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

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Are Spurs the Model For Villa to Emulate?

Two brilliantly taken goals this week by Gareth Bale have sent Independent journalists scurrying for their notepads to declare: "[The] Best since Best? Bale makes a convincing case."

But the journalists (James Lawton and Richard Rae) go further. Lawton states:

"Levy held the brilliant Luka to his contract ... With a degree of financial prudence that is unlikely to cause problems with the FFP regulators, Tottenham have built a team of authentic quality. They have displayed a workable flair for the art of the possible, which means that we cannot dismiss too brusquely Levy's claim that he will keep Bale as he did Modric."

'Arry says about Bale, "I played him free [against Norwich], him, Rafa and Luka; I played three midfielders rather than sticking him out on the left wing, because when he picks it up and runs at you through the middle, when he pops up in positions in between midfield and in between their back people, it's difficult to pick him up, and when he turns and runs with the ball, like he did there, he's unstoppable."

You can sense the feel of 'Arry's statements: he's living the experience of working with and guiding talented players in Spurs' relentless drive to prove that you do not give up hope in challenging the top-3 to the degree that they're in a convincing third place themselves, and have a game in hand. And 'Arry - in a cool sort of way - is loving it.

The beauty of it is that the new-generation Spurs bring back a reminder of their teams of the 60s ... teams that played lucid football to the extent that it sometimes made the mouth drool.

In football the impossible is attainable, and though Spurs probably won't win the championship they'll be there for an EC place, I'm sure. And playing good stuff to earn it as well.

To Mr. Lerner: Please take note. Have you the will and the manager in place to transform Villa into a Spurs clone?

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Signs of Stopping the Rot ... ?

When a 5' 2" opposing forward drops in to head a winner with 3 minutes to go then you really feel that Villa's season has become a big tester, and Albrighton's record of scoring the PL's 20,000th goal suddenly lost its lustre.

The fact that Villa showed that much more commitment is the biggest factor to draw from this match in which Arsenal fielded a weakened defence. As their defence is their Achilles Heel anyway, more the shame that Villa could not have found the accuracy to convert their performance into a win.

We have to hope that with two very difficult matches on the road, now, that Villa's commitment continues to be raised, for you have to make your own luck and not wait for the other teams to take over as seems to have been the case in the previous games against teams above us.

Not to make the effort can only be disastrous. Villa are now down to 12th and ... with Wigan fighting well and getting a point off a team Villa gave way to on Sunday ... there is now only a worrying 5 points between Villa and Wigan in 18th (relegation) place.

Come on the Villa, though we have had bad periods before in the club's history at least there's generally been a spirit to hearten their supporters. So far the season has been insipid ... please use the Arsenal performance as the turning point and get the season onto some kind of track so that we can see that this season has been just a transition and not a preview of future calamities.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Is there room for hope?

Well - success! An away win against now bottom Bolton has at least brought some satisfaction, not least after their disposing of the Villans in the League Cup at Villa Park.

Big Eck at last took notice of the harangue thrown in his direction for the lack of enterprise and spirit shown by the Villa for most of the season, and introduced two wingers. This helped to produce a marked improvement in Villa's play with swift attacking by the pacey forwards and his action is to be applauded. However, the midfield still does not show the quality needed and this was against a team that has been losing a lot of games this season. And Bent is missing chances.

Big Eck was obliged, really, to make some alteration in his game plan, and at least he's done something. I still doubt very much that the team will get much success from their remaining December matches, and the rest of the season is now going to be more difficult having had a comparatively easy fixture list for the first 15 games.

But we have to live in hope. I don't see the extreme event of relegation occurring, and I hope that this season will act as a basis for future developments. Whether Big Eck should remain as the pilot of that future development I have my on-going doubts.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Sleeping Giant

“Villa have been a great club, are still a great club, and always will be a great club.” - Fred Rinder, 1936.

“Aston Villa was built on class and the slogan that nothing but the best is good enough for Villa.” - Eric Houghton, 1969

I wrote the following statement as the opening lines of my then new Villa website in 1998: “It must surely be a fact that I was born (not long before 'D'-Day, 1944) at the beginning of the most weary and troubled period of Aston Villa's history! Was I the cause of it, I sometimes wondered!”

In 2011, I look at the current situation and really wonder whether that long troubled period that we thought had ended in 1968 has yet ended.

Having been brought up in the 50s on the idea that the Villa were still the greatest football team around, I began to believe it. We got back to winning the FA Cup in ’57, beat Charlton 11-1 in a temporary blip in the old second division, and then, after crying at the departure of Johnny Dixon and Gerry Hitchens, along came Mercer’s Minors. In the early part of the 60s, there was still a lot of pride at Villa Park.

Short sharp shock number 1. Then the woodworm started its incessant work. Nearly at the end of the 60s, the realist would have pronounced that Villa was dying on its feet, but that was not to be. In came the guys with some money and they raised such enthusiasm amidst the Villa faithful that every man jack amongst the Villa core support seemed to be at Villa Park to put life back into the old girl. After just over 10 years of a magnificent ride, Villa had become League Champions once more and also won the European Cup.

Those times were sufficient for the Villa supporter to think the way forward was now to emulate Liverpool (as they were in those days). Even Bill Shankly thought that Villa's time had come.

Short sharp shock number 2. With economic depression and the return of Doug Ellis Villa again started spiralling downwards. Luckily there was Graham Taylor to restore life at Villa Park yet again. For virtually another 10 years there was again reason for optimism, though by that time Deadly Doug’s autocratic rule had really begun to rankle.

Short sharp shock number 3. The hope of the new Millennium subsided as Villa started to look like a rudderless ship. Calls for Ellis’s departure gathered momentum and the awaited time came. A Messiah arrived.

Short sharp shock number 4. By 2011, the Messiah was found wanting. What was perhaps worse was that he was presiding over possibly the birth of two disasters ­ the Cleveland Browns as well as his baby at Villa Park. Both are in trouble it would appear.

Now, let’s come back to my opening theme. I was brought up to believe that the Villa was still a giant in the world of football and I have heard over and over again in the past 50 years how Villa is a ‘sleeping giant’. The club has a massive catchment area, yet no-one has tried, in all earnest, to capitalise on it.

Just how come there can be an ownership at Villa Park that claims to be aware of the club’s traditions yet is not aware of the pride that goes with it in appointing a team manager who is (to be honest) not the calibre we would expect of someone in charge of a ‘sleeping giant’. He seems hardly equipped to help the giant to wake from its slumbers.

There was a time when the football world knew only of Aston Villa Football Club. I have been accused of living in the past, but I am well aware that Aston Villa can grow ­ yet again ­ into the magnificence the club once had.

Many will say it cannot be done without huge amounts of money. Though some money is needed, I refute that general assertion. In my opinion if the club were to be managed by today’s equivalent of the brilliant managers that were in place at the beginning of the 20th century then Villa could be back in a place of strength yet again. We clearly do not have a brilliant management in place at Villa Park.

There is no other club in the entire Midlands that is as well placed to provide a real challenge to the North and to the South. However, if I am proved to be wrong in Villa’s ability to be among the top guns, the very least we should ask for is a quality of football at Villa Park that will draw people into the ground. And that, in fact, is how the fame of the Villa started: Aston Villa set the example in the Midlands.

We seem to have come full circle.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

William McGregor - Announcement

Press release:


Tuesday 20 December marks the centenary of the death of William McGregor, founder of The Football League and chairman of Aston Villa during a most important period of the club's history.

In celebration of the centenary, Aston Villa FC is commissioning the restoration of McGregor's grave in the picturesque churchyard of St Mary's, Handsworth, in Birmingham and planning a special centenary event with high profile guests from the world of football and beyond.

Spearheading the project is Peter Lupson, author of 'Thank God for Football!' which charts the emergence of English Premiership clubs from churches, Aston Villa included. Lupson has already undertaken similar projects with Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in rescuing the graves of their founders from dereliction and decay.

McGregor's centenary will be celebrated on 20 December at St Mary's Church in a service of commemoration attended by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and the chairmen or chief executives of the 12 founding clubs of The Football League. It will be jointly conducted by Rev Dr Kirsty Thorpe, leader of the United Reformed Church in the UK (McGregor was a devout member of the Congregational Church, now part of the URC), Rev Leo Osborn, leader of the Methodist Church in the UK (in recognition of Aston Villa's Methodist origin) and the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, Bishop of Aston. Also taking part will be the Rev Professor Stuart Picken, minister of Ardoch Parish Church in Braco, Perthshire, where McGregor was baptised.

Lord Brian Mawhinney, president of The Football League, will pay tribute to his organisation's founder and the principal address will be given by Peter Lupson, co-author (with John Lerwill) of the recently published biography 'The Inspirational William McGregor'.

The service will conclude with a procession into the churchyard led by the Bishop of Aston, who will rededicate McGregor's grave. Following the ceremony, Aston Villa will host a VIP reception at Villa Park.
[End of Press Release]
Note that even the vicar of Mac's birthplace (Braco, Perthshire) has enthusiastically decided he wants to be present. He was a footballer himself - in Japan!!

Just how great was Mac?
Read "The Inspirational William McGregor" to make a better judgment!
Link to the McGregor page.

The Inspirational William McGregor book is part of a larger project to commemorate the centenary of the death of 'Mac' in December.

A Bright Future For Whom?

From what I saw of yesterday's match, the score could easily have been 5-1 or worse - and City did not seem to me to be firing on all cylinders.

No surprises on the result, then - to me at least. But does this result make Villa a team destined for doom, which was my fear at the start of the season? I think not. But neither does the current set up instill hope in me.

City have already laid waste to several teams this season, so Villa was just another scalp of another team that don't have a chance for major honours. Villa are just another also-ran team; without any substantial quality in midfield and without cash to do anything about it, I can only see Villa remaining at this level for the next few years at best. There seems to be little chance of a decent return where money has been spent on experienced and supposedly talented players in that area - Ireland and Nzogbia. And Bent's goals have - not surprisingly - virtually dried up. Villa might get 15 million for him I suppose when he decides to leave next year.

Not so long back the owner said that the future is bright, but it is not - it is humdrum. We seem to again be left to reflect on former glories and celebrate the achievements of the great William McGregor (this December) while the top management at Villa Park seem to be adrift from the heart of the club. And I am unable to see when Villa will again show real aspirations to rise, as a phoenix, to compete with the pretenders.

Where art though, my Aston Villa?

Just how great was Mac?
Read "The Inspirational William McGregor" to make a better judgment!
Link to the McGregor page.


Saturday, 1 October 2011

Eck's End of Trial Period

OK - unbeaten after 7 league games and a GD of four. With Gabby putting up impressive shows (and I thought he'd lost his knack) with the ever useful Bent at hand, things are not looking quite so bad as I thought they might be.

However, against the opposition we've had, I would be greedy and have expected at least another 2 points on the board. There are, however, still question marks with the midfield and Jenas is yet to make his mark. Is his injury worse than we thought, I wonder, or is he to be used as a secret weapon for the next match at Man City?!

This upcoming match will be a real tester, no doubt, and one occasion that if a draw were obtained I would not be one of those saying "what, another draw?!"

This upcoming match could also be a turning point. A good result (defeat or no defeat) might just encourage the numbers to return to Villa Park in the following match. Even though they're undefeated, the quality of the play has not inspired the faithful too much and it must be worrying to the owner to see the gates falling.

It remains to see how our lot get through to the New Year.

Just how great was Mac?
Read "The Inspirational William McGregor" to make a better judgment!
Link to the McGregor page.


Friday, 30 September 2011

Pre-launch Last Opportunity ('The Inspirational William McGregor' )

May I send you a gentle reminder about The Inspirational William McGregor (authored by myself and Peter Lupson), which is now available.

This illustrated hardback with dust cover is available from my website where you can order and pay for it by PayPal. Price is £9.99 sterling.

And, until a specially-extended date of October 7th, all UK purchasers can acquire it free of postage costs. The postage costs to all others outside the UK are reduced by 20% until October 7th.


The book is also available at Waterstone's (Birmingham) and I also expect it to be available shortly at W. H. Smith's local stores and at the Aston Villa stores.

However, although it is available for purchase through Amazon, their pricing structure means that every copy we sell through them is sold at a loss. Therefore, if you are purchasing at a distance from Birmingham, may I please urge you to order and pay through my website link and PayPal facility as given above.

... Or (alternatively) please ask your local bookshop to order it for you - the ISBN is 978-0-9569833-0-5.

A further note: There is a review of the book by Steve Carr (a football researcher and author) on my website.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Inspirational William McGregor

I am pleased to inform you that the book "The Inspirational William McGregor" (authored by myself and Peter Lupson) is now available.

From 1877 to his death, William McGregor was a committed Aston Villa man and was an important officer of the club until 1888. By then, however, he had become vitally concerned about the organisation of the national game and this caused him to instigate a movement that led to the creation of The Football League in 1888.

There is a Foreword by the Director of the National Football Museum.

You can see an image of the book's cover on my website where you can order this illustrated hardback and pay for it by PayPal. Price is 9.99 sterling (and equivalent in other currency).

And, until October 3rd, all UK purchasers can acquire it free of postage costs. The postage costs to all others outside the UK are reduced by 20% until October 3rd.

Happy reading!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Reality Football

The Daily Mail's report on the state of finances at Villa Park seems to put a halt to the notion that Randy Lerner is on the point of selling out. The paper's report states:

    Top level discussions have taken place that will lead to cutbacks in the playing budget during the course of the next 12 months. Not huge chunks of money, but a significant amount, nevertheless. Manager Alex McLeish is aware of the need to make savings in this area - which explains why he has gone to such lengths to promote Villa’s youngsters since arriving in the job.
    Times are changing: Villa are about to embark on an economy drive When owner Randy Lerner arrived at the club five years ago, the aim was Champions League football. Funds were made available to manager Martin O’Neill to realise that ambition. But the financial landscape has changed since those days in the summer of 2006. It is a fact that Lerner has spent a small fortune to bankroll the top-four push. I estimate his commitment, including the original purchase of the club, now stands at over £200m. Clubs across the country are now tightening their belts in anticipation of rules coming into force under UEFA’s financial Fair Play banner.
    Whether this is a convenient smoke-screen is a different debate, but several among the Barclays Premier League are now looking to scale back the wages on offer to any in-coming players. And Villa are among them. I would estimate that at least half-a-dozen members of McLeish’s first-team squad command yearly pay-packets in excess of £2.5m. At least two, possibly three, earn in excess of £3m. It is an attempt to rein in the spending.
    It leaves McLeish ­ as if he wasn’t in a delicate enough position ­ having to perform a fine balancing act. But it emphasises once more the difference between the haves and have-nots in the Premier League. Personally, I think it is in danger of becoming anti-competitive, but that’s a different story. The sad truth of the matter is that Villa are now even further away from the top four than they were when Lerner took over.

The last para sums up the reality of the club's plans. It has been a very sad piece of PR that the club has not explained themselves adequately and expected season ticket holders to re-invest even though (a) the expectations have been lowered and (b) the quality of football so far seen has not been inspirational. For a season ticket holder to re-new for himself and his 2 or 3 children is prohibitive as it is in these dark economic days.

Gates will almost certainly continue to be disappointing except, perhaps, for the 'big' games.

Daily Mail link.


Friday, 9 September 2011

Revelations Not So Revealing, Perhaps

Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish admits the club and the majority of the Premier League cannot compete with the growing new breed of "super clubs".


Also see:

I think I've come to the conclusion that as the board don't know football - or are not confident in speaking about it, hence the dry communications from head office - they're leaving the football chat to AM. Effectively he is the board's football mouthpiece to talk in real speak about what the board obviously has difficulty in saying - about no longer being able to compete at the top.

It would seem it follows the same pattern as per MON; team manager does everything football while the board sit back and financially manage. They're there just for the business: the so-called professional managers.

And presumably, PF's talk about AM being in tune with the business ethos means they leave him to do the buying and selling knowing that he'll work within the strict parameters the board has set and presumably agreed with AM.

I suppose that's all fair really - but it leaves the board looking distant when they're called upon to communicate and can't talk the talk. And can't apologise for raising expectations and dropping them without explanation.

Anyway, it looks as though all this confirms the board are just business people and managing the club towards profit, despite all the hype about tradition and heritage.

We'd be naive to think otherwise I suppose, but the lack of 'heart' being displayed is disappointing.

Acknowledgments to Mike Mooney for the links.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Evaluating Where We're At

Sadly, but understandably, a good deal of criticism of Randy Lerner and the board has lately been developing, and I feel it’s all exacerbated by the lack of intelligible communication from them as to why certain things have been happening.

The issue that I have the most difficulty in dealing with is the fact that expectations were raised so high for the best part of 4 years, and that now it shows a danger of going pear-shaped. I hope that apparition is just that – that it’s a figment of fear on my part. Who knows, fortune may turn in the chairman’s (and Villa’s) favour, though our experience of the over-careful management of the 1960s, 1980s and the early noughties may tell us something different.

It is easy for us in hindsight to say this is wrong and that is wrong, but businessmen do make mistakes, and Randy’s had his fingers burnt – possibly through not understanding enough about what football in the UK is all about. Not least that, football-wise, the West Midlands is different to London and the North West.

The General has previously indicated that Randy is appreciative of Villa’s heritage and its value to the fans, and Randy duly pumped in a good deal of money to try to bring back the good days to Villa Park – I think we all recognise his efforts in that direction.

But where do we stand now – at this moment? I feel that the club is very much at yet another cross-roads. Not only has the chairman retrenched on expenditure but there is a national and world-wide economic problem that shows signs of not going away. Although (amazingly) employment levels have improved in the West Midlands, there is not a secure economic situation, and the current generation of young people (the future supporters of Aston Villa and of football in general) have largely been sidelined in the employment stakes. Therefore, how will Aston Villa be able to prosper in future with the prospect of fewer paying supporters?

It’s in the tackling of that question that is the key, in my opinion. And in tackling it, Randy should be getting some expert medium and long-term advice from people who understand enough about these issues. A think-tank of such expertise – possibly including Graham Taylor – may be the answer.

Perhaps the chairman has already done this or is in the process of doing it. Alas, we don’t know.

There was a very well-known writer-historian named Jack Urry who wrote in the 1880-1926 period, particularly about the Villa. He stated (and I believe him) that one very major factor why the Villa were successful almost entirely throughout his period was because they kept faith with the fans. They were in tune with what the fans were looking for and delivered - successfully.

That attitude persisted through to WW2 in fact (except for that notorious dip in the mid-1930s).

That's the kind of world I believe in - not the consumerist world - which is about to die on its feet. Even Doug Ellis had a better sense of what the fans wanted, I believe. All you have to do is look at Doug's regime in early 1969 to see what kind of response he got - because they communicated in a way that the fans wanted!!

If that's not the world of today then it's going to get it's uppance - believe me. Good faith is the glue and the clue to how society properly works. In fact, in any form of marriage!

Meanwhile, frustrated fans sit and wait. We have no choice but to wait and see what transpires over this season.

In the meantime, should the message from Villa fans to Randy be along the lines of: “We’re not happy, but we wait with baited breath to receive your half-term pronouncements for this season and beyond”?

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Requiem to The Five ... or Six!

Tis a long time since Gareth was claret and blue;
Ten years at Villa Park: phew, that time flew!
Last eve the Bulgars felt his form resurgent,
had Stilyan forgotten that left foot pageant?

But look, he was not alone in those shoes:
Cahill's point reminding us of him and Blews;
And Young's sweet pass across the box,
giving Wayne a chance, bless his socks!

And two more ex-Villans played last night,
For Villa fans, that was quite a sight ...
of Downing 'upping' his game,
and super-sub James much the same.

Five old Villans: half an England team;
Their like in Aston no longer seen.
Will Bent, Villa's last England piece,
soon go on to grab a new lease?

Friday, 2 September 2011

What is going on?

After all the PR from RL’s henchman since 2006, for the club to suddenly freeze up and not say anything that is meaningful to the ordinary fan is a big mistake i.m.o.

What is also of concern is that – accepting all the arguments why Villa have to be less profligate – players of the ilk of Parker, Cole and Hargreaves (players who are good but probably past their best) this week chose to say ‘no thanks’ to coming to Villa Park.

And with the lack of in-depth cover for the first-team players of any quality that we do have, this could be a rocky season – again.

And will attendances recover?

We saw how many attended the Wolves match - a derby for goodness sake! - even Wolves' fans stayed away.

To bring in the crowds, better signings were badly needed, and not only signings to put us higher in the League (for morale purposes at least) but also to help Villa win a cup or two. By "better", I mean creative.

We keep talking about League, League, League, but the cup competitions still mean something - in the fans hearts at the very least, I suggest. Until 2009-10, it looked as though Villa was willing to give up on cup competitions in the 21st century, but I say Villa need to get back into that theme.

I still clearly remember those four cup years between '57 and '61 (1 FA Cup win, 1 League Cup win and two FA Cup semi-finals), which greatly helped to raise the fans' morale.

More of it please. Whether we can with the squad we have remains to be seen. Bolton in the League Cup may provide a glimmer of whether we can.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Taking a Preliminary Stock of Things

This week-end, I hit upon this extract from an old 'Something for the Weekend' article by an old (or not so old!) friend and writer extraordinaire, Steve Wade. This was the part that caught my eye from early November, 2006:

"The club is as much reliant on youth on the terraces, as they are in the team, while for a lot of the aged Villa fans the revolution has come a bit too late, as too many are burnt out and still nurse their bitter disappointments and disillusionment like the shell-shocked from a war that is over - they still mumble their discontents and still relive the old nightmares. For some it has come too late and the changes will take too long, for many. It is the youth who must keep the faith and see the project through, the old will fall by the wayside - its going to be a long march.

"But Villa need more fans and fairy-dust is just so much froth. The things which bond a fan to a club, are not just nice words but the shared feeling, that you have witnessed something special and the management desperately need a 'was you there?' event, for the fans to really feel part of a revolution. You know the sort of thing - Didier Six beating United on his own; the last-gasp result against Tranmere, Phil King's winning penalty against Inter. These are the things which bring the doubters and dissenters back. Fairy-dust is fine but the other stuff is like quasi-religious experience of Damascene intensity. Get the burnt-out old duffer in a good mood and even he will tell you a tale of some distant match, drawing with United (4-4), in a totally amazing thriller."

The particular phrase that caught my eye was that in (my) italics.
This phrase begs a question in my eyes ... after all the nice words, re-structuring of buildings and making things 'nice', and gestures (good as they were at the time), have we yet (i.e. after nearly 5 years) witnessed "something special"? Has there been a "was you there?" event at the club since 2006?

If not, then presumably we do not feel there has been a true revolution.

If not, then presumably we feel that we may have lost something ... or is that just football as it is now?

For me, I'd say that we've still not really recovered since Yorkie's departure. Having said that, if Gabby can reproduce his goal of yesterday a wee bit more then perhaps I might get that feel good factor once more. In fact, Gabby's been in a bit of a wilderness so it was good to see him shoot himself back into the limelight.

Nevertheless, I can't believe how Rovers gave the Villa strikers so much time to set their sights before shooting. I don't believe that many teams will be so generous.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

William McGregor

December will see the 100th anniversary of the death of William McGregor, a major officer at Aston Villa in the 1880s and founder of all football leagues.

A celebration of this great man's life (his biography) has just gone to the printers and is scheduled to be available by October. It is a hardback with illustrations and dust jacket (artwork by the celebrated football artist Nick Oldham), retailing at 9.99 sterling.

There will be a Foreword by Kevin Moore, Director of the National Football Museum.

The authors are Peter Lupson and myself. Peter became well known for his book "Thank God for Football" (2006) and I was the author of "The Aston Villa Chronicles (1874-1924 and after)" (2009).

Peter’s book sparked two significant responses in Liverpool. Firstly, Across the Park (published by Sport Media, 2009) was commissioned by Liverpool Football Club on the strength of Thank God for Football! It celebrates the historic links between Liverpool FC and Everton FC. Secondly, Peter was elected Vice-Chairman of the Everton FC Heritage Society in 2010.

Further details about this new publication can be found at 

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Getting Just a Tad Bit Nervous...

A bit too early for doom-mongering ... but ...Villa were playing a Championship side yet could not even score.

It seems that Villa put out a fairly inexperienced side last night at Derby, especially in defence. On the plus side, it sounds as though Bannan and Delph both performed well. But this side also contained Albrighton, Clark, Makoun and Bent. And, importantly, Ireland.

I am really worrying that it's backs to the wall this season, particularly if any injuries play a part - where is the cover going to come from?

Thank goodness Villa have chance to ease into their fixture list.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

History Repeating Itself?

It now appears that investment in new players is coming to a premature halt. What happens this coming season (at least) will be left essentially to those players left over following the departure of Ashley Young, Downing, Friedel, Reo-Coker and several others. Cuellar is another who might leave.

What is alarming is that the players that are left leave precious little cover for the full-back department and there are two main groups of players - those that are rapidly approaching pensionable age and those that are still too young to be considered for permanent first team selection. Players falling in-between those categories (such as Agbonlahor, Ireland and Delph) have questions hanging over their heads, though another (Bent) should be considered as 'safe'.

The situation now seems rather akin to where we stood in the 3 years preceding each of 1934, 1954, 1964, 1984 and 2004. In each case a peak had been passed and the club then went into deep depression culminating in disaster in 1936, 1967 and 1987. It was a too-close-for-comfort call in 1956, and 2007 could easily have been a disaster year if Randy Lerner had not stepped in the year before. It did not happen in the 1970s nor the 1990s as the club was positively investing in the team during those times.

In 2011 we are moving towards 2014 and a potential disaster in 2016/17.

I have lived through all the decades and troubles since 1950 and feel that history can easily repeat itself the way things are. I hope not.

Friday, 17 June 2011

A New Man on the McLeish...

McLeish may well prove to be suitable i.m.o. He appears to have done well at Rangers and OK with Scotland, so that's a decent c.v. he's built up. That he went to St. Andrews proved that he's not against trying to do the impossible ... and yet he still won a trophy there. It was only their second-ever trophy win.

What I feel, however, is that Aston Villa is still a great club and that it has a real potential to come out from its covers and show the world what it can really do. And to give proper notice of that intention, I feel the club should have been looking to appoint someone with the highest credentials ... not just decent credentials. I wouldn't think that his appointment would boost the season ticket sales ... unless he should sign someone to whet the appetite in the next month.

So, I'm not against McLeish per se, but I'm not happy with the level of ambition being shown. I think we've all had enough of OK managers (DOL and MON, despite the latter's 6th place achievements) and that the club should be aiming for better. I think that Houllier was "better", so I feel sad about his departure.

But ... the appointment has been made. I believe that you have to be positive to try to make things work as best as possible, and since the fans have no real say in the affairs at VP that's the only reasonable and mature approach to take.

One thing for sure is that (after last season) we have to get off on the right foot now and keep working at it to try and make it work.

The man has to be given a chance. Give 'im till Christmas at least!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Blast the Premiership!!

I wonder whether the Premiership has proved to be the scourge for all Midlands teams?

Since 1992, the Villa - even without winning anything League-wise - has been leading the Midlands as the area's Pride (an epithet I like as it's associated with lions!), yet it's a false-placed pride in one way with no league silverware to go with it - and just two league cup triumphs.

At the start of the Premiership in 1992, Villa were equal with Man U on the number of championship wins. Twelve Man U championship wins later, look where Villa are now in the pecking order of top clubs. Yes, Villa are still overall the fourth greatest club ever in terms of overall results. But, since 1993, we've not even finished in the top-3, and Villa can now just about regard itself as a top-8 side. Rather as Houllier described the club, really.

But at least Villa are still (comparatively) financially well-managed and look to be pretty safe in that way. In short, the philosophy is not much different to Doug Ellis' days - all that's happened with the Lerner takeover is that the Villa now have the ability to maintain the level they had in Doug's days. That is all.

But now there's no ability for supporters to have a concrete say in the direction the club should go.

Randy Lerner has refreshed the club beyond question, but unless he has a magical wand, we all know he's now not going to be able to effectively challenge the top-5 and perhaps not even the top-6. Unless - and this is a very big 'if' - Villa can somehow start playing the sort of stuff we saw Barca play yesterday. That kind of play is virtually unbeatable - and it would fit in the Villa's tradition of long ago when our club were top dogs.

But can Villa start playing a la Barca without spending trillions? I think it's possible - Barca has a sense of unity about it that is developed from the nursery upwards. Villa have that structure. Barca play for one another; everyone is a potential striker - look at the quality of their three goals from three different players. Villa can do it.

All we have to do is get the defence sorted out and we're there aren't we?!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Still Pride of the Midlands!

It is strange (isn't it?) how we can be looking back on the season to observe how Villa are still the Pride of the Midlands, despite the Mail's attempt to claim the title for the Baggies a few weeks ago! Not that the title applies for just one season, of course, and it is clear that Villa remain greatly ahead of the other Midlands' competition.

Blews, as always, are all talk and no testosterone!

But I am pleased that the Baggies and Wolves are still in the Prem, and in the charge of two managers I have a lot of time for. I wish them well.

It's so significant though that the real control over English football lies in two centres - London and the North-West. It's about time that all changed.

Villa's last two matches gave a taste of what might be possible to work from next season. However, end-of-season matches are not too much of a guideline; I particularly think that 'Pool did not want to qualify for the Europa. But I see 'Pool being a force to reckon with next season ... there really will be a big 5, i.m.o.

As we have been saying since 2006, "these be interestin' times". The way this last season finished leaves us with a taste of hope, at least. But the real hope should be for success in the cup competitions. We have lacked pride in those and it is 54 years and 15 years since we got success in either domestic cup.

That - according to Villa's tradition - is way too long.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Anfield is a great place! ('Arry Redknapp)

'Arry Redknapp happened to let it slip in his post-match interview that he regarded Anfield as (paraphrasing) probably the best place for football in Britain. I wonder if 'Arry is now going to get castigated by Spurs' fans for that statement? Probably not - they won there!

So ... this surely puts Jez's regard for his old club in perspective. I can thoroughly understand his affinity for Liverpool having been connected with the city as a teacher as well as in football for much the greater part of his working life, and apparently studied Shankly's tactics.

However, Villa lost badly at Anfield on the occasion of Jez's comments, and (in the context of that) he was berated by Villa fans. I still say it was an innocent (slightly foolish - we all do 'em) mistake on his part, and it was not worthy of Villa fans to go for the jugular as they did. Their behaviour was a lot worse than Jez's i.m.o.

The best thing to happen now to put the unsavoury matter into the past is for Villa to soundly beat 'Pool this week-end!

Notwithstanding all that, 'Arry's words do cast an interesting aura over Liverpool FC. What's so wrong with Villa Park, I ask myself.

How Much Further Can He Bend?

The balance and accuracy of Villa's number 1 striker is quite amazing. Nay, devastating!

His ratio of goals to clear chances must be 90%+; he is a true 'sniffer', and one that is becoming to be in the same class as Allan Clarke of yonks ago. I questioned why Villa should pay so much for this man, but if it had not been for his goals since January, just where would Aston Villa be today?

I would love to see him get his tenth Villa goal versus Liverpool next week.

The key question now is, what is to happen next season? And it's not just one matter up for consideration with the question of the manager's health and the decision to be made by a certain Ashley Young.

Putting aside the matter of the manager for one moment, I now feel that Mr. Young's departure, on balance, would be an error at this time. The club has seen Barry and Milner go in successive years, and for a third one of reasonable quality to go in a third year would just not be enabling the side to develop and, very importantly, not encouraging Mr. Bent to stay either.

Though it is feasible to say that Mr. Young is dispensable, the Villa need to develop as a cohesive unit, and there are going to have to be changes in the defensive area as it is.

It might all still come good for Villa this coming season. ... I hope!!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Villa At Wembley!

There they were, one ex-Villa player after another paraded on and around the pitch ... I was trying to convince myself that it was Villa grabbing the glory at Wembley!

Sorenson ... Barry ... Platt ... and then (only he could do it!) ... John Carew - and, in the wings, Milner.

Just why did Villa let Sorenson go...?!! He made a couple of world class saves.

14th May 2011 must be the only day since that famous Villa day in 1897 when the nation has come to know the winner of both the main domestic trophies on the same day, as Man U are confirmed champions with their result on the same day.

In reality, the day was nothing to do with Villa, and, just now, Villa seem a million miles from glory. But there is next season.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Throstle Sings!

The Villa and the Albion have been at it now for nigh on 130 years, and the Baggies have always been capable of pulling off a surprise against the Villans. Many a time before 26 years ago did the Villa supporters slink home in dread of facing their Albion-supporting colleagues when they went back to work on the Monday. Luckily, this Monday is a bank holiday - it gives an extra day for the potential wise-cracking and cajoling to lose its edge.

This latest defeat against them has something extra unsavoury about it, though. Given a gift start after just 4 minutes and ending up the match with a reported 59% possession, several more shots at goal and the Albion reduced to 10 men at 1-1, just how could Villa not have won this one? What has happened to the Villa shooting (?) - it cannot all be left to Bent.

It looks as though the Villa defence again went to sleep in the last 10 minutes (this is happening so often that I almost wonder whether they are paid to do it!) and Villa's attack could not find anything to at least come away with a draw.

As readers will know, I am always very willing to let the management team have a very fair crack of the whip, but I've now run out of excuses. There have just been too many times where late lapses have cost, and the Villa are beginning to be seen as toothless, despite the passing football which I have welcomed.

We enter the last three matches probably safe from relegation, but will we drop more points against Wigan? And the apprehensive thought of being thrashed by the Gunners and Dalglish's Demons is all too real for comfort. A couple of games ago I was thinking that Villa might be psyching themselves up for classic clashes with the two red teams, but now I'm beginning to be afraid.

Of course, it's over the last two weeks that M. Houllier has been sadly sidelined, but the noise from the Villa camp has been all about his ailment uniting the Villans. Where (oh, where) is that unity?

I'm getting fed up with just words. We want the old Villa spirit back!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Who's Really For Houllier?

Firstly - to put the matter beyond doubt - I have to make it clear that I wish Gerard Houllier all the very best and a speedy recovery. He is clearly a very sincere man who has put his whole heart into turning things around at Villa Park and it is most unfortunate that he has to suffer in this way.

The key question is, though, why is it that his health has so slumped? I somehow cannot think that it's simply through the rigours of running a Premier League football team, even though there is substantial stress involved no matter where your team is in the table.

But when the team has been in the relegation area and a section of the fans get on your back, then that sense of antipathy being directed towards you can - if you're in any way sensitive - cause negative feelings. If your body is already weakened through past health issues, then a negative health situation can manifest itself. I know about negativity on top of previous health issues - it's happened to me.

The football world is a harsh one, and, despite the ideals inherent in its early days, it would seem that since football became professional there have always been elements of undue harshness. The Villa Chronicles records how the famous Archie Hunter was seriously belittled in a club management revolt in 1893, and within 2 years he died. A connection between the two events may not seem obvious, but it was clearly the case that his health (not then in a strong state) was undermined by the 1893 issue. There's also the case of Joe Mercer back in the early '60s. Another example (a non-football one) is the case of the UK prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who died in 1940 only 2 years after his notorious "we have peace in our time" message, only for him to be undermined by Hitler's cunning.

We know about the ability of fans to demonstrate and vent their feelings at matches, but now that football fans also have the ability to transmit their ill-conceived thoughts instantenously over the world through the breathtaking development  of the internet and fans' forums, it now seems that a would-be football manager should not take on the job unless he firstly gets measured up for a suit of armour to wear. And one that is sound-proof and fire-proof!

For me, football reached its summit in 1970. The picture of Pele and Bobby Moore exchanging mutual ackowledgment of admiration in the other's abilities said everything about what was (and should be) good about the sport. Alas, I fear that we shall never see such a picture again, and the more I think about it the more I miss Dwight Yorke's grins.

Despite the considerable improvements in crowd behavior over the past decade, football still has a nasty side to it, and the way the fans got on the back of Houllier was diabolical. Though Mr. Houllier probably did commit a faux pas or two, that is all they were - I am convinced that Mr. Houllier was and is not a malevolant person. He has human rights, just as much as the fans.

Reactionary fans must really reassess their attitudes.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Future of Football?

To me, football appears to be in a crisis that will soon approach mammoth proportions; yet the football world and its followers seem either not to be aware of it or believe that football is somehow detached from the rest of the world’s affairs, that it is somehow cocooned in a world of its own, blissfully riding on a cloud above all the mayhem that is developing beneath it.

Here we are, in the UK, being pushed into frightening cuts in government expenditure (let’s forget, for now, how we got ourselves into this mess). While the unemployment figure rises, the bankers still seem to think they are a breed above everyone else - that they should ‘deserve’ their bonuses. And last night a TV programme told us how university heads receive all kinds of extra incomes ex officio their station in university life. Though not nearly on the same scale as the bankers, it is clear that education has turned into a massive commercial enterprise.

Footballers, bankers, university heads and politicians seem to remain immune from the sufferings of ordinary working people. So much for “we’re all in it together” (Cameron).

So, in the midst of all that is happening locally and in the rest of the world, the football subset – for the moment – remains impervious. Perhaps it is waiting to see what happens next and surely that ‘next’ will come to a head after this season and when the ordinary football punter stops to evaluate whether he can afford the next season ticket.

Back in the early ‘80s, the West Midlands went through a deep depression, and the result for the Villa – even during some of their most successful exploits – were gates often below 20,000. It was not until the early/mid-90s that the gates started recovering.

I can only see average gates going down again, but to what extent remains to be seen. I can see the Villa doing well if the average stays much above 28,000.

The question is, how can the Villa or any of the top clubs survive as they have been doing in the new economic conditions? Surely they cannot, for incomes from TV sources and merchandising will also be greatly reduced.

Will players soon be driving to Bodymoor Heath in electric cars? Will players soon be charged for every swear word they utter?!

And the key question – will there be a return to the maximum wage for footballers?

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Birth of Villa Park - And Me!

A number of years ago, it caught my attention that the fortunes of Aston Villa seemed to strangely follow my own topsy-turvy life and fortune - or lack of it!

I was born in 1944, just before Villa won the wartime League Cup! After that, 1957 was the first year of any issue of importance directly related to me (other than Villa winning the F. A. cup!), followed by 1961. In 1967 (relegation from Div 1!) I got married. That marriage had more downs than ups, and ended in...1975 (promotion to Div 1!).

1975-1979 were upward years for me and Villa, including a move to London and then a business startup in 1979, followed by marriage (again) in 1980 just in time for the League Championship! ... though it had started promisingly, that marriage crashed by 1984, in line with the demise of Villa towards relegation. Having survived a really difficult personal and business period during 1985 to 1989, fortunes again started improving, including marriage #3 (1989)! Villa started picking up about that time.

The 1990s until 1998 were reasonably good, but not without business problems. My business ceased in 1998. Between 1999 and 2005, matters were very (and below) average. Like Villa!

From early 2006 to early 2010 I was involved closely with matters Villa, and it was the time of the Randy Lerner's takeover and after. All seemed to be on the up, particularly when I joined full-time in 2008. Alas, I was removed from my post in January 2010, and though Villa had a fairly bright finish to the season, the aftermath has (as in my case) seen a downturn. C'est la vie.

And what did I discover that links me so closely to Villa? I was born on 18th April. Villa Park was opened on 17th April. The ARIES astrological sign is what links us!

Coincidence? Of course! But what was also remarkable was that the feller who assisted me in my work at Villa Park was born on 16th April. What a couple of book-ends (to Villa Park) we were!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Chronicler's Chronicle - Part 5

Part 5: The End of The Fight (I hope)

The return to the Employment Tribunal on 28th March produced a reasonably satisfactory financial award (and, after costs, just enough to cover the costs of treatment for my wife's severe arthritis), and I wish to sincerely thank the panel of the Tribunal for their enormous dedication in assessing the merits of the case, and to my solicitor (David Cooper) who was the epitome of wisdom and calmness in the whole matter.

However, what I am so very sad about is that the matter did not have to go to the Tribunal to start with. In the process of formally appealing against dismissal there is firstly the appeal to the employer itself, and then via ACAS and also by individual (non-formal) methods. All methods were used by me in attempting to stop it getting as far as it did.

What is particularly very sad is that it was acknowledged that my work at Aston Villa was very much appreciated and yet the club chose to throw me out over a matter that was a complete one-off and which I had got involved in purely in self-defence as an independent author, not as an employee of the club.

There were some things I stated on the H & V thread which (reflecting upon it in the cold light of day) were probably not best said (and I admitted as such at the Tribunal), but, even so, we're all Villa supporters and it's part of the whole issue of being such that we upset one another from time to time. We all get emotional about things we care about and, indeed, the whole matter occurred after going through a long period of personal stress.

Certainly, no harm was meant to individuals nor to the club on my part. It was a "storm in a teacup" as so many people have described it.

Elsewhere (a month ago), I have appealed to the club to work in partnership on historical matters and for this matter to be left behind us. And I stand by that. The award at the Tribunal on Monday (and its settlement) should be the end of it all.

I (of course) wish the club well. It has the best history, and my family have followed its fortunes for 120 years.

Up the Villa!!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Chronicler's Chronicle - Part 4

Part 4: My Time as Club Historian

Everyone said that I had been handed a ‘Dream Job’. Well, there are two main kinds of dreams, and, unfortunately, this one somehow became something approaching a nightmare. After the progress made in 2007, it all turned (unnecessarily) sour.

Despite the not miniscule health hiccoughs encountered in the previous few months, my entry to the job was bouyed by enthusiasm to get finished the job that had been left over from the previous December, and also to promote the history of one of the greatest clubs in the country.

My enthusiasm was also due to the fact that I had been led to believe that the club was very happy to take me on board and not least (I had been told) to get my involvement in the development of the anticipated museum.

It was something of a surprise on first arriving, therefore, when Lee Preece (to whom I was reporting as my line manager), having given me a friendly “welcome”, said to me in deep seriousness: “I trust you will not cross me in your time here?” This utterance immediately seemed to draw a line between my previous state of consultant and my new position as employee.

I did not ask him what he meant by that, but simply reassured him his fears were not grounded; I was there to do a job and was not there for one-upmanship. But it did seem to infer that perhaps Lee had put his head on the block by arguing the case for recruiting me. That the senior management did not seem interested in my arrival (yet “heritage” is a brand value) further surprised me a little – even some colleagues thought that Randy Lerner should have seen me with regard to discussing his plans for the heritage.

Indeed, the very singular experience I had of meeting Randy Lerner was but an accidental and passing situation. A few weeks after my arrival, I happened to bump into Paul Faulkner and Randy as they were coming out of the lift in the North Stand. Paul muttered something into Randy’s ear, there was a brief handshake, and they were off. Even though they did not seem to be in a particular hurry, hardly a word had been spoken and there was no follow up to ‘the meeting’.

From these simple scenarios, it might be seen that matters were not as perhaps as ‘good’ as they should have been, despite pretences that had indicated otherwise. Further, there were a number of significant issues which had not been made clear when I joined the club and which led to misunderstandings and disagreement and, indeed, to my enforced and ill-conceived exit.

What constituted those issues I had intended to go into in detail in further chapters, but it would not have been elevating reading. And, following the occurrence of the huge tragedy in Japan, I am thinking that in the total scheme of things, “what’s the point?”; I hope that it does not become necessary to go into all that. Some, as it is, would accuse me of trying to win cheap brownie points on this matter, but that has been far from my real purpose.

The overriding matter is that the facts relating to my dismissal were heard by the Employment Tribunal and they came to an unequivocal conclusion in my favour. Not only that, but their findings were detailed and clear - there was no mere 'technical issue'. On Ian Robathan’s blog site I made a statement about the case and invited Villa to work in partnership relating to future historical projects. Instead, the club simply stated in the Birmingham Mail (in complete denial of the Tribunal’s decision and also my suggestion), "We stand by our decision to dismiss Mr Lerwill."

It could be that the club’s senior management may have had second thoughts and asked themselves what history has to do with roping in enough cash to pay the club’s bills. Perhaps also my vocal enthusiasm became a bit much for those not motivated by 60 years of support sometimes warmed only by a cup of Bovril. Perhaps there are other factions that have put their oar in.

The dismissal matter still has to go back to the tribunal for a financial award in my favour, and this will take place on the 28th. However, this has been a costly process for me and it remains to be seen how much nett benefit will come my way. In any case, the trauma to my wife and to myself as a result of this happening cannot be replaced by money.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Chronicler's Chronicle - Part 3

The Chronicler's Chronicle (c) 2011 by John Lerwill

Part 3 : The Interregnum

2007 had been a hectic but very happy year; not only had a major portion of the Villa archives reorganisation been achieved, but I had also acquired virtually all I needed to complete the writing of the book I had started research on two years before. Two magical years had slipped by in which I had been deeply absorbed into Aston Villa’s ancient past.

Doesn’t time go by quickly when you’re enjoying yourself?!

Although opportunities suddenly appeared for a return to the I.T. world as a technical writer in other parts of the country, it seemed to me that the Aston Villa route would be the most satisfying to pursue.

The interest and appreciation of the Villa management in what I had done emboldened me into considering putting forward proposals for what might next take place. The idea began to form that perhaps there would be an opportunity to move to Birmingham, but the idea was partly shelved when we learnt that my wife was in need of being hospitalised to have a dangerous operation. That was to take place later in the summer.

But, nevertheless, I put forward my proposals to Villa which included a two-stage approach four months from April, 2008 on the same commute basis from London as in 2007, to be followed by a contract on an employee basis for 30 months (which would necessitate us moving to Birmingham). I provided a detailed job description for the Club Historian and a plan of work and left Lee Preece to do what he could.

There was a pregnant pause while I was waiting for the result of my proposals, but it did not prevent Lee Preece announcing to the SCG that the Villa were trying to secure the services of John Lerwill to help in providing the basis for the setting up of a museum. Lee also told me that when General Krulak stated to him that a museum was a confirmed intention of Randy Lerner, Lee responded to the General that if that was to occur then an expert would be needed to help that dream come to fruition. His prompt had some affect by February, my proposals were accepted.

April came and the first part of my plan was due to start, but what transpired at that point was perhaps a warning of other negative things to come. It is a truism that when the snowball has started rolling down the hill it becomes difficult to pull it back.

I turned up at Villa Park but to be told that the payroll department had only just determined that I could not be paid as in 2007 as it brought up tax problems the role was going to become a permanent one in a few months and as that job was too similar Inland Revenue were likely to ask too many questions (in their opinion).

My response was that this situation had not been planned for and I would not be able to continue work until moving to Birmingham towards the end of the summer and on taking up the employee contract.

What happened then was (literally) a heart stopper. Events seemed to catch up with me at that point and I was not feeling too good. I had decided to stay in Birmingham for the rest of the week to further my research, but within a couple of days I was getting quite dizzy.

When walking up Bull Street one morning on my way to Villa Park, I was feeling very light headed and my eyesight was not so good. I must have looked a bit strange as I do remember a pleasant young lady coming up to me and asking me if I was alright.

That, at least, was a very bright moment in my day!!

I don’t know how but I slowed myself down and continued. I somehow got back to London the following day. To cut a long story short, the following week I was taken into hospital as an emergency with my heartbeat running at a dangerously low level. This was 2002 all over again, but worse.

Looking back on it now, it seems quite incredible that within a week I was home and virtually back to my old miserable self. The experts had decided I needed a pacemaker and so that is what they did. With the shake of a surgeons knife I had become roboticised!

What was a bit sad was that in the same week, the old jazzman and raconteur Humphrey Lyttleton was taken into the same hospital. He did not come out alive. What with him and Elizabeth Taylor (in 1959) and me having been patients at that hospital, they must have become a little tired with having to provide star treatment!!

The rest of the summer seemed to be spent in hospitals! A month after the event above described, I was packing for the impending house move and did something to my back. That required extensive treatment over some time. Then, in early August, my wife had to enter the London Heart Hospital, not for treatment on her heart but for another fairly major procedure. Because of my wife’s medical history the surgeon wanted to perform the procedure with the best heart equipment available just in case.

Three weeks after my wife’s exit from hospital we were looking for accommodation in Birmingham. At the very last throw of the dice we found the house we were happy with and moved up during September. My wife was still far from recovered from her ordeal and, indeed, took another seven months to recover. Our sons and her family were left behind in London (to my wife’s chagrin).

That is how we came to make the move to Birmingham, and, after experiencing all the above and responding (if you will permit me to say so) to Aston Villa’s call, I experienced the clubs instant ejection only 15 months later.

On the flimsiest of issues we were again thrown into penury. Who - in these adversely changing economic times - would take on an ex-football club historian at the age of 65 who had been dismissed?

To Come (t.b.a.): Part 4: My Time as Club Historian

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Chronicler’s Chronicle – Part 2

Part 2 : To Villa Park

A letter to Aston Villa in January, 2007 (describing myself and requesting access to the club’s archives for the purposes of further research for the ‘book’) elicited a reply from Lee Preece, the club’s Football Operations/Projects Manager. A meeting was arranged.

My visit to see Lee was extraordinarily short considering the journey I had taken from London. We sat talking for less than half-an-hour and then came the question to me: “Would you like to see the archives?” Of course, ‘no’ was scarcely going to be my answer, and so I was scooted off to look at the mother of all archives.

It was in a mess! In fact, so much was it in a mess that, in truth, I was scarcely able to evaluate anything of what it contained in the short time available. And, within a few minutes, the conversation somehow turned round to whether I might be in a position to sort it all out!

All within the space of an hour, the matter had proceeded from my request to access the archives to the honour of taking on this organisational task while being able to draw income (at least to cover my commuting costs) while researching in my own time.

I subsequently sent in a written proposal (which was soon accepted) and I commenced this activity in April/May 2007 while I was still based in London. I commuted to the club on a weekly basis.

All this had quickly taken place in a little over 6 months since Randy Lerner had taken over, and it was quite clear that there was some urgency in wanting to know what the archives contained. There was no existing catalogue that could be relied upon.

Did I have qualifications to do the job? Well, I had been an amateur genealogist for over 30 years and such work had (before the days of the Internet) caused me to get to know the archival and some of the conservation systems in places of research around the country, including the National Archives at Kew, the British Library and the Birmingham Central Library.

On top of that, I had spent 40 years in systems analysis and developing computer software applications. I was expert in how to set up a database, which I had proposed for the archives’ catalogue. I had also been a project manager in my own business lasting twenty years and – possibly above all – as a Villa man equipped with those skills and a being stickler for detail, I was able to fully understand what was in the archives and make appropriate recommendations.

Without any forethought, it happily turned out that I had precisely the skills required to engineer a good result.

When I turned up to begin my assignment on site (in May), Lee Preece introduced me to Keith Morris, who was to act as my helper for this project and to do the logging of objects on display around the stadium. Keith and I were both from ‘the black and white days’ (as Keith liked to call it!) – both men of the old terraces and who had witnessed the baggy shorts of yore.

Keith and I disagreed on a major issue – the merits of Norman Lockhart (!) – but apart from that we became happy working buddies for what turned out to be nearly three years. Keith was (and is) a great Villa ambassador and a valuable colleague, and what was more intriguing was the fact that his birthday is April 16th, mine is April 18th, and the birth date (the first match) at Villa Park was April 17th.

The project went on until the following December, and, as had been my experience during research at the British Library, much of the experience had been magical – particularly the research element into the club’s old minutes and other old papers.

Though I had produced detailed reports of what had been found in the archives, created links with the Birmingham Central Library (including a pathway to completing the availability of the Villa News and Record on DVD) and had created a database catalogue, there was still much work to be done when I had to call a halt to what had become a troublesome commute from London.

The Villa management were very pleased with what had been achieved and (importantly) were very impressed with the manner by which I (and Keith) had gone about the task. Interestingly, I scored a particular hit in my graphical descriptions of the work that had been done and what remained to be done.

So, the natural question popped up … should it be continued by me, and (if so) on what basis?

Next: Part 3 : The Interregnum

The Chronicler's Chronicle - Part 1

Part 1: From Despair to Hope

Having moved rapidly into the autumn of my life, being literally bankrupted as a result of my own stupidity, the closure of my business accompanied by the deaths of close family members, my own heart failure and the return to my career being blocked off with no money, what do you think I would feel? Yes … absolute panic!

All these events had occurred over a three or four year period to 2002, and, with my much younger wife’s health also declining, we quickly dropped into the penury zone, which meant reliance on the state and the benefits system. Also, and not least I hasten to say, with reliance on my spiritual beliefs.

Towards the end of 2004 and after recently attaining 60 years of age, a brief interlude of financial clarity emerged – a return to my I.T. profession. But, 9 months later, that came to an abrupt closure with redundancy. No other avenue emerged despite trying to find further work, so by December 2005 such redundancy money I had received had dwindled and reliance on the state soon returned. I was nearly 62. What were the options available? Not much!

They say that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, and the fact that I had been a Villa supporter for over 50 years, and being a great student and admirer of the club’s history, it suddenly came to me that here I was, living quite close to the British Library’s old newspapers department at Colindale, North London, that perhaps I could research the ancient history of the club and also publish that history.

I set about doing just that, and from the beginning of 2006 and for another 15 months, that is what I did. Three or four days a week I undertook what I called ‘my great adventure’ at Colindale and spent the rest of my time documenting the findings.

It was 15 months of magic, pouring through those ancient newspapers and journals – many of them nearly falling apart – and others already microfilmed. When sitting at the microfilm reader in a somewhat darkened room with the main light coming from the bulb in the reader, it was often as though I was looking into a crystal ball. And the magic of the writer’s description of Archie or Andy Hunter (or whoever else amongst that fraternity it might have been) was gripping and elevating.

Astonishingly, in the summer of that same year the news came that Randy Lerner had bought Aston Villa. And, soon after, it was beginning to be clear that part of his concern was for the heritage of the club. Would my contribution to the record of the club’s heritage be of use, I wondered … ?

Next:   Part 2 : To Villa Park

Friday, 4 March 2011

Villa and the Cup

An old chestnut of mine is the issue of Villa and the FA Cup, a trophy in which Villa reached the semi-final stage three times in the late 1950s (during my mid-teens) and actually won the Cup once in that time. That win was back in 1957 - 54 years ago - and it means that Villa now have only reached two FA Cup finals in EIGHTY-SEVEN years, compared to eight finals in the preceding THIRTY-SEVEN years.

Villa were once known as a great cup team, and though Villa started winning the Football League Cup instead, even that series of successes seems to have dried up. It is now fifteen years since Villa's last win - and Small Heath have just won it for only their second-ever trophy success.

Maintaining an average of 5th or 6th in the Premier League is all very well, but the club now lacks that romance that was once present. At one time you would be thinking, "Oh, another season and perhaps another great cup run" ... but not now.

The matches at Villa Park are now mostly humdrum events with a long stream of disappointing performances against the likes of Man U, Liverpool and Arsenal. When Villa have succeeded against top teams it's usually been because of a tremendous defensive effort and team spirit - fine qualities, but little sign of quality attacking football.

I hate to say it, but Villa is rapidly becoming ordinary; even in the old Third Division days there was more excitement. What a sad thing to say coming up to five years since the current owner took over the club and nearly 30 years since winning the European Cup; the club's pretensions to greatness seem to have disappeared. Villa had the great opportunity to kick ahead after the European Cup win but instead fell behind, and (apart from rare glimpses) have never since really looked like catching up.

The team that Villa put out on Wednesday night really summed up the current situation. It was a declaration of fear. A great club goes out on the pitch with hope, and if defeat with honour is the result, then so be it.

Can I have my old club back please?

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Recommended Employment Lawyer

In my haste yesterday, I forgot to give due thanks to my lawyer, David Cooper of Cox Cooper, Hall Green. He is a very fine employment lawyer. If you were ever to need an employment lawyer, go to him. You can't go wrong.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Justice at Villa Park

As you may know, I was Aston Villa's official Club Historian until January, 2010. A matter occurred that resulted in me being dismissed from the post that month.

I contested my dismissal and the verdict was finally given in my favour at the Birmingham Employment Tribunal today, 25 February, 2011. Though this matter is over, I simply feel a very deep disappointment that it ever occurred and that it has been dragged through 12 months of unnecessary upset.

It was, however, a triumph for justice and commonsense.

For more details please click here.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Hooray for Houllier!

I have to say that I am very, very happy for Houllier. Although this is only a small step in terms of getting out of the mire, it is (I believe) a big step in indicating that his critics have got it wrong, albeit that it's early days yet.

You could only see by the glow on his face how fired up he was by this Villa performance and the team - those that he wants - are clearly playing for him. The icing on the cake was for the debutant over-priced striker to show that his signing may well be a masterpiece. Though, still, overpriced.

Three points on Tuesday would be nice to add to this feeling of well-being.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Villa: Now Really Back In The Big Time?

After two years of players (Barry and Milner) leaving Villa ostensibly because they wanted to win things, the message has begun to be clear that it is important to demonstrate to the remaining stars that Villa does intend to win things, and that serious action is being taken to get to that exalted position.

By going out and staking such a whopping sum on a player (as well as the other signings that have taken place of apparent quality) it tells Ash & Downing, "look, there's the reason for you to stay". It's expenditure that's been necessary just for that reason, if for nothing else.

For that line of thinking to take effect, and for the actual purchase recommendations, the primary person to be given credit is M. Houlllier ... in doing the persuading, but also the owner, of course, for stumping up the cash.

On face value, brave and important executive action has been taken, and the kind of action that Villa has not really seen for more than 80 years - perhaps since the arrival of Gibson, Brown, Beresford and Waring.

Yes, it's taken 80+ years for the Villa to re-assert itself in expenditures of mammoth proportions according to the time.

BTW, it may take a lot of believing, but from my researches it's come to light that in the last 60 years, Villa could quite easily have obtained (when young) John Charles, Jackie Sewell, Alex Jeffrey and Allan Clarke, but the Villa board wouldn't take the risk of purchasing young talent that had not been fully proven. We saw that scenario repeated in the case of Keane a decade ago. And George Graham was let go for a snip in '64, and Gerry Hitchens could have been bought from Kidderminster for £1,000.

Imagine; John Charles - a Villan! How things would have been so different - probably.

So, perhaps this is the first real indicator that Villa is back in the big time ... All that's required now is for it all to come together and do the business.

I still am not sure that that 18m or 24m has gone on the right player, though. It's tempting to think it's the right one, but ...

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Houllier's a Devil Whatever He Does!

Villa won today. Straight away, the so-called fans that would have been snarling for Houllier's dismissal had Villa lost are seething about the win! "Oh!", they shout, "it's only against an average Championship side!"

O'Leary once called Villa's fans fickle. Well, there are good many that are not (fickle), but clearly there's a fair number that are (fickle). Nothing will please them once they've decided they don't like someone, regardless of what good transpires.

These 'fans' (I call them such as I suppose they pay an entrance fee) seem to want the agony of negativism ... perhaps they do not know what something 'pleasant' is. A win is a win ... it should raise the spirits ... the fact that the net has been found three times proves the players have re-found their technique for scoring goals ... there's hope for the next match ... there's a week ahead when the Villa fan will get no taunts from his non-Villa friends.

Some of us vaguely remember those dire days of 1966, '67, '68 ... They were terrible. It had been years since Villa had been anywhere near the top-6 of the League. The claret and blue lion looked as though it was about to die ... but we kept on hoping, and justifiably so, too.

It seems that too many 'fans' now can't accept there's a life outside the top-6. That's the only sphere they know of, regardless of the lack of real quality in the football that we saw week-in, week-out, apart from the occasional sparkle.

Still, it has to be said that without suffering you cannot properly know elation. Perhaps a bit of suffering for a few weeks won't do any harm at all!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Well, I think I'll take up knitting for a couple of weeks...!

I suppose it's no good me saying, "Hey! All four West Midlands' sides are lining up for relegation"?

No, that's avoiding the seriousness of Aston Villa's position; our own team has broken into the bottom three. Some fans were thinking more about the top 3 before the season began, but I think where we are says it all for now.

The positives? Not much, except to say there's 17 matches to go and a possibility of another 51 points. And the January window has only just opened, so something very good can (and must!) materialise.

We can only be patient and go round with a sellotape smile. The matter is still only sortable by the current manager, and he will have earned his salt if he can produce a mid-table finish at season's end.

Oh, and the players must decide that they really have to put a double shift into earning their pay.

Go Houllier!!


Sunday, 2 January 2011

Checkmate by the White Knight !

It is early days ... Villa are not yet safe, but if there were any doubts amongst the supporters that there is any spirit in the team then those doubts surely should have been removed by this performance.

Yes, it was very nearly defeat after a last 10 minutes when Villa again let in the opposition, but there was still the fire in the Villa belly to come back in injury time to notch a worthy draw against a team that is still one of the country's six best.

We still need to see how it all goes over the next month, but we go into the next home game against Sunderland with a fair measure of confidence.


Saturday, 1 January 2011

Shock and Awe!

I am staggered at the amount of harangue - much of it spiteful - being directed at Houllier. It is not worthy of the great name of Aston Villa and makes Villa fans look like hooligans.

The fans don't like being at the current league position, of course, but to denigrate a highly-qualified and accomplished manager after only 3 months in the post, and dealing with matters that he has largely inherited, is beyond the pale.

Perhaps Houllier is not perfect in some ways, but tell me the name of a manager who is perfect? I am sure there is not an alternative currently available, so what is the point of this senseless ranting that's going on in the internet forums? And would another change of manager help at this juncture? Of course not.

In fact, someone has pointed out that other 'new' managers appointed this season are also going through the same (or similar) anti experience, but in their case they had the advantage of pre-season entry to their clubs and being able to buy players.

I call on all sensible fans everywhere to help in bringing peace to this situation by chanting Houllier's name at matches - to counteract any opposite chanting that may arise. But, you never know - Villa's performance at Chelsea might help to dispel the cloud, even if they lose.

I pray that they play well.