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

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Today' s Villa Hero

There was a time when every decade contained a great player in Villa's ranks, and ones that were proud enough of their team to stay and help make Aston Villa the great club it became. Names such as Archie Hunter (12 years), John Devey (10 years), Howard Spencer (13 years), Joe Bache (15 years), Harry Hampton (10 years before World War One intervened), Billy Walker (14 years) and Eric Houghton (10 years before World War Two intervened). There were others that could be mentioned.

Now, it was easy to stay with a club that was at the top in the country's estimation, but what happened after World War Two, when Villa really sank below their former greatness? Great players still came to Villa Park - Ford, Blanchflower, Thompson, Hitchens - but they were the first of the breed of Villa players that decided that their own careers came first. The significant difference was also that these players had not grown from the youth ranks (like the greats from Howard Spencer onwards) and were not bred in the Villa way.

So, even after Villa's demise following World War Two, fine players that began as youngsters at Villa did not lose their roots very easily. We are talking of Johnny Dixon (16 years from 1945), Charlie Aitken (15 years from 1961), Peter McParland (10 years from 1952) and even Gordon Cowans who, although he left Villa twice, it was not much down to his own choice in the matter and he still accumulated 530 appearances for Villa over 18 years. Brian Little was another that would not have left Villa of his own volition, and injury finally did him. Perhaps Shaw would have been of the same ilk.

Coming through the 1990s and into the 21st century, what can we say happened then? Well, Gareth Barry was another from the youth ranks who looked at one point as though he would become a veteran at Villa Park and indeed managed over 10 years of service. Then his head was turned.

But this age has not turned another man - one Gabriel Agbonlahor. The Brummie-born player has affirmed over and over again that his head is not for turning. He started to make an impact at the start of O'Neill's reign and began to feel the heat of competition to be at the top as Villa challenged hard for a time as  a top-4 side. But even though Villa have been in the doldrums these past 3 years, he's still there and last season (after fitness problems) came roaring back.

I grew up with Johnny Dixon being at Villa Park. Apart from Charlie Aitken, I have not since seen another Villa youngster stay the pace so well - during lows as well as highs - until now.

For me, Gabby is Villa's 'Today Hero'.