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Where is Villa's institutional memory?


Marka Ragnos
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This will seem like a weird question, perhaps, but I think it has rather serious and very pragmatic implications, and it's one I genuinely want to hear what people think.

My premise: All big clubs have players, managers, trainers, physios, groundskeepers, owners, etc etc. etc and various corporate and media interests that come and go, come and go, come and go. But some of these people stay and help define the club. They form what I will call -- for lack of a better term -- the living memory of the club, the spirit, the heart.

Villa is changing always, but the change seems especially profound this year. So, apart from the fans, where does the spirit of the club reside these days? When you think of any people associated with the club, who really defines what it means to be Villa? 

I guess I'm a bit concerned that this simply doesn't exist at Villa any more.

With Bayern Munich, for example, I always think of Ribery -- there for last seven years. With Citeh, I think of Kompany. I guess with Villa I think of Gabby. But other than that, I'm wondering  whether there's just not a strong sense of self-conscious identity?

Without it, I don't see how we're going to improve. 

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Interesting post Plastic Man. I don't think there is one identity.  I think we each define what it means to be Villa and I suspect we all have different views. Things constantly change but for me Villa’s identity is rooted in my memories e.g. my first match, sitting on the shoulders of my dad, surging forward in the Holte after a goal, walking to and from games with my mates, seeing the old AV floodlights, watching really great games, singing the Bells are ringing with 40k+ fans, adoring favourite players like Morely, Mortimer and Gray and watching us win!  Could list many many more.  Its interesting.  I am older so I can still vividly remember us being a dominant and winning team, and I still see Villa in that way, as a truly great club.  The results and actions of the current era of owners, managers and players, and the media’s negative portrayal of the club, obviously dent away at that positive identity but it doesn’t change it, not for me.  I would like to think this is a blip in the story of Aston Villa and we will see the glory days again - we live in hope!  It’s interesting.  I guess a lot of younger fans will not have those memories and they will never have seen real success at Villa.  I suppose that’s why many see the club as a mediocre ‘also ran’ kind of club these days – it’s what we see every season and it is constantly reinforced by the media.  That kind of view grates me, because it runs counter to my own image of the club, but I can totally understand why some fans would have that perception as that is how we have been acting and performing recently.  It is noticeable to me that Tim is trying to change that perception (we are a massive club etc.) but until we start doing it in the markets and on the pitch it all seems a bit inauthentic – remember the awful kit launch promo this year! 

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Very categorical Arj.  So do the majority of stepping stone clubs all have the same identity?  If not, what distinguishes a club like Villa in your mind?  For example, does our history still count for something or, like the vast majority of clubs in the premier league, are we only really defined by recent performances in the league and the size of our balance sheet?   I am asking because the original post was about institutional memory and where it resides.  Seems like history plays little part in your statement about who and what Villa is.  That is not a criticism, I am just trying to relate what you say to the original post as I interpreted it.

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Very categorical Arj.  So do the majority of stepping stone clubs all have the same identity?  If not, what distinguishes a club like Villa in your mind?  For example, does our history still count for something or, like the vast majority of clubs in the premier league, are we only really defined by recent performances in the league and the size of our balance sheet?   I am asking because the original post was about institutional memory and where it resides.  Seems like history plays little part in your statement about who and what Villa is.  That is not a criticism, I am just trying to relate what you say to the original post as I interpreted it.

The orginal post mentioned names like Kompany and Ribery and how they represent their clubs. We aren't going to have players like that because unfortunately we are a stepping stone. Look at Delph. You could say he was our equivalent to the names mentioned above. First opportunity he gets he's out the door. We should all be proud of Villa's history. But obviously it doesn't mean much at the moment. Yes it enables us to be perceived as a relatively big club. Are Southampton, Swansea, Palace or Stoke? No. Yet they finish above us season after season

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Such is the nature of Premier League football in 2015, I don't think such a thing exists at the majority of clubs, in terms of their current playing staff. I think the majority of football players are in it for the money, and are willing to jump ship at the drop of a hat for the next big pay day. The nearest we have at the club at the moment is Gordon Cowans, who has played and worked for the club since he was 16 (maybe even earlier than that). So for me, if you're looking for the embodiment of this club, then it's Sid.

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Gordon Cowans has been here for 33 of the last 41 years. I can't think of many figures at other clubs with that kind of history. He's been here in the very best of times and in the very worst of times - he's played with the best and he's raised a generation of Villa players as a coach. He's as Villa as it gets.

 

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Gordon Cowans has been here for 33 of the last 41 years. I can't think of many figures at other clubs with that kind of history. He's been here in the very best of times and in the very worst of times - he's played with the best and he's raised a generation of Villa players as a coach. He's as Villa as it gets.

 

And he isn't even a Brummie!

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George Ramsay for the more historically minded? 

Manager of Aston Villa Football Club in the most successful period of their history. His record of six League Championships is second only to Sir Alex Ferguson, and his record of six FA Cup victories stood for 95 years before being equalled by Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger in 2015 with a win over Aston Villa!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Ramsay

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I went on a Villa Park tour earlier this year and it was clear to me that the message which the PR gurus had sold to the owners were:

villa are a heritage brand 

We are European Cup Winners

To which they add 'part of and contributing to our local community' spin.

Each of us will have our own memories usually formed in our youth of what the Club means to us. A shared loyalty to 'the shirt' and the tingle down the back of the neck I get walking past Aston Hall and see the floodlights does it for me.

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I went on a Villa Park tour earlier this year and it was clear to me that the message which the PR gurus had sold to the owners were:

villa are a heritage brand 

We are European Cup Winners

To which they add 'part of and contributing to our local community' spin.

Each of us will have our own memories usually formed in our youth of what the Club means to us. A shared loyalty to 'the shirt' and the tingle down the back of the neck I get walking past Aston Hall and see the floodlights does it for me.

What else do you expect us to say to visitors to impress them? 'Welcome to Aston Villa - on a good season, we might finish 15th'

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This is the tragic thing about it all - all of those Gary, are memories - some tinged with success, some with nostalgia. We've not won anything for 20 years and even then, we're talking league cup. Not been up to much for ages. 

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Great answers. It just seems that some clubs have a clearer sense of what they're all about on the pitch than others, and it's not necessary down to a being flush with funds or top of the table.

Also, I'm not necessarily saying it's always a good thing to play a certain way, but how can you adapt and change if you don't know who you are?

Stoke play a certain way, for example, or did. Or at least, they think they know "the Stoke way." There a "United way," too right? Or at least people like to claim there is. What's our way? I want a way! :D

 

 

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Clubs can earn a "way" in a relatively short space of time and whatever that "way" is tends not to last very long (unless you happen to be West Ham where you just talk about a "way" even if you haven't played like that since 1973).  Case in point is Arsenal who went boring boring Arsenal, the ultimate 1-0 merchants into scoring scoring Arsenal, the most entertaining team in the league in a little under a decade. 

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Great answers. It just seems that some clubs have a clearer sense of what they're all about on the pitch than others, and it's not necessary down to a being flush with funds or top of the table.

Also, I'm not necessarily saying it's always a good thing to play a certain way, but how can you adapt and change if you don't know who you are?

Stoke play a certain way, for example, or did. Or at least, they think they know "the Stoke way." There a "United way," too right? Or at least people like to claim there is. What's our way? I want a way! :D

 

 

I think Sherwood is trying to start a 'way', which seems to involve passing the ball out from the back and attractive attacking patterns between pacy midfielders who are also skilled on the ball. I actually think there's some evidence of it beginning to click, and he's just stubborn enough to stick with it even when the results don't work. 

The_Rev is right about 'ways' though, they're cheap to talk about and very vulnerable to crashing into reality. West Brom used to have a 'way' as well, but then that 'way' was the easy thing to sacrifice when Pulis was available and they knew he'd keep them up. Cash wins out over aesthetics every time. If Swansea found themselves in the bottom three at Christmas and Pulis was out of work, they'd employ him as well.

The last team to genuinely not seem to mind being relegated as long as they played fun football is Blackpool, and I'd venture to suggest few want to follow that path. 

EDIT: Trying to drag this back to the topic a little bit, because 'ways' are ephemeral and change quickly over time, I think they're a weak place to look for institutional memory at any club. Staff are a much more logical place. We've had a high turnover of staff because we've been so poor on the pitch for such a long time (in Premier League terms). Institutional memory, in a Villa context, is Sid Cowans if you're being positive, Gabby if you're being neutral, and Jack Woodward if you're being (slightly) facetious. 

Edited by HanoiVillan
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