Some Villans laugh and chat while the team is playing, high-fiving when we score a goal, or shrugging it off when a goal is scored against us. Mark Ward is not one of those supporters. He watches games with a quiet intensity, and, when he speaks, it is usually to make a frank tactical observation. When games grow tense, he has been known to leave his seat and step off from the group, even to pace with nervous energy. But when Mark speaks, I listen. He is, after all, a professional coach, and knows whereof he speaks. (I suspect he’s one of those coaches who prowls the sidelines, living out every play on the field.) And maybe Paul Lambert ought to lend him an ear as well!
The Starting Eleven
Where were you born, where do you live now, and what do you do for a living?
I was born in Yardley, Birmingham, England, and I currently live in the wonderfully cold Chicago—or, as it’s becoming more commonly known, Chiberia. I coach “soccer” professionally for Chicago City Soccer Club & ODP (Olympic Development Program).
How and when did you choose Villa?
The day I was born, I imagine, although only my Dad is a fellow Villan in my family. My immediate family are all Bluenoses and my relatives are Baggies—I call them “family” only reluctantly.
What was your happiest moment as a Villa supporter?
Although we don’t support the most successful Aston Villa side in recent times, I’ve had many happy memories supporting Villa, from beating United and Leeds in the Coca-Cola Cup to beating Inter Milan on penalties in the UEFA Cup, and more. With that being said, my happiest memory has to be beating Birmingham city 5-1 at home in 2008—and we all know there is no explanation needed as to why.
What was your most painful moment?
The moment the ball slipped under Peter Enckleman’s foot is probably the most painful moment to date as a Villa fan. The goal should never have stood.
Which team would you most like to see Villa beat (or beat again) this year?
It already happened: beating the Baggies a few weeks ago. We have the bragging rights for the West Midlands for another year!
Who is your favorite player on the current squad?
Tough question! I could honestly pick four or five players, all with different qualities. But Vlaar, Guzan, Delph, and Benteke all narrowly miss out to our very own Villa fan, GABBY AGBONLAHOR!! Not only has he shown great loyalty to the club that nurtured him, right now he’s our most influential player—we look a much better side when Gabby is playing than when he’s out with all these annoying little injuries he keeps picking up. His pace and power have always been a threat but now I feel he’s a more astute finisher and not as raw in front of goal as he used to be.
Who is your favorite player of all time?
Again a tough one. Paul McGrath is one of my all-time favorite players, but I don’t know if I saw him play enough for him to get my vote. I’d have to say Dwight Yorke. He was a player for my generation and, although he left to go and play for United many many years ago, I don’t think we’ve had a player as good as him since. I’ll never forget that John Gregory interview. After being asked about his reaction when Yorke said he was going to United, Gregory something along the lines of, “I wanted to get a gun and shoot him.” Classic Gregory.
What are your favorite sources for Villa news?
Rate yourself as a fan. What are your best and worst qualities?
My blood runs claret and blue. I’m an emotional fan, although I’ve learned to calm down a little bit while watching the game. I’ve had the odd emotional breakdown after some Villa losses, notably after the first Villa/Blues encounter—when I got home, I ripped all my Aston Villa wallpaper off the wall and didn’t leave my room for hours. If you truly love something it makes you do crazy things.
My good qualities are that I’ll always support Villa through thick and thin, no matter what league we are in. That’s what a true fan is, I think. I try not to be fickle and judge the team on a week-to-week basis. Soccer is always an evolution: Liverpool were the ’80s, United the ’90s and now any one of three or four teams can win the league. Maybe Villa will return to the summit at some point, and if not, I’ll still be wearing my claret and blue hoping for 3 points.
Where do you usually watch games?
I try to watch as many games as I can at The Globe with the fellow Chicago Villans. If I don’t have time, I watch at home, live or recorded.
If I have a soccer game to coach, I’m just drinking coffee. If not, Blue Moon.
Who, in your opinion, is the worst player ever to wear the claret and blue of Villa?
There are many players down the years that could take this accolade. But the worst player down Villa Park I’ve witnessed has to be Bosko Balaban. Did he ever score???? [No. —Ed.]