely and praised them equally disproportionately, which seems to have freaked the whole squad out, and has left Lambert and the fans totally bemused.
As all good parents, teachers and leaders of men know, too much praise can be as toxic as too much criticism.
In fact most people tend to err on the safe side and withhold praise altogether, rather than risk triggering the complacency which praise all too often engenders. For those who have lived a life where praise has been withheld, a sudden dose of praise can completely discombobulate them altogether. Top football managers will know exactly how much praise is right for every member of his squad, and will know those who will be ruined by too much and those who will be ruined by too little.
Then there is the fact that people are in perpetual denial about their need for praise and resent it when they get it because they see it as an accusation that they are the type of vain and weak person, who needs praise. They often come out with some totally unconvincing speech about how they know when they have been good and don't need anyone else to tell them. They are usually unaware that they seem to be seeking praise for not needing praise. Resenting the doubters from the past is also a common reaction and a destructive distraction.
So it can be seen that the sort of emotions which a sudden big dose of praise can produce, especially for those who are not used to it, can take an athlete out of the zone and into the distracting mental state where they are likely to choke or panic.
It seems likely that learning to deal with the praise which ensues from proving themselves good enough to play in the Premiership, is something that Lambert's players were always going to have to face up to, in their journey to fully-fledged top-flight players.
Obviously, all this can be managed and dealt with within the football bubble but it is just not possible to control the influence of praise by the media on players. It becomes a one-size-fits-all blanket of unqualified praise, which is well-known to distract players and rarely does it make them better.
Happily, Villa enjoy a respite from their Premiership woes this weekend, as they take on Ipswich, in the FA cup, who are a whole division below them.
Lambert and his players must focus on efficiently doing the job at hand and not get carried away, thinking they must prove something by thrashing them, or try to avoid disapproval which might accrue from a narrow victory.
They just need to get the job done and get back in the zone.
Happy New Year and keep the faith!