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

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!