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Gareth Barry 400 appearances (and 401: Billy George.)


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Gareth Barry joins a very select group of Villans when he plays his 400th game for Aston Villa against Litex Lovech today and on Sunday he’ll move into 10th on the all time list of most Villa appearances. That’s a fantastic achievement for a player just 27 years old, and one well worth celebrating.

Erm…. Okay…. this should be a real celebration of a big milestone in a young mans career, but I’ve a feeling it’s not going to be quite so simple.

It’s been half a year now since Alex Black and his corpulent Iberian amigo dropped all this ink into Gareth’s water and six months in a leaky boat have left us more than a little unsure as to whether our most feted player even wants to be here anymore.

Whilst Barry’s summer transfer didn’t actually come to fruition, we definitely lost something to Liverpool’s speculation. Not necessarily in performance, Gareth is still giving us performances we can admire, but something between fans and player.

It remains to be seen whether that transfer will come to fruition; Mr Black has declared that nothing will happen now until the end of the season, but there’s an underlying feeling that we may well be enjoying Gareth’s performances on borrowed time.

Writing this after the Spurs game, and a very impressive 399th performance from Gareth, I’m still hopeful he can be persuaded that Villa Park is the right place to continue his career. A full season of the sort of football we look to be capable of producing could yet be enough of a fillip to his ambitions to make him want to stay.

I’m not an unbiased observer, but I’d ask you a question; Is there another team in this league that looks like they are enjoying it as much as us?

Watch us warm up, watch us play, all I see are happy relaxed footballers without fear or worry. I can’t say the same about Liverpool or Chelsea, and while we continue to improve, I’m not sure a couple of Wednesday night games on ITV would persuade me that there’s anywhere better to be playing your football right now than with Aston Villa.

For our part, I’m pleased with the reaction of Villa fans. We let him know we weren’t happy at Bescot in the summer and then got right behind him and have stayed there since. Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part, but perhaps that reaction has come partly by way of recognition of his place in our rich history.

Pick any Villa stat list you want and Gareth will be right there on it, 10th in all time appearances, 5th in European appearances, 6th in our all time list of goal scorers from the penalty spot, 23 England caps put him 2nd (I think) amongst Villa players to represent the country, he’s 11th in our list of European goal scorers, and remarkably for a player who’s played half his career as a defender, 48th on the list of all time Villa goal scorers.

At 27, he could go a long way higher in all those categories, and in my opinion he stands on the edge of being right up there with the greatest of history’s Villans. It’ll be a pity if he throws that away, and a pity if it takes us a decade for us to start to recognise him for it just because he moves clubs.

I don’t know. I genuinely have no real idea as to Gareth’ s future beyond this season, who’s to say what he’s thinking at the moment. I honestly didn’t think he’d be here long enough for me to be writing this and I’m not sure how much further up the all time list Gareth can go. That’s now up to him. It’s his values, not ours, which will now decide how, he’s remembered.

For my part, I hope he stays. I think he belongs.

Strangely there are echoes of this summers upheavals in the career of the great Villan whose record Gareth will match in Sunday, although it would appear that in days gone by, we were the bad guys.

Billy George

Billy George’s move to Villa Park put this summer’s shenanigans over Gareth Barry completely in the shade.

No doubt about it, we poached the player, tapped him up, bent his ear and forced his employers into an impossible position. Not for us though an exercise in just picking on another club; no, we poached Billy George from the British Army!

Billy was born in 1874 in Shrewsbury and had already played for Woolwich Ramblers before joining up. As a soldier stationed in Trowbridge he was invited to Villa Park without the Army’s knowledge for a trial, then offered a deal as a full time professional and persuaded to leave the forces by George Ramsay and Fred Rinder.

Villa were found to be in breach of the FA’s rules and fined the mammoth sum of £50. Billy George, George Ramsay and Fred Rinder were all banned from any footballing activity for a month.

He eventually made his debut in October of 1897 in a 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion, and went on to be Villa’s starting goalkeeper for a decade.

Billy was a big lad, standing six feet two and weighing in at a hefty twenty one and a half stones (seven stone heavier than Brad Friedel!) and at a time when a goalkeeper needed to be able to withstand a forwards attempt to push him into the net with the ball he’d have presented a fearsome barrier between the posts, not least because of the kind of moustache that the Australian test team of the nineties would have been proud of.

There was more to his game than a passable impression of David Boon however and he was noted for his excellent reflexes, agility, courage and excellent kicking. He had what I guess we’d now describe as excellent distribution.

He also had three Championship winners’ medals by the end of his Villa careers, winning his first in 1898-89 at just 24 and his last a full eleven years later as a wise old 35 year old. He also added a memorable FA Cup winner’s medal, playing in our 2-0 victory over Newcastle in 1905 and making a number of excellent saves in front of a crowd of over 100,000. He kept us in front until Harry Hampton’s late winner.

He represented England four times, including the tragic game against Scotland at Ibrox where a stand collapsed behind him causing the death of 25 people. He went on to play for England in the replay at Villa Park, with all proceeds going to the families of those killed.

He played in his last Villa game in 1911, before taking a step down into a coaching position at small heath.

He recovered to go on to work at Rover following the end of his footballing career (an option I’m pretty sure Gareth isn’t considering) and stayed until his retirement.

He died in 1933.

Come Sunday night, there will only be nine players between Gareth Barry and the summit of Villa’s appearance table and I’d hope he takes time to look at them. His 400 appearances are an incredible achievement and one that guarantees him at least a place in the clubs history, at least a footnote.

He can make it so much more.

Congratulations Gareth.

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Great that he is going to get to the milestone. Just wish we never had this nonsence from him over the summer. Makes you think now that if he did have a testimonial, how many fans would even bother turning up now.

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