An American fan who’s never been to Villa Park, spreading the gospel of the Holte End? That may sound like a contradiction in terms, but, as I’ve learned this season, it’s certainly not an anomaly. In fact, the more American Villans I meet, the more amazed I am that a team from Birmingham can sink its hooks so deeply into us, even though we didn’t grow up watching them play. (And this guy isn’t even a Browns fan, either!) At any rate, let me introduce you to Blake McVey, who grew up as a “soccer-starved fan getting by on scraps,” and is now a claret-and-blue supporter who gorges himself on all the soccer the internet has to offer. (Funny, he doesn’t look morbidly obese . . . . )
The Starting Eleven
Where were you born, where do you live now, and what do you do for a living?
I was born in Garden City, Kansas. I mostly grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma, where I gained a love for soccer and played as a fullback for nine seasons. Now I live in Memphis, Tennessee, where I’ve been for the past 19 years. I am a therapist working with teenagers in a residential facility.
How and when did you choose Villa?
Growing up in the 1980s, I didn’t have many options for following the sport: the Tulsa Roughnecks played in the NASL, but I was never able to go to or even see a game. I would sometimes watch Soccer Made in Germany or USMNT qualifiers. I did pay rapt attention to the World Cup in 1994. There was also the MISL but, hopefully, indoor soccer will never be spoken of again. Basically I was a soccer-starved fan getting by on scraps and memories. Through school and work I’d occasionally be fortunate enough to meet a foreign national with whom I could discuss the game with a high level of ignorance on my part. I eventually resigned myself to not being a fan at all—until the internet came along and changed everything. That luscious WWW has allowed me to become morbidly obese with all the football options out there!
But you asked how I got started with Villa. I’m a sports fan, and I played American football (both pro and college) and other sports to various degrees. (Mostly basketball, NEVER baseball. How anyone can watch baseball and then call soccer boring thoroughly puzzles me.) After the 2006 World Cup, I came across a Bill Simmons article in which he detailed his plan to choose an EPL team, follow them for a year, and evaluate whether or not he wanted to stick with it. He provided his reasoning for choosing Spurs and, along with it, had at least a brief blurb on every team in the Prem that year (included were Bolton, Charlton, and others that have not been in the top flight since).
Like him, I didn’t want to choose the obvious teams, such as Man United. I liked his reasoning: ” . . . can you imagine knowing a foreigner in their mid-30s who was looking for a baseball team and announced, ‘I’m going with the Yankees!’ Wouldn’t you hate that person? I don’t want to be that guy.” I also can’t even specifically say why I chose Villa—Lerner was just about to buy the team, so it wasn’t the American-owner thing, and I don’t even know if Martin O’Neill had been hired yet. I know I love the colors, I love the working-class attitude and the celebrity fans aren’t too shabby (Sabbath members, the ever-touted Tom Hanks). I also like that they are a sort of sleeping giant: they’ve had the ultimate success in my lifetime (’82) and they remain one of seven ever-presents in the Prem, but they are NOT supported by bandwagon jumpers. Whatever other reasons I cannot recall I do know that I am with them forever—I am a loyal fan and Villa will always be my team.
What was your happiest moment as a Villa supporter?
This is difficult to say—there have been many good times. I always love it when we make Liverpool look bad, so last term when Benteke destroyed them I was thrilled. I loved Ashley Young giving us the last-second win against Everton a few years ago right after they thought they had managed a draw just seconds before. I also loved the first game this season against Arsenal. I was in a pub with my middle son (also a Villan!) and as we cheered the mighty Villa on to victory the one Spurs fan and a pack of Liverpool fans cheered us—the Spurs fan for obvious reasons, but the Liverpool fans I think felt that Arsenal was in their way for Champions League football. Both team’s supporters supported us (the old “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” argument) and after the win was secured the Liverpool fans sent two whiskey shots over to our table. We laughed that my middle son (only 14 at the time) was physically of a size that they thought he could legally drink and I gracefully accepted both shots. (I think the alcohol in the whiskey killed any Scouse germs that may have been on the shot glasses).
What was your most painful moment?
That one is also difficult. There have been too many recently. I hated it when Milner left a few years ago. Strangely I hold almost no grudge against him for leaving, probably because of the way he handled the whole process. He just seemed a class act throughout. Also, the way he played up until the transfer and even scored a goal, and a mighty good one at that, just keeps a warm spot in my heart for him.
Also, every time an ex-Villan scores against us I hate it. Especially Downing (a triple traitor—not only did he leave us after we saved him from injury oblivion, but he also stayed for too short of time, and, this is the kicker, he went to LIVERPOOL! I HATE that guy!) and Ashley Young. Young has no class whatsoever. The only thing that makes him better than Suarez in my book is that Suarez plays for Scouse scum. Also, at least Suarez is a very good player and Young has been exposed at Man United. I have toyed with the idea of sending him a tube of Neosporin to help treat all those splinters that must be all over his ass.
Which team would you most like to see Villa beat, or beat again, or have beaten this year?
I always want us to beat Liverpool. I don’t quite know why I despise them so much, but I do. Birmingham City have never been too good since I became a Villan so it’s been hard to properly hate them, so Liverpool functions the same as City for me.
Who is your favorite player on the current squad?
Man, that is actually hard. I love my fellow Yankee Guzan, and I like Westwood, Vlaar, Benteke, and Bacuna, and I do have hope that these young pups will make good and show the doubters how wrong they are. Of course it’s hard not to like Gabby, Weimann, Albrighton, etc. I guess that really leaves Delph. I think he’s my current favorite, because he’s just classy, on and off the pitch, he has a lot of skill, heart and he has actually scored some awesome goals this term.
Who is your favorite player of all time?
Wow—again, tough. I wasn’t around for McGrath, der Hammer (though I have to give him props for recently coming out), or Balaban (just kidding) or any of the other Villa greats such as Withe, etc., so my pool of players from which to choose is more limited than many fans. I looooved Mellberg and Carew and I formerly loved the traitors: Barry and Young, and I even liked Downing OK. I know football is a business and I’ve had favorites leave from other of my teams but there was just something especially galling about the Barry/Young transfers and especially the Downing thing, but I was much less attached to that guy.
What are your favorite sources for Villa news?
I often start simple, with Aston Villa News. That often brings up the basics. I also frequent My Old Man Said, 7500 to Holte, the ESPN blog for Villa, and the Birmingham papers, the Express & Star and the Birmingham Mail. I keep track of several fan pages on Facebook as well—too many to list. I also used to frequent the boards at Avillafan as soonerfan61, but a change in jobs left it difficult to log in with any regularity, so I haven’t been on there in a very long time. That is far and away the best blog that I’ve seen, though.
Rate yourself as a fan. What are your best and worst qualities?
I am a rabid fan—I spend almost every day catching up on something Villa-related and I hate those slow news days. I have not yet been able to visit Villa Park but one day that will be remedied. My best quality is my loyalty and objectivity (yes, those two can co-exist) and my worst is that I can’t spend enough time spreading the gospel of the Holte End.
Where do you usually watch games?
Hmm . . . there’s not really a “usually.” Sometimes I get to go to the pub (there are almost NO Villans in Memphis!), sometimes I can watch from home, sometimes I pick up a feed on a laptop or a desktop—it really depends. I scour footytube for highlights whether I’ve seen the match or not, and unfortunately at times that’s all I get.
It depends on where I am. If I’m at the pub I get some sort of dark brew (Guinness is the likely culprit). If I’m at home I just drink dark, sludgy black coffee and if I’m elsewhere I may not be drinking anything.
You’re a former football player. What is the best way to answer an ignorant person who says “soccer is for sissies”?
I don’t know—I haven’t met Jim Rome in person. I’m kidding, but I just really don’t engage those troglodytes anymore. If the game doesn’t suit them that’s fine—but I’ll sure remind them of that ignorant opinion if/when they want to talk to me about baseball, NASCAR, professional wrestling, etc. I think our sport is head and shoulders above any of those offerings and if someone wants to dismiss my love of the game by distilling it down to an ignorant, short-sighted, brainless opinion then they have the right to do so. I just don’t bother myself by arguing with the small-minded.