In the 30 years he’s followed the mighty Villa, Chicagoan Bob Kemp has never had the good fortune to see his favorite team play in person—and yet he’s been to Villa Park! Read on for a great portrait of a great guy who, like his favorite player, is Villa through and through.
The Starting Eleven
Where were you born, where do you live now, and what do you do for a living?
I was born in Chicago, circa 1966, and have always lived here. I currently live in the south suburbs, in Oak Forest, with another Villan, Diane Simpson. I am a director of client relations for a revenue recovery firm in Chicago. My clients include hospitals across the country and Illinois county governments.
How and when did you choose Villa?
Villa chose me. In 1985, I was asked to join a U18 team from Chicago that was traveling to Denmark for the Dana Cup and would spend two weeks in England. The first week in England, we trained in Exeter, and the second week, we played in a tournament in Birmingham. One of our visits in Birmingham was to Villa Park. It was an amazing moment. Villa took hold of me that instant and hasn’t let go! I was also fortunate to play against the Villa Junior team—we lost 1-0, but just to play against them was incredible.
What was your happiest moment as a Villa supporter?
I have quite a few, actually. Playing against their junior team was amazing. These other memories may sound strange, but you have to remember, I’ve been a supporter for close to 30 years, so I’ve spent a lot of time explaining to people who Aston Villa are, what is that shirt I am wearing, etc. And I’ve never seen them play at Villa Park. So, some of my happiest moments are being able to share the game, finally, with other fans and now, friends.
So, the first game I got to watch with Villans was in Chicago, in 2007 or 2008, watching with Scott Barsky, his wife, and a few others. Going to St. Louis last weekend for a wedding and watching the West Ham game with Mark and Conrad was fun. And, then there was the absolutely mind-blowing North American get-together in Chicago. I will never forget that— thank you Simon Leach! And the 5-1 thumping of the Birmingham City bastards in 2008 wasn’t a bad moment, was it? And the ultimate best moment will be my first game at Villa Park . . . .
What was your most painful moment?
Two recent events come to mind. One, at the Globe with Scott Barsky and his father-in-law, the three of us watching Villa get pounded by Chelsea last year. And who else was there to gloat but my son Noah, a Chelsea fan. The second most painful moment was not going to see the Villa at Toyota Park. I had a wedding to go to. So very disappointing!!!!!
Which team would you most like to see Villa beat this year?
Absolutely Chelsea, for the pounding last year and because my son is a fan and I want to gloat a little this year like he did last year.
Who is your favorite player on the current squad?
That’s a tough question. Love Guzan for the Chicago connection, not to mention he should be the U.S. number-one. Really enjoy Fabian Delph and it’s a bit of an, “I told you so” with him. Knew he was a talent, he just needs to stay healthy. Favorite? How can you not love someone who has been there from the start and wants to end with the Villa: Gabby!
Who is your favorite player of all time?
Olof Mellberg. Yes, I am Swedish so that probably helps, but I just loved the way he played. He always played hard, was great defensively, always well-positioned and great in the air. Also, I had great respect for him after the 2008 away game to West Ham (his last game with the Claret and Blue) where he gave all visiting Villa fans a shirt reading, “Thanks 4 your support.”
What are your favorite sources for Villa news?
All over now, Facebook, Twitter, TV, word of mouth. So different from 10, 20 years ago . . . .
Rate yourself as a fan. What are your best and worst qualities?
Worst, never been to Villa Park. Best, bleeding Claret and Blue for close to 30 years.
Where do you usually watch games?
The Globe. If I’m not able to go there, then on my phone!
What are you usually drinking?
Channeling Ted Lasso: Aston Villa are most like which storied American sports franchise?
The Cubs. Both teams have an unbelievable, overwhelming, ultra-loyal fan base that do not go away during hard times. Both sets of fans stay loyal for a lifetime. And there are good years, but the big win is still coming!!!!!! (Although for the Cubs it’s been much longer since the last championship….)