In my early school years when all that really mattered was ‘Match Attax’ and ‘Panini’ sticker books I was witness to Villa’s steady decline from 6th place finishes to battling relegation. This meant two things for me after I’d inherited being a Villa fan from my dad and his 14 brothers and sisters. Number one: other Villa fans in my class were going to stop supporting Villa and start supporting more successful clubs. Number two: I was going to be mocked for being one of the only remaining Villa fans.
As much as I thought it might be rewarding to follow suit and seek out glory with a Manchester club or a London club, I quickly had this idea denounced by my family. As my dad continued to tell me: what was really rewarding was following a club that you didn’t explicitly choose but one that chose you and furthermore loving it for its successes and its failures. This was hard for me to stomach as I watched our steady decline, but my family persisted to tell me that this was the right way to go. My family would explain to me that my resilience would be rewarded and that no amount of bragging rights can ever substitute for following your team week in week out. As much as I had my doubts I was Villa all the way because of my family and the way they explained to me that football was about more than just winning. I would shrug off the jokes because that was football and I knew that the top 6 teams making fun of Villa would never be able to see their team more than twice a year, this filled me with pride but I knew that at that point I didn’t quite have the successes to back up any jokes in return.
It was in 2015 when I finally got my revenge on the glory hunters. After years of watching top six teams buy our best players and seeing them get more success than us, we finally drew Liverpool in the semi-final of the FA Cup. I remember I was on the coach back from a school residential when the match was played and someone in my class had managed to sneak a radio onto the coach to listen to the match. We all huddled at the back, trying to hear the quiet broadcast over the sounds of Liverpool fans claiming we had no way to defend Balotelli and we simply couldn’t control Coutinho. I must admit, I wasn’t entirely optimistic but all I knew was that regardless of the result, Villa was still my club. Conveniently, some magic from a young Jack Grealish alongside Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke (and a bit of help from a poor linesman) granted us our first FA Cup final since 2000, before I was even born. There was no hiding the fact that we had a radio now that me and about 3 other Villa fans were singing our hearts out on our way back from Aberdovey. I looked around as we sang ‘Que Sera Sera’ and saw the faces of Liverpool fans who were completely dumbfounded at the reality that they had lost against the team that they wrote off as soon as they drew us out the hat. It was a sweet feeling, seeing other people experience the frustration I knew oh so well as a Villa fan. The difference was that I appreciated that win more than they ever would. The fact that it wasn’t just another day at the office for us meant that we’d remember the win for years to come. No glory hunter would ever be able to take that feeling away from me no matter how successful they were. And everything that my family had told me for years on end finally made sense to me.
Ironically we took a hard loss in the final as we fell 4-0 to Arsenal, but I didn’t care. To have come that far against all the odds was miraculous and a feeling I never forgot, and to be able to rub it in the faces of all the other people who had mocked my loyalty was the best feeling of all. If it wasn’t for the pressure my family put on me to not flock with the rest of my classmates and how they persuaded me to stay with Villa, I wouldn’t have had that sweet revenge, I wouldn’t have followed the club through all the successes and failures since and I certainly wouldn’t have some of the best days of my life. So I’m grateful for how stubborn they were and I’m grateful that it was Villa in the end.
By Micky Lyons