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Thoughts of a foreign fan on breaking the top 4


BOF
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Brummies, whether you be local, ex-pat or blow-in; for once this article isn't for you but please, you are more than welcome to read on and hopefully gain insight into; and understand where I and hopefully many others are coming from in; our support of a team we have no legitimate reason to support.

As a foreign (Irish) Villa fan with no ties, be they family, friend or other, to the city of Birmingham, I am often asked 'Why Villa'? After all, London is easier to get to and I have family in Leeds. I have my answers to the 'why Villa?' question. Answers that have been finely honed over years of repetitive recital to interested listeners.

Now my individual reasons are perhaps subtly different to those of other foreign fans who have a similar lack of a link to England's number 2 city yet still chose Villa. But regardless of that, or maybe partly because of it, and this is where I suspect I am similar to my fellow foreign fan, I was always very proud of the fact that in a country like Ireland where football support is predominantly split between 4 or 5 particular English clubs, I supported someone else; someone different. Someone VERY different.

This article has been triggered by our recent threat to crack the big 4. It does not go into WHY I support Villa, but rather what it meant and how it felt, first as a child and now as an adult to support someone outside the establishment. It also talks about what it would mean to me if Villa were somehow to stop being that team who were a bit different and were to actually become part of the establishment.

Back then, 22 years ago now, there was definitely a (possibly misplaced) sense of pride that I didn't follow the crowd; that I didn't just tag along and go with the Liverpool who were top of the league, or the Man Utd who (at the time) were the sleeping giant, or the Leeds who a lot of the fathers supported from a generation past (Leeds to this day remain a very heavily supported team in Ireland among the '70s generation). I supported a team who were different; as I say - very different. So different in fact that at the time I started supporting them, I did not know a single other person who supported them and it was a while before I met one. And in a strange way I thoroughly enjoyed this fact.

Now before I go further, there are a few things you must understand here. Firstly is that being in Ireland, probably more than any other country that I know of; we follow what is essentially a 'foreign' league with more attention, fervour knowledge and passion than perhaps any other country in the world follows a foreign league. I don't know of any country that relates to, or regards as it's own, another country's domestic league more than Ireland does of the Premier League. The Premier League, to the football fan in Ireland IS our league. What that says about our own league is another article altogether. The FAI have recently had to adopt a summer league just to keep our own fans going to watch our own teams. The consequence of this love is that in Ireland if you follow football then you almost automatically have an affiliation to an English football team, that's the rule (I say 'almost' because there are those who exclusively support Celtic, but I digress); and who you decide to follow has a bearing on your day to day life as a school kid similar to England where school and workplace football banter is common place !!

Now what I will say, in our credit, is that because of this love of the English game and because we in Ireland don't have the obvious geographical ties to one team or another (we are ~100 miles apart after all), on the whole we are quite a knowledgeable bunch about the entire league in general. Even at 12 years of age in the late 80's before the internet and when cable TV (BBC, ITV etc) was a luxury, I rarely got a 'who are they?' when Villa were mentioned. Everyone knew or had heard of them, but didn't know why I supported them. Villa were, after all, in the old second division at the time. The other thing to bear in mind was that supporting an English team from the remoteness of Ireland meant that there really was only ONE division that existed. If you weren't supporting a team in the first division then you weren't supporting a real team! And Villa were not in the top division!!

So I've established that I supported an unfancied team, to put it mildly. I revelled in supporting a team that were different; a team that were not commonly supported. What this did mean was that any success we DID get could quite justifiably be celebrated more than if my friends' teams had succeeded. If Liverpool won, big deal. If Arsenal won, big deal. When United started winning, big deal. My friends didn't appreciate it, they expected it, which took away from the inevitability of it all. But when Villa won the league cup in the spring of 1994, I went nuts. I had backed an outsider years earlier and they had won something! My years of famine had been rewarded and they were all the sweeter for it.

Now first off - if Villa crack the big 4 this season I will celebrate like I've never celebrated Villa before, which is saying something. It will, after all, have been 22 years in the waiting and it means participating in the competition every Villa fan wants to see Villa in; the Champions League.

But the point of the article is this - and I know I'm getting well ahead of myself here - but hat if, as we all so fervently wish, Villa manage not only to get into the top 4, but to STAY in the top 4 beyond this season? What if we manage to become proper top 4, or create a genuine top 5? Considering that you're not really part of the top 4 unless you can first break it and then stay in it. Otherwise you are just a flash in the pan or a brief annoyance like Everton were a few years back.

I have, to date, only been accused once of 'oh you only support Villa because they won' the cup in('94). I remember being so insulted by the notion that I could be a glory hunter or so fickle as to change allegiance so easily. It had never even crossed my mind that someone could or would do such a thing. But, if we get to where we look like we're going at the moment then that is going to become a much more regular accusation. Now I don't mind this at all. I'm big enough now to laugh it off. Hell, my catalogue of old jerseys in itself could answer that. But it would be symptomatic of my worry - no that's too strong a word - perhaps my 'concern'.

As someone who, for 22 years now, has thoroughly enjoyed supporting a team who were a bit different, hoping they would succeed, to now all of a sudden be supporting a team who are one of the mainstream, it will personally be a double-edged sword for me. On one hand the over-riding feeling will be that it is fantastic to see 'us' finally get to where we've wanted to be. The culmination of everything. The chase being over. Arriving at our destination. After all, we all want our team to succeed. Or, to do what many believe is to actually get back to where we belong, at the top of England.

But as a foreign fan and this is something that perhaps only a foreign fan can understand, it will also be strange that I will be losing the sense that I am supporting that team who were a bit different. Something which, honestly, attracted me to Aston Villa in the first place. If they'd been one of the mainstream back then, I'd probably have overlooked them....

It will mean that Villa will have (re-)grown up as a football club. They will be dining once again at the elite football table and it will all be because of Randy Lerner, Martin O'Neill and the phenomenal supporting cast that they have assembled in the background.

So, is there anyone else out there who can relate or has similar thoughts on what it means as a foreigner to support Villa? You've been that one jersey in the pub. You've taken the abuse. You've brushed it all off. But you've secretly loved supporting Villa as much for Villa as for the fact that no-one else did! Will it be the same now supporting one of the elite?

Comments?

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Great article BOF.

I too chose to support Villa because it was something different. I can't understand people who choose to support a team just because they "win stuff".

Interestingly enough, I finally decided to follow the Villa about 3 years ago - and a Chelsea-supporting mate warned me off them saying they had a crap chairman & manager. Funnily enough about 2 weeks after I declared myself for the Villa MON was hired and Ellis sold the club to Randy. So I reckon I missed out on being a potential glory hunter by a matter of days.

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I can relate. Being a Villa fan all my life.. or probably since i was 5 more like it... and in australia.. Villa is not very well supported. Most my friends support Liverpool or Arsenal.. and the odd Chelsea and Man Utd fans... Mostly Liverpool ive noticed in australia.. so to support villa especially through the hard times was rough but it makes it all more exciting now coming through all that.

I wont stop supporting them as we start getting more successful.. its just my chance to gloat back now!

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Well, I know exactly what you mean. I live in Sweden and supported Villa since 79. I 've dated that myself because I bought my first Villa kit then ( including "Peter White whristbands!!) So why Villa? I suppose I had the same feeling as you...going against the stream of supporting Pool, United and Leeds. Honest, sometimes...I've been thinking...what the 'ell was I thinking of =)...like going down 87..loosing to the Noses...2-2 94:th (was there, almost puked, what the f**k did Dublin doing!!) ....Uefa cup misery against Helsingborgs I. Why just that you may ask yourself...well, thats my hometown and suddenly every f**ker was a footy specialist...am I bitter?...Oh , noooo...=). I would love success but I know that suddenly there will be a lot of people supporting Villa and I have twisted feelings about that, like BOF. Its "MY" Villa...dont want people to support us who dont give a shait when we loose....Ok...Enough!...UP THE VILLA!..take care people =)

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I am not a foreign fan, but I can understand those feelings. When I started supporting Villa it was the beginning of the 92/93 season and I had just started secondary school. Up until then I preferred to follow particular footballers rather than teams (Gazza was my favourite player along with Roberto Baggio).

Anyway I started secondary school and was being told "oh you have to support a team blah, blah, blah. So I asked everyone who they supported and pretty much everyone said Liverpool. If I am honest I didn't like the fact that all these Brummie kids supported Liverpool over Villa, simply so they could brag about supporting the best team when they wouldn't give a shi'te about them otherwise. So in many ways I started supporting Villa not only because they were my local team but more so because I was disgusted by the glory hunting attitude of most of the people I was surrounded by. Basically I supported my local team to make a moral statement to all the fake 'fans'. At the time I found watching football matches boring (but I loved playing it), and as such didn't have any real reason to support any team. Now I realise the only reason I enjoy watching football is because I support a team and have a vested interest in the results (As such I can only sit thorough Villa and England matches, unless an English team is playing in Europe - as in Europe I support all English teams so long as they aren't playing Villa).

I myself am happy to go along with the crowd if I feel that is right for me, but I always (and still do) find it pathetic if you go along with the crowd to 'fit in' or because of peer pressure, or because it made it easier to make a decision.

As far as I am concerned one should follow the team that fits one's own ideals (however some ideals are better than others). So if you love attractive passing football, playing on the deck with lots of flair and the style of football is what you deem to be the most important thing you look for from a prospective club to support, fine support Arsenal enjoy I can respect that (not that much though - for reasons that will become apparent). If one supports a team because they love the atmosphere of a packed football stadium and so you want to support a team you can visit regularly then support your local team.

However to support a team just because they are winning is foolhardy as no team will keep winning forever (and no team we play the same brand of football forever), what do you do when they stop winning? Support another team? Probably, and for me the whole idea that one can suddenly support a different team is horrendous if you pick a team you stick with them and show your loyalty through thick and thin.

So essentially I dislike glory hunting supporters as I feel it displays a weakness of character and lack of loyalty.

The way I see it I am different, we are all different and I follow Villa for my own reasons. I like the fact that everyone that has supported Villa (up until this season) are GENUINE fans and not fans that will stop supporting Villa if we got relegated (god-forbid), I know we will all support Villa through thick and thin, and that's what I love about supporting a team that aren't one of the glamour clubs.

If we become one of those teams it will make all the years of winning very little and all the stick we have taken for supporting Villa worthwhile (not that supporting Villa in itself is not worthwhile). I will enjoy every minute of it, remembering what I and my fellow proper Villa fans went through to experience the good times, and that will allow us to savour it so much more and truly understand what that success means to the club. Seeing Villa win the Premier League and Champions League is what we ALL dream about, glory hunting fans don't dream about that as its reality, they have NEVER had to do so and as such the value of the memories of seeing their team be successful can never be as sweet.

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Good post Philosopher. I agree with all of it. But it does bring up another point. From the day where we become a mainstream team, every fan will be looked upon suspiciously because there's now the 'glory' reason that wasn't there before. A cynicism that wasn't there before. Which is kind of sad albeit inevitable. It comes with the territory I suppose.

I know I personally treat all Chel$ki fans with a healthy mixture of suspicion, derision and contempt. I split Man U fans into 2 categories - the befores and the afters. Liverpool have actually gone long enough without a league that the fans who remain can be regarded as proper even if the CL bumps up their numbers somewhat.

At present if you're a Villa fan then you're a proper fan. But as soon as we start to win things or challenge regularly for honours, the perception will all change!

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Nice article BOF, although I'm Brummie born and bred, I was at school in South Birmingham during the early 60's and at that time it was very much a north/south divide between Villa and Blues. Getting relegated to the third certainly resulted in my support being tempered in the flames of derision. I had the same feelings towards other things, music, films, TV etc, not liking things everyone else did. Even at my age, I've already had the Glory Hunter jibe. Enjoy it and hope it lasts.

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It's not so much that I chose the Villa because I wanted to swim against the tide.

It's more just that I don't want to be like the idiots who became Steeler, or Cowboy, or Raider fans in the 70s. I can safely say that the fact that they had picked the Yankees as their baseball team is not something that I view as a point in their favor (not that it means that I dislike the posters on here from various places who are Yankee fans... you just get docked a point or two, but you're such fine people otherwise that you can afford the deduction). And, to be honest, I'd probably even be skeptical of a naturalized citizen of Red Sox Nation as they likely haven't suffered the same way that the citizens by birth (at least of a certain age) have.

Given all of that, how could I then turn around and support Man Utd or Liverpool or Arsenal from overseas? So I therefore decided, at least subconsciously, without really doing any research, to support a club that had a history of success but wasn't that successful of late and was unlikely to be relegated any time soon (since relegation would essentially mean having to break things off, given the state of football coverage in the States). That basically meant one of Spurs, Chelsea, Villa, Everton, and Newcastle*, and of those, well, Villa just felt right (largely because of this forum).

And since then, Villa (and VT!) have just continued to feel more right!

Perhaps the fact that the Sox and Patriots have won 5 titles between them this decade (after none in the previous five) makes me more sanguine about Villa doing well. And tbh, it's not like I'm likely to hear rampant accusations of glory-hunting: several of the few times that I've worn a Villa shirt in public and it's been noticed, I've gotten "West Ham sucks! Go Chelsea!".

*: Newcastle's inclusion being due to my not really doing formal research... if I had, I would have concluded that they're lacking on the history of success front!

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Being only 18 i cant really remember us winning anything, I've only heard stories of it and the facts to prove it. But I have the same concerns as everyone else despite little experience of success I am apprehensive what the success will bring in terms of the glory hunting supporters to the club... I have chosen my club as Villa because I was brought up on them and it is the only team I have ever wanted to go see since I was a kid (great upbringing :D) and I support anyone in whatever match that will benefit the Villa. Despite hating Tottenham (can't really explain why) I find myself today hoping they win so we're 8 points clear. Experiencing rough patches under Doug Ellis for me proves that im a true Villa fan- I could easily have switched my attention to Man Utd or Arsenal if I had my head turned, but I didn't and despite frustration since I remember with Villa it is the first real chance to feel that my team is going to succeed and whether that success is ruined by glory hunters or by bitter fans who can't handle our achievements(wishful thinking at the moment) I am not gonna let them take that feeling of pride when they achieve or let it be ruined by fake fans- the feeling of promise when Lerner took over made me more excited than I can remember as a fan (hence the name) and I wont let anyone take or ruin my chance to experience glory after not being able to remember any success other than getting one over the blues in my memory. Our Club is different we have a great club that is succeeding the right way. success to me is breaking the top 4, even for a year I will be very proud of em.

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My experience was very similar to leviramsey's, except that I actually thought that supporting a club with a "history of success but wasn't that successful of late and was unlikely to be relegated anytime soon" would allow me to support Sheffield Wednesday (in 1996) and then Leeds United (in 1999). Silly me. So Villa have been my third choice, and it's completely been a "third time's the charm" situation. But in retrospect, it was also a choice I was looking to make and yet couldn't. Which is a due to a personal quirk.

For me, while I won't bandwagon and choose a team that is currently successful, it's not so much a case of hating glory-hunting. I wouldn't feel like the team's narrative was my own to enjoy. Joining in after the team has achieved success means that I wasn't a part of that achievement, even in the virtual sense that a fan enjoys. But then, I also can't commit to a team in the way that many do, where I will love them unconditionally. I'll love them and care about them if they lose, that's part of the territory. What I won't tolerate is bad management. Which is why I dodged the Villa in 1996, in 1999, and again when Leeds went down in 2003 and I was left stranded. There was no way I would root for a club run the way Doug Ellis ran this one. I jumped on board as soon as Randy and Martin took over, and that was about as ideal a chance as I will ever get, smart management but absolutely no guarantees of success. But if this ownership is succeeded by the equivalent of John Ashley and Dennis Wise, well, at the very least I'll become dormant, and stop watching the games.

When I go to a soccer bar here in the DC area, I am invariably the only Villa fan present. Or so it seems; I haven't the extra money to invest in replica kit or other such frivolities, and I'm not the type to scream out at every goal... maybe there are other Villans there who are also laying low? :) But on those few occasions where my affiliation is recognized, it is met with confusion instead of derision. Most, I think, cannot fathom *not* bandwagoning... or if they won't bandwagon, then they choose to follow Fulham (because of Fulham's frequent investment in US national team players).

It's a strange path. But I'm enjoying it tremendously.

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I've got to say I find this thread absolutely fascinating, the idea of choosing a football team is strange.

I'm not even sure how I ended up a Villa fan, I guess I've always thought of it as something I am, like the colour of my eyes or the hair on my head; of course I've been encouraged and I've found encouragement, but the idea that I'm not a Villa fan or that at some point I wasn't just seems weird.

I wonder if you realised the commitment you were making when you made that first step into fandom and I wonder if I'd have made the same choice if my decision hadn't already been made, but mostly I'm just glad you all chose to be Villans; even if you are all glory hunters!

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I am from Norway, so I know quite well how it is to be a foreign football fan. I started following Aston Villa very early, probably when I was 7 or 8 years old. My older brother was a Manchester United fan, while my best friend was an Arsenal fan, so I had to pick another team than those. I chose Aston Villa after watching a match on tv and the reason was that I really liked the claret and blue shirts.

In Norway English football is huge. The reason is that already in the 70s there was a match on National TV every Saturday. We called it "tippekampen" (the betting match), and it was the highlight of the autumn, winter and spring for the Norwegian football fans. This match had an massive effect on the interest of English football. The Liverpool fan club in Norway has almost 30 000 paying members, while Manchester United has 37000 members. I remember when Brian Little was our manager, I was one of 270 members in the Norwegian Aston Villa fan club. Now the club has 396 melbers (as of last summer). Some funny facts about other clubs: Ipswich Town: 512 members, QPR: 345, Arsenal: 5800.

So in Norway it is all about United vs Liverpool, and this trend has been strengthed as Norwegian players like Solskjaer, Riise etc were playing in those two clubs.

There are quite a few Arsenal and Chelsea supporters, but I think its a case that every fan outside those top 4 clubs are labeled different. So I really dont see myself as very different, as I know quite a few supporters of teams like Nott Forest, Stoke, Luton etc etc. The Norwegian supporter culture has really been build through decades with "tippekamp" ,and then developed through Canal Plus, who send at least 3 matches every saturday on three of their channels.

I really enjoy going to Villa Park once a year, and look forward to every weekend, as we are lucky to get almost every Aston Villa match shown on our tv channels.

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I have family ties to Brum the city and to following the Villa, but i am definitely a foreigner following Villa. It means i can't go to as many games as i'd like to but heading to VP is pretty much like a religious experience for me like a Muslim going to a colder Mecca, on Train you're weary after long trip to/from airport, then you glance out the window and VP shimmies into view and the goosebumps emerge.

I follow my local LoI teams and i go to games in the summer time with my mates, but its just not the same as following Villa, i've seen championships won and lost in front of me following City and Ramblers but its just not that important. But If Villa do the unthinkable and win the league or anything i'd be delirious and my head would explode and i would go drinking. Perhaps its because i only started going to LoI games when i was teenager, but i've been bought up following Villa(no choice in the matter) so thats why i spend my money/time/concentration on them rather then on a LoI team.

I think Villas Irish support is pretty decent,besides Man Utd/Pool/Celtic and perhaps Arse i don't think any other club in the PL is as popular as Villa, hopefully a new generation of fans will emerge over here inspired by this teams potential success and not because MON buys a bunch of useless occasional Irish internationals funded by Irish property barons ala SundIreland.

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Top writing Brian, and I can relate to how you feel - except for me it is now 17 years of Villa support.

When the North East Lions meet up for a drink and to watch a match, I love talking to guys like Paul and Des, hearing about how they and their families supported the Villa back in 1981 and 1982. I get so jealous that I wasn't around then. I'm more jealous, however, that they can tell these stories and I can't. While I worry that I will be considered a gloryhunter when Villa cement their Top 4 status, I am comforted by the fact that I can tell new Villa fans about my night on the terrace in Doncaster when we lost 3-0.

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  • VT Supporter

....To my knowledge there are a fair few Villa Fans in Ireland in fact they had an Irish supporters club as I recall.

My brother like me was a season ticket holder for many years travelling from Dublin to meet me in Birmingham and off to see the beloved.He followed Villa from my Father who landed in Birmingham just after the second world war.

He had such a passion for Villa that was quite strange from someone not from these parts.... but hey as soon as he got in to the New Aston Social where we met for each game he was one of the disciples.

Aston Villa have always been a well supported club..... from outside Birmingham too , but many years of mismanagement by various regimes have tested the patience of some i guess..... but every where you go there is a little twinkle in folk's eyes for AVFC.

I guess there is also some truth in those poignant words of a famous actor - Tom Hanks

I JUST LIKED THE NAME ( its just magical)

PS and so many say that to me

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I enjoyed reading your article, although I have always thought of Villa as a big club. Coming from Australia, seeing these young kids run around with Big 4 clubs jersery's, you have to laugh as they only support them because of their success. i have a couple of guys I work with who are Arsenal fans, and there finding it hard to fathom that they may not be in the champions league next season. But i warned them two years ago that Villa were on th up, and they laughed, their not laughing now.

Since the premier league started the landscape has certainly changed. But when you look at the history of clubs, we are the big 4. Our success has been in cycles and can be ignored by other fans but people seem to forget we finished 2nd twice in the early 90's, and we are only one of 7 clubs who have continually been in the premier league.

We're on an upward cycle again, my only hope is that this regime put in place the paramters for continued success long term.

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Personally I support insert name of team, any sport for my own personal reasons and enjoyment, not to try and prove anything to anybody else. I know a lot of people who devote so much thought and effort trying to look like and convince people that they are legit fans and not glory-seekers. If someone thinks I'm a glory hunter now that Villa are top 4, let them. I don't do this for their approval.

(Of course to the average person from my parts, you'd have to first spend several minutes attempting to explain the sport itself, then describe what the English Premier League and its significance, then go over what the Champions League is and how teams qualify for it, before even beginning to explain who Aston Villa is and where they sit in the whole hierarchy.)

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