“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.