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

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Lions roar and have pride. Don't they?

I've been thinking about the lion, the symbol that Aston Villa Football Club goes by; the icon chosen by McGregor and his Scottish friends in days of yore. 

Now a lion is supposed to be a symbol of pride, is it not? And I am sure that`s why it was chosen as those pioneers at the club surely did exhibit great pride and fortitude.

I have at hand an article written in 1924 by one of Villa`s stalwarts of that time, Arthur Dorrell, who refers in deeply felt terms to the degree of affection and respect the players then felt for their Villa forebears. He refers to the sad time when Archie Hunter was on his deathbed and who, one Saturday, asked to be put closer to a window so that he could see the fans on their way to the old Perry Barr ground. Now that event was in 1894, yet 30 years later Dorrell was still talking about it and about the other great events in Villa`s history that continued to inspire the Villa teams of the 1920s.

Like many other Villans who have pride in the club`s history, I have visited Archie Hunter`s grave in Witton Cemetary and have read at first hand the epitaph inscribed on his memorial. I remain affected by that inscription, and at the time I was there (in 2009) I could not conceive of a time when such depth of feeling (about the club and its great representatives) would diminish.

In 2011, I happened to be involved in the initial but non-official meeting to set up a project to restore the grave of William McGregor. The centenary of his death was upon us at that time, and Peter Lupson (who is an ardent restorer of graves of football greats all around the country) was the catalyst to move the project forward. Even he, a latter-day Everton supporter (originally of Norwich City), has acquired some affinity for the history of Aston Villa as a result of that involvement concerning McGregor.

The history of the Villa is fascinating to anyone who takes time to look into it and once upon a time even non-Villans did know about it. Just prior to the F.A. Cup Final of 1905, the editor of the Manchester publication, the Athletic News, went so far as to say that every schoolboy knew the story of Aston Villa and their Wesleyan roots. Not just Birmingham schoolboys, and not even just Midlands` schoolboys, but all schoolboys! Such was the fame of Aston Villa in those days.

I remember very well the sense of pride about the Villa in the early 1950s, even though the club hadn`t won anything for a fair few years. I can remember that Villa, even then, was still a great club in the hearts of the fans. The eventual winning of the FA Cup in 1957 was a time for the release of pent-up emotion. The winning of the European Cup was the pinnacle.

It is that pride - and the honest endeavour of a good many players and administrators that was also based on inherited pride - that was the mainstay and source of direction for the club over more than 130 years. It was the cumulative pride in the club that then decided (as it did in 1968 re: the board of the time) that "enough was enough" and moved for Doug`s exit. And to get something 'better` to replace what was there then, in order to become a top club once more.

Now, the installation of Mr. Lerner brings us back to our friend the lion, the club`s icon. One of the first things that happened after the 2006 event was for the club`s badge to be re-drawn, to reveal what is possibly the tamest looking lion there has ever been. All very arty, but the past four years` results seem to have been a reflection of that design.

We have to recognise that football has changed in many respects since the Premier League started in 1992. Many factors have entered the game that were barely imagined over 20 years ago, but what causes Aston Villa to be in problems that Everton (perhaps Villa`s nearest equivalent club in size, ground attendances and achievements) do not seem to have experienced? Yes, I know that Everton fans were not too happy a couple of years ago but, to be frank, I sometimes feel quite envious of them as a club, from top to bottom.

From chairman to team manager and to the fact they realised that Gareth Barry is an asset, Everton have shown many of the elements that we miss at Villa. Firstly, in chairman Bill Kenwright they have someone who has been close to the club since childhood and is imbued with local tradition as he comes from that area. What is more he has been chairman of the club for not much more than 2 years` longer than Randy. Like Villa, they have not won any trophies in that time, but seem to have made better progress and field a team that is a blend of experience and youth. I see Kenwright as having an awareness of what it is that constitutes the soul of a football club, and that (to me) is a key factor. He appears to be aware of the fans` pride and their expectations.

Let`s please forget about selling Villa to anyone with enough cash to 'buy` Champions` League football. In my view, what is needed is someone who is imbued with the Villa; a Villa equivalent to Bill Kenwright. I am not necessarily suggesting that the person should be another 'K` - Nigel Kennedy - but I think you know what I am saying. Whoever is the chairman of Villa, in my opinion he should breathe passion for the club and drive the club forward. If Everton (and Spurs and Newcastle) can be up amongst the top-8 and striving to win cups, then so can Villa.

Perhaps we have to accept that Villa will never compete financially with the big clubs, but at least let`s have a chairman that can help the lion to re-find its roar! Perhaps Mr. Lerner might come to realise that need, this summer.

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