That sinking feeling has come back this season with a vengeance, but because we have been so close to the drop for 5 years I suppose it could be said we’re inured to the idea.
But has the Villa Disappointment been just a 5-year affair? No, of course not. Despite the comparatively halcyon years of 1989-2001 and 2007-2010, there has been little to chortle over since the early 1980s, over 30 years ago. And the 1974-1984 time must count as Villa’s greatest success period in over a century.
Thinking about it, I recall that my father was born a few months after the previous championship success (in 1910) and died not that long before the next one (1981), so between us we have witnessed only the one championship success in 106 years. Since 1910, the Villa have been mostly struggling to find themselves, except during that lovely time of 1974-84.
Indeed, my first 23 years of life and as a Villa supporter were mostly spent in depression as relegation always seemed a stone’s throw away during that time. But Dad must have had a premonition of something that was going to happen in the mid-50s as he acquired a TV in 1956, and in 1957 we saw Villa win the Cup on it.
Yes, they played that day in those dark gray and light gray stripes (er, I’m told they were actually claret and blue stripes, but we couldn’t see that on our TV) and though they were not playing anything like Real Madrid, they did give the suggestion that they were out there to give Man U a fight. And they did: Supermac laid out their keeper after 10 minutes and so we won with the advantage of they playing with effectively 10 men before the days of subs. Supermac scored a hat-trick: one knock-out and two goals.
But at least they played with effort. And in Supermac they had a real match-winner. Johnny Dixon was also an inspirational skipper, and Dugdale (the centre-half) and Sims (keeper) were great players. They were a good, well-oiled team: nothing fancy, but full of drive.
In their current situation this season we have needed just that: “[a] good, well-oiled team: nothing fancy, but full of drive”. Well, perhaps they have finally found just that: Villa finally came of age in their 21st league game, against Crystal Palace. An injury to Hutton enforced a change at r-b - letting in Bacuna - and with Richards dropped, Bunn making his Villa league debut in goal at age 31, and Kozak returning to lead the line, there was suddenly a greatly improved team performance and a win. Villa survived a first-minute shot against their post, but went on to score a solitary and freak-ish goal via the opponent keeper's fumbling, to bring about the first league win of the season since the opening day and the first one at home. But bizarre or not, it was a deserved win. The referee in Villa's first win of the season (Mark Clattenburg) happened to be the referee in this match as well!
Villa have gone down in the football world a lot, but even by the 1960s, Villa were being seen to be something of a has-been as they are today. I recall that when I went to Crystal Palace to see Villa play about 1968-time, my shouts of “C’mon the Villa!” were echoed by my nephew shouting “C’mon Vanilla!”. Even Small Heath supporters were calling our club Aston Vanilla – because we could always be licked. But we did win, that day in 1968. So there was no ice cream that day for our opponents.
The challenge now is to maintain the momentum set in their last match - and they have to keep going to the very last kick of the season. Can they do it? Can they be the "good, well-oiled team: nothing fancy, but full of drive”?
The challenge is great and never before have Villa faced such a stiff challenge. They got out of tough corners in 1951 and 1956, but this time around it is a far more stiff challenge than those as well as the previous few seasons before this.
Well, so long as they show the willingness to fight then they deserve the support if we don't want the relegation that would otherwise materialise.
Up the Villa!