Introducing Meagan Walker, our new writer, who explains why she chose Aston Villa.
My favourite Aston Villa memory isn’t a cup final, or a last-minute win, nor is it a Villa legend, or perfect goal. My favourite Aston Villa memory is a person.
Aston Villa is a family club. “Villa runs in our veins,” I’ve been told by my dad, brothers, uncles, and more. My dad grew up less than a mile from Villa Park – why would he ever support any other team? Villa Park is pointed out to me every time we drive along the Aston Expressway. When my brother and I were younger, we used to pray to the ground before a matchday, on the way in the car. It’s like a religion, with Villa Park as the church. It’s ingrained in us – we are Villa.
However, my dad isn’t the reason we’re all Villa supporters. Neither is my Aston born-and-bred grandfather. The reason we have all grown up with and love Aston Villa with an undying passion is my Irish nan.
Alice Walker moved to Birmingham in the early 1950s from a tiny village – Donard, in County Wicklow, Ireland. Even back here, she told me she used to get told off for playing football with the boys from the village. Scuffed knees and torn dresses weren’t the fashion for a good Catholic girl in mid-century Ireland.
In Aston, her love for football grew.
Women’s football started in 1895 but was banned by the FA in 1921 after it grew in popularity (up to 150 teams!) during the First World War. At the time, the FA said, “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”. Unsurprisingly, this view was much unchanged in the fifties, and remained ingrained in football culture even after 1971, when the ban was lifted, and the Women’s Football Association was formed.
Working for Aston Villa, and then at the now-closed Aston Villa Leisure Centre, Alice attended as many games as she could. When she retired in the mid-nineties, she started purchasing a season ticket. She has done ever since. She’s had her seat in the Doug Ellis stand since 1999 and couldn’t imagine her life without the highs and (very many) lows of being a Villa supporter.
With young children, she couldn’t get to Rotterdam for the 1982 final, but she has her own treasured memory of the European Cup Final. A VHS tape, that captures the glory of conquering Europe, recorded almost as close to Villa Park as you could get. And like any Villa fan of the time, it is something she will never forget. A feat few English clubs have achieved.
Unfortunately, a few years ago, she was diagnosed with cancer and pneumonia. Her biggest concern throughout all her treatment and operations was missing the rest of the season. She eventually recovered, and we had hoped for my grandfather and her to move closer to us in Worcestershire, but she refused to leave Aston because of the Villa.
At 82, and on oxygen, she still walks down to Villa Park for every home game, accompanied by one of her sons or grandchildren. Even with a recent broken ankle, she was still making her way to the Doug Ellis stand each weekend. She also continues to travel down to Wembley for every play off and cup final.
She was a trailblazer for female football fans in years gone by. As a woman in football in 2020, I’m glad she was.
Without her influence, I wouldn’t be part of a family that lives and breathes Aston Villa. And on a larger scale, I wouldn’t be part of an even bigger family – Aston Villa.
Aston Villa is a club that thrives, not for, but because of its fans. Despite the many hard games, and frustrating performances, it is a family I am proud to be a part of.
That’s why my favourite Aston Villa memory is, and will forever be, my Villa-supporting nan.
By Meagan Walker