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

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Ref Saw Red - But They Wore White!

While we sit waiting for the Cuban missile crisis to unfold, I find myself 'twixt the devil and the deep (claret and) blue sea.

Having announced my intention of withdrawing from any further viewing of the Villa if this Cuban entity manifests himself, I had thought that the recent play might have prepared me sufficiently in my proposed withdrawal, that I would ignore the visit of Man U and use the time to perform other duties that 'her indoors' might appreciate. But what happened instead was that the missus was in a good frame of mind as a result of the fixing of the kitchen light by a certain contributor to this famed blog (thank you muchly, Deano!) and thus - bribed also by the promise made by Plumbert of seeing Villa youth given a chance - I weakened. I saw the match on the PC.

But Plumbert's words and deeds were a mile apart (will I never learn?!). His enigmatic manipulations of the Villa squad knew no bounds as the usual players that remained available stepped onto the ground once described as a fortress but now more structured as a week-end resort, perhaps trying to emulate the Victorian days of the Aston Lower Grounds. The prawn sarnies served in the spectator boxes now provide the kind of mouth-watering satisfaction that used to be provided by the sight of Gordon Cowans in his hey-day, and the heady taste of Chateau Beaune makes up for the absence of a Hateley special. Even the sporting pictures on display in one or two of the Trinity suites are a pastiche, more akin to what you would expect to see in the Birmingham Art Gallery. It's a bit late to recall Fred Rinder, I suppose, but he would know how it should be: how the Villa should have it's feet on the ground and be a football club. But I digress.

So for the first 15 minutes we wondered which team was the home-team. But, in fairness, Man U did not get so close to goal in that time that there were apprehensions of they running riot. They were just - sort of - in control, spraying passes around as in a practice match, with Villa not even getting into the opposing half until about the 10th minute. And then, Villa got a free-kick within danger distance of the Reds' net. The Man U defence had, of course, not even warmed up by that stage as the Villa had hitherto not made any kind of dent of note into their penalty box. So when the righteous man named Christian received the ball, the Man U players looked kinda hypnotised as the big man swayed right and left and manouvered himself inside a little to take aim. The Man U keeper - also hypnotised - remained glued to his line as a sweetly aimed and struck missile curled into the net. The keeper would have wasted his time leaping for it anyway - his arms would not have been long enough to keep it out. Yup, even Brad Guzan would have had difficulty with that one.

The fact that Stewart Downing (also still wearing a claret and blue shirt but a defector from Villa Park) scored a similar goal that same day, and one or two other players also scored from comparable efforts (all seen on Match of the Day), should not take away the chance of Mr. Benteke's goal being the Goal of the Month.

The question then became - going by recent form - would Villa be able to hang on? The question was not, nor could ever be these days, how many more could Villa score, as recently we have seen Villa succumb to equalisers and even defeats after going ahead. And this was, of course, a match against the magnificent (but over-rated) Manchester United, who have never lost at Villa Park since they were hurt by the famous statement hurled in their direction, "you'll never win anything with kids", following Villa's last-ever win against them at Villa Park in 1995. That's 20 home league matches ago now, let alone those cup matches when they came from behind to win on each occasion.

The second-half started, in fact, with some promise as a bombardment of the United goal saw the great Benteke leap and thunder a header towards goal. Alas, the Man U manager must have provided their keeper with smelling salts during the break as the keeper responded in an equally thrilling manner to turn the effort over the bar. But Man U managed to equalise soon after, with Master Lowton admiring ex-Villan (but seen as villain) Young and his ability to centre when allowed to.

For some time, the match became a bit enthralling as the two sides tried to out-think what the other might do. Then the referee saw red. A 50-50 challenge between Young and Gabby at full-pace was the cause of the referee consuming too much claret through his optic (after all Young was wearing lillywhite, so could not be the guilty party) and off trudged Gabby looking wryly amused as he went. He must surely win his appeal. The ref then became a double villain as he only yellow-carded a Man U player for a less heavy collision in another incident.

Well, the match was for the taking by Man U, wasn't it? I recalled a home match against Man U a few years ago when Villa lost 1-4 after losing not one but two players to red cards. But after a flurry of 4 Man U corners on the trot - and especially after Plumbert had brought on Bacuna and moved Clark to left-back - the Villa had in fact looked capable of springing a shock win. But it was not to be. And the Villa youngsters were saved for another day.

The question now is, will Plumbert now see the futility of bringing Zoggy into the fray? Against Man U he and Bacuna both came on as subs and it was easy to compare the two. Bacuna looked decidedly more dangerous, and why he does not start is a vivid question. With Gabby out for awhile (unless he wins his appeal) surely Bacuna must prevail? But we all know it will be someone else instead that fills the spot: probably Cleverley.

With the matches between now and mid-January looking decidedly winnable, the team is beginning to look as though it has some solidity and, importantly, some ability. What we are short of, however, is the creative element. To win we need to score: can Plumbert plumb deep to find that lacking ingredient?


Sunday, 14 December 2014

An Attitude That Is Shocking...

In the last couple of days, the Daily Mail ran a detailed expose of events surrounding Roy Keane's short sojourn at Aston Villa. The whole article needs to be read, but the following statement - allegedly from an unnamed Villa player - is nothing short of shocking in my view:

The problem with Keane is that he demands the same standards that he was used to at United and the lads at Villa don’t get paid enough to put up with that kind of c**p. He just got everybody down.

See the Mail article: Here

If true, this kind of attitude from a player points to a reason why the Villa is no longer at the top of the tree. How can you have players asserting that they need more money to train better? Isn't 40-50k a week enough for them? Perhaps it's about time that Villa recruited players solely from the country villages of Malawi, Chad and any other African country you would like to name - I'm sure those youngsters would put in a full shift.

It is enough to put you off Aston Villa - and football - for good. Professionals? Downright amateurs it would seem. And the attitude goes with their performances, with the exception of very few players.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

All it takes is a win or two...

Well, everyone sank to possibly their lowest ebb after the 9 games without a win, but the fans have proved they were just waiting to be cheered up a bit more.

The return of CB and a lovely goal from him followed by two nice goals on Sunday from defenders have caused the re-appearance of some cheerfulness!

The fact remains
, though, that Villa’s defence seems to have fallen into place entirely by accident, and further injuries to the decimated midfield may well see Grealish make a start on Saturday, thereby fulfilling the wishes of quite a few. Who knows, when January arrives we may be seeing a quality team!

Despite some fans great attempt at putting a positve spin on it, we did beat a very much below par Liverpool early in the season, and Southampton did not put in their accustomed standard when they came to VP and have since proved to have gone off the boil somewhat.

Amazingly though, leaving the Man U match aside (which even I think might yield a point) it looks as though we have five other fixtures between now and mid-January that are utterly win-able. Then we have Liverpool (home, again win-able), Arsenal away and Chelsea (home).

Who knows, come mid-January and we might have gone 11 matches undefeated and be around 5th in the table and bringing about the return of the fans to VP! That would be a cue for giving Lambert a life-long contract perhaps?

Christmas is upon us and every good Villan needs to find a stocking filler as a warmer for his Villa chums. These days, we Villans need something to remind us of warmer days! 

Why not enjoy a low-cost primer of Villa's history added to all the main stats from 140 years of football? What is more, buy more than one and you start getting a good discount! Please click here for more info.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Mind-boggling, or what?!

It's becoming a truly predictable pattern isn't it? Six defeats on the trot, hardly any goals and shots on goal all season and lack of confidence sets in; the hoof ball starts and the absent Christian Benteke is looked upon as the saviour to get Villa out of the mire.

But wait, against Burnley Joe Cole made a magical debut for Villa in the Prem and looked as though he might put some icing on the cake. We looked forward to the CP match, drooling at the thought of Cole and Benteke as a twin force and able to stop the goal drought. Well pipe dreams are what they are; they disappear with a puff, and last night Cole revealed that, after all, he does have an on-going injury that probably does explain why he hadn't made a league start before this season.

So we're back to the same situation as in the previous three seasons: no quality creativity in midfield (Delph's absence as well doesn't help) and a desperate lack of entertainment expectation unless 'the Beast' gets into full stride. With Weimann's enforced absence from the upcoming Leicester match we cannot expect his replacement to be Cole (injury) nor any sight of Villa's wunderkid, Jack Grealish, in the starting line-up. Paul Lambert's focus (and ours too, I suspect) will be on getting maximum points out of the Leicester match by any means at the team's disposal. A win here and also against Albion might see the incongruousness of Villa being in the top-8 with 9 goals scored in 16 matches. It's mind-boggling!

 But we could go on about the negatives ad nauseum. In fact there is a plus-side to Villa's squad that has not been apparent for the last three seasons: it seems that we have a defence that has mostly shown up well when Hutton has been available and another incongruous revelation that we appear to have about four decent permutations of CBs. The worry is that there's no backup of quality for the full-backs, unless Clark or Baker (when fit) is played there. Unfortunately, any positives yet again become depleted with the thought that come January we might have lost Vlaar, Delph and Benteke, probably Villa's best three outfielders. If not in January, we may well lose them at the end of the season.

 A new owner and a new manager is becoming a desperate requirement to stop any further rot. To put it in a nutshell, a new owner (or a revitalised current owner) is needed by this May in my view. But it so happens that this May will also see another General Election and it is a possibility that any potential new overseas owner may want to see the result of that before committing his finances in the UK. And Villa also need to be ship-shape by then.

Anyway, there is the thought that we could finish 8th in the league this season having scored 25 goals and showing a goal deficit of 20. That would be another Lambert-like record!


Christmas is upon us and every good Villan needs to find a stocking filler as a warmer for his Villa chums. These days, we Villans need something to remind us of warmer days! 

Why not enjoy a low-cost primer of Villa's history added to all the main stats from 140 years of football? What is more, buy more than one and you start getting a good discount! Please click here for more info.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Encore, Okore!

Well, there you go ... no soon as I mention the strangeness of Okore's non-appearance then he appears! The question is, after seeing the quality of his play last night, just why was he left out for so long? he looked totally at ease and gave Pelle no room at all. Added to that his distribution was fine.

Villa therefore proved that they can actually successfully play about four different and decent CB permutations! Well, it's PL's third season and the only thing that's been got reasonably right is the defence - mind you, there's not much cover for the full-backs.

But packing your own half with players means that you're dependent on breakaways, and you don't get many of those that provide big chances.

We had two such breakaways last night - we scored from one (their defence was asleep) and the other we should also have scored from. But in fact we ended the night with only one shot on goal - the one we scored from. Granted there were one or two other promising scrimmages.

At least we again have the prospect of a Benteke return very soon. But will he make that much of a difference without a creative midfield? PL seems to think we don't need to play 'em! We may not even see Delph in Villa colours again.

Three matches against three of the lowest in the league coming up. These will be very tough games ... if we get more than 3 points from them we'll be doing well.

Then there's Albyun.


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Mystery Happenings at VP

For the last couple of years some strange things have been taking place at Villa Park. And one of the major 'things' has been the strange treatment of certain players.

We might have raised an eyebrow at the creation of the 'Bomb Squad' - the reason for which backfired enormously and eventually Hutton, N'Zogbia and Bent had to be re-assimilated into the first-team squad. Not playing them before must have been at some cost to Villa, although they were out on loan for periods. 

Since last season, however, the matter of Helenius has struck me as being particularly odd, and the fellow seems now to be anti-Villa. He just wasn't persevered with, but my guess is he would have been a good option in the absence of Benteke.

And now there is the matter of Okore, who many thought looked to be extremely promising before his untimely and lengthy injury last season. He appears even to have figured well in this season's pre-season matches, and yet Lambert said (in October) that he's not ready for the Premiership. Okore (I now read) appears to be getting anxious about his position and may be considering his options for the January transfer window. That Clark (as third/fourth choice) has been used adds some mystification to the situation as surely Okore would be a better option?

And there's the Jack Grealish scenario that also threatens to be categorised as another 'strange one' after he signed a new contract. And there are other players that have come and gone or been hidden away in the storage cupboard that we could ask many questions about.

All this (plus a few other things like some appalling records created under Lambert's watch) makes me feel that the chairman does not really have a clue. That the Browns are now doing so well in the States since Lerner vacated his seat seems to highlight that fact. Is he now being out-Fox-ed at Villa Park by someone who is taking advantage of Lerner's naiivity?

Aston Villa : RIP

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Enough is enough...

In all its one-forty years,
this club has rarely known such tears!
Since when did this club suffer
- and appear such a duffer?
It goes on, and on, does it not?
this gross insult to man and tot.

During the QPR match the camera panned onto Paul Lambert as he sat with mournful, long, face … and twiddling his fingers as though to say “now what do I do?”

It became dreadfully clear in that match that Villa had the overall strength to win, but that they lacked very little by way of ability to prise the lock … the lack of a pass that would be the undoing of the opposing defence. Yet the man that has some of that ability sat on the Villa bench and was not brought on until the damage had been done. Until that point the main threats that Villa had given to the QPR defence were two fine strikes from outside the penalty area by Sanchez and Cleverley, both well stopped by Green. Very little opportunity was afforded to Villa from close in.

Yet some people say that we need a poacher on the field to put the ball away – i.e. Bent. But surely, unless the chances are there, even a poacher is not going to score!

My Villanous friends, I say that we lack, simply, plain footballing ability to provide chances: a situation that is aided, I suppose, by the enforced absence of Delph. But haven’t we been saying that for a long time now? Surely Lambert (an old midfielder himself) would be able to see that shortcoming and provide a player or two on the field that isn’t just a workaholic but a player of constructive skill. Maybe the time is desperate enough to bring on Grealish, but is it too much responsibility to put onto a young man’s shoulders? Perhaps with Cole alongside him there might be a solution, but it’s whether Cole can last a full 90 minutes that’s the question.

Or perhaps the problem would be better dealt with by having proper wing-men rather than depending on overlapping full-backs? Players that could get round the back and make a telling pull-back or a killing pass across goal? You know, a la Young and Downing. But we no longer have any such players, so this is effectively just a pipe-dream.

With the return of Senderos (with Vlaar) and Hutton, Villa’s defence would be restored to full health in my opinion, so the issue to me is purely on the question of creativity and for me the team selection never seems to include that vital ingredient.

Perhaps (utilising the squad we have) the situation might be dealt with by starting Cole and then bringing on Grealish for the second 45 or last 30, depending on the situation?

Something needs to be done. Doesn’t it? And maybe a change of manager is the definitive answer to get the team selection and substitutions right: the manager we have doesn’t seem to get it, and the twiddling of his fingers just seems to show the state of his nerves.

What a twaddle, this twiddle! What a mess.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

I don't like to groan, but...

It looks as though my attempt at being positive was entirely misplaced. 

And I think I can safely say that there are a lot of fans quietly coming up to boiling point.

How many more bad records have to be created and the fans made to suffer?

The whole way the team are motivated needs to change. They need to come onto the pitch looking as though they’re going to give the opposition a real game. At Everton, more pressure would have produced results against a slightly wobbly Everton defence, but they were to made to look good as Villa just didn’t test ‘em enough. Only two Villa players seemed truly committed (Hutton and Cleverley).

This is NOT the Villa of old. Even in the 50s, 60s and early 70s we had something to shout about during otherwise periods of lesser achievement, but now it's a continuous stream of awful performances. I can only think of one match (the 6-1 win over Sunderland) when the fans have looked really happy since 2011. That's more than 3 years of mostly very disappointing play and awful results.

I am not the only seething long-term fan: there a lot of others. 

One has said: "I have made most of the home matches for the last three seasons and have gradually become immune to the team playing on the pitch, and just continued to enjoy the ambience of the fans around me, but although a season ticket holder am beginning to feel that my time and money could be better spent elsewhere, until there is a rescue plan for this crumbling giant."

Can we have our Villa back please? 


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Right, that's got those 3 matches behind us...

Disappointing against Man City. Having fought so hard and then to weaken at the end - it was a bit disheartening. Villa could have got a draw out of that but the last two subs were particularly weak. Grealish is not yet experienced enough to change a game like that and he made very little contribution.

Zoggy should have stayed on the pitch and Sanchez brought on for Richardson i.m.o.

So the results from the last three matches are leaving quite a few fans disenchanted. There is no doubt that the policies and events that have occurred over the last 3 or 4 years have taken their toll, and that no doubt has had its adverse affect of the attendances at Villa Park. To me it has been ludicrous that we have had to endure what has transpired these latter years.

But though the fact is that we seem to be imposed with the situation as it is there is (in my view) no need to think that the future is so bad. But on the other hand those steeped in past hope for a leap forward from the early 1980s will be shocked if we keep on developing as if we are some mid-table side of the ilk of Stoke or some such side. That’s not to denigrate Stoke, but we know full well that Birmingham deserves something a lot better to represent it in the world of sport. Thank goodness for Birchfield Harriers. ;-)

Unless the club is taken over by its support base (and I can’t see that happening), we are in the hands of people who are disconnected from the Villa’s past. Only a decade or two ago we still had Eric Houghton and Johnny Dixon around to remind us of the love that once existed within and around the club, but though the likes of Peter McParland, Charlie Aitken and Denis Mortimer are still with us, they have kept strangely quiet about the state of affairs.

And the truth is that no matter what anyone else says, the ownership wants to do it his way. We have to sit and watch.

As I said at the start, there’s no reason to think the future will be so bad. I still feel that Villa will not be fighting relegation this year for starters, and there is an indication that the team structure is on the way up rather than in further reverse. Just as well – it couldn’t have got much worse, could it?!!

But the key thing is that as long as the Villa support is showing its discontent by staying away, the more chance that the owner will try harder to improve matters.

Why not enjoy a primer of Villa's history added to all the main stats from 140 years of football? Please click here for more info.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

A Bridge Too Far...

Villa's performance at Chelsea was (defensively at least) good right up to Chelsea's second goal. But a side like them can produce something out of the bag quite easily, and they did.

Villa, going forward, were without anywhere near enough bite, and when they did promise a bit then the Chelsea defenders employed some cynicism to stop 'em getting through. On the other hand, there was precious little that Villa threw at Chelsea of any great danger apart from the two occasions that Villa's best midfielder (Delph) flew through their ranks to blast wide. Delph, please improve your gunsight so that you at least get your shots on target!

And then Hutton burst through and probably should have passed instead of going for glory.

In short, I was disappointed. I expected Villa to at least score and even grab a draw, but against a side containing the likes of Fabregas and Costa that was probably hoping for too much.

Well, yet another big match comes up this coming week. I now feel like battening down the hatches and to wait until it's all over.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A Funny Old Game...

Well, football is a funny game, isn't it? We Villa supporters were cheesed-off by half-time against the Gunners, and wondered why Villa's performance second-half was not more upbeat in an effort to get something out of the match. But then we began to hear the details of a maleficent virus that had plagued the Villa camp in the week and our sympathies for the players gradually replaced the hurt.

Fast forward a day and a certain Manchester United had their faces painted red by being put to the sword at Leicester. And that after United were leading 3-1. It IS a funny old game. Who would have thought (in the Midlands at least) that those two results would transpire this week-end? We thought that Villa had the best of chances of putting the history book back in order against Arsenal, but it was not to be: Villa's very good start to the season has been interrupted. But against the Gunners we started with some promise - keeping them largely in check and producing 2 or 3 goal attempts (Clark's in particular) which another time might have produced the lead. It looked like a continuation of the Liverpool match until the virus - Trojan-like! - worked its maleficence, and then (with players clearly out-of-sorts) it became a case of damage limitation.

So, onto the Chelsea match. It would not surprise me to find that Chelsea will start the match in a state of super confidence, both as a result of their own performances and their perceived failure of Villa against the Gunners, but (so long as this bug does not do any further damage and the players are fit again) I expect to see Villa giving Chelsea a hell of a match as they did at Liverpool. I am so confident because the new midfield, particularly with the induction of Cleverley, has shown that we do have the ability to get forward well and (sometimes) 'cleverly'! And that, springing from a determined defence, is the sound basis that Graham Taylor has been lauding. Okay, the bug may not have completely gone away by the coming week-end, but (even so) a draw at Chelsea would not surprise me if the main players are able to put in a full stint. 

 Are we downhearted? No, surely we are not. There have been some pleasant surprises this season and I think that after the next three fixtures (which last season looked fearsome with the players Villa then had available) we may be further pleasantly surprised. More so if Benteke reappears at some stage. 


Why not enjoy a primer of Villa's history added to all the main stats from 140 years of football? Please click here for more info.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Wow! Is this really Aston Villa I'm Watching?

Was that Aston Villa I saw yesterday?

Well-disciplined, organised ... everyone working for one another? The game was not one that the purist would be happy with but if you're a Villan you'd be more than happy.

There was concern that Villa's league position had been achieved by their results against ne're-do-wells in the Premiership, but Villa arrived at Anfield with the plan (it would seem) to do a smash-and-grab. They virtually overwhelmed Liverpool for the first 15 minutes, scored what proved to be the winner, and then spent the rest of the game containing a Liverpool side that without Suarez (and now Sturridge) seemed incapable of breaking through. However, I thought that Liverpool's substitutions were a little bizarre, putting on two players that were not better and less tricky than the two they replaced. Indeed  before the subs were made I thought Liverpool stood more chance of equalising.

Another bonus was that the Villa midfield now looks as though it has a Premiership label. On top of the solid performance by the defence since the start of the season - and that yesterday Baker proved to be such a good alternative to Vlaar - Villa's team is beginning to acquire some polish about it.

There's a long way to go yet, but the new management partnership seem to be getting the basics right. And the hitherto worrying upcoming fixtures no longer look quite so fearsome.

EC football next season? I can't see that happening, but I do see a far more interesting season developing and a welcome relief after what's been going on since 2010. There's room for optimism after all.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Villa Park Jitters?

THIS was the first home match of the season and yet only 28,000 Villa supporters turned up. Since when did this happen before on the first day of the season? And these brave fans were rewarded with no shots on goal. The best they got for good cheer was 2 close shaves from Zoggy.

After the play in the last 3 seasons, then I suppose I can see where everyone is coming from in their happiness that we have four points, but it looks as though we’ve already forgotten how things used to be at Villa Park!

Yesterday there was an absence of positives unless you sum it up in one word – ‘defence’. There's no denying that the full-backs look good (is this the same Hutton? And why was he locked away for so long?), combined with two sound centre-backs, and the midfield looks stronger with Richardson and now Sanchez at hand. But it's all at present designed to keep the opponents out.

Yes they do it well, but how many shots on goal have we had in two matches? The answer is ONE. And that produced our only goal so far, and one that was partly as a result of a keeper's error.

Yesterday, Villa were crying out for a player to unlock the barcodes’ defence … but we saw none. Anything to prevent defeat seems to be the mentality just now. And this is at Villa Park ... not at Anfield or Old Trafford, where such team placements in the away side would have been understandable.

Yes, it can improve (the squad is good enough and Benteke and Okore are still to return), but I wait with baited breath.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Right ... I Assume The Only Way Is Now Up!

A new season is nigh, and having this year passed 140 years of existence the Villa (surely!) will now proceed to resurrect itself and again become a force to make the 150th anniversary a time of true celebration. They say that Management by Objectives is a worthwhile approach, and it strikes me that a target of the 150th anniversary to be 'back there' is a realistic objective given where the club is right now.

But the events of the past few weeks - particularly the affair of the Lions Clubs - seem to me to indicate that the club's management has been trying to enforce a code of conduct amongst the supporters which amounts to "gentrification" as one ESPN blogger has put it, and it has been met with some resistance. But in this age of deep austerity measures and difficulty in keeping body and soul together for those of this world who are the traditional footie followers, the will to initiate a deep protest seems to have evaporated. Despite the fact that responsibility for the state of the affairs on the pitch in this past three years lies with the owner and his management, there has been an on-going tone of denial from that corner: they have at times inferred that it is the fans that are at fault. And though Paul Faulkner has gone, the club's management seem to continue to believe that by tightening the rules concerning supporters' behaviour they are going to win the support of the fans.

Furthermore, it is clear that the management believe that it is the Lions' Clubs responsibility to generate more fans to the Villa cause. The situation is unbelievable, yet the crucial factor is this: performances and results on the pitch is the main issue that will help to modify the fans' attitudes and also to bring in new supporters. It is this issue which is surely the most important, or else what is Aston Villa about? The club exists for football, not for the careers of the club's management! Traditionally, it has been mainly a combination of the quality of play and individual heroes that has fed the fans' enthusiasm, and in recent years there has been a significant lack of both apart from the upsurge of Benteke and, perhaps, Vlaar, both of whom have been absent from the field for significant periods leaving behind a team of (mainly) mediocrity for the fans to watch.

So, my message to the Villa management would be to get their fingers out and stop concentrating on hospitality and telling people what to do, and provide what the fans come to watch - which is entertainment on the pitch. In fact, the summer's events seem to indicate that there has been an attempt to rectify that not unimportant issue by dismantling the 'bomb squad' and by bringing in two former England internationals. But this has been done on the cheap and the proof of the pudding can only be in the eating.

Despite all, I am in the glass-half-full camp of believing that there is sufficient talent in the Villa squad for us to see some progress being made this year and towards a plan for 2024. The availability of Gardner and Grealish can only add to the positivity of the presence of Benteke and (we hope) N'Zogbia - and maybe the defence will be better too.

But the delivery of Villa's performances is also a management issue, and the underlining question is "Has Lambert worked out how to improve Villa's home form?". 

These appear to be the main targets for this season:

1. A mid-table finish.
2. Inspiring runs in the cups.
3. Much-improved results at home.
4. The development of Grealish and Gardner.
5. The sale of Aston Villa to a good buyer.

Go Villa ... GO!

For a nutshell read up on Villa's history   please click here.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A Roar about the Lions Clubs!

Aston Villa appeared to have ceased dealing with me (selling my books) by not replying to my e-mails and phone calls (following the May letter I sent to Randy Lerner), but a week ago I wrote to my old boss at Villa Park (Lee Preece) and asked him to follow up the matter. 

Lee wrote to me last evening and, hey presto, this morning I happened to receive a message from the Villa Store asking for further details about my Nutshell book so that they might consider selling it. However, after a few minutes consideration about the Lions Clubs matter I sent the following reply: 

Hello Alan [Williams], 

Thank you very much for your reply. 

A week or two ago I would have been very happy to take this matter further – indeed, I was anxious to do so – but matters have got to such a state at Villa Park (the matter of how the Lions Clubs are being treated has pushed the matter over the edge for me), I do not want to deal with Aston Villa any further until it’s got itself in order. 

If that means that I will not have a future association with Aston Villa, then so be it. 

Personally, I wish you, John [Greenwood] and Lee [Preece] all the very best. 


John Lerwill

For more sad details about the Lions Clubs matter,
please see this link. 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Patience Has Reached Its Limit...

Sustainability has been in the news on and off for some time. The revelation that the UK's global ecological footprint is still several times that which is sustainable is a shocker for me, though pretty well every other country has also crossed that threshold now, and the USA's standing is far worse. Unfortunately it is unlikely to be an issue that the major parties will campaign on in next year's general election.

But Randy Lerner had sustainability in mind when he pulled the trigger some four years ago to send Villa shooting for an austerity drive. But from that point it was the only kind of shooting we saw: play has mostly been a yawn since then, and that's been said pretty often on several blogs. And I sent a letter to Randy in May encapsulating that as the main objection to his reign at Villa Park while praising him in other respects, countersigned by nearly 100 brave people. The club acknowledged the letter as "noted" though I doubt Randy himself read the letter.

What has happened now is that the doors have been shut on me down at the Villa store and the club refuse to answer my e-mails. Not totally unexpectedly some might say but, in other words, Villa are no longer going to sell my books. Now this is a pity as over the last two years the club has sold 274 copies of my main book The First Superclub - out of a total of nearly 600 sold - and has thus earned £3,000 gross profit on those sales. Not that such a sum is what keeps the club going, but it's about equivalent to the income from five season tickets. When you add the fact that my website has also induced overseas Villa supporters to order other stuff from Villa Park and not just my books, then I see Villa's action against me as doing nothing more than spiting their own nose. 

Another function of my books, of course, (and one that is at least equally important) is in promoting the image of the club. The fans tell me as such - so again the club is working against itself. Is there anyone else who has researched the club as extensively as myself? It would seem not, as my time at the British Library unveiled far more than can be found locally, apart from statistics. Finds included the identification of the true founders of the club.

I don't pretend to be the only capable Villa historian, but I have long been experienced in historical research and suggest that I have done enough to warrant better consideration by the club.

But I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by the club's action. They wanted me there as Club Historian after 12 months working at VP on contract and then chose to sack me early in 2010 over a comparatively trivial issue, just at the time that Paul Faulkner was making his mark: he was appointed CEO at the end of that season. 

I've always thought it highly strange that after being involved in advanced talks about creating a museum in late 2009 it was so soon followed by my sacking. In the light of that it's not too strange that a museum has never seen the light of day, in any permanent or semi-permanent form. Sadly in some ways, I convincingly won my case in the employment tribunal with the club since finding ways to be petulant, including the act of refusing to let me attend Villa Park to participate in a BBC TV item last year. This was despite the fact that they admitted I was the most expert on the topic at hand.

So much for having supported (and loved) the club for over 60 years as a third-generation supporter, apart from my standing as a club historian.

But coming back to the topic of sustainability, the club may be under new ownership before too long and I am also taking off in a new direction. My lifelong deep interest in history of all kinds is next month going to be enhanced by my doing an advanced course through Oxford University. When that is over (in 12 months) I will then be looking at other fields of history in which to work and I fancy that will be going further into the realm of political/spiritual studies, a subject area that is also close to my heart. Having now passed 70 y.o.a. I still possess some sense of life after Aston Villa!

I will soon have far less time to devote to Aston Villa matters. Nevertheless, I have just now published another (yet small) book entitled Aston Villa In A Nutshell. It's only £7, with discounts for multiple purchases. Please see this page.

It's a very handy jacket-pocket size and it is lightweight: light enough to take to the match! It celebrates the 140th birthday of the club.

As the club are not going to be selling this book, I would be very grateful for your support through my webpage. Soccer Books are also selling it.

But, despite all, I still say UTV and will always be interested in happenings down at t' Villa.

P.S. I have just read this article. Just what is going on?!

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Aston Villa In A Nutshell

I have pleasure in announcing that my latest Villa book (Aston Villa In A Nutshell) is now available!

Where else can you obtain a small book (jacket pocket size) that contains all the main facts about the club in just 86 pages? And at only £7 (GBP) in the UK with discount for multiple purchases.

For more info please click here.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Paul Faulkner (2)

I have just seen this article:

It's well-written i.m.o. and gives a different and interesting perspective about PF.

My feeling remains that he was learning on the job, but there were/are certain traits about him that are entirely positive. It's just a pity he didn't come into the job with a c.v. that had football written all over it.

I wish him well.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Paul Faulkner

Mr. Faulkner, Villa's presumably erstwhile CEO, is moving on. I for one wish him well at a personal level, particularly as his very young son has a condition which will be challenging for his parents to deal with. 

In respect of his affair with Aston Villa, I believe this is a very good thing to have happened. With all due respect to him, Mr. Faulkner has been learning on the job, and you just cannot do that at such a level in a big sports operation that is Aston Villa. What has occurred in the four years he has held the post has seen Villa's standing plummet to a dangerous level - and I am sure that's not what we thought would be the result of Randy Lerner's takeover in 2006.

Now in bringing in Mr. Lerner's name I am bringing up the fact that it was he that appointed Mr. Faulkner after getting nowhere with two well-qualified CEOs - men that knew the game. The writing should have been on the wall for us to see then, for goodness sake! How come that two such men walked away from their jobs so easily? But, presumably because we had witnessed Mr. Lerner's very good work and investment in the refurbishment of the club, and that because he appeared to be backing his team manager, we became myopic. The result has been that the past four years have been a very painful time and I do not believe that it was necessary to go through all that. The club's fans have been given very short shrift in the main part during this time.

I hope - I really do hope - that we have the Bright Future that Mr. Lerner referred to in 2007. But we have to wait and see. However, I am sure we will not be quite so easily taken in by the new owner when he arrives. Would we be so foolish?

Saturday, 5 July 2014

What's Happening To '"The Beautiful Game"?

Last night, we saw two teams (Brazil and Columbia) who showed that they could play some open, wonderful, exhilarating, stuff.

But there was also another side to the game - not helped at all by the referee's lax attitude - and that was the sheer lack of concern by several players for the physical safety of their opponents. Appendages flew in from all angles with most being ignored by the referee and we now learn that Naymar (one of the few that has demonstrated real skill in the World Cup finals) has a broken vertebrae resulting from another, careless, challenge. 

And it exemplified how little the players knew about the rules of the game when James Rodriguez complained that he had been whistled-up for a foul but that he had used his shoulder. The trouble was that his shoulder had been applied to someone's chest. Do players' not know that the 'shoulder' rule applies to shoulder to shoulder contact? But he is not the only one not to understand this - many flout this rule and do not get disciplined for it. Pushing is rife.

For some years now it has made me boggle that players get away with so many fouls in the penalty area - particular when corner kicks are taken. Shirtpulling and pushing in these situations and in open play is rife and yet referees are tricked too easily. And many referees and their assistants seem to ignore their occurrence, particularly within the penalty area.

Last night's game could have been a a really great game. But it was so badly tainted by the rash challenges and referee myopia.

Added to the case concerning Suarez, I wonder what the likes of Pele think about what's going on? Sir Stan Matthews and Tom Finney would have been appalled.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

On The Matter of the Midfield

After the frankly many terrible displays during the 2011-2013 period and their continuation into 2013-14, manager Paul Lambert finally conceded that the team lacked quality in midfield. Specifically that Villa were missing a 'number 10' of the Cowans/Merson mould, so we can say that it's been a very long time indeed since we had a 'general' that could ping a few balls about to good effect, and to make us believe that football is not just about huff and puff.

The 1990s saw a trickle of fine players come and go but in the midfield area (after Cowans and Platt had departed) there was no further playmaker of great note until the veteran Paul Merson arrived in late 1998, despite the earlier contribution of Richardson then Townsend and then Draper.

And since Paul Merson left in the early 2000s, there has been no-one able to replace him in that particular role of his, as an inspirational playmaker. With the absence of high midfield quality since 2003, Villa's style has depended considerably more on speed and effort. During O'Neill's time in office, the presence of Barry, Young, Petrov and Milner had glossed over the need for a specific inspirational player. Indeed, they have become harder to come by, and a young one would cost a fortune.

So, in the arrival of Joe Cole we have a possibility that causes me to equate with the arrival of Peter Broadbent in the Autumn of 1966. Like Broadbent, Joe Cole is a player that has probably seen his best days and has suffered injury, and though he was never a 'general' in the sense that Woosnam, Broadbent Cowans or Merson were, my mind does boggle to think that Cole may just have that matured skill of being able to 'sit and ping' searching balls to his Benteke-led strike-force, exploiting their strengths and pace. It's quite a thought; I pray that's what transpires. Former midfielder Paul Lambert may have had that vision when he signed Cole.

But the cynic in me will of course say 'Well, what if Cole gets injured for some time. We're then back to square one, aren't we?'. And that cynic may well have a point. And, also, 'where is the player that will help stem the opponents' ability to break through?'

We have a potentially interesting season coming up. Let's hope the cynic will be shown just how wrong he is. As another Lambert (Wellington's divisional commander, General Lambert) said to my 40th of Foot ancestor at Waterloo: 'Go for it young man; go and ping those balls of yours and send 'em scurrying back to whence they came!'

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Can Youth Get Its Fling?

Aston Villa. As John Gregory famously and proudly said, there’s a symmetry in those two 5-letter words. The club’s name once stood as the finest, the Rolls-Royce (another two words of 5 letters!) of what was best in football. Aston Villa was once the most famous football club in the world and until 1982 it stood a good chance of re-claiming that status as it’s lead as the nation’s biggest winner of domestic trophies had only just been overtaken by Liverpool. And Villa had just become only the fourth English club to win the European Cup.

The restoration of Aston Villa to anything near top status will today require a club owner with a combination of sound business skills, a real affinity with football and a substantial amount of money. And, probably, his acceptance that he’s not going to make personal profit out of his investment. Running a football club today is not like the situation in Fred Rinder’s day, but it does require leadership of the kind that Rinder possessed. Restoration of the club cannot be expected to take place overnight, and the FFR situation rather points (in my opinion) to the need for Villa to re-build mainly from grass roots. The club does have a good infrastructure for youth development, though it requires a greater throughput of Premier League talent. We have had too many players come through who promised much in their early years but then fell away.

We’ve not done badly in the last 15 years or so in producing Barry, Hendrie, Vassell, Davis, Ridgewell, Craig Gardner, Cahill, Clark, Bannan, Albrighton, Baker and Gabby (apart from two, all were still Premier League players last season, and most have been ‘capped’), but there have been too many examples of youngsters falling away. I distinctly recall bright prospect Luke Moore having a purple patch in season 2005-06 by scoring 5 goals in 3 matches, then being rested and then managing to lose his way under Martin O’Neill. Well, as Cahill was also ‘let go’ by O’Neill perhaps we can identify where the problem of youth progression lay in those days.

But building from youth was the way that the club, under Rinder, re-built itself after 1900 when Villa’s old stars retired. And when a young player didn’t come through to fill a particular spot, then the club went out and bought the needed player. And there was always a careful blend of young and experienced players. It was a commonsense approach that worked. And it can work again. Someone has to develop new players as future stars, so why not Aston Villa?

So, in watching Jack Grealish we can wonder! we can wonder whether this phenomenon will break through and establish a new trend – a trend of Villa youth truly succeeding in the Premier League rather than being ‘nearlies’. Will he, Samir Carruthers and Gary Gardner be afforded the opportunity to strut their stuff?

I would say that all three of these young players (and others?) are ready to embark on the Premier League stage, but with one proviso. And that is that the club invests in a capable and experienced midfielder (or two) who can help to bring on these three, in the old Villa tradition.

In fact it was heart-warming for me to read in Billy Walker’s autobiography (Soccer In The Blood) his eagerness to give credit to old players and great stalwarts like Frank Barson and Clem Stephenson (who later led Huddersfield to three championships) for his on-the-field training as a young player. What a better way to learn your trade – from the masters. And Billy, in turn, brought on the young Eric Houghton. In fact, that was the way that Villa always used to go about things in that the older players coached the youngsters. This fact was told by Howard ‘Prince of Full-backs’ Spencer. There was no need for specialist team managers and coaches, they said. And, since Villa succeeded without them, they probably had a point.

But that was then. Football is now a humungous operation that almost undoubtedly does require a team manager and coaching staff. But I say that tradition has proved that on the field a player or two is needed to lead the youngsters as well. But will Villa’s manager play ball? And who should he get to play the part?

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Wanted: A Custodian Who Cares (Enough)

I sit here still pondering on just how Villa got to its current state. Reflecting even further, I also wonder if anything has really moved on since 1945, nearly 70 years ago. We can point to short periods of success of different qualities in the 1970s/80s and mid-1990s, and one or two other good blips, but the really good years only amount to some 15 years out of 70 years. Okay, I’ll be generous and say 18 years to include the 3 x 6th-placed years under O’Neill.

That’s 25% (mixed and flitting) worthwhile results since World War Two. Boy, this “sleeping giant” has certainly slumbered! And slumbered so much that it’s mostly been out of touch with the rest of football development, particularly since 1961, the year when football was turned upside down. Even the year itself could be turned upside-down (to read the same)! It was the year when modern football really started.

It was in 1961 that a professional footballers’ strike was threatened. At the 11th hour, the authorities climbed down and agreed to remove the fixed wage structure that had been operating for 60 years. Aston Villa opposed that move, but that was a bit rich as Villa opposed the introduction of the fixed wage structure in the first place (in 1901), and chairman Fred Rinder was always an ardent opponent of the system. He fought for years to have the system abolished. After all, Villa had carried all before them in the 1890s partly because they were paying their players higher wages than pretty well any other club.

Villa, after all, was the first Superclub.

For those that are interested, some of Villa’s top players got £6 per week in 1900 – an income that in those days was on a par with what the best people people were earning in the traditional professions. The typical players’ wage in the top-flight, however, was then £3 or £4 per week.

Villa had to develop different methods to find success in the early 1900s, as they did in the 1960s. The difference in the 1960s was that Villa did not have a board that was properly football-savvy nor commercially aware; they had somehow dragged Villa through the years since 1945 and were unable to bring in sufficient extra revenue to pay the higher wages to attract top players from 1961. The likes of Liverpool, Man U, Chelsea and Spurs thrived and also made sure they had effective youth development schemes while Villa effectively dropped theirs (in 1962) to keep costs down! Even the training ground went to save on expenditure. In 1964 Villa managed to sell star youngster George Graham to Chelsea for £5,000. He thrived at Chelsea (under Tommy Docherty) and then Arsenal, and for Scotland. Villa could have claimed at least £25,000 for him (which was then a going fee for such a young and talented player) but the board did not seem to have a clue.

Villa was known to be a homely club, but the custodians had become too comfortable in their seats. They sat and gloried in the fame of times past. Well, the chairman (Chris Buckley) had played in the 1910 championship team.

After Rinder died in 1938, Villa seemed to go to pot. Stories of financial wastage and lack of foresight were common at Villa Park from the 1940s to the 1960s. After manager Joe Mercer was sacked from Villa in 1964 for no fault of his own and after being very ill, he said “We always seemed to be worried about money at Villa.” Properly backed, Mercer led Man City to the championship in 1968 and the Cup the following year.

In the years to 1961 and after, Villa’s board believed in their version of the old way of doing things, even to the extent that after Villa suddenly and unexpectedly won the Cup in 1957, Eric Houghton (then the team manager) was not even invited to the head table at the club’s subsequent celebration dinner. And they didn’t even pay him the bonus that had been promised to him by the previous (late) chairman if he won a trophy.

Houghton said afterwards: “We won the Cup, but the board then didn’t seem to know what to do”.

We all know about the wonderful revolution at the club in late 1968 and the remarkable recovery that saw the League championship and the European Cup being won by 1982, but then Doug Ellis took over (again) and caution ruled once more as the club was substantially in debt and was suffering decreasing ‘gates’ because of the recession of the time. Miopic vision again became entrenched when Doug Ellis brought in his own henchmen onto the board. The promise of the 1990s now seems to have been an accident and probably only came around as a result of Graham Taylor’s work, quickly followed by the extra cash being available in the then newly-established Premier League. The appointment of Ron Atkinson and then Brian Little as managers helped to work some wonders.

More money became available after Villa was floated on the Stock Exchange in 1997, but despite the additional income obtained from Yorke’s sale, substantial player investment seemed to be difficult for Ellis, despite his stated ambition to win the League. By 2001 the gravy-train had largely come to a halt, although money had somehow been found to re-build the Trinity Stand.

Forty years on from 1961, in June, 2001, The Times (in writing about the then-big Gareth Southgate dilemma at Villa) declared: “Many believe that his stance reflects [the fans'] own disillusionment with a nondescript club.”

Nowt changes much, does it? That Villa could be referred to as “a nondescript club”, I mean. Thirteen years on and that description can still be applied, though Villans would not use that term. Villans, understandably, prefer to use more positive terms like “a sleeping giant” rather than use a term that might seem derogatory.

Yet, within that often very sad and often mis-managed most recent 70-years-worth of history, there have been the moments that remain with us and will for as long as we live. These moments have been enough to sustain us and cause us to believe that Aston Villa is a football club that is worthy of regeneration and is able to act as a standard bearer for Midlands football. And – I have to say it; it’s the bottom line after all – we love the club.

Wanted: one custodian with empathy and ability to put it all right. Financial rewards: none.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Let's Be Positive!! What Other Choice Is There?!

I think most Villans are still in a state of shock that Villa have performed so badly these past few years after welcoming Randy Lerner as a saviour.

Most of us are probably wringing our hands in some kind of despair at the state of the club. The owner, mentally, has effectively already left us and the manager probably realises that he’s not necessarily going to be around when (and if) a new owner takes over. And we don’t know who Paul Lambert will have available as his coaching staff next season.

I have been trying to think back to a similar period at Villa in my experience, and though there were like times in the 1950s, the clearest memory I have is of the middle-60s, when the seasons 1964-65 through to 1966-67 lacked proper investment, and trepidation ruled Aston. “What’s going to happen next?”, was the typical thought. And we found out in 1967: it was relegation that happened. A quick return did not look likely and it took another 18 months before a new ownership turned up – and then only after enormous pressure from the fans.

Those sad circumstances cause me to go further down Memory Lane for awhile. I recall the better moments – of Tony Hateley’s thundering headers, and the silky touches of Phil Woosnam, who was the Villa’s ‘schemer’ since 1962. And the injury-littered career of Alan Deakin – a fine player, whose subjugation of Denis Law once caused the Scot to be ordered off the field after his mean retaliation. And the memory of youngster Bobby Park who once broke a collar bone in a match and was so keen to continue playing (in the days before substitutes) that he came back on to the field of play wearing a sling to carry his injured arm!
And there was dear old ‘Slogger’ at centre-half, playing his heart out every week, with Charlie Aitken, Mick Wright and Colin Withers (in goal) too often the last line of defence. But Withers was a great shot-stopper – some compared him to the great Gordon Banks.

Having sold sharp-shooting winger Harry Burrows (who allegedly asked for a transfer after not getting his requested extra fiver per week in his wage packet) in 1965 Villa signed an average-priced player by the name of Willie Hamilton who was actually a good midfielder and who cracked a few decent goals. Such was his influence in midfield that Phil Woosnam moved forward to support Hateley and managed to score over 20 goals as a result in 1965-66! But Villa were plagued by injuries and a 16th place finish became the norm at that time. And early in the 1966-67 season Villa lost Woosnam (who retired to start off U.S. league football) and then Hateley to Chelsea. With Deakin and Hamilton absent through injury too often, there was lack of quality to keep Villa up. Enthusiasm alone was not enough.

Yes, the past couple of years have reminded me of the similarities between now and then.

But maybe, even in this current state of semi-chaos without any sense of certainty that a new owner will be installed by August, we should try to look at what we have to look forward to in order to remain sane and to restore an element of positivity!

Yep, believe it or not there is something positive coming up. And it’s almost as though Villa have a new team at their disposal!

It is likely that Benteke (perhaps because of his injury last season) will still be with us. And we’ll also have Okore and Kozak back from injury. Added to this we have the statement made by Lambert this week that “… we’ll look to identify players of proven quality to bring in …”. Well, we have to see what precisely he means by that. It could of course mean a number of Grant Holt clones (!) … but perhaps not, though the departure of Albrighton is a bit disturbing.

On the other hand Grealish seems to have been recognised by the manager as someone who should step forward and claim his place. And perhaps we may see N'Zogbia back.

In short, we might have a team to start the new season that contains some quality. Who would have believed it! Even though there’s probably a good chance that Bertrand might not return, it was observed vs Chelsea last season that Bennett might be settling in. What about this team:

Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Okore, Bennett; Westwood, Grealish, Delph; N'Zogbia, Benteke, Gabby. Subs: (gk), Kozak, Clark, Bacuna, Robinson.

Yes, I still have faith in Gabby and I feel a summer’s rest might restore his vitality. He did start 2013-14 very well, as, indeed, he finished well in 2012-13.

But even though I like the sound of Grealish in the middle, the prevailing question will be about whether Villa have enough bite in midfield. Maybe the signing of “players of proven quality” will remove that doubt.

Milner, Barry and Young then please!

Friday, 9 May 2014

140 years is over. What's next?

The end of another season looms. Another unwanted record (of the most home defeats) has entered the record book to accompany last season’s record competitive defeat, the 0-8 result at Chelsea. And there was also the Culvergate affair.

However, the cynic might say that the rare home win last Saturday came at precisely the psychologically right time for the club to convince the Villa fans that all is well: the apparent avoidance of relegation gave chance for the club to infer that the situation is under control and that all we have to do is wait for next season to see that everything will be okay.

Meanwhile, noises are uttered from Villa Park that the club (now) realises that better quality players are needed and, with the club already being top-heavy with strikers, yet another striker is referred to as a possible target. Yes, better quality is needed, but will the right kind of players arrive – and will the team start playing Premier League football? Will the width of Villa Park be narrowed as we rarely play with any proper wingers?

Assuming that Mr. Lerner remains in his seat, are we now to see Paul Lambert remain as manager and supervising the acquisition of relatively expensive players that produce ‘nil points’? I seem to recall the manager last January admitting that Villa needed a wise head in midfield yet signed Grant Holt as his answer to the issue.

While being happy to see the passing of this season, I feel that the inferred continued presence of both chairman and manager gives us a situation that might cause any right-thinking Villa fan to take himself to some distant cave to meditate and pray that when he returns normal service (whatever that is!) is resumed. I suspect that, deep down, we really regret accusing Doug of being mean with with his expenditures and wish that we could switch the clock back some 20 years. But we wanted change, got it, and we have had to live with the consequences. Perhaps the best that we can now hope for is that, sooner or later, David Cameron will arrive on his white Arab charger with a rich sheikh in tow.

But, with little other option apart from changing our habits of many winters, let us fix our attention on realism and the positive and assume that all will be well. Perhaps there will be light at the end of the tunnel; perhaps (as Doug intended) Frank Lampard and Paul Gascoigne may yet be seen in a Villa shirt. Yep, I assure you they are ‘real men’.

The Villa’s 140th birthday passes by without hardly a sound. Where will Villa be when the 150th comes around in 2024?

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Happiness is a pause between bouts of pain.

Supporters of Manchester United don't realise it - that happiness or success cannot be a permanent condition. But 22 years of virtually continuous League, Cup and European qualification (and more) must make the mind a bit immune to anything different, of course. That level of success must affect you as intoxication gives you light-headedness. But when the morning comes - which eventually it must - the headache is there.

David Moyes must have been equally intoxicated when he took on that job.

But even Sir Alex at one time thought he was going to face tough opposition from the Villa. Imagine that! League runner-up in 1993 (to Man U) and defeating Man U in no uncertain terms at Wembley in 1994 must (in the way that Villa did it under Big Ron)  have frightened Sir Alex.

With these two teams leading the table, the Villa braves went to Old Trafford with a few games to go in the 1992-93 season, when the Villa fans did not dare to hope that they would see their favourites come away with much except black eyes and sore shins. But, heavens above, Stevie Staunton drove in a peach from outside the area to put Villa ahead! As that happened, I was sitting at the wheel of my car in London waiting to chauffer my wife's relative to his wedding. By that time I was hoping that I did not have to turn off the radio! Then, as seems to be always the case with the Villa these last 20-odd years, the ecstasy soon evaporated when Mark Hughes levelled. But a point it was and the League title still looked as though it was in the balance. Sadly, though, Villa fell away at the last hurdle and ended the season with three successive defeats.

Always to be remembered is the first of those defeats against Blackburn Rovers, at home: Villa lost 0-3. And the architect for the opposition was none other than Gordon Cowans! The cheek of the (old) lad! Big Ron quickly signed him back for Villa and for his third spell at Villa Park.

The 1994 League Cup Final against Man U was orchestrated by Big Ron as though the thought of revenge was deep inside his frontal cortex. He seemed to cover every eventuality in his game plan and the result was that a very fine-looking Man U side (and Alex Ferguson) were utterly out-foxed. What a match! And what strikers we then had in Dean Saunders and Dalian "Sick Note" Atkinson, prompted by the mature wiles of Kevin Richardson, the drive of Andy Townsend and the mercurial dash of Tony Daly. And there was Paul McGrath.

That day was like pure ecstasy. Brian Little's League Cup triumph two years later was also a fine win, but it somehow did not give the sense of satisfaction that we gained in 1994 against Man U. But at the start of his 1995-96 season, Little Brian again showed that Villa was a team to be afraid of as they put Man U to the sword at Villa Park by 3 goals to 1. That was the game after which a certain Alan Hansen said "They [Man U] can't win anything with kids." Well, they (Man U) did - they won the League again. And Villa have not beaten them at Villa Park since. And not since the incredible ex-Red, Paul McGrath, left Villa Park.

The time since 1996 (now 18 years) seems to have been a case of Villa wanting to catch up with Man U (and the rest of the moneybag teams), but lacking the wherewithall to achieve it. And now we're at the point where we can't sink any lower, having exhausted our attempts to do it while mis-spending money and, more frequently, peanuts.

The only way, surely, is now up. Man U has slipped (and in my opinion will not get back to top dog for awhile yet); their time is for a bit more pain while the Villans are due some happiness. But let's find that
wherewithall to achieve it. It's a must.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

New Owners?

The talk of the month is about the chance of new owners.

In my view, it should not be a matter of concern whether the ownership of Villa rests with overseas investors unless the owner(s) do not assimilate as well as they are able into the locality. Apart from the necessary financial investment, ownership of the Villa (in my view) carries a co-responsibility of linking with the locality and, importantly, genuinely sharing in the ups and downs of the fans of the club. 

Although Lerner has helped the community in various ways, he, sadly, has not seen fit to share the fans' remorse as the 'club' has lately slipped. His latest press release clearly shows that. Latterly, the 'club' has no longer felt like a club so far as the fans are concerned.

But, to quote the great Bill Shankly: 
    At a football club, there's a holy trinity - the players, the manager and the supporters. Owners and directors don't come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques.
Eyes will be on any new owners to see who they appoint to operationally run the club and whether they will be professionals in the sport and given a free hand. Whether it becomes a money-making device or not, Villa is not a mere machine to be switched on or off at will, nor to be a club whose interests are restricted to an inner circle, as appears to have been the case of late. Aston Villa tentatively remains the 'Pride of the Midlands', but that is just now more due to the general demise of football in the Midlands.

Most importantly, the club's fans have a right to expect to see Villa well managed and play with method and an in-built determination to win. Self-belief plus teamwork can go a long way in football and we need an owner or owners who recognise that and are willing to invest in the club accordingly.

New owners? You're very welcome! But please bring your Brummie phrase-book with you and be prepared to learn about Brummies! A few hours' session with Prof. Carl Chinn is recommended to become truly enlightened: this is a proud city with proud traditions. Oh, and a knowledge of Urdu is useful in Aston.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

When There Was Great Spirit At The Villa...

Before today's (Crystal Palace) result I had already decided that there is nothing taking place at Villa that causes me to be enthused anymore, and that only by looking into the club's history can we acquire a surge of pride. But although the early-mid 1990s were a period of considerable hope and even provided a sense of being entertained, we have to go back to the 12 years from 1970 to find a period that remained almost constantly upbeat and, what is more, achieving great things. Before that and we have to hark back to pre-War days to find consistent periods of great entertainment. 

But it was the pre-World War One time that really made the Villa famous. So much so that even as late as the 1930s, an English international with another club stated that he had become "fed up" with being asked (on his international travels) on how the Villa were doing! And, also in the 1930s, Villa's Jimmy Crabtree was still spoken of as England's greatest all-round player - and he played for England in the 1890s! 

So it is that time - which is now 100 years ago and more - that I often look to gain a 'high' feeling. A time when Villa were not afraid of anyone and a time (from 1894 to 1914) when they achieved more than any club until Liverpool started on their remarkable run in the 1960s. In those days the Villa gave their fans great cause to have pride in their club. So, to illustrate the level of spirit that then existed, I go back in time. Firstly to a comment that a former Preston North End star made about the Villa of the 1896-97 time. He said: "The Villa would just not allow you to play. They would hold the ball and run circles round you." Villa were then acknowledged as the masters of triangulation (inter-passing between a triangle of players). 

Yes, the peak of Villa's achievements was in the 1893-1900 period (7 trophies won), but the press in those days did not give up much in the way of interviews with personalities - that was something that gradually developed. So I'm going to move forward to another period which I call Villa's "Renaissance" - between 1908 and 1914, when Villa won the League (once), one the Cup (once) and were 4 times League runners-up, and twice Cup semi-finalists. Those were still great achievements for those days. The first account of the period is taken from the wonderful season of 1912-13, when Villa won the Cup but also finished runner-up in the League. That season was nearly a repeat of 1896-97 when Villa achieved the 'double'. The second account is from season 1909-10, when Villa did win the League (the last time until 1981). In October, 1912, Sheffield Wednesday came to Villa Park at a time when Villa had a horrendous injury situation. Former Villa director Charlie Johnstone wrote:
    Before the match, the Villa dressing room looked more like a first-aid establishment than anything else. ‘Owd’ Joe [Grierson] and Charlie Wallace were quite busy putting a patch on here and a bandage on there, and a good many of the men looked as if they had taken part in a … fight, and, thought I, ‘if we get a point out of this match, we shall be lucky!’ Hall was quite unfit with a partial breakdown in the thigh, and under the circumstances his display was marvellous. Hampton was punctured all over with stud marks.
Anyone reading that description of the scene would hardly believe, therefore, that Villa would win that match 10-0, with Hampton getting five of the goals! What makes the result more amazing is that Wednesday were unbeaten until this match and had previously only conceded eight goals in five matches! 

Two years earlier, also against Sheffield Wednesday, Villa won 5-0. Unbelievably, the score was 0-0 at half time, after a half when on half-a-dozen occasions the Villa should have scored. Virtually as soon as the second-half started Villa did score and spread their goals throughout the half. Wednesday throughout looked second-rate to the Villa though they had a strong reputation. The Sheffield centre-half (McConnell) seemed as though he was saving himself for a forthcoming international match. A report stated: “… he looked upon the game at times with arms folded and made no attempt to play”. He also had words with the linesman, who thus complained to the referee. McConnell — who had been the outstanding player a week earlier against England — subsequently explained himself “in his pleasant Irish brogue”:
    I went all out for an hour, but I had no luck at all. The Villa forwards were too clever for us. They danced and jigged around us - made us regular laughing stocks at times — and I am blessed if I could get near the ball, however hard I tried. For one thing, it was very light and lively. At half-time, I asked some of the others in joke how it felt to kick the ball.
When the question came that surely he must have played before against forwards as good as these Villa men, he said: "Not I. They are a wonderful lot, and the marvel to me is that they hadn’t scored five times before half-time. They deserved to." 

On both of these occasions Villa played a Wednesday side that were regarded as no 'push-overs'. It's true that in 1909-10 they finished mid-table, but in 1912-13 they finished the season in third place, just one place behind Villa. 

So, what was it that made the Villa of old? In those days, there was a famous lead writer in the respected Athletic News of the pen-name ‘Tityrus’ who, since the 1880s, had been writing his column. His actual name was J. H. Catton. Even though he wrote for a Manchester journal, he would not shy away from writing about the truth. In 1910, for example, he wrote:
    I have the best reason for believing that Aston Villa owe their position to shrewdness. The club is administered by men who know how to use money like a thrifty housewife. Whenever I have gone to a representative match, there I found a deputation of four or five from Aston Villa. Men like George Ramsay, Howard Spencer and John Devey. … There are other men beside these three Villa heroes. They are so modest, however, that they prefer not to see their names printed. Aston Villa mainly owe their position to the restless activity of their directors. Better football scouts and schemers I have not met. …
Well, times have changed, haven't they? Today's board clearly believe in "leaving it to the professionals" while knowing precious little about the game themselves. But my intention is to make your day more cheerful, not to take you for a walk in the mire. I hope you enjoyed those all too brief accounts from a century ago and more.