I’ve featured a lot of younger and newer supporters on this blog, and, much as I love hearing their stories, it’s high time an “old head” seized the spotlight. Phil Wallis is fascinated by the phenomenon of non-Brummies choosing Villa—maybe it’s because he never had much of a choice. A Birmingham-born, Canadian emigre, he’s at least a fourth-generation Villan. And he knows what it’s like to put the ball in the back of the net, even if the team he loves can’t always do the same!
The Starting Eleven
Where were you born, where do you live now, and what do you do for a living?
I was born in Birmingham and emigrated to Canada when I was about 10, where I grew up on the outskirts of Montreal. I played for Hartwick College in upstate New York—when they were good! We were NCAA Division 1 champions in 1977. I moved to Ontario over 20 years ago, where I now manage the support team for a small software company.
How and when did you choose Villa?
The same old story: I didn’t really have much choice. The whole family on my Dad’s side are Villa fans going back to my great-grandfather (at least). I am always fascinated by the stories of how non-Brummies became Villa fans. Especially when it would be so easy to latch on to the so-called glamour teams. What a wise and sensible lot!
What was your happiest moment as a Villa supporter?
I suppose I should say it was the European Cup Final win but my happiest moment was the build-up to the FA Cup Final in 2000. My dad and brother came with me from Canada, and we had a great Friday-night pub crawl with my cousin Andrew and some of his friends. The pre-match atmosphere for the last game played at the old Wembley Stadium was fantastic, especially singing “Abide With Me.”
What was your most painful moment?
The actual FA Cup Final match was terrible. I still can’t understand how Villa could have turned in such an insipid performance on such an occasion. (Haven’t heard THAT very often, have we?)
Which team would you most like to see Villa beat (or beat again) this year?
Given our current form—the next one! If forced to choose, I would say the red team from the rainiest city in England. (I try as much as possible not to mention their name.)
Who is your favorite player on the current squad?
By process of elimination, I would have to say Brad Guzan. For consistency, if nothing else!
Who is your favorite player of all time?
Andy Gray. This is odd because I never saw him play for Villa! You have to understand that following the Villa from North America in the 1970s was not easy. There was absolutely no TV coverage, so I followed Villa on a steady supply of week-old copies of the Sports Argus (sent by my grandmother) and copies of SHOOT that were available at W.H. Smiths in Canada. He was a fearless centre-forward who challenged every ball and seemed to score the “garbage” goals as well as some spectacular ones. What price for an Andy Gray today?
What are your favorite sources for Villa news?
The official site, Birmingham Mail, private comments from my cousin Andrew who goes to every game, home and away, but especially the coverage provided by the network of Villa fans in Facebook.
Rate yourself as a fan. What are your best and worst qualities?
Best quality? Like many others, I cannot stop being a Villa fan, no matter how frustrating the performances are. As the saying goes: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” (That’s Thomas Paine—bet you didn’t know that this American founding father was actually writing about the Villa!) Which make the good times that much better. We should feel sorry for the fans of teams like Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona. They expect to win every game and are disappointed when their team doesn’t score a boatload. They will never know the simple joy of a 1-0 victory or the absolute ecstasy of a 3-1 away win at Arsenal or Liverpool!
Worst quality? Being easily discouraged.
Where do you usually watch games?
After a few years trying out different “soccer” pubs in Toronto, the Toronto branch have found a nice pub (The Oxley) with an upstairs lounge that we have to ourselves when the Villa are on TV. It’s in a very upscale part of town but the beer prices are in line with everyone else and they have a pretty good selection. It’s a 90 minute one-way journey for me, so I can’t always make it but there are couple of original Canadian Villans (founded 1995) that I sometimes watch the games with.
What are you usually drinking?
There are so many small, craft-beer breweries around these days, that I don’t really have a “usual.” I am always on the lookout for cask-conditioned real ales in the local pubs and fortunately, the Wellington Brewery is five minutes away !
Recast the characters in a classic movie with players from Villa’s current squad.
I struggled with this one, but The Dirty Dozen keeps coming to mind (just ahead of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). The Dirty Dozen is a war movie about a bunch of anonymous soldiers assigned to a mission doomed to failure.
Oh, wait a minute. They at least had a plan.