Thoughts and issues regarding the past and present of a great football club by "The Chronicler".

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Where to now?

The feelings of the typical Villa fan are currently probably akin to the feelings of the bride spurned at the alter. She thought that her future was laid out, but she was cruelly cheated.

1982 was a year that resonated strongly in the Villa camp and has done ever since. It has been the constant reminder of what can be achieved given the right ingredients, but, significantly, the manager that effectively took Villa to their climax was also lampooned at one stage during his team re-building. Despite his achievements to 1979, he found that the Villa fans expectation was high (and totally expectant) despite the fact that only 5 years before the club was stuck in the lower division. But he (and Tony Barton) won out in the end.

Since then, Villa’s fortunes have waxed and waned, and, because a new owner emerged in tandem with a manager that somehow was seen as having charisma a-plenty, Villa’s following thought that a repeat of the 1982 success was just around the corner. In the three years culminating in 2010, expectations were maintained, only to be dashed when their hero manager walked away – and at a deadly moment.

In stepped a former Liverpool champion. He was virtually the only manager available with any significant pedigree, and was given the job of turning around what may well have been something resembling a debacle. I presume the highly-qualified M. Houllier has seen something drastically awry at Villa Park, including the scouting system, the players’ reward structure, the fitness regime, the attitude of some senior players and the style of play. In a brave move, he has chosen to try to attack all the deficiencies from the outset and during this process encountered one player injury after another. Furthermore, he has still not had the chance of buying-in new talent.

AVFC have already used 27 players this season, and there have been hardly two matches in sequence when the same team has walked out onto the pitch. Nevertheless, I feel that M. Houllier knows what is needed and is trying to build on rock rather than the sand that characterised the previous manager’s period in office. In January he has the opportunity to sign a couple of players with the iron in the soul necessary to keep Villa afloat this season.

Yes, we all know that Aston Villa should not be where they are in the League, and all Villa fans want the matter sorted. There have been troubles before at this great club, the most serious of which occurred years before the current younger generation of supporters. There was a way through those former troubles, and there is a way through them now. However, no knee-jerk reaction is going to get it ‘sorted’; the manager has a very difficult job and, really, the only way of fans helping the club is to acknowledge that promise has been shown (take the Manchester United match as an illustration) and to vociferously back that promise and M. Houllier’s work in moulding a basis for a better push next season.

The solution to the current situation is partly in the hand of the Villa supporters. Encouragement is what is needed right now, nothing else. Let's get through January (and the transfer window) and see what has happened before judging.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

From Disintegration to Re-integration?

Yes, matters are looking serious. But for some reason I felt some weeks ago that the matches leading into January would be potentially a slippery road and that I could not see where wins were going to come from. However, Villa did get that 2-2 draw vs. Man U (when Villa should have finished the game in the ascendancy) and then beat Albion, but it's now 6 defeats in 7 matches and everyone is getting worried. Worried did I say? ... Frantic is perhaps the better word.

However, the defensive problems were there before GH came … 0-6 at Newcastle? The 1-7 at Chelsea last season was a signal that things were not right. This season has seen also many injuries and the fact that some senior players who should possibly know better have not shown the proper example.

But at this stage, the only way forward is to get behind the management of the club … to bring in some 'iron' during January as a stop-gap may well be the only solution, but at least that solution is available. The skill is otherwise in the side, and with players who've been out for some time still trying to get back into their game, 2 or 3 weeks more may have to elapse before we see a resurgence.

Getting rid of GH is not the sensible option.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

I Like Gerard!

It's alarming that so many so-called Villans are jamming the forums with complaints about this and about that, regarding Gerard Houllier. The name of the game these days (it would seem) is "Instant Success", much in the way of Newcastle who seem to appoint a new manager every six months.

Houllier has inherited a squad without (yet) any opportunity to purchase what he wants, and has several times been without the availability of key players.

And then he gets reviled for showing his totally understandable Gallic feelings at Anfield. Good for him, I say.

As a Gaul he would only express himself in the way he did. I think there are too many Brits that have never tried to understand the French/Latin mentality, and it's about time they tried to adjust.

What happened at Anfield has nothing to do with his level of professionalism. He is Villa's manager, and if the fans will let him, he will show what he is made of.

It is clear from his press statements that he is applying his own approach to how Villa should play, and that includes matters of discipline and training. Players who are primarily concerned for themselves are not going to find the conditions are congenial at Villa, but it doesn't matter who they are, if they can't fit in then they shouldn't be with Villa.

Good luck, M. Houllier!! I have faith in you, at least, and know it will all take a bit of time.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Standards have fallen for sure?

Who saw this snippet in Matt Kendrick's match report (Villa v Burnley), Birmingham Mail, Oct 28?

Still the drama wasn’t done ­ and this time it was Villa’s other wideman Albrighton who came to the rescue three minutes later , unselfishly sacrificing himself by committing a professional foul on Wade Elliott to stop an almost certain leveller.
Albrighton’s first sending off has cost him his first Blues derby but it could be worth it if it results in a Wembley final appearance.

"Unselfishly sacrificing himself"!!!!!!!! Do I take it that the professional foul is now a fait accompli - that it has now been universally accepted that there's no other option ... to keep up with the Joneses you've got to play like them as well?

There's me, currently researching through papers in the early 1970s when, even then, if there were a couple of bookings in a match that was alarming news. Even then - less than 40 years ago - there was a standard to be kept up.

I think the world has past me by...

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Birth of Aston Villa FC

Very recent research (by myself and others) in some ways corrects a statement that I made in The Villa Chronicles. What actually happened according to Jack Hughes (a founding father) in a newspaper article at the time of the club's Golden Anniversary in early March, 1924, is that in February of 1874, four members of the cricket club went to see a rugby match at Heathfield Road, Handsworth. The competing teams were the Handsworth Rugby Club and the Grasshoppers of Adderley. [Billy] Mason was then playing for the Grasshoppers and the cricketers were anxious to see what the game of rugby was like. After its finish they met in conference under the glimmer of a gaslamp at Villa Cross.

Further, it seems that this gaslamp meeting merely determined that rugby was too rough a game and that football (soccer) was the option that should be recommended. Again according to Hughes, in the first week of March, these four and eleven others of the Aston Villa Wesleyan Bible Class met and agreed that football was to be their game and that is when the club was formed. These 15 (it might have been 16) then each contributed to a pool so that they could acquire their first football. By the way, Hughes stressed in his article that all members should be credited with the founding of the club, and not merely the four that met under the gas lamp.

However, on page 10 of the new 'Complete Record' it states that "the most probable date for that momentous [under the street lamp] meeting was 21 November 1874." The Complete Record does not provide its authority for that statement, but I believe the basis for that asserion is because it was reported back then that there was a rugby match between Handsworth Rugby Club and the Grasshoppers on that day, and it has been assumed that this is the match that was witnessed as described in the opening paragraph above. But it's quite possible there was a corresponding (and not reported) match that took place in February, 1874.

Of course, It seems fairly clear now that the famous "first" game against St. Mary's was not, in fact, Villa's first game, but the first game that Villa won! That match seems to be the one reported in the press in March, 1875 and which describes the events of that match just as they have since been handed down from Hughes onwards. It seems therefore that all Hughes' assertions are not credible.

But we have another problem. In my deep researches into the club's foundation at the British Library, I found two newspaper references of the 1894-1904 period that assert that Aston Villa was founded in October, 1874. And, not only that, but the Villa archives includes a diary of an old sports reporter that states the very same foundation date - October, 1874.

The very fact that these non-proven argumentations exist caused me (in The Villa Chronicles) to be non-committed to the actual foundation date. But what I will state is that the fact is that at the time of the Golden Anniversary in 1924 there were still a number of Villa people alive who were around in 1874 and do not seem to have queried the March founding month, which seems to have been universally accepted by then.

It's therefore strange in some ways that in recent years there's been a questioning of when the Villa were actually formed and to the extent of denying the March date. Without convincing proof, I think the March 1874 date should stand; it may be wrong but we cannot yet state for absolute certainty that it is wrong.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Season Starts Now!

This has been a most unsatisfactory start to the season in terms of both the exit of the manager and the results so far. Clearly, Kevin McDonald is a very competent coach, but it does look as though it would have been an error for him to take over control of the first team for the rest of the season.

However, we no longer have uncertainties as to who is the boss, and having seen today's match I feel certain that GH will be in there on Monday making a big effort to put matters straight. I wish him well, but I do not expect miracles to occur. If Villa finish better then 8th this season I will be very surprised, but I am just hoping that a good run in the domestic cups will help to lift our spirits.

The FA Cup has been a very long time in coming back to Villa Park. Wow! In 1957 I thought that 37 years since we'd previously won it was too long ... but 53 years have since passed by, coming on 54.

Come on Villa!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Where Did Aston Villa Come From, Daddy?

Even since writing and publishing the Aston Villa Chronicles, the drive to find more and more on Villa's earlier days has gone on. For this and for the purposes of my new book (The First Superclub) I go off to do some research three days a week usually, and today something popped out of the newspapers to fill in one more little puzzle ... and it was to do with what went on in the very first year: 1874. Not only that, but a photo of three of Villa's first players, a photo that has probably not received a Villa supporter's gaze for at least some decades. It is one not in Villa's archives.

This search for what went on is (some day) going to cease to produce returns, but until that time when the stream runs dry I will press on. From what I have now gleaned, the actual facts of the origins of the club are a little different to what has hitherto been understood. The tale of the four men under the gaslamp will, in The First Superclub, be redefined.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Hooray for Houllier - Part 2

There cannot be any dispute that under the circumstances, Gerard Houllier is the right selection.

There are those that are afeared that Houllier's health and age are against him, but we can always point to the example of Bobby Robson, who did so well at Newcastle.

As for Houllier being out of the Prem for a few years ... true; but he has nevertheless been active at a senior level and his focus must be so acute that it would take him little time to re-adjust to today's conditions in the Premier League.

His major problem over the next few months is to ensure that the midfield is tightened up - will he be able to play all of Downing, Ireland and Petrov? I doubt it.

Here's every good wish to Mr. Houllier ... I wish I could refer to an upcoming 'Houllier's Holiday', but it's not going to be an easy ride. I doubt that he will be able to make everyone his friends.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Hooray for Houllier!

No, we've not had confirmation, but all the indications are that Gerard Houllier will be Villa's next team supremo.

Arguments abound as to whether he is the right for the job, particularly after a few years out of the Prem and, some say, his health situation and age count against him. And, it is asked, if the vacancy had been there two months ago, would he have been the number 1 choice.

Well, none of that matters a jot i.m.o. His heart condition appears to be under control, and it is not as though he has been out of action from serious football matters. His involvement with the Bleus has required skill and that, combined with his achievements at Liverpool (albeit a decade ago) and Lyon qualify him in no uncertain terms.

Yes, there are doubts, but someone kindly pointed out to me that no matter who would be appointed, some element of doubt would be there.

There's no point, really, in wondering too much about this ... he's a good man, and certainly would appear to be the best available. Villa have a good setup and Houllier may just be the one to exploit it all to its best advantage.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Randy And What's Good For Villa

Does Randy understand what a good footballer is?

Perhaps he does, as I reckon that Villa may well have the better deal in this transaction. James Milner was/is, undoubtedly, a very very good professional and a player that Villa supporters have clearly appreciated, but is the feller coming through the door a better footballer?

With that the real possibility - that we now have a central midfielder who might soon be providing the best football at VP since Merson - in addition the club also has a pot of gold to spend and 2 weeks in which to spend some of it at least.

And - to bring up the hat-trick - do we have the future team manager already installed in the form of Mac to carry on the good start?

Interesting times. As for Thursday's match, how about RV 1 AVFC 4? (It's OK, blood is going to my head!)

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Milner's Final Flourish?

What a sublime strike from Milner in yesterday's match. I am very sad that it seems that he's on the point of leaving - in the way he scored he seemed to be saying "There, that's something for you to remember me by!"

I'm sure Ireland will prove to be very effective, but there's something very badly wrong i.m.o. that we have to be losing two class players like Barry and Milner to help keep the team going or because the player doesn't see trophies coming to VP.

Nothing seems to have changed in 60 years ... All these fine players left because of shortcomings at VP: Trevor Ford, Danny B, Tommy Thompson, Gerry H, George Graham, Derek Dougan, B. Rioch, Cowans (1st time) and some others of the 1981/2 team, Yorke, Southgate, Ehiogu, Barry, and now Milner.

Significantly, no player has come into Villa Park in these last 60 years (even probably since WW2 except possibly Trevor Ford) who already had a great reputation and been of the right age. We've had fine internationals that filled a gap for a couple of years ... Sewell, Woosnam, Broadbent, D. Gibson ... but they were effectively over-the-hill when they came to VP.

I've recently been finding out that Villa were interested in the likes of Wilf Mannion in the early 50s, but he, as with Gascoigne (if Steve Stride's story is correct, and I feel it is coming from him), gave us the snub. I'm sure they're not the only two.

It's been a recurring theme, and RL, being relatively new here, probably doesn't understand that bit of our history.

It's a bit depressing ... but I suppose I've got a bit inured to it - to a point.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

How Will History View MON?

In 10, 20 or 50 years time, just how will history view Mr. Martin O'Neill?

Well, I would think quite favourably. For example, it's already 20 years since the first (and main) departure of Graham Taylor as Villa's manager, and his three seasons in charge can easily be looked back on as successful ones, particularly as he got Villa back into the top flight at the first attempt despite the infrastructure at Villa Park also having to be re-built, and also having got Villa into the runner-up position of the top-flight in his last season, Villa's best finish since 9 years before. And the signing of Platt, McGrath and Yorke ... plus bringing back Gordon Cowans.

For those who remember the details of those times, we recall the issues that were not so good - like the signing of a lanky Ian Ormondroyd and winger Nigel Callaghan. But, overall, we were well pleased with GT's period at Villa Park, and, despite MON's poor signings - like Harewood - overall it could be said he did pretty well. If the Villa are able to convert the 12m pound signing Milner into a 100% profit then that has to be successful business done. And that's just one example of a good purchase.

But, for me, there are still issues that gripe. Was it really necessary to sell our better home-products like Cahill, and why were some players put into playing positions they were not designed for? And why did he not rotate the squad more purposefully last season, especially as they looked fagged out as a result of their drive in the domestic cups. And there were a few other niggles.

Most of those gripes will be forgotten about in 20 years time. MON will doubtless be remembered as at least as important a manager as GT, I'd say.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Villa and The Villans Rejuvenated

John Lerwill's blog site - particularly on historical issues, but with the odd current observation  from time-to-time - now gets rejuvenated just as MON departs ... What timing! I guess my first blog tomorrow (Wednesday p.m.) will be about a historical perspective on this mercurial manager!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Villa in the '60s and '70s

Ian Robothan has been posting my weekly articles on the history of AVFC during the 60s and 70s, and they can be found at this link. Happy reading!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Aston Villa Chronicles (1874-1924)

This publication has been very well received by the Villa readership and my heartfelt thanks go to all those who have reported their enjoyment of the pages describing the wonderful early days of this great Club.

I must state my appreciation, of course, to the Club for underwriting the complete cost of printing and binding this publication, and to the great backing given to the publication by Professor Carl Chinn by way of his foreword to the book, his radio programme and also free advertising in his Brummagem magazine, etc.

Having now recovered all my share of the costs in its production, I am pleased to announce that I have instructed the Club to pay all my future royalties (some 75% of the total royalties due to me) to the sterling work of the 'Save the Children' charity.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Chronicles, please click here for further information.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Big John

Following my unanticipated exit from Villa Park in January, the song 'Big John' came to mind. Please excuse these revised lyrics; they are meant to be self-deprecating. Nothing else is intended.

Big John
Big John

Every morning at the Archives, you could see him arrive.
He stood 6 foot 4, weighed 245.
Kind of broad at the shoulders, narrow at the hip.
And everybody knew you gave no lip to Big John.

Big John
Big John
Big Bad John
Big John

Nobody seemed to know where John called home
He just drifted into town and stayed off his phone.
He didn't say much, kind of quiet and shy
And if you spoke at all, you just said hi,
to Big John.

Somebody said he came from Billesley way,
Where he played footie on his day.
And a crash and a blow from a huge right foot
would send a ball way up into the goal net roof.

Big John
Big John
Big bad John
Big John

Then came the day at Villa Park,
when he got the sack right out of the dark.
Villans asked why, and hearts beat fast
and everybody thought they had seen the last of Big John.

Through the dust and the smoke of this man made hell,
walked a giant of a man that the Villans knew well.
Grabbed a sagging goalpost and gave out with a groan,
and like the old oak tree he just stood there alone;

Big John
Big John
Big John
Big Bad John
Big John

Along came O'Neill and asked this old fan
"What you doin' here, old son?"
Big John replied slowly, taking a big deep breath ...
"Mart, you don't know me, but I know of you,
"You're gettin' the glory, and that might be true,
"But think of those long ago here,
"Their memory dimmed and obscure,
"And now I'm sacked who else to remind mine host?
"That's why Big John still holds onto his post!"

Big John
Big John
Big Bad John
Big John