Why Villa? – Rob Smith

Why Villa? My Dad was a fan. Simple as that. I’d love to wax lyrical about how some special moment, player or goal made me fall in love with the club. Or the first sight of the claret and blue AV in the North Stand made my heart skip a beat. Or maybe a beautiful tale about how myself and my father overcame our suppressed emotional states through a mutual love of our club (some truth here maybe but such a cliche).

No, disregarding the family connection, there is no reason why I should support Villa.

It was the mid 80s, attendances were low. The team was bad and getting worse. Had I been five years older, I’d have Bosko Jankovic day, Rotterdam, and the Super Cup as my early memories. Instead I got Graham Turner, Simon Stainrod and the Andy Gray of 1986, not 1977. My earliest football memories aren’t even of Villa. I watched Everton beat Watford in the 1984 FA Cup Final, and was transfixed as Liverpool beat Roma in the European Cup Final a few weeks later.

Simon Stainrod on his Aston Villa debut (photo courtesy of avfc.co.uk).

In contrast, the Villa were never on TV.

In 1984 I was aged 9 and officially a football fanatic. Panini sticker books and Shoot! magazine told me all I needed to know about my new obsession. I desperately wanted to go to a game and that meant Villa Park.

Unfortunately, my timing couldn’t have been worse.

During the next 12 months, the Bradford fire, Heysel disaster and riots at St Andrews and Kenilworth Road were all over the news. With the mindset of a lemming adjacent to a large precipice, I pleaded with Mum to let me go.

Unsurprisingly, she said no.

She eventually relented in October 1986. Villa were 20th in the old Division One, having lost 6 of our first 7 games. Regardless, I accompanied Dad to my first game at Villa Park. What would it be like to see the grand stadium for the first time?

Well…there’s a lot of nostalgia nowadays for grounds, pre Taylor Report, but in truth most were crap. Villa Park was regarded as one of the best, but there wasn’t much competition. We approached the ground from the Holte side, which looked big but dilapidated, the Witton Lane Stand (now Doug Ellis) was small and nondescript. In contrast , the Trinity Road looked grand and the North Stand looked modern and bright (how things change).

But it didn’t look like the intimidating arena dad described in his tales of the old Division Three.

Our opponents that day were Chelsea. Their fans had a reputation for trouble so police patrolled menacingly on horseback, harassing the few hardy souls queuing outside the Holte entrance. Once in we used the worst toilets I’d ever seen (and I went to secondary school) then had little trouble finding a good spot on the terrace. I watched Villa play out a breathtakingly dull 0-0 draw in front of 17,000 in the cold Autumn rain. The air of decline was all too evident.

Bournemouth 1972 this was not.

Shrewdly sensing I might waver, Dad quickly took me to another game. This time against Arsenal. It will get better, he assured me.

We lost 4-0.

November 1986, Villa 0-4 Arsenal (photo courtesy of Bob Thomas/Getty Images).

We didn’t attend again till Boxing Day, a big football occasion, Dad said. And things were better. I saw my first Villa Park goal as Neale Cooper put us ahead in a 2-0 win over Charlton. We returned a week later for an exciting 2-2 draw with Chelsea in the FA cup.

Off and running.

Countless games and goals since, I’m still there. Accompanied now by my 2 sons, both with their own stories of why they support our club. Dad is still there too, now in his 61st season. In truth it wouldn’t have mattered if we’d have lost the first five games, or ten. Or If Villa Park had gone to rack and ruin. This club is in my blood. My Dad’s first game was in 1959 v Swansea Town (yes Town), his father attended in the 1930s and 40s. As did my maternal grandfather, who is from Aston, as was his father. I like to think of my great great grandfathers attending in the 1800s, entirely possible though I have no evidence of this. People come and go in life, but for football families your club is yours forever. To reject it would be to reject your past, the legacy of your ancestors. Without these hereditary bonds clubs would need constant success to survive. It is the reason proper fans get so angry with glory supporters and football tourists.

Despite the family connections, my support for Villa is not dependent on relationships with others in my family. Had my children inexplicably supported other clubs, my relationship with them would be affected, but my relationship with the Villa would be unchanged. It supersedes just about anything. Put simply….

Blood is thicker than water

But hereditary support is thicker than both

By Rob Smith

UTV!

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