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

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Everton Are Sticky Toffee - Villa A Heavy Pudding

The visit of Everton on Tuesday comes at a time when they are (we are told) to reveal new owners. In other words, the Toffees have emerged from their sticky condition of a few years ago to make themselves more attractive to potential buyers. Their diligence and patience has paid off.

This fact must surely be seen as an indictment of Villa’s owner, who claims to have been trying to sell our favourite and greatest club for some time, but did not do what Everton has done – to ensure that the club remained a viable force and able to compete. Instead – rather than being Sticky Toffee – we have become Suet Pudding.

All we can hope for is that Ayew’s return and Everton’s sense of self-congratulation might conspire to backfire on them and to provide the stimulus for a Villa run that will dazzle: we only need 22 points out of a possible 33 to (probably) stay up! Let’s face it, Ayew’s disgraceful red card performance 3 games ago probably took the stuffing out of the rest of the team. With him absent from up front our one bit of hope in the strike department – and Kozak’s injury – effectively removed any serious contemplation of winning form until his return. A lot rests now on Ayew to restore some self-respect.

But we need to be aware of a flash in the pan. Towards the end of Villa’s last relegation season (of 1986-87), Villa produced a 4-0 win over West Ham and by the end of the match (it was reported) were playing like world-beaters. They then proceeded to lose their remaining games and – of course – went down.

No, I am not really trying to re-ignite hope. But for the fans sake I am hoping that they will be able to see a Villa team play to something like their tradition: a tradition that has all but evaporated. This season has seen too much to compare with the last comparable season of despair: 1966-67. At the start of that season Villa lost their two main stars (for Delph and Benteke read Woosnam and Hateley) and from then on it was a downward slide. Just like this season, injuries negatively affected the situation. But the difference is that for a long time during 1966-67 there was a serious display of pride and determination before their will was finally broken: this season those elements have too often been absent.

It took eight years for the Villa to recover from that relegation and the club’s general downturn. How long will it be this time?

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Fearing For The Future of Aston Villa

There seems to have been a consensus formed in agreement against the current owner, not just on this Blog, but amongst Villa supporters everywhere. But is it a consensus without a corrective end to it?

It would appear that if the matter stays as it is – simply an opinion against Randy – then with the likely relegation of the team to the nether regions, the support base may well just evaporate. As an older and distinguished Villa supporter friend of mine said to me the other day: “All those lost jobs! Upper Trinity mothballed! Trips to Burton Albion with a share of the 4500-person gate and Parachute money used to pay off the duds we have under contract, which is 90% of them, at least. etc etc etc. This ain`t 1986 and ‘coming back up’ is as hard as winning the PL.”

It’s not a recipe of hope, is it?

I am one of those that, despite the apparent reality, kept on looking for an optimistic strain until the Sunday just gone. The attitude of the players in the match then just killed the optimistic spark that was still flickering in me. The subsequent £120,000 Mercedes Twitter then put it all into context: this is not a football “club” any more and it hasn’t been for a long time.

Back in 1924, one of Villa’s legends from that time (Arthur Dorrell) wrote:
“… Is there some special magic in the old claret and blue? I am not more superstitious than any other footballer, but I do believe there is something in tradition. It is impossible to turn out with a Villa side without feeling it. A record which sparkles with great deeds and great names is bound to give you inspiration. When a youngster first puts his name to the form which binds him to Aston Villa, he is bound to feel something of this pride of club. 
“What helps to keep this appeal so vivid and so real is that so many of the men whose names written large in Aston Villa history are still actively connected with the club. Their value-I mean their actual playing value-cannot be overestimated. Think of the help it is to have the assistance of such great players and such close students of the game as Mr. Howard Spencer and Mr. John Devey. 
“The Villa spirit, believe me, still exists and is a very real asset to the club. Perhaps I feel it especially because my father has told me so much about the great players with whom he was proud to he associated, and so many stirring tales of the club’s early history. Who, for instance, could hear of the pathos of the end of that fine player Archie Hunter, without feeling a great respect for the man, and admiration for the club that could inspire such devotion. Archie, as every old footballer knows, died of consumption in a house situated on the road from the city to the then Villa ground. To the last the dying man insisted upon his bed being so placed that he could see the crowd hurrying past to Perry Barr. …”
This extract from a piece written 90 years ago is clearly from a different age. But it’s the remnant of that feeling that was carried through to people like me (post-war) and re-ignited in 1957 through the smile of Johnny Dixon, and more so when Villa had it’s glorious 10-year run ending with the lifting of the European Cup in 1982. Expectations and feeling were again raised in the 1990s.

I think Dorrell’s piece precisely describes my feelings about the club, the descendant of which thought it knew better when it evicted me into the streets six years ago without notice, and who denied me any compensation (later corrected by a tribunal). Worse, those regular fans and season ticket holders who have been treated so miserably by the management in recent years.

Mr. Lerner now seems to claim poverty, but back in 2008 he just put his hand in his pocket to dish out £50,000 for a stack of mostly useless photographs (having been advised that someone should at first evaluate them), and in 2009 was actively planning a great North Stand re-development. It had got to the detailed planning stage. Suddenly – coincidentally with the rise of Paul Faulkner – the North Stand plans were put on hold and then came the exit of Martin O’Neill. Mr. Lerner has had to pay out a lot of compensation to him, and others.

Mr. Lerner was advised by Jonathan Fear (who had close rapport with him at one stage) that someone who knew about the club should be on the board to advise on developments. Mr. Lerner rejected that idea, and following his appointment of a new chairman in January just gone, the new chairman admitted that Mr. Lerner had openly stated he did not want a football man in that job. But Mervyn King has acquired a place on the board: nice guy maybe, but is he another who invented the bicycle kick?

How do we re-instate the values that were clearly once paramount? I fear that the answer can only lie in either (1) the acquisition of the club by a very wealthy Villa supporter, or (2) the acquisition of the club by a group of very wealthy Villa supporters. Without proper empathy with the fans any sense of the club going in the direction of the common good is going to be lost: the club has to be led by someone who has a Villa heart – and who is accessible.

Without that idea coming into fruition, I blanche at the thought of what might happen. Arthur Dorrell and all the old greats would be appalled at what has come to pass, as would that great group of more recent stalwarts who died around six years ago: Harry Parkes, Johnny Dixon and Vic Crowe. Even Brian Little and Dennis Mortimer seem to be worried.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Is It Time To Go Into Hibernation?

I was trusting that Villa (with all their injury and suspension issues) would be able to put in a good enough performance today to at least get a draw. But Villa's lack of resources, and with some in the team just not up to it, they were destroyed badly today. So badly in fact that it may well have affected them enough to concede that relegation is now virtually a certainty. Comparison with Leicester's position last season now goes by the board.

It just emphasises even more how the cowardly act of the board in not backing Remi in the transfer window has backfired on them. They effectively put Garde in a position where we are not able to score against any good footballing team. While the owner sits snugly in his American 'shack', he and the board expect the fans to turn out in the freezing cold to watch ... that. The owner and the board's attitude is very shocking to say the least. 

And adding to the injury I hear (to be confirmed, note) that a fan and her octogenarian father have had their STs revoked for daring to insult Tom Fox with the truth.

If we don't pick up enough points in the next two matches at Stoke and at home to Everton then that's it. In fact I would say we need to pick up a minimum 4 points from those two matches to have any chance of survival. But now those chances are (as I've said) very depleted: the team will surely now be totally demoralised.

But the board don't seem to mind. It's just a business eventuality isn't it? Nothing to do with torturing the fans for 5 years and taking their money under false pretences.

Is this the same club that we followed even in the 1990s? We moaned then that Ellis was not doing enough to take the club to the top. I suspect we would like the days of the 1990s to return so that at least we might get some entertainment.

So, with barely any good striker available for the match at Stoke next week (Ayew still out, and Gabby possibly through injury) it may be that Gestede is the only real option up front, and he will be coming back after his own injury.

Sad days indeed.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Tea Lady's Big Chance?

The press headlines tell it all, don't they?

"The only signing Villa have made this month is a new chairman";

"Are the lights still on at Villa Park? If so, could they please illuminate us."

Indeed, the last quoted headline reminds me of the vainglorious installation of the illuminated Aston Villa Football Club name at the rear of the North Stand, not long after the owner took over. It - like his "Bright Future" slogan - looks woeful in retrospect as potentially new players barely gave Villa Park a glance in January as they sped north or south on their way to new clubs. It's almost as though they could see the weeds growing at the old ground more than we.

Gone are the days when Eric Houghton could nip across to Cardiff and buy a Gerry Hitchens, or Ron Saunders could quietly steal an Andy Gray from Dundee. Both those great players jumped at the chance of joining Villa, even when the club were not going great guns at the time. But the difference then was that the Aston Villa name still meant something - and player power was certainly not as it is now.

So, Remi Garde may have to rely on the club's carpenter, plumber and electrician to provide backup to the needs of his team. Even some of the stewards might get a game. And the tea lady?

But - hang on - would Newcastle's panic approach (e.g. the £21m rejected offer for the misfit Berehino) have been the better ploy? I can imagine such expenditures making the Geordie fans jump for joy, but does such an approach work? Well, if we go back exactly five years to 2011 it did work for Villa. In came Darren Bent at a club record fee of £18m plus, and his goals made the difference for Villa. He did, however, have the benefit of a couple of wingers already in place who could deliver his type of ball. So, if the squad is essentially of the right mix, and if the signing is well-targeted, the big money ploy can work. 

In Villa's case today we sadly have a rather average ability to create goals, and so I doubt that bringing in a new striker would have had much effect. Unless, that is, such a player had the ability to create his own goals, but such a player may well have cost a fortune. And was there one available?

The other areas of the team that Villa were looking to strengthen were the goalie and defence. Well, I've been reasonably happy with the defence in the last few league games. The last Cup game - including Guzan - was virtually the reserve defence, so I don't count that match.

Summing up, therefore, unless any new signing had the ability to win matches virtually by himself via either scoring a few or keeping more goals out, I'm not that certain there would have been much advantage in new signings. Especially when you consider that new players sometimes take time to 'bed in'.

The current squad simply have to 'man up', believe in themselves, and put in the effort. If Villa can hammer the Hammers today then there will still be cause for optimism.