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

Thursday, 31 March 2016

It Seems Everyone Now Has Wisdom To Impart To Villa!

Collymore has a lot to say! (link). Though his common sense remarks are often to be applauded I still can’t get my head around how much he let his favourite club down. He was signed for what was then a big fee and effectively we had to do a Darren Bent to get rid of him. 

 In some ways it could be said that his antics really started the demise of AVFC. If he’d done his job we may well have been a top force and won trophies. He and Dubbers were a lethal combination on paper, with Hendrie (another let down). What a contrast: Dubbers the profound professional who never let anyone down and nearly got killed for his pains (his broken neck), and the two disappointments that were Colly & Hendrie. 

 I note that Collymore mentions his past as a player at Villa but in the same breath seems to play down how much his negativity affected the progress of the club. Yet now he wants to impart his great wisdom! Though a person can be forgiven for his foibles (we all make mistakes) I rather feel his tone ought to be more quiet instead of proclaiming that he’s been called in by BL. 

I praise Brian for talking to anyone who has status and has something valid to say, but maybe BL should have said “please keep our meeting quiet”.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Divided We Fall; United We Stand!

As a customer I generally know when I go into a shop that what I purchase will fulfil my expectations. If it doesn’t then I can of course get my money back. If I attend a concert and the performer doesn’t turn up then, again, I should expect to get my money back. That ability to define a transaction and the two-way process of money in relation to it more-or-less defines what a customer is. But in sport we know that the “transaction” is not as simple as that; and when the object of our adoration (e.g. Aston Villa) fails to deliver according to the social (almost unspoken) contract that binds the fan to the team, then we generally moan and blame and throw a few curses, but we don’t (or rarely) actually seek to get our money back for the bad showing. Even when that has been happening for as long as five years!

Therefore, football supporters are not customers; we are supporters, and “supporting” means that we not only add our voices to the occasion (you might be thrown out of a shop if you did that!) but the money we lay out is meant to (well, well) support the club and help raise it to the station we expect of it.

I’ve written all that because (over time) I’ve seen on some forums an explicit acceptance by fans that they are “customers” of the club they follow. In my opinion such fans have only encouraged the disconnect that has evolved between fans and club at Villa Park, particularly over the last 10 years. The club was never founded on that basis (its basis was as a club!) and in reality the relationship is largely an emotive and experiential one (almost spiritual, as Bill Shankley would attest) and not singularly related towards the idea of purchasing an object.

Over the years, professional football players have argued, “Well, cinema stars get huge incomes, so why not us as well?” And the footballers won their argument. Even though 60 years ago a top footballer still got substantially above the national average wage, with the bonus of extra payments from testimonial matches (and, it is said, a mysterious banknote left in their shoe after a match if they’ve done well), they felt done by. Playing one or two football matches per week deserved more than twenty quid, they said, the poor dears. Ron Wylie (a servant of the club for 45 years, intially as a player) is reported as saying that “soon we had sixty quid in our pay-packets and we didn’t know what to do with it!”

Well, I’m not saying they were altogether wrong in their demands, but the result of that arguably began the chasm that often exists between supporters and players today. It has been a creeping process, and certainly since the start of the greater influx of overseas players following 1996, the divide exists despite all the artificial attempts to ‘bridge that gap’.

So, by stealth, our beautiful game has been hijacked by the money people, and we have been persuaded that more professionals are needed at all levels of the football club. However, “professionalism” and marketability tend to mean bigger financial outlays: but do they produce worthwhile results often enough? If we were to take the case of Mr. Tom Fox, then the answer is an unequivocal ‘no’, I suggest.

In my view, Remi Garde highlighted exactly what’s been missing. He was referring to the players when he said there’s something wrong with the players’ attitude on the pitch, but you could say that attitude has been wrong from the top down. Especially when the top brass regard the fans as customers and have used questionnable methods to keep those “customers” in order on match days.

As in 1968-69, the time has come for a total re-vamp. Forty-six years ago plus the club’s officers and fans worked as one to re-establish this great club. The academy was re-energised and we saw great players emerging from the youth ranks. The ‘all for one’ energy succeeded to the extent that the club became one of the few British winners of the European Cup only 10 years after they had left the third tier. Then a certain person (who was still a hero to many because of that 1968-69 re-generation) manoeuvred a situation that actually helped (intentional or not) to further a disconnect between fans and the club.

In my view it’s that spirit of 1968-69 we need to revert to if Aston Villa is to get back to its proper footing in a year that sees us having reached 20 years since the club won a trophy. But how to achieve that now when the fans do not have any shareholding? As mere customers I suppose we have to wait to see what happens next – but should we do more as supporters?

This link provides an interesting report on 'the Review of the Club' that has been undertaken. A white-wash you might say? Are the players the main fault?

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Bottom's Up!

Well, you could say that the owner of the club has drilled down to the basement. He’s worked his way through every tactic that only he understands and now he’s got to the bottom floor he’s probably ready to admit there’s nothing left to build on without a massive re-think of how matters have been conducted, what has been done wrong in those processes and what grand plan is needed to get back to viability and a semblance of hope worthy of this great football club.

But while all this monkeying around has been taking place, the fans (in the main) have been made to be distraught. Those that are not hide their pain and demonstrate a wonderful sense of humour; people like the fans that perpetually go to every away match and generally survive their experience through a song or two. They are the great minority but, importantly, the core of the club’s support. Without them a football club would almost certainly die, but while they’re still around there’s a basis for optimism.

In one sense it must be how Britain was feeling in 1940, after losing its one remaining ally (France) and its core armed forces somehow escaping via Dunkirk. Somehow, Britain had to work from that basement, but luckily we had a leader who was able to rally everyone to the cause and, more, use every guile to outwit the opposing forces and come out of 1940 with a moral advantage.

Aston Villa needs a similar sense of purpose born out of near desperation and this (to my mind) is the best test of Steven Hollis. The test is whether he and Mervyn King and the latest board members can provide the previously missing leadership at the club in order to set a fair course and have a firm strategy to achieve it. That, I believe, is the real test of the review taking place, for without adroit leadership and a sound strategy coming out of the review, the review itself will mostly be worthless.

The situation is serious. So serious I suggest that the board actually needs to have a visible indication from the fans of how much we need them to sort this matter out, a matter which many hold dear to their hearts. Shouting and demonstrating to get “Lerner Out” (with the help of Spurs fans!) is alright to a point, but as the board is allegedly already looking seriously into the plight of the club then I think the demonstration banners should now read more like “Wanted: A plan of action to celebrate 150 years of history in style!”

New plans for the club cannot be implemented in a short time. Not even in one season. Therefore, just as in 1968/9, it needs to be accepted that a time for re-building has to be allowed, with a visible target of a 150th birthday (in 8 years’ time) as a vision for a grand accomplishment. Whether a realistic target is winning the Premiership or simply finishing in the top-4 I leave someone else to decide.

But for the remainder of this season, let’s have some joy. Let us please see fresh (young) talent so that we can share their enthusiasm and give them our backing. Even though we’re virtually certain of relegation, it would be nice to see Traore back and creating mayhem in the Newcastle defence. And – who knows – Green thriving off his service.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Will Spurs be Cock-a-hoop Again?

Until two games ago, Spurs were looking unbeatable having achieved six successive wins scoring 15 goals in the process: Leicester appeared to be in serious risk of losing their top spot. But suddenly Leicester have again started to look as though they are very difficult to catch.

However, although their run has been interrupted, I would not expect Spurs to take too much time to get back into their groove. After all, they have won nine, drawn two and lost two in their last 13 matches. And in Kane and Alli they have two potentially dangerous players.

Villa, sadly, have to look back to the days of John Gregory for a period of sustained success against Spurs, and although we managed to win at their ground last season, that match interrupted a run of 12 matches since Villa had previously beaten a team that has for many of the years since the War been regarded as Villa’s ‘bogey’ team. I begin to feel quite depressed to think that record is not going to change in our favour this coming week-end.

There have been matches over the years when Villa have surprised our forthcoming opponents. Villa’s 5-5 draw at White Hart Lane in 1966 (when Hateley scored 4 and Villa could have won it at the end), and 3-3 at home the following year were two great Villa performances, and then there were the fine ‘DD’ successes in 1962 (a brace from Derek Dougan) and 1998 (Dion Dublin’s brace on his debut). There have been other Villa successes but for the most part it has been Spurs who have taken the laurels over the last 70 years. There were some brutal defeats inflicted on Villa by Spurs in the 1950s and 1960s, including two 6-2 results and several where they scored four goals, all in the days when they had ex-Villan Danny Blanchflower parading his wonderful skills for them.

So, having conceded 15 goals in their last four league games (including 9 in two home games), just how much chance do Villa have of even getting a point? On the face of it, it looks like a daunting task and – like many – I’m beginning to think that ditching players of the ilk of Hutton and Richards might give Villa half a chance. But just as I remember that full-back Stan Lynn used to liven things up a bit when played as the lead striker, perhaps throwing Richards into the front line might not be a bad desperation tactic!

Oh dear, it would be nice if the season could just end now. Can it get any worse?

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The Game Is Over

In 2006 - 10 years ago this year - a Knight-Errant seemed to have arrived on his white charger from across the seas. Who he was no-one questioned too much as the Villans inherently believed that he must be better than the previous encumbant.

But the former Maryland Bank North America owner merely wanted to play a game. His own game - of third-dimensional chess.

Amidst all the euphoria whilst he spent on infrastructure - and players, it has to be said - the new King appeared to convey trust in his two Bishops (Faulkner and O'Neill) and his Knights Templar strutted the upper echelons for awhile. But somewhere - was it just because of the loss of his Queen? - the King thought himself in danger of checkmate. 

The King's plans for the re-building of his Castle were folded up and put away, ignoring the possibility that the foundations of the fortifications might be in danger of crumbling. After all, if the Castle was to start collapsing the King could always retreat to the safety of his home country. And he did, to play out his third-dimensional game.

The situation today can be summed up in this one observation by Thierry Henry: "I've played at Villa Park obviously, and it was always a fight. They always had that fight in them, that's the spirit of the club. Now, they just don't have it." 

The games being played have (with rare exceptions) provided little entertainment faire and lack of character for so long that the fans have mainly forgotten what it was like in the days of O'Neill. But even in those days many of the fans were not completely happy (though less disgruntled than they were under Doug) but what has happened since has been a shock to the sensibilities of the loyal followers of this club, many of whom have inherited their loyalty from their grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and the glories of the 1976-82 years.

In the last season of serious consequences (1966-67) the Villa - despite labouring under the mismanagement of those times - played with pride right up until the last few games. I remember clearly a home game against Spurs, at the time when they had some wonderful players on view, when Villa were 3-0 up after 30 minutes (including a cracker from Chatterley that I still vividly remember), but had played their hearts out to such an extent that they wilted and eventually drew, 3-3.

And 2 or 3 years earlier, it is almost impossible to believe that a young Bobby Park (all eagerness but not too much skill) went off with a broken collar bone yet insisted on returning to the fray wrapped up in a sling in the days before substitutions. 

Or the days of Bruce Rioch, a richly talented player who stayed with Villa through their third tier days and only left when Villa did not progress quickly enough. Once, when his absence through injury was acutely felt, you knew when he came onto the field as a substitute he would get Villa out of a hole. And he did.

These are memories about character. Where do you find such commitment and heroes today? It's only the stuff of history books.

At the beginning of March, 2016, this once great club has conceded 11 goals in three successive matches with title-chasing Man City and Spurs as their next two games. Effectively, Villa's season is already over and yet we have to endure the possibility of greater humiliations. Villa's prospects look bleak and never before has a season finished in such disarray.

Despite heavy defeats, it was never as bad in 1936 (their first ever relegation), certainly not in 1959 nor even in 1967 or 1987. In the last two of those relegation years you felt some fear, but action was quickly taken to reverse the slide, even though full recovery took time. 

What will happen after this season?