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The Sleeping Giant


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by John_Lerwill

I was brought up in the 1940s and 1950s to believe that the Villa was still a giant in the world of football and I have heard over and over again in the past 50 years how Villa is a ‘sleeping giant’. The club has a massive catchment area, yet no-one has tried, in all earnest, to capitalise on it.

I’ve been delving deep into the Villa history since before 1998, which is when I set up my Villa history website. I had read Peter Morris’s original history when it was published in 1960 – in the time of names such as Gerry Hitchens, Peter McParland, Nigel Sims and others at or near their peak. It was a time when we thought the Future is Bright; we thought that perhaps the old days were on the point of returning. But it turned out not to be – leastwise, the bright future got delayed until Ron Saunders’ arrival after sinking three divisions in the league.

Even so there had been proud moments, including the time when Villa (then a Third Division side) gloriously put aside Man U in the League Cup semi and perhaps should have beaten Spurs in the final.

As time went on after 1998 I exponentially increased my knowledge of the Villa history and it wasn’t long before I was reminded about statements such as these:

“Villa have been a great club, are still a great club, and always will be a great club.” - Fred Rinder, 1936.

“Aston Villa was built on class and the slogan that nothing but the best is good enough for Villa.” - Eric Houghton, 1969

At the time of Houghton’s statement, Doug Ellis had just arrived and it was beginning to look as though a new foundation had been created that might last at least 100 years. The club’s pride had been restored. And, by and large, the club’s pride did stay ‘up’ until 2006, despite Doug’s foibles and a couple of short periods of football poverty. Indeed, Villa are still one of only 5 British clubs to have won the European Cup (OK, I know not in Ellis’s time).

In 2011 (and despite the Lerner period to 2010), I look at the current situation and really wonder whether that long troubled period that we thought had ended in 1968 has yet ended. Worryingly, I ask where now is the pride in the club that caused Rinder and Houghton to state what they did?

The difference now is that the board and the senior management at the club have not had years of grounding in the atmosphere and traditions of the club. Many of us supporters have been going down to Villa Park for 40 years or more – in my case 60 years. We have experienced many downs as well as ups, but our chests have always stuck out with the thought that Villa has been the Pride of the Midlands – not just the West Midlands.

So, I have to ask, by what right do the board have to ignore the concerns of the fans about the appointment of McLeish? Though I do not agree with the argument against him regarding his connection with our Small Heath neighbours, do Villa fans deserve the kind of football now being purveyed?

Yes, the owner of the club is the owner, but he depends on support from the fans. Why alienate them?

There was a time when the football world knew only of Aston Villa Football Club. I have been accused of living in the past, but I am well aware that Aston Villa can grow - yet again - into the magnificence the club once had. It is said that to accumulate you have to speculate. Yes, times are hard, but not to spend wisely could see the club deteriorating even further.

Many will say it cannot be done without huge amounts of money. Though some money is needed, I refute that general assertion. In my opinion if the club were to be managed by today’s equivalent of the brilliant and perceptive managers that were in place at the beginning of the 20th century then Villa could be back in a place of strength yet again.

There is no other club in the entire Midlands that is as well placed to provide a real challenge to the North and to the South. However, if I am proved to be wrong in Villa’s ability to be among the top guns, the very least we should ask for is a quality of football at Villa Park that will draw people into the ground. And that, in fact, is how the fame of the Villa started: Aston Villa set the example in the Midlands.

We seem to have come full circle.

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Well, Gareth, it didn't appear that way in 1982. At that time Villa were behind only Liverpool in the number of trophies won - but what has happened since?

Doug's exit was supposed to herald the beginning of a new age - perhaps even the possibility of Villa starting to win one or two trophies again ... but that has backfired miserably.

Even under MON so little emphasis was put on gaining success in the domestic cup competitions. It appears that instead Villa tried the big push for the CL as the sole target.

So Plan 'A' backfired and now fans have to put with the dross on show in the peddled idea that the club is going through transition.

Where is the pride, I ask?!!

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Yes, the future looked dazzlingly bright in 1960, the year after we were relegated. It's encouraging how quickly things can look up so soon after the depths of despondency.

Of course, but in 1959 (year of relegation) Villa did not look as though they would be in division 2 for long.

But despite how things looked in 1960, by 1967 the fans had already endured three years of unease - and when that relegation took place it took 8 years to recover.

The feeling I get today is not much different from those years of unease we felt between 1964 and 1967 and also the years between 1984 and 1987.

I don't think we should be even thinking about relegation but the potential of it appears to be forced upon us. We might get away with it as (currently) there appear to be worse teams than Villa, but we should not be in that situation of contemplating the worst scenario.

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Yes, the future looked dazzlingly bright in 1960, the year after we were relegated. It's encouraging how quickly things can look up so soon after the depths of despondency.

Of course, but in 1959 (year of relegation) Villa did not look as though they would be in division 2 for long.

I did not enjoy the football during the long months after Joe Mercer was appointed, prior to relegation, but I was very pleased the following season that he had not been sacked after 14 matches. Today's rampant short-termism, especially amongst people here, is beyond a joke.

I agree entirely that we should not be even thinking about relegation.

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Yes, the future looked dazzlingly bright in 1960, the year after we were relegated. It's encouraging how quickly things can look up so soon after the depths of despondency.

Of course, but in 1959 (year of relegation) Villa did not look as though they would be in division 2 for long.

I did not enjoy the football during the long months after Joe Mercer was appointed, prior to relegation, but I was very pleased the following season that he had not been sacked after 14 matches. Today's rampant short-termism, especially amongst people here, is beyond a joke.

I partly agree about Mercer’s first half-season but I think your view is possibly clouded by those Villa performances after they went out of the Cup semi-final. Don’t forget in that Cup run there were some fine away wins at Everton and Chelsea as well as against Chelsea and some other teams in the League. Mercer showed signs of turning things around, but, as I said, the exit from the Cup seemed to have a bad affect.

But your point is about the short-terminism that you are suggesting exists in this posting (and , indeed, other threads on VT).

The situation between now and 1958-59 is utterly different. Then Villa were hampered by a board that were finding it hard to put two pennies together and had been groping with outdated policies for years. Whatever you say, Villa went down fighting at the end of the season and were unlucky at the Hawthorns.

Where is the fight with the current team?

Under RL, a lot has been spent on players (but probably injudiciously), and RL has given the fans hope with his “Bright Future” slogan and three seasons in the top-6.

In my view – and I obviously go back as far as you – there was no need for RL/PF to bring in AM, whose managerial record in the Prem has been pretty dire. The football style being watched now is little different than was on display at St. Andrews 12 months ago. It is not helpful for Villa’s future for the attendances to be dropping – something is needed to attract fans back.

Under Houllier there was a performance against Man U last season that gave every reason for hope. But now, some of those same youngsters seem to have lost their way. Gabby is a positive this season but hardly anything else is.

It is clear to my mind that virtually any other available manager could have done better with the same squad.

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I did not enjoy the football during the long months after Joe Mercer was appointed, prior to relegation ...

Well Mr. fripono, you could not have known anything through personal experience about 1959 - you've been found out ...

I'm 37 so go back about 30 years as a fan.

Now what do you have to say? :winkold:

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ahah. funny what internet anonymity can do.

on the article, very good read and pretty much on the mark i would say. it's a difficult time for the club now, and one we have to get through as fast as possible. the premier league is a very different place to what it was prior to the man city money. look at the table now and their is a two tier league. with the right investment, and it doesn't have to be tons of money, in playing staff in the middle of the park we would be in the bottom end of that top tier. looking forward, we have to continue to invest in youth, we have produced some good players but only gabby has really made a name for himself here so far. i think continued investment in youth will see another 3 or 4 first team regulars in the next 5 or 6 years. a situation where we have brought up half our first team through the academy and spent wisely to compliment that talent is the ideal way to stay in that top tier and push for some silverware.

that would appear to be the only way we are going to "wake up" the fanbase and get bigger regular crowds and more money to build from there. the question remains though whether the current board and the current manager are the people to take us there. RL has invested heavily in bodymoor heath, and that kind of thinking will surely see the necessary funds put into youth. AM however is going to have to do something spectacular with this squad to be anything other than a dead man walking.

so even short term (next 1 or seasons) you'd think we'll have yet another new manager. hopefully RL will have better advice on who that should be!

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Yes, I broadly agree, romavillan. Yes, RL certainly has some difficult issues on his plate and really you wonder why he's trying to run two big sports clubs with his diminished funds. Perhaps he is trying to prepare AVFC for sale as some suspect.

But, in the meantime, some old fashioned pride and better awreness of the club's hstory and traditions wouldn't go amiss.

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i think having a core of the team coming through the academy will help with the pride and knowledge of the club. in the shorter term though this has to be done by AM, at the very least he's someone who has won things under SAF so *should* know something about getting players to put in the graft in order to earn a shirt. today's footballers are a funny bunch though!

as for RL only time will tell i suppose, next summer will be a big indication of his intentions.

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Ah, but experience of winning things and getting that experience over to other players are two different issues of course - especially to that "funny bunch" you mention! :-)

The worry is will AM's management (if it continues) see an on-going depletion of attendances?! I suspect people are being far more careful about how they spend their money and don't want to spend £40 to get bored.

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it's a big worry, i've been out of the country for years. here in italy only the biggest clubs get full stadia playing in the league or champions league against the other big clubs. even big clubs playing in the semis of the cup play in front of less than 20k crowds. so far the premier league seems immune to this, but it can't go on for ever if the prices keep rising.

if we offer a poor spectacle we're going to suffer in terms of crowd numbers unless we get success (george graham's arsenal had success so highbury was generally pretty full even with the dire stuff he had them playing). as i see it success is unlikely as well. i'm all for giving him some time, but unless he does something really spectacular in the second half of the season then this summer is a big one for RL.

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We haven't won a trophy for 16 years. The only people that think we're a giant of a club any more are our own fans. Meanwhile, my son and his friends all want to watch Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool and not Aston Villa. It's not Randy's fault. We just missed the boat by about a decade. Hopefully, the European super league will come along in a few years, taking the Sky 6 with it, and we can compete for something other than being the best of the rest again.

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Yes, I broadly agree, romavillan. Yes, RL certainly has some difficult issues on his plate and really you wonder why he's trying to run two big sports clubs with his diminished funds. Perhaps he is trying to prepare AVFC for sale as some suspect.

But, in the meantime, some old fashioned pride and better awreness of the club's hstory and traditions wouldn't go amiss.

For a foreign owner who readily claimed no prior knowledge of Aston Villa, or it's history, I think Lerner has actually done an admirable job in honoring the tradition and history of the club, and respecting the thoughts and ideas from supporters- from the Holte Hotel renovation, to consulting with supporters over the club crest redesign, to bringing back Ron Saunders to VP, etc. It's fairly clear that he's put in an honest effort to listen and learn about the history and traditions of the club. I don't see how one can interpret things differently. That said, he's stumbled badly the last couple of years.

But his many mistakes have nothing to do with a lack of honoring or understanding the history of the club; it's a lack of nous, footballing nous, and how it's applicable to the business side of running the club.

At this juncture, I'm really far less concerned about the depth of Lerner's knowledge of history than I am with his knowledge of how to operate a successful football club. We were just a few points off a Champion's League birth a few seasons ago and who knows where we'd be now? Lerner gave it an honest go from the start, and made every effort to show due respect for the club, it's traditions and it's supporters. Wasn't that what people were all happy about when he took over?

I'm just not really convinced that you can blame our current situation on his history deficiency.

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I didn't! :?

The quote of mine you've taken is in response to specific points another poster was making. To put matters into context you'd need to refer to my OP for what I was really saying.

But my comments in that quote of mine are not intended to refer to the superficial matters of history (mosaics etc) but what can be learnt from history - about the way in which the club managers of 100 years ago tackled their job and placed the Villa on such a high pedastal. Plus the expectations of fans who, by and large, have been used to teams that have pride when they've played.

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I'm just not sure how delving back into the archives from decades ago can inform someone to such a degree that it imbues them with some sort of magic touch on which to rely upon in matters current.

I think the cure is as simple as bringing in a football man to act as DoF. It's pretty clear from my perspective that Paul Faulkner seems more of a liability than a benefit. What football nous Randy lacks should ideally be offset by someone who has that football nous, and Faulkner does not.

History has little to do with it, in my opinion.

Ship out Faulkner, and bring in someone of the Steve Stride mould, problem sorted.

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I didn't suggest digging into archives and that is far from my suggestion!! The story is largely contained in The Villa Chronicles and RL has a copy of it! If those volumes are read intelligently it would not take long to see what I mean.

I largely agree with the rest of your comments in the 2nd and 4th paras.

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I think the cure is as simple as bringing in a football man to act as DoF.

Any examples of this actually working in a PL setting? Many have tried it, some have ongoing experiments but none can claim to have succeeded yet

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