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

Sunday, 30 December 2012

It Has To Be Fixed in January


To state what we all know (I suppose) ...

15 goals conceded in three games, and zero scored. Not the most conceded in 3 matches (the record is 17 - twice - in 1935-36), but the fact that 15 have been conceded with hardly a sign that any goals could have been scored creates the view that there are problems at both ends of the pitch. 0-15 equals an unwanted club record deficit for three back-to-back defeats (it equals 2-17 in 1935-36).

The calendar year 2012 produced 3 wins in 20 home matches ­- an unheard of record at Villa Park, a ground where once Villa reigned supreme. And 28 goals scored in the last 29 home league matches; 40 conceded (the last 2 seasons combined).

Villa Park now offers no fears for anyone.

A fair amount of that history is the responsibility of the previous managerial incumbant, but it is very sad there's no improvement in that home record. It does not mean to say that Lambert is to be regarded as having got it all wrong ... the fine away wins at Man City, Norwich and Liverpool bear testimony to that ... but if he does not get it adjusted in January then it's going to be a slippy slope he can't get out of.

The return of Vlaar and Gabby (and I would also say Warnock) is a must to bring some leadership back into the team, for although Clark is a striver he is (rightly) only the third-choice skipper.

The only thing that will cause me to regard Lambert as a loss is if he (as I admit he's intimating) does not bring in a couple of extra solid and experienced players in January - even if they're near retirement age.

It's up to Lambert ... this is his big chance to show what kind of managerial material he is. January is the key month - lose that and we're virtually certain to go down.
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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Museum? ... What Museum?


It is astonishing, isn't it? Aston Villa (a.k.a. The First Superclub) still talks about having a museum whilst relative newcomers to football history have recently opened their new museum.

What is more, Wolves aren't even currently in the Premiership!


This news comes hard on the heels of the efforts of volunteers at Warwickshire Cricket Club who set up a museum at their ground on a budget of £150.

The museum talk at Villa Park has been on-going since the 1980s, and when Randy came in we thought that was one of the projects that would be close to Randy's heart. In fact, I know the club could make money out of it.

The North Stand re-development (which would have housed the museum - though a pretty puny one from the plans I saw) has been shelved, of course, and that would probably be given as the reason as to why Villa still doesn't possess a museum. But why cannot the club (and/or volunteers) set up a temporary effort until (and if) the final solution arrives?

Villa fans are always talking about the pride they have in the club's history. I assume that those fans mean what they say.

???
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Sunday, 9 December 2012

The December Fixtures


Yes, there are difficulties to be faced in the forthcoming fixtures. But we experienced that in November when Villa did not do too badly in terms of performances. We should quietly forget about the Man City match - that result hinged on those two dastardly penalty decisions that even Mutley wouldn't have given!

No match is to be regarded as 'easy' in the Premier League - and Lambert knows that. Following the November experience, he's welded together a team that has proved to be impenetrable in defence and wily in midfield - but without that touch of creativity to provide enough clear-cut scoring chances. It's a side that has the ability to grind out a point from most matches - after all, without much by way of attacking flair, what else can Lambert go for?

But the positive side of the news is that Vlaar will come back fairly soon (not that his deputy hasn't done a bad job), and also Bennett to more assuredly fill the LB place. There's also the coming availability of N'Zog - a useful player to have on the bench at least. Al Ahmadi is also there.

But perhaps how Villa will do in December may rest on the confidence that a win could generate at Norwich on Tuesday (League Cup QF). After seeing how Norwich confidently played to lead 3-0 at Swansea, I'd say that Villa have a tough nut to crack. Therefore a win would indeed put smiles on the faces of all Villans: next week's visit to Liverpool could then be looked on with more confidence.

Liverpool are going through a lean period and it's not the place to fear that it used to be. Even then, though, Villa can be remembered for having produced some surprisingly good displays and results at Anfield, so it's never been a place that Villa have been afeared of.

Yes, the December fixtures (consecutively Liverpool, Chelsea away, Spurs at home) are tough ... but they will remain tough for the rest of the season.

We just need to sign that midfield magician in January. Nothing much to ask for.
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Friday, 7 December 2012

The Biggest Club (in 1913 at least!)



“ASTON Villa is the biggest club on the football canvas.”

So it was claimed in 1913. Not in partisan fashion by a Birmingham pundit but by a correspondent of the London Evening News.

These days, the Londoncentric media often barely acknowledges the existence of football beyond Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham. Back in 1913 they didn’t have much choice.

Arsenal were so deep in financial crisis they were considering a merger with Charlton Athletic.

The Gunners had just been relegated to Division Two while Chelsea and Spurs scraped to safety above them, finishing immediately above the drop zone.

After eight years in the league, Chelsea were a yo-yo club while Spurs had failed to break into the top half of the top tier in four seasons since entering the League by beating Lincoln City in an election ballot so dodgy even Robert Mugabe would have deemed it unfeasible.

From the north, too, came acknowledgment that Villa were top dogs. Preston North End were big back then and the ‘Invincibles’ had some battle-royals with Villa but their skipper Bob Holmes admitted: “The Villa played football as if they wre playing chess ­ you were not allowed to interfere with their moves.”

“The most outstanding trailblazer in football.” That was Villa. It’s hardly news that, long ago, Villa were one of the most successful clubs in football. But that they were the biggest of all ­ and just how big ­ has just been revealed in an excellent book by John Lerwill.

Few people have a deeper and more detailed knowledge of the club than Lerwill. Birmingham-born into a generations-deep family of Villa supporters, he is a former official historian of Villa as well as a life-long supporter.

He has devoted years of research into ‘Aston Villa ­ The First Superclub’, a remarkable tome which gives a thorough account of the club’s entire history.

All areas are covered from great games and great players to the great stories that happened (the Barwick Street meeting at which Fred Rinder galvanised the supporters and set the agenda for all the success to follow) and those that didn’t happen (“Any manager would want to take on such a job with a club like Aston Villa,” said Brian Clough. “It is a big club and I would probably have taken up the post there if I had been approached ­ but nobody asked me.”)

The book is not, however, simply an exercise in flag-waving. The thin times are also well-documented but most fascinating is the detail of Villa’s once-exalted position at the summit of English football.

In the 20 years leading up to the First World War, Villa won the league six times and were runners-up five times. In that era they accumulated 1,063 points, comfortably more than anyone else. Of their rivals, only Everton (1,008) topped 1,000. They also won four FA Cups and their success was reflected off the field. Club president Joseph Ansell hailed them “a gigantic trading concern.”

Yes, Villa were indeed a ‘superclub’. And as you delve into the detail in this definitive book, one question looms large: Can they ever be a ‘superclub’ again?

They remain a big club, of course. A famous club with big support. But to be a ‘superclub’ you have to have success.

When will Villa know success again? Will they ever again challenge for the league title?

Or are they, like the vast majority in the charmless plutocracy which the top level of English football has become, destined to set sneaking into the top six, with perhaps a cup final here and there, as the pinnacle of their ambition?

If so, the reason is certainly not all of Villa’s making. They were only one of the clubs which, in 1992, voted to form the Premiership, a move which, in one swoop, set the English top flight on course to become its current farce of a tiny elite pursued hopelessly from a great distance by the rest. That momentous decision guaranteed the fat cats would get ever fatter while the rest, well... perhaps Coventry, Oldham, Forest, Ipswich, Sheffield United ­ founder members of the Premiership ­ might now reflect it wasn’t such a great idea.

Villa finished second in that inaugural Premiership season, Ron Atkinson’s side finishing ten points behind Manchester United. They have not got anything like as close since and, as the wealth gap widens, the glass ceiling hardens.

Now the top clubs plunder the planet for players while the only way for a club to join the elite is to be bought, Manchester City-style, by a billionaire.

The Premiership has been won by only Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City in the last 17 years. Will that change in the next 17? You could argue that back in the early 1970s, relegated to the third tier for the first time, Villa were closer to winning the league than they are now.

Nine years, almost to the day, after playing Chesterfield in Division Three, they were champions. What price Villa winning the Premiership in 2021? Randy Lerner’s arrival in 2006 sparked optimism and, under Martin O’Neill, a period of relative success ­ two top-six finishes and a League Cup final. But O’Neill became frustrated by the owner’s refusal to throw huge money into driving the club forward and since the Irishman’s resignation, at a mischievously damaging time on the eve of the 2009/10 season, well...

Two dreadful managerial appointments didn’t help. If the ailing Gerard Houllier had the Holte End jury out, the recruitment of Alex McLeish direct from Blues will forever remain one of the most baffingly stubborn, silly and doomed-from-day-one managerial moves in the history of football. But alongside the on-field travails, one off-field question began to gather credibility: Did Lerner, for all his experience of owning clubs in American sport, under-estimate what a financial black-hole the Premiership is?

“How do you become a millionaire?” Milan Mandaric once quipped. “Start off as a billionaire then buy a football club!”

After investing £160 million in Villa in his first four years, Lerner learned the hard way. So out went Gareth Barry. James Milner, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing. And the club’s appetite to challenge the big boys, whetted by the resurgence under O’Neill, evaporated.

Another well-worn saying in football is: “Stand still as a club and you will go backwards.” That appears borne out by the current league table as Villa head into winter in a relegation dogfight,

Where does the club go from here? At least, after two awful appointments, they now have a manager whose arrival encouraged the fans. Paul Lambert has no big-club managerial experience and is learning as he goes but has a track record of success, a ferocious work ethic and high ambition.

Beyond the short-term business of keeeping Villa in the top flight, though, as the top clubs disappear ever further into the financial stratosphere, what can Lambert’s ­ and Villa’s ­ realistic aspirations be? Mid-table? The Europa League?

In “Aston Villa ­ The First Superclub”, John Lerwill reveals that back in 1936, when Villa were in crisis following relegation to Division Two, Rinder returned to the board and vowed: “Villa have been a great club, are still a great club and always will be a great club.”

Perhaps. But, in the warped world of English football where a tiny number of clubs become ever more bloated while many flirt with ruin, will they ever again be a successful club? Few men are better qualified than Lerwill to ponder that question.

“Villa’s future is in the balance,” he said. “Trusting that Paul Lambert is able to steer a safe course this season then the future under his style could be bright. But whether the club will be able to replicate the glory years, even of the early 1980s, is a moot point.

“Without major funding behind Lambert, the main factor determining Villa’s future is the Premier League itself. It needs to become much more of a level playing field.”

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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Everything you'll need to know...

The following is Matt Turvey's review of my book Aston Villa : The First SuperclubMatt writes for the Express and Star and on the Aston Villa Life blog.

Whilst most of our focus is on what is happening this week, next week, and next month at Villa Park, the club have a rich tapestry of events that is largely unrivaled by any club on the planet. Flash back to the beginnings of Aston Villa in 1874, and the club were seen as a massive force in the world game, not just in England. Why am I bringing this up? To open up a review of “Aston Villa: The First Superclub” by good friend and former club historian John Lerwill.

At 500 pages, John’s book on Villa is extensive and thorough ­ in that sense it reminds me of an encyclopedia of information, albeit written in a narrative form. However, the book reads well, taking into account masses of detail from the club’s early inception as a winter fitness exercise for the Aston chapel cricketers all the way to the present day.

For those of you who don’t know John Lerwill by name, he was the club’s historian up until recent years and, as one would expect for a man whose role was to catalogue the history of Birmingham’s number one club, John’s books are massively intricate taking in everything from photos to snippets of conversations from the late 19th century as well as the obvious match references.

Many of the names in the book will be well known, not just to Villa fans with knowledge of the club’s history, but to many outside the club, in particular the club’s first chairman William McGregor ­ one of the founder members of the league.

Some of the information, especially for those without the extensive knowledge that John has, will be new and interesting, even if the dates where these people were alive are, in some cases, over a hundred years old.

The book, whilst able to be read like a consecutive piece in much the way as I did when reading it for the purpose of the review, also serves as a veritable treasure trove of information that can be dipped in and out of for anyone who wants insight into the club’s history, more specifically Villa’s role as a leader in the game whether it was back in the days before the Football League was being put together before automobiles graced the streets, or back in 1982 when the club were crowned “Champions of Europe”.

Due to the sheer volume of information presented in a piece as deep as John’s book is, I do find it a challenge to cover everything in the book simply because this is, for the most part, a thorough review of most of the club’s history, and one that extends on John’s past pair of books “The Aston Villa Chronicles” which are now sadly out of print.

With that said, there is no requirement to own John’s earlier books in order to enjoy “Aston Villa: The First Superclub”, and any reader who is keen to understand the history of a club that is filled with past glories will find the book a thoroughly interesting and well written piece, with a depth and richness that can only be created by a man who clearly loves the club as much as you or I.

Whether you want to find out how George Ramsay found his way to the club, who the “Old ‘Uns” were, how the views of directors of a club have come from Fred Rinder’s era where his view was where “the directors ought to manage the club and if they are not capable of doing so they ought not to be there” to today’s billionaires, or to review any part of the club’s history from McGregor to the end days of Alex McLeish, you will find your fill of information here.

Overall the book is a fantastic read, massively in-depth, and well researched and a great addition to a library of any Aston Villa fan. My recommendation? Don’t take my word for it, just go out and buy it ­ you’ll be glad you did.

The book is available at the Aston Villa stores (at Villa Park and the city centre), at W.H. Smith (The Fort) and at Birmingham Waterstones at the cover price (of £29.00). For further information and how to order a postal delivery, please click on the following link to the book on John Lerwill’s web site ­

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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Paul Lambert - A Blessing, I suggest


I feel that most fans are pretty well satisfied (in a nervous sort of way!) that PL is leading Villa in a decent way that should lead to success of some kind in the next (very) few years.

It could be that he's walking a tightrope (that could end in the Championship if he's not very careful) but the question has been raised whether he should have kept Collins or Cuellar - or both. My view is that I don't feel that keeping Collins or Cuellar would have helped very much and certainly would not have been an improvement over Vlaar and Clark. I also think that Lowton seems to get better as the season wears on and therefore Cuellar at r-b (where he was always a bit suspect) would not be better in that way either.

For me the key area that Villa need to improve on is in midfield, and I trust that in January something will be done there. Belatedly, but better late than never.

In the meantime, provided their heads don't drop over the next couple of weeks, I see things getting better if the team is given time to settle.

I believe the key problem is the board, who i.m.o. have created the mess that's been with us over the last 2.5 years. They're not bad people but people who have shown naiivity and, in my view, not much taste (the strip design, the logo design and Ginteng Islands as the sponsor as being the best examples of that) and we need PL to keep them on a decent path on the pitch at least.

After the last 2.5 years, surely PL is a blessing?!
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Saturday, 27 October 2012

I Pity Lambert


I did try to see sense in the Benteke sub, but couldn't other than that PL perhaps feels obliged to play Bent to keep him happy, but I cannot see that Lambert is the real reason why Villa are in this state.

Trying to grow a new team in the Premier League, on the cheap and without on-the-field leadership of quality, is not a thing to be recommended. I think that Villa would have scraped home today but for the sending off, but that's not really the point. We're now in for the trickiest of periods and we'll be lucky if we come out of it with any morale left. Unless the team somehow raises itself. Somehow!

PL hasn't complained about lack of support from the board, but he should i.m.o. It now seems clear that Villa need one or two quality players to lead a young team through this, but you only get those if you're willing to pay the appropriate wage. Lerner is plainly not willing to do that, and to have paid up to £24m. for a striker who now cannot get the kind of ammunition he feeds on, is (and has been) an utter waste.

No, I do not see PL suddenly becoming a bad manager. He may be panicking a bit perhaps (hence the sub he made) but he showed at Norwich that he had the nous to do a good job. What he needed when he came here was some experienced Prem players of quality - just a couple. That he didn't get them is not his fault. Or perhaps he thought that he would get the quality out of Ireland, or was persuaded he had to try that. Surely it's commonsense?
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Thursday, 4 October 2012

Old is Gold


A bit of wry news came my way this week. I learnt that Peter Lupson's and my book 'The Inspirational William McGregor' is sold out at the Villa stores and is being discontinued as a line in their catalogue. We are both surprised at this. Very surprised.

Now, some may say "Well, so what?" But this point is not just about the discontinuation of a book, it appears to be a reflection of the official attitude towards the club's heritage and traditions.

After all, the story of William McGregor is one that I would have thought we're all proud of - it's timeless. If the club was as proud of the club's tradition as we are then surely the management would ensure that at least some copies of this book would always be retained and visible in their stores.

Their decision comes after purchasing and selling just 66 copies. This compares to another 420 copies sold in the rest of the country - mainly in the north of England and Scotland - and overseas. The south (of course!) were barely interested. Even the Football League didn't want to promote it, but made sure they got 5 free copies.

As we had around 500 printed, we were left with about 16 copies and I offered these to the Villa stores at a discount. After all, William McGregor was a Villan I thought. But the offer was refused.

Meanwhile David Woodhall's books always remain on the shelves of the Villa stores. I have nothing against his books whatsoever, but in my opinion they do not really reflect the majesty of the club's history. Maybe his books have more of a commercial edge, regardless of the content.

And then we move onto the matter of the museum. It was part of the plans to re-build the North Stand and the car park complex, but the whole project has been mothballed - for now, we are told.

But I cannot for the life of me see why a temporary museum cannot be made available until the main development comes into effect. Even Doug Ellis did something in that direction. After all, 3 years have already lapsed since plans were drawn up. This development would not only help to promote the greatness of the club's history and its influence on the professional game, but would also bring in extra cash to help the club's finances. I feel that such an investment would help in changing the country's overall perspective of the club.

When I was at Villa Park (in 2009) I was asked to provide some financial arguments to show the sustainability of a Villa Park museum. I did some research into the museums of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal (and one or two others as I recall) and discovered that Man U sometimes achieved 300,000 visitors in one year - but more typically 200,000. Chelsea and Arsenal were of the 100,000 annual visitors variety.

So, I put forward a conservative figure of around 50,000 annual visitors for Villa and, at an entry fee comparable to Man U's, there would have been a substantial financial return. And the Villa stores would have benefited in the process. The idea seemed to have been accepted at the time but, surprise surprise, I found myself sacked within 3 months and the idea of a museum was no longer a priority.

I understand that the state of the world economy has changed very significantly since 2009, but football somehow marches on and refreshing ideas do need to be implemented to improve the club's image. The way the club is promoted now is as though it is just another football club; I feel that the aspirations of the Children of the Revolution have been removed.

It is said that 'old is gold', and I for one believe that is a good description of Aston Villa.

The club's history may be in the past - but what a history! And what a history to be made something of.

And, since we have a fan by the name of Tom Hanks, I would have thought he could make a very good movie to help his favourite club along! I wonder who would play the roles of George Ramsay and Archie Hunter?
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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Villa Park - A Conundrum


In August, an SCG meeting was held at Villa Park, and the Q and As are reported via this link.

The matter was reported on Jonathan Fear's Vital Villa site via this link. But the first response to this post on the Vital Villa site, by 'voiceoftheholte', really did make me think hard... (I have included only the main issue of the response and also have broken it up into chunks, for readability), and caused me to come to a conclusion that has surprised myself:

"... I understand the issue on the North Stand redevelopment as we cannot fill the ground we have, because there are too many fickle fans/part timers/glory hunters etc. ... The question was asked on transport but the club has a fundamental problem that will not be overcome whilst the club is based in Aston.

"Due to cultural changes, the ground is in a deprived part of Birmingham that is home to a 90% immigrant population. This social group have no affinity with the football club within whose shadows they live. Villa are not alone with this problem. Newcastle, Bluescouse, Redscouse etc are fortunate to have locations that have not been affected by population change over the years. So regardless of transport, Villa Park will remain a matchday venue only.

"The location and lack of supporters that live within the shadows of Villa Park will mean that youth/reserve games will struggle to attract support. The restaurants are underused and the Holte Pub can not open except on matchdays. The mainly muslim population have no need for pubs in the area. All the supporter consultation groups, whilst occasionally coming up with an idea, will never overcome most of the problems facing many football clubs in the future and are akin to moving the deckchairs on the Titanic.

"Flatten Villa Park, sell the land for development and move to the area now home to the Aston Science Park on the east side of the City Centre, next to the ThinkTank and within walking distance of the 3 Main train stations in Brum, the Metro service and every bus route into Brum. Make it the heart of the City or all the fan initiatives in the world are pointless. Big men and big leaders make big decisions. Lets forget ticking boxes and do something fundamental for the long term health of our great club.

"Villa Park worked up to 40 years ago. It doesn't anymore. Fortune favours the brave." 

Phew!! 'voiceoftheholte' (if he is!) certainly packs a powerful emotional punch. Until now I had never seriously thought that Aston Villa FC should move from where it is. There is so much history tied up with the area on which the ground is located, and the club's own lengthy and deep history there, that I previously could not reconcile with the thought of the home of Aston Villa being elsewhere. But his arguments are pointed and caused me to address this issue for myself.

I have to say that I now agree that something fundamentally requires to be done. And I also think that his proposal (the move to an adjacent point to the ThinkTank) has merit. But would the city government support that location?

It's hard to think of another location that would be more appropriate, to my mind. I definitely would not be happy for the club to move to a green-field site outside the city. The idea of utilising rail transport seems far more appealing.
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Monday, 10 September 2012

Aston Villa's History

I received the following testimonial for the book, Aston Villa : The First Superclub,  from a reader this week-end:

"Congratulations on writing a superb book. I ... have been enthralled reading it. ...I have a copy of Peter Morris"s 1960 book which started my collection of Villa books. Your book is the best so far produced."

Don't worry, this kind of feedback doesn't go to my head, but the last sentence is worth looking at.

How many times has the Villa story been told (in printed detail), is the first question. I think the importance of Peter Morris's book was that he set a standard - and the basis was that he ensured, in the 1960 book and his 1974 follow-up, that the glory of Aston Villa would never dim. Previous histories were very tame and scattered affairs - he at least put a story together.

It was only in the 1990s that further comprehensive histories of the club appeared - notably by Rippon and McColl. And they - despite the size of their publications - did not go as deeply into the history as they might have. Other publications have appeared that have discussed the club's early history - but nothing very comprehensive. Simon Inglis's fine book was, of course, primarily about Villa Park and not the entire history.

Not only that, but all those books have contained a fair number of errors or exaggerations.

One of the perpetual errors is that the club was founded by four people under a lamplight ... whereas Jack Hughes insisted that the founders of the club were all the 15 founding members, as stated in The First Superclub. The 'four' were just out on a scouting mission on behalf of the Bible Class, nothing more. Perhaps it was Norman Edwards who gave undue prominence to that lamplight meeting.

It wasn't until The Villa Chronicles appeared that people were aware of who was the first club president, and other early Wesleyan Chapel details that were uncovered by Peter Lupson. And there is a photo of the first club president hidden in a newspaper of 1924 - one that proved too expensive for me to get an extract.

It was because of the errors and omissions that I commenced my delvings starting from early 2006, firstly resulting in The Villa Chronicles. I believe that publication put considerable amounts of additional information out for public consumption, and though I was shocked that the club has reduced the cost of the book to the extent it has, at least people can now more easily afford to buy it. The real early history is now more widely disseminated.

What is more, The First Superclub improves on the early history  in respect of Jack Hughes' statements, and for the first time a book contains profiles of nearly all of those early members.

The book also contains considerably more new detail - not only in respect of details of matches and players and other important detail - but also in respect of the involvement of fans, particularly in the significant 1968-2006 period.

So, The First Superclub book is more than a simple repetition of stories told before. It in fact tells those stories in far more detail and accuracy than before and, I hope, acts as the true bible (with The Villa Chronicles, Bishop and Holte's Complete Record and Simon Inglis's book) of the club's real history.

I am not saying it cannot be improved upon. Some day someone may well just do that. But that someone will have to do more research than was packed into 60-70% of my time in the 6 years between 2006 and 2011.

For a review of the book, please click here. 
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Monday, 3 September 2012

What a Surprise!


Surprise, surprise surprise...

What happened against Newcastle was a good uplift for all Villa fans, me included!

For the first time for quite awhile we not only saw a Villa team pushing back the opposition but doing it in a coordinated way ... there was actually teamwork, and more than a trace of method.

It's not by any means the finished article, but considering what happened against Everton only a week ago, this was a vast transformation, and it gives great hope that Mr. Lambert will get his team to improve on it. What is important, that by the time we get to meeting the big teams in the League, there may well be a Villa team that is living up to the club's motto: "Prepared".

One further note: it was good to see Gabby back. That sublime pace was seen once when Bent was supplied with a very scorable chance. Shame that Falcao wasn't playing for Villa - he would have scored!

March on, Paul Lambert! The Force be with you!
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Thursday, 30 August 2012

We Wanted Change


The eminently fine Aston Villa Life blog - http://www.astonvillalife.com/aston-villa-blog/you-wanted-change-you-got-it/ - states "You wanted change - You got it!". It goes on to reflect how the club had paid over the odds for players and was paying wages it couldn't afford, and it had to come to the point that it was a route that was unsustainable. "We" wanted change, apparently, and we got it.

But hang on! "We" didn't ask for a change in that respect, did we? As far as I recall it was the owner who backtracked on finding he hadn't the wherewithall to back his commitment. The primary change "we" wanted was a manager who knew his stuff, thinking that an enterprising owner (now that he's re-couped cash from his other sporting venture) would back such a manager.

Now I don't argue with the need to keep spending under control, but the old business adage is that you only get back what you put into it. If you want success you have to take some kind of risk towards that success - if you're timid then you might just stand to fall. And - for goodness sake - this is Aston Villa, not Birmingham City or Coventry City.  The club's motto is "Prepared". I bet Randy wishes it wasn't!

The Aston Villa Life blog article goes on to admit that, "Oh, yes, we are spending on some lower league players for reinforcements" - but the reality is showing up to be the case that all the reinforcements are coming in from the lower leagues - or players from abroad without PL experience.

Now, I accept that players such as Vlaar and El-Ahmadi may well grow in stature as the season progresses. But I feel the key question is whether Ireland and Nzog can also raise their game to lead the way for the young players coming from the lower divisions.

Villa's season, to me, now rests on the ability of Ireland and Nzog (and Gabby?) to do the business. If not, then the club will have failed to address the key questions, which I see as (a) the mastery of the midfield and (b) the kind of supply that Bent expects. And that failure could mean another 16th/17th place at best or ... (the unmentionable).

And "..." will only prolong the agony as I see it.
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Friday, 24 August 2012

Aston Villa's History : A New Book

Aston Villa : The First Superclub 
(the story of Aston Villa, 1874-2012) 

Officially to be launched this Monday (the 27th), the book is in fact already available.

Apart from the history narrative, the outstanding features of the book are:

  •         510 pages hardback and jacket, including many images
  •         Accounts of the most memorable 60 matches since 1887
  •         Descriptions of 200 of the Villa's most outstanding players 
  •         Profiles of the club's founders


Please link to the relevant webpage for further details: http://www.lerwill-life.org.uk/astonvilla/superclub.htm 
On that webpage you will see how you might be able to purchase the book for only £20 including local delivery costs.


"An enjoyable read in these times of austerity!"
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Monday, 6 August 2012

Season 2012-13


Well, football forums wouldn't be what they are unless there was gossip going on, would they?!

Looking around I see that there's still talk of Randy wanting to sell-up, that he's not backing the manager and that the squad isn't good enough. And we haven't yet even seen the team that Lambert wants to play!! He's brought in four very useful players but they've not yet all come together.

Let's take the "Randy selling up" idea. I've seen an article written by a guy who is part-owner of a successful company that employs over 100 people. He says that what has been going on in the past 2 years all points to Randy readying the club for sale. I have to agree that is one take that could be had, but perhaps the last 2 years was more to do with Randy just getting his finances sorted out and has now done so through making a bomb out of the Browns? That is, that one of his sports enterprises had to go, and he's chosen it not to be Villa. That Randy is, after all, what he said on the tin - he's in it for the long haul so far as Villa is concerned.

It seems to me that Paul Lambert is the kind of manager that most Villans wanted in, so let's give him the chance of setting out his stall. He's surely already recognised where the defensive weaknesses have lain and has done something about it. He's even brought in a good link man to work with Ireland, someone who seems to have a bit of bite, and that has to be good.

On the question of whether the squad is good enough well, again, it's a question of seeing how the first few months of the season goes before we can judge how good it is.

To me, the one critical factor is Paul Lambert himself - how good a motivator is he? Will he get the best out of Ireland, Clark and Gabby and everyone else? That to me is the critical issue that will determine how good Villa's squad is.

I am sure that the squad as it is is not going to be good enough to compete for the CL, but I believe it has every chance of forming the basis for a good future. Let's give it a fair chance.
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Saturday, 9 June 2012

PL to equal Profit or Loss?

Yes, I feel seduced enough by the character of Lambert that I'd like to see him given a fair head of steam just to get on with the job without any more fretting of the kind that's been a-bothering us for the last two years.

But he is, in any case, the fans choice by-and-large. He is the one that I and many others referred to as a better manager halfway through last season when a good many were chafing at the performances under McLeish's cosh. And what did the board eventually do? They obliged. The fans by then knew full well that there was no chance of an AVB or better arriving. Reality had set in.

Now I'm not of course going to suggest that they've made the wrong decision, but it's a decision that's clearly not going to put the board under stress. The fans have said "yes", so there should be no complaints, right? The board have not stuck their necks out in any shape or form. No risks today, thank you.

But I have this (almost sad) underlying feeling that the board have got to this point through deliberate tactics over the last 2 years. Money was then suddenly a problem, so they clearly looked for a manager that could guide them through the interregnum; if the process involved a stumble or two then it was worth it in their view. But perhaps they hadn't reckoned on the serious possibility of relegation and also season ticket sales being hit so hard. It was nearly a bridge too far.

Now that everyone is breathing a sigh of relief that perhaps there's a good manager installed, let's examine the reality of what his task is going to be. Trillions of cash is not on the agenda - obvious. But he will be given just enough to fill in with 2 or 3 players in the slots where there's the most need. The newcomers will not be individualists nor trailblazers but they'll fit into the Lambert philosophy of play.

But to my mind the board have the view that far more use should be made of the players coming through the academy and the reserves, rather than buying talent. The business side says: "we have invested in youth development so let's make it pay". Well, if that is the board's real view, then it will be very interesting as to whether PL has the talent of SAF to mould youngsters to hit the headlines over the next couple of years.

In players who have already gained a lot of experience and performed well in their natural roles (like Clark and Herd) then there's a real opportunity i.m.o. If he can get players like Albrighton and Bannan to strut their stuff, then there's something great to look forward to. So long, that is, that we don't simply end up as a perpetual nursery feeder to the likes of Man C, Man U etc. If that is the board's real objective then again I'll feel let down.

But what to do about Gabby, I wonder.

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Sunday, 3 June 2012

Phew! ... I Feel Such a Sense of Relief.

In a nutshell ... a warm welcome to Paul Lambert!! His appointment comes as a huge relief after two seasons of (I don't like to say it) messing around.and putting supporters' hearts into their mouths. This appointment straight away feels that there is every chance of the all-too recent experience being expunged from our memory. We live to fight another day.

I don't expect miracles to occur ... that the club will sign the likes of Wayne Rooney or soon be challenging for a top-four position. Neither is a realistic possibility. But what I do feel is that Lambert will produce a team that the fans will be happy to go and watch playing ... and competing.

I expect that some of the old guard will have to go, but equally that some of the existing squad will be revived by Lambert's techniques. Perhaps in particular one Barry Bannan, who shares a Scottish origin with Mr. Lambert, and also plays in the same area of the park that used to be occupied by the new manager.And I do really hope that Gabby comes alive and gets back to the level he attained a couple of years ago, and better, perhaps. I would not like him to be another failed Villa youth player.

Mr. Lambert has some challenges to face. Nothing great is likely to take place in his first year. It make take two years to get anywhere near what he, himself, would be happy with.

He comes as the fourth incumbant of the managerial hot seat in two years (plus two stand-ins), and the sixth appointment this Millennium - in just over ten years.

But I feel a sense of hope again. Thankfully.
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Thursday, 24 May 2012

How Times Have Changed!

Remember back in 1974? ... "Brian Clough!", "Brian Clough!", was the shout from the fans.

Well, he didn't come and when he lifted Notts Forest to two consecutive EC wins, hearts sank a little. But Ron Saunders (no-one's favourite when he arrived) created the foundations for Villa also to win the trophy!

At that time, Villa were riding high and within touching distance of at least Man U.

So, what days. Fans' expectations were high, and, what's more, they were satiated. It was the time when Villans were saying "nothing is too good for the Villa", and they kept on saying it through the days of GT Mark 1, Big Ron, Little Brian and JG.

So, where are Villa today? Well, though I was intrigued by the thought of OGS coming to Villa, there seemed inherent dangers as a result of that happening ... just more room for another big managerial failure to occur even though OGS is clearly a man of promise.

Expectations have been hugely lowered, particularly in just two years: no longer can we expect a Brian Clough to come through the Villa portals. But, having said that, perhaps there isn't another Brian Clough to be seen - amongst the British contenders at least. And, judging by the level of manager that is being pursued (such as we know) mid-table aspirations seem to be the best that can be hoped for.

Well, so long as the football is good, why worry? We might get to the occasional semi-final.

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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A Close Run Thing...

The near-inevitable sacking of Mr. McLeish has created a huge relief amongst the faithful Villa fans. Its timing was precisely right - no opportunity was given for the fans to think that the club's management were in two minds on the matter, and the club's management were also too aware that season ticket sales were not going at all well. Less than 6,000 sales has been quoted - well down on expectation.

So for now, Randy Lerner has been seen to do the right thing and also in his press release he appears to have made a near-apology for the events of this season. However, he didn't say "I was wrong in appointing Mr. McLeish", and neither does he give credit to the numerous Villa fans who knew better. Some of whom even wrote to Mr. Lerner to express their contrary view.

Alex McLeish would have had to do something spectacular to convince the Villa fans that he was up to the job, and I suppose that when the club was unbeaten and sitting in sixth place after a few games, McLeish thought that he had done enough. But there were many wily fans that had observed that the first few matches had been a comparatively easy ride, and that Villa had not done enough against lesser opposition.Those wily fans waited for the inevitable - a near-cataclysmic slide down the table and only one win at home in the final 13 home matches. Even that win was obtained by a fortuitous goal in the 90th minute; but they all count.

The final number of points (38) was less than the number of points obtained by Blews the previous season when they were relegated under McLeish. It was a close run thing. And gates had been slumping; the fans were not at all happy.

Over the next few weeks, eyes will be turned to Mr. Lerner and the action he will have to take in the form of yet another managerial appointment. Aston Villa have seen four managers in the past two seasons; five if you include Gary McCallister's temporary role whilst Gerard Houllier was unavoidably absent.

No more mis-hirings (nor misfirings) are likely to be tolerated. The next one has to be right for Mr. Lerner. And for Aston Villa. And for the suffering fans.
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Monday, 14 May 2012

A Tragedy of Near-Titanic Proportions

Exactly 100 years after the Titanic tragedy it almost feels that Villa are also sinking. How we got to this point is mistifying, and I have written a piece that has appeared elsewhere and which tries to address the issue:
    Season 2009-10 saw Villa finish in 6th place for the third consecutive season.The next season it was all musical chairs, which,not surprisingly, saw the club finish in the middle of the table. Just who, however, would have imagined that the next step would be to finish in the bottom-6? In two easy strides, Villa's flag was lowered to the other extreme - it seemed that one moment we were complaining that Villa had lost out on chances of finishing fourth, only then to see McLeish being appointed and Villa's worst ever season unfold in front of our knowing eyes. Even on the last day of the season there was a real danger of Villa finishing fourth from bottom! What a change-around from fourth from top!

    Well, if nothing else, it has taught us Villa supporters to keep our feet on the ground and not be carried away by some good PR work and humanitarian concern for Acorns.

    Going back to 2006, it would seem that there was a sense of euphoria that Doug's reign was over. There seemed to be a feeling that now there was a real chance of the club getting back to something like its status at the beginning of the 80s. A billionaire, we thought, could make that possible. But Madame Reality is a funny creature. Since then we've been hearing about the realities triggered by MON's seemingly profligate expenditure and the need - for various other reasons, it seems - for the owner to tighten belts. We were asked (at a distance) to go through a transitional period whilst matters sorted themselves out. And Mr. McLeish was the man, apparently, to manage that transition on the field of play.

    The appointment of Mr. McLeish has caused even the most serene of us to go purple and to throw out our rattles from the pram. "Nurse!", we cried, "do something! Change the nappy - anything!!" Transition period? No, it was more like a constipation period! And in saying that I am assuming that the club's board has come to recognise the plight that exists and will now usher out the person (though a nice feller, I'm told) posing as a Villa team manager in favour of someone who just might appreciate Aston Villa FC and what it has meant to its fans for nearly 140 years.

    It is not too late for the situation to be fixed, Mr. Lerner. We just ask that something be done in the next few weeks, and that something to be a big step forward away from the maelstrom that we've been experiencing these past two years. If not, then the fans may soon be asking for the club's motto ("Prepared") to be changed to something more meaningful.

In reality, I hold that the club's management from the top down is culpable for the current situation, not just McLeish, but unless Mr. Lerner sells the club there is little that can be done in respect of he and the top executives at the club, who he appointed. 

The business side of the club is one thing - the existing structure can deal with that - but what is needed is someone able to direct what's happening on the pitch, someone who is really able and who can see and feel what Aston Villa is about. Aston Villa Football Club can do a lot better than the Swanseas and Norwiches of this world, and yet at the moment AVFC is way below their standard in the quality of play and entertainment factor. Yes, injuries and Petrov's sad situation has not helped in the latter part of the season, but the sickness endemic at Villa Park originated early in the season in the sheer poor tactics employed by the team manager.

Mr. Lerner can see what's happening at the ticket office. STs are below 6,000 sales at the moment it would seem, and it will stay like that unless the fans can see a very positive light at the end of the tunnel.

I do hope that a new team manager is appointed who has plenty of capability and, in the Arsenal style, an assistant manager who is compatible and a former Villa player, to instill the club's pride in the dressing room.

We wait whilst holding our breath.
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Sunday, 22 April 2012

Is Villa Aspirational?

Well, a season or two back, we would have considered ourselves to be every bit as good as Newcastle or Everton - or even Spurs - and probably better than any of them. But a year or two is not long in football for one's aspirations to be brought right back down to earth.

This week-end, we have seen the Magpies turn on some absolutely magical style to provide pleasure to their fans and some measure of help in the economic suffering that many are experiencing in the north-east. At least the Geordies' sufferings are a bit ameliorated by the pleasure seen at the ground I will continue to call St. James's Park.

Yes, Everton conceded four goals at Old Trafford (as did the Villa), but what a finish they produced and confirmed the suspicions of many that Man U's defence has its weak points - none of which were tested by the Villa last week.

The final insult of all in this remarkable week-end is that we had a lead at Anfield that Villa allowed to drift away from them, only to be shown today that perhaps the Baggies have a bit more idea on how to go about it.

Now, let's for a moment think about the fizzogs of the three managers of the clubs just mentioned. The Magpies' manager's face is generally cheerful, and he manages to generate cheerfulness in his team's play. Moyes and Hodgson, though they can produce a worried brow, also seem inspired to produce the best out of their teams. All these managers, in fact, have not needed big sums to produce satisfactory results. Add into that equation many of the performances from Swansea and Norwich this season, and we can all see that money is not the be all and end all of the game.

But I have hardly ever seen McLeish able to raise a full smile - anywhere. Does that not indicate something in the attitude of a manager, and thus on the style that the team he manages is going to produce? For me, what Villa has been producing all season seems to be born out of worry - not remembrance of "the beautiful game".

Birmingham (and Villa Park in particular) needs something to cheer about!

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Thursday, 19 April 2012

Has He a Ticket to Ride?

News is creeping out from the woodwork that the current forecast at Villa Park is for 4,000 season ticket sales for next season. Well, if this proves to be the case (even as little as 12,000 would be very worrying for the owner) it would be on one hand a very, very sad situation, but on the other hand if that lack of support proves to be the reality and it helps the current managerial incumbent to depart early in the summer, then perhaps that will be progress.

But under Randy Lerner, I am learning to wonder just what is going to come next! For example, Randy might just stump up funds in the summer to buy good players in the effort to attract fans back into the fold, and yet leave McLeish in managerial control. The development of that scenario may well be that Villa might succeed in getting back into the top-10, but perhaps with a team that should have been challenging for top-6 and/or a domestic Cup trophy to boot. I'm beginning to see McLeish as a manager that will always produce a lower return than the squad at his disposal deserves - and, perhaps worse, playing uninspiring football. I remain convinced that it would be a disaster for Villa for McLeish to remain in any circumstance. If he were to stay I would see Villa being in perpetual mediocre mode.

On the other hand, if Randy Lerner does replace McLeish, just who will he appoint? Will it be an imaginitive manager, one already with a proven track record or one with star potential? Again, unless Lerner seeks sound advice from someone who understands Villa and its supporters, I see another wasted appointment taking place.

The year 2012 has indeed proved itself to be the end of a calendar. Just what is going to happen next? The answer is indeed in the firmament.
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Saturday, 31 March 2012

What A Season This Has Been!

The situation that Aston Villa faces today is one, in my opinion, that the club has been mechanically rolling towards since the start of the season, though no-one could predict the kind of player losses that have occurred since the start of the New Year, particularly that in respect of Petrov.

But from the outset, I was not at all happy with the midfield setup. I just could not see how it's lack of strength would work, and I said then that the owner had left Villa short in that department in the process of pulling in his investment. I felt that Delph and Ireland had a lot to prove, and the consequence is that Delph has gone back to plying his trade in the lower division - perhaps temporarily. Ireland has managed to make some impression but still not, I feel, to the degree that might have been expected. I still question why Makoun was allowed to be put out on loan so easily, and did we have to put up with Alan Hutton when the reliable Luke Young had been available?

And to replace Ash and Downing we were given the mercurial talent that is M. N'Zogbia.

To that player cocktail we add the tactics of the greatly experienced and sought-after manager by the name of Alex McLeish; his winning tactics have been marvellous to behold. His wins against Walsall, Blackburn and Wigan were wonderful, and we were at one stage at sixth place in the Premier League to prove it. And, surely, the smash-and-grab win at Chelsea indicated that the club had turned the corner for the season, regardless of the internal problems that were occurring at Stamford Bridge - which now seem to be rectified.

There will be many that will say that Aston Villa's injury list is no fault of Alex McLeish, and I would certainly not suggest that Petrov's very sad illness can be laid at McLeish's door. However, as to the rest, I believe that negativity breeds negativity; why was it that Birmingham City suffered in the injury department last year? Yes, I feel that the Knight Errant's injunction to his players to win at all costs by the method of preventing the opposition scoring may actually be causing the players to be under extra stress and therefore more able to succumb to injury.

The idea that the injuries are caused by a manager with a jinx should be consigned back to where it came from - the Middle Ages.

Football, when played positively, breeds positivity; why play otherwise? It keeps the players and the fans happy for starters. Why risk diminishing attendances? Why not keep the owner happy as well while you're about it, Alex? Mmmmm, perhaps he is happy; perhaps any form of interim state is OK by him!

Now, I hadn't intended to use the 'r' word ... indeed, until this week I felt that Villa would avoid the drop. There were too many bad teams below us, weren't there? Well, they're now all winning, apart from sad Wolves. Just another 2 or 3 matches and Villa might easily be caught by the others.

And I thought the club's acquisition in 2006 had been a good thing. I was sure it would take us onwards and upwards. But I'm human - I erred in my judgment. I do hope (and pray) that my current assessment also proves to be in error.

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Sunday, 25 March 2012

A Call to the Phoenix...

The Villa's lion, that once stood for pride,
has no more ambition: it has died.
Our lion skulks, waiting for a scrap,
at the basement door, where springs a trap.

Ignominy looks set for Villa,
steered by he at the tiller.
How far down can our favourites drop,
before we hear a mighty plop?

We have slipped before, memory vivid,
but never quite like this, so timid.
Oh, some ancient Villan to restore
the lion's scent for winning, once more.
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Sunday, 18 March 2012

Kicking and Screaming

I've only just caught up with (I imagine) a lot of football supporters by reading this book ("Kicking and Screaming") - sub-titled "An Oral History of Football in England".

If you haven't read it ... get it if you like to read about the evolution of the game. It (a 1995 hardback by Rogan Taylor and Andrew Ward) just cost me a fiver, including delivery, by Amazon. This book gives a good insight of events in the last 100 years through the eyes of many significant people in English and world football. Including Eric Houghton.

One section is devoted to the events surrounding the 1953 England vs Hungary match that Hungary won 6-3. It turns out that the Hungarians refused to be paid for their achievement!

But the snippet in the book that prompted me to write a post was on the matter of the obligation in football to entertain. At least, I think there is such an obligation, and this snippet sums it up for me. The words were spoken by George Hardwick, talking about the England team of the late 1940s. I feel that Alex McLeish might draw some wisdom from this!

"I don't think there could ever have been a team in the history of football that entertained so much because that's what we set out to do: 'Now, all these people have paid all this money, let's show them, let's give 'em a show, let's do it.' If we scored one I'm screaming at them, 'Now two, two,two,come on, let's go, let's go.' When we got two I was screaming for three, and I was screaming for four and I was screaming for five, and the only time I got a bit upset with myself was when we were beating Holland 8-0 and we got a penalty, and hadn't the guts to score with it. I just knocked it at the keeper. I thought, 'Oh, no, no, no, we've got eight,' and I hadn't the heart to go for nine."



This reality of what football should be about - purely an enjoyable entertainment - gains special significance with the sad matter of Fabrice Muamba. May God be with him and his family.
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Sunday, 26 February 2012

Would a Taylor be able to mend things?


Well, folks, here we sit, pondering on our navels - wondering about just what can come next.

It can be said that the Villa has been through at least as bad situations before in the club's existence, but I doubt (unless great changes are made in the board and in the management) that the situation this time will be as rectifiable. In 1968, the situation was changed by a revolution, but unless I'm mistaken I cannot see another of that type occurring or Randy selling up.

On the playing front, Keane has gone, Bent is broken and Dunne is done for the rest of the season. On top of that we are told that Gabby is being held back by an injury (to be sorted in the summer), Clark is out and Petrov was also missing yesterday. Nzog and Ireland look as though they are being treated as sinners. And then there's the question of AM-not's tactics - simply to play to not lose and grab a win if possible.

Being rid of AM-not is one thing, but the big question - now being accepted by more and more fans as the weeks roll by - is, "does the board need a make-over?" I think a lot of people would be happy for Lerner to stay, but it's the question of the kind of decisions that have been made at the board level that seem to have caused the club's current situation.

I hear that Ian Taylor would be very happy to play a role on the board. However, whether Ian Taylor would be enough to redress the balance on the board is a moot point. Perhaps Graham Taylor is needed as well - in fact as many Taylors as are needed to mend things!! Jokes aside, the imbalance on the Villa board is frightening and does need addressing.

Perhaps it needs a polite letter with plenty of signatures to be addressed to the owner?
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Monday, 13 February 2012

A Sad Case

When I started on my deep research into the Villa history at the beginning of 2006, I was not to know that Randy Lerner would be taking over as the new chief later on that year. When he did, and going by the utterances that exuded from his office, it seemed to me that a new era had dawned and that the new era would see a return to some olden and golden values. His support of the Acorns charity seemed to epitomise those values, but hard business seems now to have taken over, almost desperately so: Genting is now the name on the famous claret and blue shirts. How times have changed; Rover and LDV once seemed more appropriate to me (even Mita), but where are they now? Couldn’t Land-Rover or Jaguar be persuaded? I can’t help feeling they represent the better ‘names’ that the club should be parading.

In 2006/7, my hopes for Villa were based on the wonderful attitude of Villa’s heroes of old, ­ both the players and the managers of the club. Through a great many of the years from 1874 through to the 1920s, the club’s standards in probity and in leading the country as the yardstick of a good football club were greatly manifest. But they were different times and my hopes for what Randy Lerner might accomplish have probably been proven to be unrealistic.

It is sad that I allowed myself (at my age) to dwell on a return to idealism, more so as other clubs (once contemporaries of the Villa) had taken the big money route:­ Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and then Manchester City sold out to big money, leaving perhaps only Arsenal as a leading club possessing a more traditional management structure. But Arsenal's choice of Emirates as a business partner seems to me a cleaner choice (than Villa’s). Why did I leave north London? Perhaps I should have changed my allegiance to Arsenal or Spurs to save my agony, and stayed where I was.

It is also sad that I assumed that Villa’s new owner would retain football experience within the club to advise on footballing management matters. It is sad that I expected that Villa managers would be proud of the club and would do their utmost to keep the fans enthralled ­ just as the Villa management of those halcyon days of yore used to do. In those first 50 or 60 years, the fans were not let down by the quality of play at the club, apart from the odd blip.

In short, I appear to be a very sad case. My pride (and the club’s) is fading fast; the lion is whimpering and needs some milk.
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Sunday, 22 January 2012

Are we Keane?

The arrival of Robbie Keane through the portals of Villa Park did not end up in a dream start when Villa played at home against Everton. Instead, Keane came on to play a cameo role for some 10 minutes and everyone was left waiting for the next match to see whether he still had any magic in him.

Magic? It certainly looked like it judging by the method employed in his scoring brace at Wolves, both from outside the penalty area. He certainly has not forgotten where the goalposts lie and hit two first-class strikes, leaving little doubt that he’s earned his lolly already.

Already I am wondering what is the longer-term gain if he’s only going to be available for another six matches. If something about his scoring skill were to rub off onto the likes of Gabby and Ireland (both of whom have scored some beauties in their time, but have been short on regularity) then his sojourn with Villa will have been of great value. On the other hand it could leave the players feeling that they have something to prove on his departure and that pressure could be negative in its effect. We’ve had enough negatives for one season, thank you!

Going by his display at Wolves, and though I had doubts about him before, it seems only sensible to me that every attempt should be made to keep Robbie for a couple of years. It will no doubt cost Villa’s owner a packet, but if the return is a collection of match-winning goals, then it will have been money well spent during this period of transition and re-grouping that has been thrust on Villa’s faithful. Keane certainly seems to still have skills to offer the Premier League and it will only raise the morale of the club’s supporters with, presumably, a restoration of the attendance figures. The argument seems to be augmented by the rumour that Heskey is to leave in the summer. Though Heskey has been disappointing, scoring-wise at least, his experience will be a loss and needs to be replaced by someone who is preferably better. Is Keane that man?

There is, of course, a further corollary to this argument. Hitherto we have been seeing Bent as virtually out on his own up-front. With Keane’s additional presence it would mean that opposing defences will have double-trouble to worry about. And Keane (I hear) is not slow on telling his midfielders how he wants the ball. Perhaps he will wake up our midfield a bit.

I kinda look forward to Ireland, Keane and Bent playing together. How about you?
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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Villadom in a Cloud

When I look back over my previous posts about the season, the board and the manager, I read in them my sense of shock that Villa has become simply one of the other teams, and just in the space of the past 18 months.

For the entire period of the 90s, a new generation of Villa supporters had grown up thinking that success was Villa's prerogative - after all, Villa had been top dogs as recent as the early 80s, and the 90s had begun with two runners-up spots in pretty quick time. By the end of the 90s, a series of seasons finishing in around 6th place and a couple of League Cup wins seemed to indicate there was only one matter that was blocking Villa's route to reinstatement of the club's status in the early 80s; one Doug Ellis. After all, it was Deadly that had caused VIlla's demise after the early 80s (wasn't it?) and therefore it must be him that was to blame for not getting back to the top spot.

Simple logic, and it seemed to fit. Get Doug out, bring in a wealthy owner and all would be fine. In 2006, Nirvana seemed to have arrived, and for a couple of brief years all seemed to be going swimmingly well towards Villa's re-instatement. Yes, MON did a few funny things, but we initially forgave him his weaknesses - especially when SHA got smashed 5-1 and some other team was thrashed 6-0. Even I was carried away with the euphoria - I allowed myself to believe that the owner was a good guy and was taken onto the Villa staff. Well, after being spat out from a near-idyllic employment, of course my views changed a bit and I have to say I am not too surprised that matters have since developed the way they have under the guise that Randy has been having financial problems.

Having read the Times' interview of Randy and just now the epistle from AM to the season ticket holders, and also the interview of PF before the disgraceful Spurs match (particularly his bit about ambitions for Europe), I can only conclude that the Villa management (board and team manager) are living in a cloud cuckoo land.

Yesterday Villa avoided equalling the record number of successive home defeats, but still failed to win against an Everton that may be going through worse internal problems than Villa. It still leaves Villa without a home win in 5 matches, and only a couple of goals scored. That (plus the standard of football) is the faire that is supposed to keep the faithful flowing into Villa Park, right? Ugh.

Villa have a manager that must have some kind of quality - he has kept faith with Ireland, for example, and the result of that has been producing some decent play from that player. But then Nzog has been showing improvement of late and now is shoved onto the bench. He didn't even get a chance as a sub. And the player that this week came in with a clarion call - Robert of Keane - is given a 10-minute cameo. For goodness sake, if he's only on board for 7 weeks Villa might as well use him - right?! At least a 30 minute spell on the pitch would have been more understandable.

Meanwhile, a manager who was a defender still cannot get his defence to deal with straight-forward defensive issues. Some manager; some coach. At least he seems to have trained up Warnock to give our keeper some useful on-the-field training!

Less than 30,000 Villa fans turned up yesterday, it seems. That seems to be a definite indicator that the fans are getting fed up. The only people still taken in by AM now seem to be the board, as I read it. Well, as they clearly have no notion of what football is about, and particularly seem to know nothing of Aston Villa (despite their assertions), the future is definitely not bright. I see it as being particularly murky.

Still, the world is changing in such a way that perhaps in 12 months' time football may well be at the very bottom of our concerns. Not that I am pessimistic about life - I'm definitely not. Energies used on football now have to be transposed onto something more positive, despite 60 years of the Villa.
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