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Villan in Exile


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by Santa_Rosa

A brief ramble, attempting to describe my long distance relationship with Aston Villa FC

When I left Bewdley in 1994 Aston Villa, while still a significant part of my life, was little more than a hobby; a distraction that began when I was 6 and the silvery badge with the striking colours and exotic name glinted up at me beside the less-than-exotic features of Jimmy Rimmer in my Football 81 Panini sticker album, and which waxed and waned throughout the 80’s and early 90’s.

I was brought up in a rugby-obsessed family and was probably out kicking an oval ball around the back garden when Peter Withe shinned in a rounder version at a back post in Rotterdam. It was a Gareth Edwards pass, not a Tony Morley one I dreamed of getting on the end of, and in front of the Taff End, not the Holte. Living in the West Midlands, news of the European Cup win must have permeated my 6 year old consciousness, but to my intense annoyance, I have no recollection of that famous victory.

I remember going to Villa Park on a school trip, sitting on a wooden bench and watching Withe rise powerfully and head in an effort more typical than his most famous moment, against an opposition which may or may not have been Coventry.

I remember the rosette, the sweat bands and the claret and blue, leather-sheathed comb that I bought that day that must still be in a drawer somewhere.

I remember meeting Alan Evans and not understanding a word he said to me.

I remember being disappointed, but not gutted, at being relegated and pleased, but not elated, when we came back up the next year. Around that time my Appetite For Destruction was more significant than my appetite for football.

But then I got use of a season ticket. And I remember the buzz of walking to the ground; the smell of fried onions and the cries of fanzine and programme peddlers; my heart skipping a beat every time Tony Daley got the ball and, more often than not, how it sank again as he failed to find a finish, or Alan McInally; how, along with Sid, I could see Platty making that late run into the box even if the opposition defenders couldn’t; how I knew, I just knew, that they wouldn’t get past McGrath; and that we would surely beat Oldham.

But we didn’t. This time I was gutted. But only temporarily, as then came exams (lots), driving lessons (even more), girls (one or two), cider down by the river in the summer, and Nirvana, in every sense of the word. These factors, coupled with not having Sky TV at home, meant the next couple of years, when the Premiership really took off, largely passed me by.

As I unpacked the contents of bags and boxes into my Sunderland Uni Halls of Residence room, I’m not sure there was a single item that marked me out as a Villan. Not even a scarf which, given the climate in my new home, was not exactly ‘Prepared’.

Whether the fact that Sunderland is an obsessive a football town as can be found in this country, or that my new found mates were all dyed-in-wool fans of the Mackems, Liverpool, West Ham, Barnsley, and even the odd YimYam had an effect on me I don’t know. But within days I was spending a chunk of my meagre grant on that horrendous Muller shirt.

It didn’t feel horrendous to me. I didn’t have a strong accent, wasn’t particularly confident, was a bit of a music geek and generally kept myself to myself in the first few weeks; but, without over-dramatising things, I now had a sense of identity, not to mention access to Sky Sports.

The Inter Milan match stoked the fires further as did the games of footy in a nearby park, where everyone, naturally, wore their colours and carried the pride of their teams.

Perhaps the defining moment though, came when we drew Barnsley in the FA Cup 3rd Round. Our resident Tyke (Barnsley as he was imaginatively dubbed) banged on my door in the wee small hours and proclaimed ‘I see tha’s drawn Barnsley in’t cup. Good side like, Barnsley. Tha’s got no chance!” After the Christmas holiday and our 2-0 win away at Oakwell I walked past the open door of ‘Barnsley’s’ room, resplendent in claret (in the loosest sense of the term) and blue, and gave him a smug grin and a knowing nod.

Since then we’ve been the best of friends, and I’ve been a full-time, exiled Villan. I get to a few games a year, but not as many as I should for various reasons. But that’s another subject for another day

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