Why Villa? It’s a very good question. Villa is in my family, it’s in the blood. I’ve had a season ticket in B1 of the Trinity Road Stand for nine years, where I sit with my uncle and grandad. Before that I spent two years in the North Stand with my school friend and his dad and like every Villa fan, I have experienced many ups and downs.
Following the Villa home and away has become an obsession for me over the last five years, rarely missing a game. It’s said that once you start going home and away it becomes very hard to miss a game and I have found this to be true. Me and my uncle go to most away games together and occasionally one of my mates or cousins come along too.
As a young kid, I had been to Bodymoor Heath training ground several times during the school holidays with my nan and grandad and was lucky enough to meet some of Villa’s stars, but I was dying to get a taste of the famous Villa Park atmosphere. I couldn’t have picked a better day to experience this for the first time.
My first ever match at B6 came in 2007, it was the last home game of the 2006/07 season. It was a special day for many reasons, a big one being that it was the 25th anniversary of the European Cup win in 1982.
It was a late kick-off – 5:15pm – and Villa Park was packed with 42,500 buoyant fans. Many had enjoyed the extra couple of hours in the pubs and the beer gardens as the sun was shining on this May evening. Many fans revelled in their annual fancy dress outfits and elaborate costumes as they saw the season out in style.
As a nine-year-old lad I thought this was magic. The sun was shining and the Holte End was in fine form, serenading the players. Sitting in the Doug Ellis stand with my Mom, Dad and Grandad, the Holte End looked brilliant in the late evening sun and the claret and blue kits looked even better than I expected. I had dreamt of this moment.
I had briefly met a few of the first team players and had my autograph book signed, but now I was watching them play and not just this, I was also seeing the players who lifted the famous trophy in Rotterdam. I was on cloud nine.
I had only heard the name Dennis Mortimer mentioned in conversations between my family, but now I was watching him show-off the European Cup, I felt as though this was all for me. I had almost forgotten the whole reason why 42,500 fans turn up every week: the football. I loved football and I now had a team to love too.
I idolised Gareth Barry, he was my favourite player before Stiliyan Petrov and now I was actually watching him play. That sweet left-foot was just as good in real-life as it looked on Match of the Day or FIFA. I had met the midfield maestro once – funnily enough it was in a McDonald’s – but it is safe to say watching him play was far superior.
Villa beat Sheffield United 3-0, with the goals coming from Gabby, Ashley Young and Patrick Berger. I remember Berger’s like it was yesterday, probably because it was the only goal that came in front of the Holte End that day, close to where we were sat. The experienced Czech played a one-two with John Carew and slotted the ball past Paddy Kenny to seal the victory for Martin O’Neill’s men.
Overall, it was a disappointing first season for O’Neill, finishing eleventh but all of this was forgotten as the memories of the 1982 European Cup squad parading the hallowed turf with the famous trophy is a memory many Villa fans will treasure for a lifetime.
At the time, as a wide-eyed nine-year-old, I thought this happened every match. Now looking back, I realise how lucky I was to witness this and speaking to family and fellow older Villa fans who were also there, this day remains in the forefront of their memories. This was my first match at Villa Park. I think my Grandad did well there.
By Tom Hartley