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

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Time For A Sing-Along?

Well, we had a good win at Norwich, and there are positive thoughts that the upcoming Brighton game will yield another much-needed win. And, hopefully, a win of the same sort of calibre as at Norwich.

And since then two favourites - McGinn and Mings - have been doing all the right things on the international front.

So, while all Villa fans should be in a positive state of mind right now, perhaps the time is ripe to raise an issue or two that surely need to be addressed.

While racism has taken up a lot of the headlines at the moment, a good friend and long-time Villa supporter recently wrote to me and expressed his unhappiness with what he termed vile chanting heard at Villa Park, which, he says, "not only contains foul language but is often personally abusive to people. What some players and managers have to put up with is also unacceptable. Some of the hand gestures towards opposing supporters, players, manager and referee are also highly offensive."

He adds that this scenario is made worse by the fact that women and children are present. And this concern reminds me of words uttered by the late great Phil Woosnam - once a master of ball play on the Villa Park turf - who looked forward to the day when football grounds could be places fit to receive families. But that was back in the 60s, just before rowdyism in football truly began. Nevertheless, after the 1968/69 takeover, there was a big attempt at making a Villa Park football match a family-orientated occasion, and I know that ideal is still very much present.

Clearly, however, there are some fans that don't agree with such ideals, and hence my friend's concern.

How can this matter be addressed? Well, to some extent I put such rough attitudes down to a sense of over-competitiveness on the part of those particular fans, who clearly do not have the civility that you find in the other football sport - Rugby Union. Why is it that what I consider to be a much rougher contact sport has almost no record of incidents that match my friend's complaint? I find that very odd, and always have.

The solution? Well, rugby followers - particularly the Welsh - are famed for their singing which, let's face it, unites people. You also hear England supporters singing the Queen's praises when soccer's all-whites are winning!

At Wembley, there used to be the pre-match community singing at Cup Finals and other matches, but this has sadly subsided into an opera-singer led rendition of "Abide With Me". Nevertheless, at least that is in place - a means of uniting all supporters in a very positive way.

What I suggest is that at Villa Park, and all football grounds in the major divisions for that matter, a form of community singing should be introduced in, say, the 10 minutes before the players come out onto the pitch to start the match. Personally, I feel that "Abide With Me" should be a mandatory item on that agenda, but perhaps there are suitable alternatives to generate a sense of unity and civility amongst all fans.

If this isn't a solution to "the problem", then what is?


Sunday, 6 October 2019

By George! Is this the turning point?

After a win like this you sing the National Anthem or, better still, thank Prince William and Kate for bringing son George along so that we can see him celebrate like any other proud Villa supporter!

The pic reminds me of when I first went down to Villa Park as a lad and saw Danny Boy and Tommo wipe Man City off the park. That was back in the early 1950s - baggy shorts and all.

But to return to this match, yes we were fortunate that Norwich had been hit by injuries, but the fact is that the score at half-time could have been much closer than the 2-0 lead that we had, but for some stalwart defending. It could have been 3-0 to us at that point, though, as Wes failed to take the opportunity to seal his hat-trick from the penalty spot.

With the caveat that injuries to both the Brighton and Norwich sides helped us to comfortable wins, the next match (again against Brighton) is surely going to bring out the maximum number of fans to VP in anticipation of seeing their favourites take their improvement one step further.

It cannot be a coincidence that Villa's improvement as an attacking machine has come about with the inclusion of Conor and Marvelous - who is! I have rarely seen such a cool cookie as he in front of defence. He is full of skill and determination, and seems to act as the perfect springboard for the Villa attacks. Conor, for his part, glides along and anticipates very well, taking charge on at least 3 significant moments yesterday to set up a goal, win a penalty and then score himself. He now has the remarkable record of scoring in all the four major levels of English football.

But the whole team seems to me to be playing as a team should be right now.

I wonder how long it will be before we see that Man U not only want to buy McGinn but the whole Villa team! For me they all - on this form - look to be on a par in terms of quality.

Yes, the Villa are moving up! Please, Dean, let's keep it that way!


Monday, 23 September 2019

Slipshod Is Not Quite The Word For It

Oh, dear. Now that was sad. Pause: no it wasn't, it was just downright silly!

It was almost a carbon copy of the late collapse at Spurs on the opening day. Silly errors, all presenting the opposition with three goals. The best or worst of it is that the Gunners - and Spurs - are not showing themselves to be great shakes this season, which means the future is clouding somewhat for Villa.

I am not really pessimistic as to fear the worst, but there is a certain naivety in the team that is bordering on the calamitous. The saddest thing about yesterday was that the centre-back combination that we have been lauding so much each made a significant error leading to goals.

Adding to this - and despite our two slickly created and taken goals - is that our shooting is non-functional. Too many shots aimed at the keeper or without sufficient power. Yesterday we should have been out of reach of the Gunners before they recovered but for our woeful shooting, and followed by those so silly errors.

To my mind the situation really does call for a player of more maturity to be picked to help steady the ship. I have said this before and I think it worth repeating. Perhaps Lansbury or Conor is that player, probably at the expense of El Ghazi, who for me is not entirely convincing.

As a possible alternative, what about Davis playing with Wesley? Both of them work hard in retrieving the ball and I feel that the two together would be a mighty battering ram against opposition defences if allowed to blossom together.

I feel that some sort of decisive team adjustment needs to be made. And something that will be key to giving Villa the extra touch of oomph that is so badly needed.

As well as to stop making those silly mistakes. They keep talking about doing that, but when an extra touch of pressure is applied it looks as though we buckle.

Well, at least we scored, with Jack, at last, doing something really decisive to create the second.


Thursday, 5 September 2019

To Err Is Human ... But History Is History

One of the reasons why I plunged into an 18-month full-time study of the Villa's history all those years ago (and which study has vastly increased over the years since) was because I was certain that many things had been mis-stated in the various Villa histories I had read. I wanted to find out the truth.

One significant example is a statement in Peter Morris's well known history of 1962 which states that the Villa's famous captain of the 1880s, Archie Hunter, when on his on his premature death-bed, asked his brother Andy and others to push his bed towards the window of his room so that he could see the fans on their way to a Villa home match.

Now that statement is evocative in itself, and it is easy to accept the story on face value. However, supposing the true story is even more evocative? If so, 'why not tell the story as it really was', I thought.

So, what was "the real story"? The fact (as I discovered) is that Archie's brother Andy had himself died of TB six years before, so could not have been at Archie's bedside! In fact, to try and beat his illness, Aston Villa and the FA collected funds for Andy to go to a more suitable climate (they chose Australia). That took place in 1884. However, the week before the very start of the Football League (September, 1888), Archie belatedly received news from Australia of his brother Andy's death in June that year. Archie, understandably, was shaken by that news, and so affected that he did not play in the Villa's first-ever Football League match at Wolves. 

Archie then had to be prevailed upon by the Villa committee to continue playing, which he did. However, less than 18 months later Archie himself played his last game of football when he had a seizure or heart attack in a match against Everton at Anfield, and less than 5 years after that Archie died. From this sad event came the story about Archie's wish to have his bed moved so that he could witness the fans on their way to a Villa match, which is basically a true story.

It is so easy to create a myth out of reality, and I found so many other examples of the creation of perpetuating myths. Here are two more:
1. Legend has it that in 1874, four members of the Wesleyan Chapel male adult bible class met under a gas lamp in Heathfield Road to form Aston Villa.
2. The four founding fathers of our club are believed to be Jack Hughes, William H Price, George Matthews and William H Scattergood.
Nothing of the kind. Aston Villa was not formed under a gas lamp. It was merely a place of discussion about what type of football to adopt. And the four named people were not the "founding fathers". They were merely a deputation that went to look at a football match to decide on its merits and returned to report on the same.

(The above 2 statements were, surprisingly, stated in an official Villa page which can be seen here, and has not been changed despite my pointing out the error to the club.)

The real "founding fathers" were the 15 original members of the club, whose names I have, and are all quoted in my books "The Villa Chronicles" and "The First Superclub". Jack Hughes (one of the four that met under the gaslamp) was quite adamant that the founders were all the 15 original members, not just "the four". Jack Hughes stated this on more than one occasion - and certainly stated this in 1899 and 1924, the 25th and 50th anniversaries of the club. As Hughes was himself "one of the four" under the gaslamp it is likely that his account of this aspect of the club's foundation is correct.

Again, it is commonly stated (see Wikipedia) that the Villa were formed by members of the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel. This is probably just lazy writing, but the fact is that the chapel was named as the Aston Villa Wesleyan Chapel, which was located at what became to be known as Villa Cross (my own family lived in that area at the time and attended that chapel).

Another myth is the old story about the Villa playing their first match against St. Mary's in March, 1874 in a 15-a-side struggle. However, it is now known that this match was played in the following year (March, 1875) and seems to have been the first match that the Villa won, not the first they had played. It has been uncovered by more than one researcher that Villa started playing at least as early as November, 1874.

So the story of Villa being created in March, 1874 seems, now, to be quite spurious. However, there were several leading sports writers of the 1890s who repeatedly stated that the Villa had been founded in October, 1874, before the story was suddenly switched to March, 1874, for reasons unknown. Today, the date of November 21, 1874 is commonly stated, but that itself is not certain. I believe that we can say with reasonable certainty that no more than the process of the creation of the club occurred over the months October and November, 1874. And (who really knows?) there might have been a move towards creating a club in March, 1874 after all.

Anyhow, history is history no matter how you dress it up. And all that people like me can do is as much research as possible to uncover facts that might lead to what really happened. The reality of what happened is usually a lot more interesting than the myth!

Why not read about the main history of the Villa for yourself? Please see this webpage for more information about a magazine series.

Thank you and UTV!

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

A 'Natural Break' Reflection Time

On the face of it, the Villa is not doing too well after gaining points from just one game out of four. And of the games lost, one of them was to Spurs on the opening day, who have since failed to win.

Rather than wanting to stimulate panic, however, there is the good side - well, good-ish - in that we have only conceded six goals in four, and three of those were on the opening day. So we're hardly getting a pasting.

The fear I do have, though, is that although I can see some good signs of quality in pretty well all the players brought in to the club, the current outfield players all lack Premier League experience and are sometimes showing naivety. And they are going to take some time to gel, I feel. 

To continue losing matches is not a valid option. Will they - can they - pull together to start climbing the table to a respectable (less worrying) position?

To be frank, I think there is an adjustment needed, and that is to bring back one of or both Conor and Henri to bring in a better level of experience at possibly no loss in quality. I feel they could provide the maturity that's needed to steady the ship. It's not an ideal option, but a necessary one I feel.

Or even bring in Elmo on the right-wing.

Against Palace I felt that from the start we seemed to be half-a-pace behind our opponents, with our old castigated discard Jordan Ayew making a monkey out of our hero Mings on at least two occasions. Ayew and Zaha really did have an edge that we did not have - or were not allowed to reveal. So for John McGinn to assert that Villa deserved a last-minute 'equaliser' - from, effectively, Villa's only decent attempt on goal in the match - was surely an over-the-top statement. I have no trouble in condemning the referee's un-Friend-ly decision on Jack, and the goal should have stood, but we honestly can't say we deserved a goal. In fact, we were somewhat lucky to lose by only one goal.

If we had left Palace with a point salvaged I feel that it might have glossed over our problems. Better, I think, to face up to the situation that we are short of something, and that possibly boils down to commitment. I don't think the team have yet measured up to just what is needed to stay in the top-flight, and the fight/effort required to achieve that.

My mind also goes back to just about four years ago when even then we started bringing in a lot of young-ish overseas players like Veretout, Amavi and Gueye, and expected them to gel and keep our club going at the top. But collectively they were not up to the mark. It is telling, though, that since those players left Villa they have gone on to success with their new clubs, and Everton fans are expressing their sadness over Gueye's expensive departure.

We can look to Jordan Ayew, too, and Robinson and Stevens at the Blades, and Albrighton at Leicester - to name a few - that have left Villa for better things.

Well, perhaps what happened in the final seconds at Palace will make the Villa players all fired-up and ready to hammer the Hammers in the next match! They really do need to do that, as the next match up after that is rapid fire from the Gunners on their patch.


Saturday, 24 August 2019

My Stomach Feels Better Now!

Oh, that's a relief! Points on the board at last.

It was still not an ideal performance from the lads but, importantly, the spirit is there and also quite a lot of skill. It needs simply more time for them all to play together to get the understanding straight.

Wesley still needs better support, but he does work hard and took his goal well. Lovely play by Jota to see the opening, and Jota thoroughly entertained me throughout the first half. He seems to be a better signing than I had previously thought. El Ghazi came on with something to prove, and one rasping shot was bettered by a nicely-taken goal: he proved his point perhaps.

Jack continues to frustrate me. He has quality, without doubt, but is not stamping himself on the game enough, in my view.

But the rest of the team - with Mings outstanding as always - stood their ground pretty well.

Now, with some points on the board, perhaps the Villa will go on to show us what they're really capable of.

I feel positive we'll get something at Palace.


Sunday, 18 August 2019

Needed: A Fully-working Mojo!

Well, if you let the opponent in so early in the match then the game is bound to be difficult - especially when you're trying to find your feet in the PL with so many new players. Their second goal was bizarre, with a shot that went in off the post having taken a huge deflection off Mings' back. In fact, I thought the shot would have gone out but for the deflection.

It was also bizarre that having conceded such late goals at Spurs we start the second match in like vein! Five goals conceded in something like 30 minutes over the two matches!

The Villa's shooting shortcomings of last season were manifest in this match, with not enough shots going in on goal to test the keeper, and Jack still not showing the command that he continually promises to produce but rarely manifests. Two good chances to score for him early in the second half, and one of those should have been taken. If taken then the game could easily have swung heavily in Villa's direction.

I am more disappointed with El Ghazi, though, and I feel that Green should not have been allowed to go out on loan. I think he'd be a better proposition to El Ghazi given the right encouragement. El Ghazi showed up well in the Championship but he's got something to do to get up to scratch at this level.

Otherwise, it's a question of the team settling down, with Luiz and Trezeguet looking to me as being potentially great players once they really get their act together. The big trouble is that once you start having a run of defeats the pressure to win becomes greatly increased. I'd have preferred the third match to be away from home to take off some of the pressure, but Everton at VP it is and so all we can do is hope that all the lessons have been learnt from the two opening matches so that we do not have a hat-trick of 'nil points' matches.

It does occur to me, though, that Wesley needs to work in tandem with another striker. I feel that Davis may just be the man.

It's crazy, though, that having spent a basic £130 millions plus, we're still short of adequate cover in important departments.

In the end all I can say is, "Jack, please get your mojo working to fulfil that promise that keeps promising!"


Tuesday, 13 August 2019

A Top 'C' For Clarity, Conciseness and Commitment

Since last summer, my confidence in the new owners has steadily increased. I think they have gone about their job very well, and Dr. Xia is now, having failed to settle Randy Lerner's final (over-the-top) pay-off, no longer a voice that counts. We must thank Dr. Xia, though, for bringing in what appear to be two very competent new owners.

Thanks partly to one of the new owners, we are developing an Egyptian flavour in the squad, with two Egyptians now on board. And in Trez we seem to have acquired what might well be a match-winner. So Egypt has emerged with more than the structures of the Giza plateau to show off!

But in Dean Smith and the other football management and backroom boys we also seem to have a lot of quality in place.

However, a key signing for me is one who is not a person with a history as a player or football manager or coach, but the man who runs the business of Aston Villa FC on a daily basis - Christian Purslow, the CEO.

In this interview, our CEO shows the enthusiasm that we'd hope for from someone in his position, and also the Clarity, Conciseness and Commitment to earn him a top-rating from me. A top 'C' to you, Christian! It's a pity your name is not Albert, for then I could award a top 'A'!

As I see it, we have in all these gentlemen a quality that is a huge difference to the crew that sat in control at Villa 10 years ago, and who proceeded to guide a great club downhill. 

It is today's men at VP that give me confidence in Villa's ability to succeed - a situation that I have not confidently felt in 40 years. In the setup we now have, I feel that we could go a lot further; not straight away, but soon enough.


Sunday, 11 August 2019

Yes; We're In The Premier League Now, Chaps...!

Before the match I strongly felt that we had the capability of grabbing a point at Spurs, and until the 80th minute, I was pretty well convinced that's what we'd do. Sometimes the Spurs' quality seemed to demand that they'd win, but the Villa's fine defensive organisation (no doubt substantially due to John Terry) remained intact. Until late on.

We unfortunately wilted, and a lot of that was due, sadly, to our midfield, who did not deal with the ball as it should have been and mistakes were made. Most sad of all was that our skipper failed to clear on two occasions and those non-clearances led to two of their goals. Our skipper, clearly, must learn from those situations. As Dean Smith said after the match: "...We’re always learning lessons, today’s game has set a standard for us.” But there's no getting around the fact that the skipper has to set the example; Jack's tendency to dither at times can be fatal at this level.

Although we were only playing half a first-choice Spurs side, today's fixture was probably just the benchmark that Villa needed. But despite that being the case, I did not see enough in El Ghazi and Jota to believe they would thrive at this level. Wesley was mostly on his own, and it would be callous to throw criticism at him, although he, too, will have learnt a lot. I am a bit worried, though, as to whether we have enough punch up front.

Engels, I thought, was magnificent until the last 10 minutes. But, again, I am loathed to throw criticism at him. For most of the time he was simply great, as indeed was Mings, who also showed his constructive abilities in that fine long pass that enabled our goal to be scored. Ably supported by our keeper, of course, who made a couple of great saves.

It's too early to properly assess most of the other Villa players in this match, but I do think we still have a problem at left-back, and Elmo is not consistently the assured defender that we really need at right-back, in my opinion.

The effect of all the new team-building must take awhile yet to settle down, but experience tells us that it's wise to start getting some points on the board pretty quickly. Next week's home game, then, will be an equally big test, but one that we should pass. We need to.

Nevertheless, that was a brave start to the season. We are all disappointed, but not totally dejected.


Monday, 5 August 2019

Big Times A-comin'?

A 100% pre-season winning programme culminated with a win on the ground of a club that finished 3rd in the Bundesliga last term, and that looks to have been the icing on the cake. However, it was mainly down to the work of new keeper Tom Heaton and also Tyrone Mings and his mostly capable crew who prevented Leipzig from taking a second-half lead before Villa took over.

It has to be said that Villa's midfield and attack did not look too effective in a lot of the match (though not lacking in commitment). They seemed to find it very difficult to play their way through the opponents' defence, and it was left to Conor's trusty left boot from free-kicks that gave Villa the boost before McGinn's very late third.

Having said all that, this is a very new team that Dean Smith is trying to put together, with several new players still to make a significant appearance. Though there are positive signs, I feel we must allow a couple of months at least before we can see what kind of progress the squad is really making.

However, let us turn to Brian Little (he who walked on water) who has said (reported in the Express and Star, Aug 2, 2019)...
"I’ve felt it for a period of time now, a real togetherness,” he said. “I have been at this club for a long time now and I have seen three big waves of momentum. The first was 69-70, coming in and seeing the club relegated to the Third Division and 12 years later winning the European Cup.
"I wasn’t here for the Graham Taylor revival in the late 80s but that led into Ron (Atkinson) being successful as a manager, me being successful as a manager and John (Gregory) to being successful.
"That momentum of a team. I do feel it now, genuinely. I think the supporters feel it too. There is a real togetherness. ..."
And he then went on:
“I know a lot of people say if you buy a lot of players it takes time for them to gel. But I honestly think if you do your work properly, you get the type of player you want.
“I’m very comfortable, watching what is going on. It is a challenge, but if you have done your homework you will get the players you want.
“They have picked players for specific roles. It is a structured plan and I think they are executing it very well.”
Dean Smith himself has said that he wanted to keep his core team with the likes of Jack Grealish, John McGinn and Tyrone Mings. And Anwar El Ghazi and Kourtney Hause are no strangers to Villa Park either! So, although so many new purchases have been made, three of those have already been at Villa Park for a good length of time as loanees, and have been well received by the Villa faithful.

With three days remaining before the transfer window closes, one or two more signings can be expected. But these are the purchases to date (click on image to enlarge):

The most alarming aspects of these signings are two-fold:
  1. The sheer number being signed all at once (they amount to more than a complete team);
  2. That only one of these has any significant Premier League experience: keeper Tom Heaton.
In Tom Heaton, the Lancashire media observed about Burnley's exiting goalkeeper:
Heaton's influence and importance was as much off the pitch as on it.
He was captain, a leader in the changing room and someone who shared the vision of Dyche and could translate that to the players.
A modest man, quick to praise others and with a personality that is take home to meet your mother in law material, Heaton has cemented his place as a modern day Turf legend.
What better signing to act as inspiration for an otherwise young team at Villa Park?

I am disappointed, though, that some of the brighter home-grown young players have gone out to play elsewhere this season in favour of new purchases. But I shall swallow that disappointment and look forward to a successful season - perhaps in winning a Cup!


Thursday, 25 July 2019

Interesting Stuff, But What About The Green Shoots?

I so much want to see the product of Villa's Academy succeeding, but going by the pre-season friendlies I'm afraid I can't see Green, Davis and O'Hare having sufficient impact in the PL. 

They are skilfull players, no doubt, but they have had the opportunity to shine and (to me at least) are just not taking full advantage of that opportunity. If Green had put his shot into the back of the net last night, instead of against the bar, I might be still on his side, but having worked the space to get in his shot, he missed a great chance to give a further lift to his name. For me, he seems to lack a degree of urgency, though he does work hard.

Having said all that the unavailability of El Ghazi gave RHM a surprise opportunity, and what speed and skill he has! Yes, perhaps he does have a couple of raw edges, but rather than put him out on loan I think he should be on the Villa's first-team bench and brought on as the occasion demands.

As to the performances of Villa's new acquisitions, I can't help but see the combination of Jota and Wesley with the added ingredient of Grealish developing a great understanding. Meanwhile, Guilbert strikes me as a fine raiding wing-back. The other new ones seem content just to do what's needed and are feeling their way as they go. I have no reason to think they'll do anything but settle in fine.

But the midfield is intriguing to me. McGinn, surprisingly, doesn't seem to have had so much of an impact and I'm seriously wondering whether Lansbury is a better link with Jack. Conor, meanwhile, has useful moments but I can't see him being successful in the hole in front of defence. Leastwise, not in the PL. Bikir? Mmmm... not sure; he's useful but, except as a late sub, doesn't seem to make a lot of impact.

Nevertheless, pre-season is building quite nicely, and I'm ready for more surprises in the remaining two pre-season games. And more signings, too!


Wednesday, 17 July 2019

The Purchasing Message Is That We Don't Intend To Concede Goals!

Bjorn Engels follows Tyrone Mings, Ezri Konsa and Kortney Hause to Bodymoor Heath, leaving James Chester, an £8 million signing in 2016, potentially a fifth-choice central defender. Yet Dean Smith seems to think that 30-year-old Chester has a part to play and wants to see him challenging for selection for the first match, at Spurs.

What an extraordinary situation. The acquisition of four new central defenders (though we already know two of 'em) seems to be wildly over the top. Two were needed for certain, and Mings was a priority, but I can't help but see Chester now playing a secondary role, with Hause as extra cover for left-back.

The situation for Chester could be said to be unfair as he stood alone, carrying what proved to be a serious injury, until defensive reinforcements arrived last January. So to have played his heart out under great pressure and now to be in this situation must be very disappointing for him.

However, the secondary role could be just as important, with the return to Villa of a genuine reserve side to draw from rather than the u-23 system. Chester would surely be an example for new players coming through the ranks, and perhaps should be the reserves' captain.

With the virtually certain imminent signing of midfield enforcer Douglas Luiz in the next few days, this has been an extraordinary summer of spending, which worries me a little, especially as I do not yet see an end to the expenditure.

My "worry" is more to do with the approach of spend-spend-spend as a policy for Villa. It rarely produces great results (though the top clubs of the last 25 years could say they can show otherwise) ... unless we have a proper youth basis in place. But I feel that Villa is - based on history - a different kettle of fish to most other clubs and why journalists often don't 'get it'.

The academy seems to have let us down somewhat, not able to reproduce what came through in the early 60s and then 70s, with the odd 'success' since then. Barry was not really one of our own deliveries, nor Ehiogu.

So, in my view that's what we need to keep an eye on if we want to maintain our 'special' character. AVFC's playing success was mainly due to what was developed within the club. The character of the club will not diminish if we build from youth. To start getting into big scale spend-spend mode and acquiring players who do not develop an attachment for the club - being more concerned about their careers - is something to be concerned about i.m.o.

However, I rather think that we are not 'doing a Fulham'. The kind of expenditure taking place has sense about it for the future, and perhaps there's more that's going on that is positive than I realise.

This post seems to suggest a lot of good thinking going on.

We shall see...!


Tuesday, 25 June 2019

More News Of Villa's Great Past!

I'm glad to tell you that Volume 2 of Aston Villa Through The Ages - all about a very major period in Villa's history (1893-1905) - is now up and available, and at a very agreeable price - I think! 

Volume 1, of course, remains available as well.

For details of this and for further particulars about the series, including how to purchase and availability of the next volume, please click here to link to my webpage.

Thanks, and UTV!

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Some Things Never Change

A friend wrote and referred to a reference in Volume One of "Aston Villa Through The Ages" to Archie Hunter's departure from the Villa in 1881 and that the Sport and Play periodical wrote about "scores and scores of 'fair weather' supporters" and "by and by we shall see Villa once more singing a triumphant march and the croaking prophets of evil today trooping at the heels of the players with all the brazenness of gilded weather-cocks".

The friend said that for some reason it struck a note with him and wondered why!

Well, there are some things that never change, but in that account, Jack Urry, the Sport and Play reporter and commentator and later VN&R writer, illustrates the power of his reports and comments.

When I did that big Villa research through all those publications so long ago I would come across Urry time and again and got to love his perception and way with words.

Which other football club possesses anything like this heritage? No other.

This is part of why Villa is special i.m.o. There was once a link that was more than normal between its organisers and players, and I think that spirit is still there today and what makes the club so special. No-one but a Villan could understand that.

Up the Villa!

Please have a look at my new Villa history magazine series 
"Aston Villa Through The Ages"just click here. A sampler is available for download. Thanks, and happy reading!

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Hope Springs Eternal. Especially at The Villa!

I understand that on Thursday we will get to know what the fixture list is for next season, Villa's 121st season in league football, half of which has been spent in the top-8 of the top tier, believe it or not. After the last 8 years it doesn't seem like Villa have been so prominent through most of their history, does it?

But let's not expect too much too soon. With at least half of the first-team squad up for replacement with new players from outside as well as a probable infusion from the reserves, such as O'Hare, I would be happy just to see Villa finish in the top-half this coming season. But what would be tasty is to have a good run in one or more of the Cups. It's about time we won one of those again!

What is good about the situation at Villa Park today is that I feel that there's a return to the kind of team spirit we saw when we gained excellent League Cup triumphs in 1994 and 1996. There's now a kind of determination in the team that says "thou shalt not pass", and if we can permanently bring in the likes of Mings, Hause and El Ghazi, players that showed strong commitment and skill last season, then I do indeed feel hopeful of it being a good season in 2019-20. Their signing as permanent players does, indeed, look very promising.

But what is daunting is that having unloaded a lot of players that clearly would not serve Villa's interest in the Premiership (with some sadness at some of those departures), there are still so many signings to make to fill the gaps. Yet, in a little over a month's time, we'll be into the pre-season run of friendlies, with the season itself starting on the 9th/10th August.

So, so, little time for preparation. But at least I have a lot better confidence in the setup that now exists at the Villa.

Up the Villa!

Please have a look at my new Villa history magazine series: just click here. A sampler is available for download. Thanks, and happy reading!

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Another Villa Triumph! A New On-line History Magazine Series!

I am pleased to announce a 10-volume on-line magazine series of quality called "Aston Villa Through The Ages". Each of these volumes will be centred mostly around the players and particularly about long-serving playing legends of the club.

The very first purchaser made the comment: "a work of devotion", and added his praise.

All volumes are inexpensively downloadable in PDF form. An option for printing is provided. 

This series takes the opportunity also to bring the known history of Aston Villa completely up-to-date.

An additional attraction is that I welcome former Villa News & Record editor and leading Villa writer Rob Bishop, who has kindly agreed to write lead articles for the three 'Ages' from 1976 to 2012. 
Please note that a free 11th volume of the series will also be available. For details of this and for further particulars about the series please link to my webpage, or to directly purchase a copy of the newly-released first volume, please click here

Thanks for calling by, and Up The Villa!

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Villa Always Has Been, And Will Be, A Premier Club!

And so it happened: promotion after a hard battle (particularly in the last 15 minutes) versus Derby. But lack of shooting skills were again evident, the first goal coming off a shoulder and the second off a head after their keeper flapped and presented the chance. But they all count, don't they, and, overall, the Villa looked the better team. I wish Derby well for next season.

This has been a season of miracles really. One minute (last summer) we were on the verge of bankruptcy and in the next minute new owners had come in. The old manager did not last long and was dealt a rather harsh card, although I can see the reasons why.

Dean Smith arrived in October as a known Villa fan and with a record of applying good footballing principles at his former, smaller, clubs. But could he get his head around a big club and get promotion for the first time in his career? He's proved he can certainly do that and has shown great acumen in dealing with the horrendous injury situation in defence at the end of 2018, as well as the lengthy absence of Grealish.

What did we end up with? A record 10-match winning spell to create a new club record and propel us from mid-table to a promotion play-off spot. Not only did we then gain promotion but, for the first time in Villa's history, we actually have boyhood supporters as both manager and captain! 

It was good to see the resurrection of players like Elmo and Taylor, and in Mings, El Ghazi and Abraham we also gained first-rate helpers for Jack and McGinn. But since those three players were brought in on loan we wait to see whether they can become permanent Villa players.

And after all the messing around with goalkeepers from outside, we found that the custodian we needed had been at the club the whole time! It took a long time to steer in the right direction on that matter!

The owners say that now "the sky is the limit". Well, we'll see. There will certainly be player comings-and-goings in the summer, but it's going to be yet another interesting ride.

The main thing for now is that we're UP. Also that the horrible period between 2011 and 2018 is behind us.

Well done to everyone concerned!


Friday, 24 May 2019

The Day Cometh Near...

The day cometh near; the future of Aston Villa stands on a knife-edge depending on what result transpires on Monday.

If the Villa fail to win then clearly the future of Jack Grealish immediately comes under scrutiny, and the chances are that he would leave, despite the quite large price-tag that is set for him as I understand it. Not only Jack but loan players of the ilk of Abraham, Mings and El Ghazi would be unlikely to stay for another Championship season. Tuanzebe is almost certain to return to his club anyway, whatever the result, and Abraham may have to stay with Chelsea also.

Losing Grealish, Mings and El Ghazi would be a great shame. But a win would make all the difference, for I would then see those loanees becoming permanent Villa players (Tuanzebe and Abraham I will not consider for reasons stated) and Jack would be here for at least another season.

If the Villa were not to win then we stay in the Championship. It would not be the end of the world; after all defensively we still have Chester, Elphick and (very likely) Hause, although Hutton will most likely have ended his career with Villa whatever the outcome. Jedinak and Whelan are getting on, but perhaps there's still a role for them in the Championship.

It's in midfield where the loss of Grealish and El Ghazi would be particularly noted, not helped by the donwturn in performance of Albert, who, like Hutton, may well be at the end of the road as far as Villa are concerned.

But the greatest impact of all may be the impact on morale, both in the club and for the fans. That would be a big hurdle to overcome. And would McGinn ask for a transfer?

I do not like to consider the negatives, but there is that side of the coin: it's one that cannot be ignored.

The only remedy to negativity, however, is just to be positive! I Know Villa fans will be in full throttle on Monday, so let's give it our best shot! Deano and the players need every encouragement for success after their achievements against all odds since February.


Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Phew! Well, We're Monarchs Of The Birmingham Area

Well, we're through. But I have to say (in trying to look at it from a neutral observer's standpoint) that justice was done in the end.

The Albion - as the 2-legs progressed - seemed to rely more and more on sheer aggression in their effort to force their way through to the Final, and it's a source of wonder that only 2 of their players were sent off in the 2 matches. The referee certainly seemed to let go a lot of very questionable stuff, sometimes not giving fouls and at other times not booking players when they should have been.

The 2-legs were also, of course, of great importance to determine the Monarchy of the Birmingham Area.

However, the Villa should not have had to let it go to a decision by penalty kicks. The main weakness in Villa's play all season has been their finishing, and 24 shots yesterday but only 6 on target is very much par-for-the-course for Villa. And of those 6 on target, it could be said that only 2 or 3 troubled their 'keeper.

But it did have to go to a decision by penalties and Jed Steer (who had saved gloriously early on in the first leg) again showed his true ability by fending out the first two efforts by Albion. Only Albert caused a slight doubt that Villa might lose their advantage when he shot high and wide. Abraham soon settled it with the next Villa kick.

So. The Final. We've gotta win it! Haven't we?


Sunday, 5 May 2019

Look Out Albyun! We're Coming!

Well, resting several first-choice players (including El Ghazi, on the bench) against the champions-elect was not likely to have resulted in a win, but it was nearly good enough to obtain a draw! Least said otherwise about that match which had no real meaning for us except the chance to keep the unbeaten run going.

What worries me somewhat is whether Villa have gone off the boil, for the last three matches have not been played in such a good fashion as those earlier. However, the fact that the play-off semis is against the Albyun should produce a sufficient adrenalin rush for the players to obtain the necessary qualification to the final. The only snag is that the second leg is at the Hawthorns, so we really need a two-goal lead from the first leg in my view to be fairly sure of getting through.

In our match at the Hawthorns earlier this season we should have won but for that late handball that passed as an equaliser. When the Albyun came to VP the Villa were not in a good state injury-wise and caused it to be easier for them than it should have been. But these play-offs will be the real thing, I'm sure, with Villa's extra skill and pressure game surely being good enough so long as we have our defence playing their usual game, and not the one we saw versus Norwich.

I suppose we can think negatively with the thought 'what's to happen if we don't win the play-offs?', but really it's all in the Villa's hands and some positive support from the great support the club has. My goodness, a season's best attendance against Norwich today, the third 41,000+ attendance this season, and an average home attendance of over 36,000! That's amazing for the second tier. 

I do really hope that Villa can break the awful run of the last 9 years and get back to the Premier League; we do not (I'm sure) want to see us lose Jack, and the chance of keeping Mings may also pass us by if we don't go up. 

But, first things first. We have generally upset the Albyun on the occasion of us meeting on meaningful occasions (starting with the FA Cup Final in 1887). Let's make sure that we remain top of the West Midlands after the two upcoming games!


Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Ten Up; Now Let's Get Up!

Ten wins on the trot is a fine achievement no matter at what level of football you are playing, and it also has to be considered a better achievement than the 9 wins accomplished in the top tier in season 1910-11, that was hitherto the club record.

The Villa has had a touch of fortune along the way in decisions that have not gone against us, but we've also had some desperate luck in having suffered the kind of injuries we've had as well as player suspensions. But those enforced absences have shown that we have just enough good players on our books to make the absences affect us in a minimal way. One of the best unforeseen player introductions has been Jed Steer in goal, who has yet to be on a losing side this season. He has not come across as being a great 'keeper (though reasonably competent) but perhaps he has a 'presence' in goal that the defence play up to.

For me I would like to see more of Andre Green. Though I like Albert, his play this season has not been too great, and Green yesterday came on and shone like a beacon with his attempts on goal and his overall commitment. However, perhaps he has not seen more playing time because he generally does show up better coming on as a sub rather than as a match starter. Time for him to make more of his opportunities, I think. As well as Kienan Davis.

As for the whole team, they have become rather classy to watch in their general play, but their ability needs to be matched in the number of goals they score, in my opinion. That lovely dribble by Kodjia put him in a glorious scoring position, but his attempt went wide. As did so many other attempts at scoring when in most cases those attempts should at least have been on target.

But despite all that, 10 successive wins have been achieved, and also the 20th win of the season. Well done the Villa!

Next up it be Leeds, who we cannot catch. Unfortunately. I'd be happy if we get a point from there. There's no need to try too hard with the play-offs looming, for which we have already qualified.

And the play-offs will be a big test, I'm sure, with Leeds and the Albion being amongst the fellow-hopefuls.


Wednesday, 17 April 2019

More About When Aston Villa Started

In Rob Bishop and Frank Holt's book "The Complete Record" (2010), it is stated that the Club's most likely official startup date was in the middle of November, 1874, contrary to the long-accepted assertion that the Club's official start date was March 7, 1874.

Frank Holt (whose research it was) is most certainly correct in most of what he has deduced, as it is known that the Villa played a few matches from at least November, 1874, but nothing has been found before that date. They did not, however, win their first match until March, 1875, the real occasion of the famous 15-a-side match against St. Mary's. This match was formerly believed to have been in March, 1874, but 1875 is now known to be correct.

Hence there seems to be some fabrication that occurred as to when the Villa did start and that seems to be based on a lecture given by one of the co-founders, Jack Hughes, on the occasion of the club's silver jubilee in 1899.

I should mention here that when I was working in the Villa Archives, the diaries of Charles Wheelwright were kept there. Wheelwright wrote as "Brum" in the Athletic News from 1881 right up to its cessation in 1934, and was very close to the Club. His diaries are interesting in that he quotes Villa as having been founded in October, 1874 in his earlier diary, yet by WW1 he is quoting March, 1874 - in response to Jack Hughes' crusade for March, I suspect, or because Hughes had persuaded the Club that March was the date.

Another authority is the respected journalist Sidney Gilbert who says (in his 1893 series of Villa history articles) that Aston Unity were founded in November, 1874 "just after the Villa", and I took it that he meant October as so many other writers of those days quoted October.

Interestingly also, Ian Johnston (in his 1981 book "The Aston Villa Story") intimates that Villa started off proceedings on a Friday evening in October, 1874. From memory, I think that Johnston says that he got that information from a note that was passed to him or handed down to him, or something like that. What they would be doing on a Friday evening in October I don't know, but perhaps they were deciding in a meeting on what they should do before they formed the club. In which case Frank Holt may be spot on as to his mid-November date of official startup: they had decided to do their checks on what football to play etc before they did officially form a club.

Perhaps everyone was quoting "October" back then as that was when the move towards starting a club was initiated, although not yet officially formed.

I'm trying to be conciliatory to Frank Holt here, but the trouble is that it seems we want to reject Jack Hughes' assertions of February/Marc 1874 when things first happened yet by the same token we are willing to accept his account about the Grasshoppers v Handsworth match and other particulars. However, we are lucky that Sidney Gilbert relates the same stories, but is not clear when they happened.

So, at the end of all my writings and gesticulations (!), I remain very open to Frank Holt's findings of mid-November, 1874 when the official foundation took place, but still cannot support it 100% simply because it's so long since the event and not really supported by anything concrete other than logical assertions. Why there should be that attempt to set Villa's foundation so many months earlier still puzzles me somewhat. Perhaps there's something that we don't know about.

The one thing that Jack Hughes says that does ring true is that he was consistently saying that all 15 original members were the founders of the club and not the 4 that met under the gaslamp. It resonates with me particularly because Hughes was himself one of the 4 under the gaslamp, so was clearly not trying to claim special credit.

I blame my grandad, who was living in Lozells near the AV Chapel soon after that time, for this intensive investigation!

(c) 2019 John Lerwill

Saturday, 13 April 2019

It's Good When We're Winning!

Today's win was the Villa's 8th consecutive win on the bounce, which equals the final charge of the 1974-75 season when Villa won their last 8 matches in style to gain promotion that year.

Those 8 wins in the last 8 matches of 1975 will always stand out in my memory, particularly after being at Hillsborough during that run.

Achieving 9 successive wins, though, would not be quite the same thing as the club record of 9 wins in season 1910-11. That 1910-11 side was a really fine team and should have won the championship that year, but was nudged on the post.

But should we get 10 wins on the bounce this season, that would truly be a fine achievement, though, if they can do it.

Nevertheless, we've still got a mountain to climb to get through the play-offs; it's going to be tough, and if they do it (get promotion) they'll be worthy for the Prem.

Actually, seeing that Villa have had quite a lot of misfortune in not having key players available, they have been doing very well these last few games. The team spirit is clearly at a high, and as there's good ability in the team there's no reason to doubt that Villa have a real chance of getting there.


Wednesday, 3 April 2019

I Look To The Owl For Wisdom Here

For Villa to stretch a winning run to 5 games is unusual. And when such a run has transpired before then we usually find that it comes to an end on an away pitch. And this Saturday whose pitch do we play on but that of the Owls, who also have an eye towards reaching the play-offs, and have Steve Bruce as their recently appointed manager.

Added to that, Tammy Abraham has not been putting many away since January and, indeed, has been somewhat profligate with his chances.

If Villa is going to fall, then this fixture has every ingredient for the recipe of such. A draw is the minimum we need to achieve in my view.

But, on the other hand, if Villa win a 6th on the trot then surely it would do everything to raise the confidence of the club and to move on to face another play-off pretender, Bristol City, the next Saturday along. In between, we face a lesser team in the shape of Rotherham, but let's not be fooled into thinking that it's an automatic 3 points. That match is on their ground and they will not want to lose face in front of their own supporters.

And in the last two matches we face the two league leaders.

Let's not be despondent, though! We have won 5 on the trot, and the football Villa is playing is mostly good stuff. The main worry is that we miss too many chances, and if the opposition is tough, then those matches are the ones where we need to take up what's on offer.

At least Villa is in the position it is. A couple of months back it was not so easy to be opti about our chances.


Sunday, 17 March 2019

The 4-Card Trick

Well, there we have it. It must be promotion (mustn't it?) after four straight wins against other promotion hopefuls, with a goal balance of 11-1. And that 11-1 reminds me of a certain match at Villa Park in 1959, but that's another story!

Leastways, we, the club and its supporters, go into another international break in a good mood, with the break also giving a further chance to get more players fit and ready for the resumption. We could soon be in a situation of being spoilt for choice!

Of course, the return of Grealish has helped enormously, but with players like McGinn and Mings contributing as they are, their aggregate play gives a lift for the rest of the team to do better. Sadly we don't have a team of captains, but they do know talent when it's within their midst and the rest of the team have responded in kind. The strange thing, though, is that Abraham's scoring contribution has slowed down since four matches ago! No matter, the other players seem to have found how to hit the back of the net. And the lack of goals conceded of late is heartening.

The one complaint that is still there (for me at least) is that considering the quality of the play and number of chances created, we should be expecting to see a few more goals.

There's credit for this situation to be given to another department: the head coach and his team. Dean Smith's stated preference is for his teams not to hang back but play high and harass the opposition, tactics that clearly produce results.

Well, there's every reason to look forward to the rest of the season. Provided that is that they come back not too relaxed after their two weeks without a match!