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

Monday, 8 June 2015

Just What Kind of Owner Do We Want?

[My last article before August comes]

Aston Villa has rarely dropped out of the top-flight in over 125 years and, more significantly, for more than 20 years before 1915 the club dominated world football after the club's former chairman, William McGregor, had created the world's first football league. Aston Villa was the first 'Superclub'.

The Villa can also rightly be called the 'Pride of the Midlands', despite the fact of the events over the past five years in particular. Nottingham Forest had an upstart period thanks to Brian Clough and the Wolves were very strong for 30-or-so years prior to and after the War, but where are these clubs now? And where are the other Midlands clubs that might challenge the position of Aston Villa? 

 In 1981, Aston Villa had still won more domestic honours than any other English club. In 1982, the club won the European Cup and throughout the 1990s the Villa remained a leading club in the top-flight of English football. After the achievements in 1981 and 1982 and the mini-revival of the 1990s, we had high expectations back in ca. 2000. 

 So, what happened? 

Time, of course plays its part as the cyclical nature of life takes over, but it's not just that - is it? In 2000 we thought that 'the problem' was a certain Doug Ellis - we thought he was holding us back and we believed that it was the same Doug who had stopped Villa's continued rise after 1982, the year of European triumph and also the time when Doug had returned to Villa as the chairman. So, when in 2006 he found for us a new owner of Villa we breathed a sigh of relief and welcomed the new chief as the knight on a white horse. 

 We are now a bit wiser. We also found out that the current owners of Manchester City might have been Villa's new owners in 2006 but for the willy wiles of our Doug. Our Doug has a lot to be remembered for, and the name of a stand at Villa Park provides that remembrance. However, I have no wish to join the blame game: Doug did no more than try to keep the club in an atmosphere of English thinking that we would probably now regard as 'old hat'. We might call the attitude a remnant of a bygone age and related to the old-boys network but Doug thought he was doing right though his attitude became little different to that of the chairman and board members whom he supplanted in 1968. 

 In 1968, the club were penny-conscious and frightened to look towards new horizons: the board members were a pastiche of the club's leaders of the Golden Years. Meanwhile, on the pitch, a disaster was unfolding in front of our eyes. Attendances were down to 12,000, the ground was crumbling and the old third division invited us if we dared. But the fans stood up at last and said "enough is enough" - and, miraculously, the board actually listened and within a short time a new board was appointed with (yes!) Doug Ellis appointed as a chairman. The maverick but colourful Tommy Docherty was appointed as manager and we suddenly had attendances back to 30,000-plus. Tommy (and the new board, supported by excited, expectant and exceptional, helping, fans) managed to save the club from relegation to the Third Division that season. Suffice to say that a turnaround took place in fairly quick time, culminating in the return to the top-flight within 8 years, and within less than another 8 years, the club's first European trophy, quickly followed by a second. 

The 1970s and early 1980s were vibrant years of achievement and people remembered that time in 2000 after Villa had produced a very unconvincing performance at a Wembley Cup Final. The fans then spoke out again, and along came the change in 2006. Doug had proclaimed that Villa was still a top-6 club, and we believed that - in fact we thought we were due for greater things. 

Today, the reality is that the club is not that much further forward than it was at the time when Doug appeared on the scene at the end of 1968, but at least we are still in the top flight. I did not expect the club to return to the disorganised level we have seen these past 5 years - but it has happened, and our hopes have taken a battering. The last 9 years has seen yet another chairman who has been mostly clue-less about what is needed to re-invigorate the club back into the big-time, despite paying out large sums to commercial entities and media people and (latterly) team managers that have not enthused anyone until the arrival of the latest in February. 

Despite the so-called austerity under Randy, he has still opened his chequebook when the need has arisen, though money has sometimes been spent in a strange manner (the story of Darren Bent would be almost unbelievable if told to a stranger, in my view), so the issue is not simply about money is it? You could say that much money is needed, but as I look back to those times in 1968 and 1969, it was not money that saved the situation but the joining-together of a lot of people who loved the club, and the body of belief that it could all be turned around. It was not a case of expecting 'them' to do something about the situation, it was about about 'us' getting together and breathing life back into the club. That was when Villa WAS a club ... again. The atmosphere (we were told) was akin to as it had been in the 'old days'. 

So, just after we have again experienced a very unconvincing performance at a Wembley Cup Final, I suggest to all those who want a big-money merchant to take over the club that we should first of all ask that entity to prove how much he loves the club. With money alone I would not expect a lot: in my view sustained progress cannot be made unless that merchant has had an infusion of claret pumped into his veins, not a mere tattoo placed on the ankle. Haven't we learnt that? 


 My Villa website has had a make-over! Please click here to link. I expect to expand the site further during the summer, time permitting.