American Born Villan

Aston Villa, From Chicago to the Holte End of the World


November 2014

Aston Villa 1 – Southampton 1: The Point We Were Trying to Make

I took the afternoon off work to watch the game with Simon and Kristen at the Globe—best decision I’ve made in a while. My recent schedule has forced me to watch games at home, but why suffer alone when you can suffer with someone else?

I was expecting us to lose. Maybe badly. Southampton may be depleted by injury, but so is Villa, and Southampton’s not in second place for nothing.

And, honestly, I thought Gabby would fuck it up, that tantalizing breakaway one more opportunity rued, one more chance come to nothing. He may have been aided by Fraser Forster’s indecision, but it was a nice finish in the end. Despite what the commentators and the naysayers and the erstwhile supporters say, not every Villa success comes down to another team’s failure. They do occasionally do something right.

Why suffer alone when you can
suffer with someone else?

It was a boring first half made brighter by the goal, by the company, and by the Monday-afternoon Guinness I was enjoying. A bad game of soccer is still better than a good day at work. But as the game went on and we began to believe that, hell, we might just be able to take all three points, the commentators couldn’t get over their shock that Southampton couldn’t put Villa away.

Judging from the outrage on Facebook and Twitter, Simon and I were more or less alone in thinking it a good idea to take off Sanchez for an attacker. As Simon observed, Sanchez seems to tire and lose concentration late, and as anyone who’s watched our team is aware, a one-goal lead is our signal to start falling back further and further until we’re practically inviting our opponents to walk into the goal.

Whether Bent was the right attacker is certainly up for debate. He tends not to hold the ball, preferring to wait for a fast, accurate cross he can flick in at the near post. And as I recently observed, you have a better chance of surviving Ebola than Villa does of scoring from a cross.

So yes, I would have preferred Grealish, too. But hindsight is all. Had Lambert pulled Weimann for a defensive sub, some people would have been outraged at our defensive mentality. And had Weimann scored his chance, the whole question would have been moot.

At any rate, it was Gabby’s poor marking that led to the equalizer, and it’s possible Sanchez would have been in that position had he been on the field. It’s equally possible he would have committed the kind of late-game gaffe he’s prone to. And who would have thought to pull Gabby? He was having a pretty good game.

If you would have offered any sane Villa supporter a point before the game, they would have gladly taken it. The feeling that we dropped two instead of winning one certainly makes it hard to celebrate this result. But with even Crystal Palace winning on the weekend (granted, it was only Liverpool) and with other previous bottom-feeders Newcastle scaling the heights to fifth, it’s clear we can’t count on having three teams worse than us to survive. A positive result was essential and that’s what we got.

Now, Villa is certainly capable of losing to anybody, but with Burnley (19th place), Crystal Palace (15th), West Brom (13th), Man Ure (a very flattering 4th), Swansea (7th), and Sunderland (14th) coming up, and Benteke coming back, and hopefully some of our beat-to-shit back line returning to fitness, you’d have to think there are some points to be had by New Year’s. And it’s Palace and Leicester City again after that.

So here’s to a cup half full, no matter how bitter it tastes.

West Ham 0 – Aston Villa 0: Do Zombies Need Bandages? And Other Questions

I've worn this expression myself (if not the jacket-and-tie combination)
I’ve worn this expression myself (if not the jacket-and-tie combination)

Watching the first half of Saturday’s game against West Ham, with Villa pinned back almost from the start, with the Hammers riding a wave of momentum and Villa mired in the Slough of Despond, I started composing this blog post in my head. It was going to be a diatribe—no, not a diatribe, a lament. Or not even a lament. A postgraduate thesis on the team’s failings and my own troubled psyche, summarized by the words, “Why the fuck am I wasting my time?”

I know many supporters have felt the same way many times in recent years, and I have less right to complain than most. I haven’t wasted my money on plane tickets, train tickets, and match tickets; on pints of beer, pukka pies, and plush toys for my kids. (They’ve gotten shirts and that’s about it.) I haven’t made the trip to London to watch the team lose to the WORST TEAM IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE.

If you watch soccer for entertainment, and your
team is not entertaining, what’s the point?
To see what other sides can do against you?

But we all have our own crosses to bear. While my fall schedule this season—coaching, family obligations, and travel—has conspired to keep me out of the company of my suffering brethren at the Globe, I have watched every game, hiding from the result until I’m able to carve out the couch time necessary to suffer in real time.

And the results don’t look any better whether you watch them on Saturday afternoon or Saturday night. Last week, my 10-year-old headed for the exit in disgust 10 minutes before full time.

Yesterday against West Ham, watching a first half so devoid of spark, ideas, creativity, flair, and promise—any of the things that can make even a defeat watchable—I hit my low point. Why was I sacrificing precious moments of my existence, time that cannot be renewed and will not come again, to watch a bunch of professional players kick the ball up in the air? I fully expected us to lose, and we would have deserved to lose, justifying my bleak feelings. If you watch soccer for entertainment, and your team is not entertaining, what’s the point? To see what other sides can do against you?

Then, in the second half, Villa came to life, inasmuch as a shuffling zombie can be said to be living, and West Ham suddenly decided it would be better to retreat and start nailing planks over the windows and doors. For while, it looked like anyone’s game. Until it started looking like a nil-nil draw, which was the point at which I became convinced we would concede a goal in the dying moments.

Villa came to life, inasmuch as a shuffling
zombie can be said to be living.

But we didn’t concede, and we earned a point that, in the end, we almost deserved. Just one lousy little point, a bandage on the bleeding. (Do zombies bleed? I’d better watch my metaphors.) Still, not losing allows you to forget briefly about not winning, to fire up the Rationalization Calculator most of us use so often it might as well be an iPhone app.

  • We’ve played 10 teams so far this season: Stoke, Newcastle, Hull, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City, Everton, QPR, Tottenham, and West Ham.
  • Of those, 7 are currently in the top half of the table (and Liverpool and Everton were, too, when we played them), and we’ve gotten results against 2 of them.
  • And, even with the loss to QPR, we got results against 2 of the remaining 3.
  • Which isn’t half bad for a team that’s only scored 5 goals.
  • In fact, with the Premier League’s worst goal-scoring record, the fact that Villa is as high as 16th place says something about our defense—we really haven’t shipped that many goals (16) compared to other teams (the league average was 14.9 before Sunday’s games).
  • Why, when Benteke returns from his self-inflicted absence, when Delph comes back from his freak shoulder injury, when Hutton and Senderos are starting again . . . with a much easier schedule starting November 29 against Burnley, the sky’s the limit!

They say it’s the hope that kills you.

Funny, I used to feel sorry for Collins that he couldn't play for Villa
Funny, I used to feel sorry for Collins that he couldn’t play for Villa

Of course, we still can’t score. If my calculations are correct, Weimann’s tally in the Tottenham loss means we have one goal in 621 minutes, just one goal in seven games.

Think about it: one goal in seven games. My Rationalization Calculator just overheated and my existential crisis just came back to engulf my in a fog of despair.

I suspect that my real problem is that I’m not spending ENOUGH time supporting the team—with other supporters. Because as I’ve written before, the team doesn’t belong to the highly paid professionals who take the field, it doesn’t belong to the managers who seem unable to inspire better performances from them, it doesn’t even belong to Randy Lerner. He’s just a caretaker. The team belongs to the fans. One fan does not a team make, and you can’t support a team all by yourself. Without the camaraderie, gallows humor, and moments of celebration (surely we remember what that feels like), watching every performance of a bad team is a strange pursuit. With no insult intended to the autistic, who have no choice about the matter, it almost feels like a form of intentional autism to focus so single-mindedly on something without any emotional connection or broader context.

With that in mind, what I need to feel better about Villa isn’t necessarily a win (but please God let them win) but some more time with the Villans.

And here the schedule screws me again. The next game, against Southampton, is on a Monday. And the game after that, against Burnley, is in the middle of the Thanksgiving break, when I’ll be out of town.

And—seriously?!—the game after that, against Palace, is on a Tuesday.

Well, here’s hoping for some games worth watching.

Aston Villa 1 – Tottenham Hotspur 2: It’s Not Like Benteke Bit Someone

Christian Benteke red-cardedRemember when Aston Villa finished the season in sixth place three consecutive times? They didn’t do much of anything in Europe, but that was awesome.

Remember John Carew? He was awesome.

Remember Martin O’Neill? Well, he refused to rotate his players, and drove them like rented mules until they all but died in the traces but—still awesome.

(You know who else was awesome? Chris Farley.)

I have become the guy who supports a team
for whom sixth place may as well be
the fucking moon.

Sometimes you just want to take a warm bath in good memories as a respite from the cold rain of reality. Lifelong Villa supporters can go back to the early ’80s for a league championship and European glory, but Americans who have come on board in the last decade or so have different reference points. Funny to think of sixth place as the high-water mark but there you have it.

And, you know, I think of myself as the kind of guy who could be satisfied with a team that finishes sixth and seems capable of cracking the top four, even if they never quite manage that feat. And yet I have become the guy who supports a team for whom sixth place may as well be the fucking moon. In fact, Villa are probably more likely to reach the moon than sixth place, because, as soon as Virgin Galactic stops crashing their spacecraft, YOU WILL BE ABLE TO BUY A TICKET TO THE MOON. (Cue Electric Light Orchestra, “Ticket to the Moon.”) What the team really needs is a clue and apparently those are unobtainable at any price.

*     *     *

What happened yesterday? Villa finally provided relief for some size-5 blue balls by actually scoring a goal in the sixteenth minute, a typical luck-and-hustle finish by one Mr. Weimann. Even more significantly, Christian Benteke looked like, well, Christian Benteke. He looked dangerous and hungry for a goal, and a little unlucky not to have bagged one in the first half. Villa looked not only the equal of Tottenham, they looked better, with the London team’s expensive and creative players the ones who looked bereft of ideas.

A goal drought of 547 minutes was over, and a second goal seemed imminent. Fans of the game who subscribe to Eduardo Galeano’s notion of the goal as orgasm were looking forward to their first multiple orgasm in a long, long while.

You may as well red-card the whole team.

Then Benteke became upset and touched the face of Tottenham’s Ryan Mason and was shown a red card. Just like that. If there’s such a thing as a soft red card, that was it, but rules are rules and as a highly paid professional he should have known better. He will now miss the next three games, the standard penalty for “violent conduct.” (Apparently, the word “violence” has been redefined to mean “checking the closeness of your opponent’s shaving.”) For a team like Villa, whose ability to score resembles a fourteen-year-old with halitosis, acne, and a current membership to the Society for Creative Anachronism, three-and-a-half games without the services of a resurgent Benteke is . . . well, you may as well red-card the whole team.

But still, Villa looked like they would hold on to the game and win some badly needed points . . . until the 84th minute, when Gabby showed why forwards don’t make good defenders and suddenly the visitors were level. Still, a point seemed a likely consolation prize—until the 90th minute, when Baker, whose head is so often the focal point of highly charged moments, wrong-footed Guzan on an otherwise pedestrian free kick. (Given away by a bad Sanchez tackle, it must be noted.) Tottenham didn’t pack a lot of punch on Sunday, but it only took those two hits to knock out their hosts.

Momentum and confidence are huge difference makers, and I can’t imagine the mood in the dressing room right now. If you lose when you play poorly, and lose when you play well, why bother lacing your boots?

Villa’s six straight defeats marks the first time that’s happened since 1967. And, as the Lord Mayor of Birmingham reminded me last year, the early 1970s saw Villa playing third-division soccer.

I still believe this year’s team is better than last year’s team, but if they are, they’d better start proving it.

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