Waiting for Doctor Xia as the king-elect of Villa Park (er, Lotus Park) to be crowned is a little stressful, as is the appointment of a new team manager, but surely the stress of the last 6 years has been greater!
Perhaps, therefore, it may relieve some of that stress by recalling and comparing better times within the memories of most supporters with former times, asking the question whether the years before Randy were that bad.
I would agree that if we were to think back and remember the six years of the 2000 to 2006 period, you could see then that the club was on a downward trend, but it was perhaps a better time than endured in the last six years! However, after recently looking at a video of the proceedings of the 2000-01 season, the inevitable question is “Did it all start to go wrong at that specific point?”; and particularly did it all really start to go pear-shaped when Luc Nilis incurred that horrifying injury.
At the start of that season we acquired Nilis to join the likes of Merson, Joachim and Hendrie in a formation that looked as though it had the ability to produce the unexpected, and Nilis’s performance against Chelsea (and a superb goal), combined with Merson’s resurgence, seemed to confirm that promise. To add to that, Alpay had joined in the summer of 2000. He came across as a lovely man in that video I saw and he soon had the fans behind him. His combination with Southgate, added to the midfield talent and work-rate of Ian Taylor and George Boeteng, lively backs in the form of Stone and Wright, and a growing Gareth Barry, meant it seemed that Gregory was re-building nicely after losing players like Ehiogu.
But then, having lost Nilis in such a dreadful way, we also lost Southgate and Boeteng (both wanting to better themselves at Middlesbrough of all places, with Ehiogu) and we moved into the era of Bosco Balaban and the settling-in problems of Juan Pablo Angel. And Alpay’s newly-developed ego after the 2002 World Cup. Those were the issues that stood out for me at that time, added to a chairman who was ailing and probably becoming more disfunctional. He was at his weakest through severely bad health issues, and when that happens the hyenas sense their opportunity and pounce.
But that was the 2000-2006 period. In contrast, the opening eight seasons of the Premier League period had not been at all bad, with Messrs. Atkinson, Atkinson and Saunders achieving a runner-up finish in the PL’s first season after giving Man U a run for their money. And then a wonderful display at Wembley against that same lot in the 1994 League Cup Final – a final to be replayed over and over. Then came Brian Little who organised successive finishes of fourth and fifth and the 1996 League Cup win. Some suspect his success was a lot due to his assistant John Gregory who had departed, but he returned in 1998 and raised the fans’ expectations with a 12-match unbeaten start to the 1998-99 season that saw Villa at the top of the league for quite some time. And that after losing Dwight Yorke at the start of the season. But Coventry (and George Boeteng) came down and put continued hopes of a Champions League place completely on its backside.
But Gregory was tenacious. Getting to Wembley ended as a bit of a huff-and-puff affair, but in 2001-02 he got Villa back to the top of the PL for a spell … and then left, clearly disenchanted with the lack of ambition from the chairman.
But, to put the 1992-2006 14-year period in perspective, it largely replicated the 14-year era of Billy Walker and 1919-33. Statistically the two periods are remarkably similar, and even ended in a similar way. 1933-time saw the demise of the senior and valuable members of the Villa board (the legends Devey and Spencer) through age and infirmity and the club recruited a football manager for the first time (in 1934). And so, in 2006, the ageing and unwell Villa chairman (only legendary for his bicycle-kick!) also had to stand down.
So – I submit – we should possibly be a tad more grateful for what we received in the 1990s. Oh, and Doug will accept your apologies if you had any bad thoughts about him!