My relationship with Aston Villa Football Club, as a loyal fan, has been something I’ve clung to in my lifetime. Like many football fans, to me, football is my escape. It’s a pastime. It’s a science. And in recent times, it’s become an occupation.
Where I’m from in the West Midlands, it’s mostly Wolves, with a decent mix of Villa and Albion and a few Blues fans. But from birth, there was only one club for me – it’s like ‘they’ say, you do not choose Aston Villa, it chooses you. Deep family ties and a connection to my local area is the real core of why I became a Villa fan.
Sadly, that time has been mostly negative. At the age of 17, I can only really remember the years following 2010. The departure of O’Neill, the money drying up, the players departing, the club plummeting. My whole experience of Villa, unlike my grandad who saw them win the league, the FA Cup, and of course the European Cup, has been watching a massive club, an old lady of English football, founders of the league, stagnate. But I’ve learnt that we put up with those times. Villa were in the Third Division in the first two seasons of the 1970s – look what happened in the first two seasons of the 1980s. I’ve learnt to keep faith amidst the hardships.
But that isn’t to say there hasn’t been positivity. One of my earliest Villa memories was going with my Dad on what felt like a cold night for a young boy to sit in the North Stand and watch Aston Villa vs Manchester City. There was a sense of anticipation in the air for Darren Bent’s debut. I have a fleeting memory of seeing a shot rebound off Joe Hart, and Bent pouncing. Then, delirium. On the way back, up the motorway, we drove past the Man City team coach. That made the result even sweeter.
Alongside that memory, recent times with new owners, new personnel and a new culture have resurrected the club and brought so many positive experiences. Take my visit to Derby at home last season. We were nervous as a fanbase – promotion seemed an intangible dot in the distance. John McGinn was suspended for having ten yellow cards. Jack Grealish may miss the game.
But in hindsight, there was magic in the air that day. 4-0 in the first half. We stroked it around like Barcelona, and our wonder boy (and captain) Super Jack capped off the battering with a sensational volley. In the stands we looked at each other, dumbfounded, but with a new sense of ‘what if?’ A question that we duly answered against Derby on 27th May 2019. My greatest day as a Villa fan. I watched it in the pub with friends who didn’t support Villa in a pub that was predominantly Wolves wishing us defeat, which was brilliant. The sense of optimism and victory that that day brought is unrivalled.
My most recent positive memory of the club, though, is Leicester at home in the Carabao Cup. After a gruelling day of Sixth Form, off I went on my evening out. Orjan Nyland channelled his inner Peter Schmeichel, against the Great Dane’s son. We didn’t have more of the ball, but we pressed them back and looked menacing. I remember being nervous for penalties, expecting defeat. Then Ahmed Elmohamady whipped a speculative cross in from the right, and I saw it sail over Kortney Hause’s head, then out of nowhere came Trezeguet to stroke it home. Pandemonium. The term is ‘limbs’ – I couldn’t walk the next day from all the celebrating. We were going to Wembley, and nobody could take that away from us.
Point being, while my introduction to Aston Villa is rather typical – a family-influenced escape from the mundane trawl of everyday life – my experience with the club should show one thing; keep the faith, stay loyal, and stay positive. The new owners and personnel have shown their outstanding quality in their roles. So while the club has been at its lowest ebb, by no means is the founder of the Football League a dying club. We are a struggling club, but one that has solid foundations, a massive reputation, an incredible fanbase, and an inner drive to push forwards. We are Aston Villa, and we’ll never stop.