Act of God?
It rained all night Friday in Chicago, and poor field conditions resulted in the cancellation of the U12 and U10 games I was set to coach. I hate it when the kids miss playing time, and I actually enjoy foul-weather games, but this act of god also meant that I could head down to the pub to watch the game.
In addition to the Chicago Villans, the Globe Pub is home base for Arsenal and Manchester City supporters’ groups as well. Earlier in the week, our chairman Simon Leach had accepted a challenge from City’s chair to see which of our teams is better supported. As neither of us has a chance of outnumbering the Gooners, this would be for number-two bragging rights.
The battle played out on Facebook and Twitter throughout the week, with City’s fans exhorting their followers to show up and the Villans suggesting that they simply buy more supporters if needed. Simon even posted helpful links so the City supporters could learn their own songs.
I did my part to increase our numbers by bringing my 10-year-old son, Felix, who, while not fully conversant with all the lyrics to “Birmingham, Are You Listening?”, at least shares my appreciation for the financial situations of our respective teams and the need to support your club even when facing opposition boasting more expensive players at every position.
At ten minutes to kickoff, we still numbered in the single digits—where were the two dozen supporters that attended the FA Cup semifinal?—although rain, bad traffic, and hangovers were the culprits delaying many arrivals. As it was, stalwarts such as Brian Hanna and his family arrived moments to find Villa already behind. Imagine spending an hour and a half battling Chicago traffic, only to find that your team has conceded inside the first three minutes.
Nobody ever said supporting Villa was easy.
Act of Brad
What do you give the team that has everything? An early goal. Vlaar played a ball back to Guzan who, under minimal pressure, shanked a ball sideways—a gift that Sergio Aguero happily converted into his 27th goal of the season without so much as a thank you. You might as well give Sheikh Mansour a $30 gift certificate to Amazon.
As the Villa supporters at the Globe gradually grew in number, the team played tentatively and seemed almost unable to get out of their own half. How did the team that played so well at Wembley look so overawed at the Etihad? Or, after playing above themselves, had they simply run out of adrenaline?
What do you give the team that has everything?
An early goal.
The mood was flat in the back room of the Globe, too. I began to wonder whether the supporters’ derby would turn out to be a dud. Normally boisterous, the Villans hadn’t done a thing to quiet the Citizens. On the other hand, the latter were already quiet—perhaps they’re naturally shy and retiring. Once in a while we heard something in the front room that sounded like a song, but maybe it was just the radio from a passing car on Irving Park Road.
Gradually, though, Villa got themselves back into the game. It almost seemed as if Man City, having gotten an early goal, was content to hold on for the next 87 minutes and a 1-0 win. But their complacency was dangerous. Villa began to assert themselves and make some nice attacks. The second half of the first half clearly belonged to them, although they couldn’t make the hosts pay. And for once, Benteke was part of the problem, positioning himself poorly and consistently straying offside.
Shall We Sing?
As the half wore on, the 30–40 Villans present found their voices and began taunting the Citizens in the next room: “Shall We Sing a Song for You?” and “One-Nil and You Still Don’t Sing.” Their halting refrain of “Blue Moon” was met with a barrage of “One Song, You’ve Only Got One Song,” “Sing When You’re Winning,” and “It’s Nice to Know You’re Here.”
Granted, when we sing “Have You Won the European Cup?” we’re grasping at straws—but have they? Not last time I checked. And we resorted to just that after Aleksandar Kolarov made it 2-0 on a free kick that slipped through the wall and just inside the post. Repeated refrains of “We’re the Famous Aston Villa and We’re Going to Wembley” were more on topic. And who could argue with the assertion that “You’re Going to Win Fuck All”? In recent weeks, Man City has looked like anything but the defending league champions.
Granted, when we sing “Have You Won the European Cup?”
we’re grasping at straws—but have they?
How did Villa respond to going down 2-0? They scored a goal two minutes later, that’s what they did. It was pandemonium in the back room of the Globe, as supporters started singing, “Three-Two, We’re Gonna Win Three-Two,” their moods instantly improved. Even if we were going to lose, we were showing some fight. And who said we were going to lose, anyway? Carlos Sanchez volleyed an equalizer in the 85th minute and Villa were on level terms with just minutes to go. A point seemed a deserved result for our efforts, and a win still somehow seemed possible.
It seemed richly ironic when Benteke, who’d been straying offside all game, was actually COMPLETELY ONSIDE and called off—the bad call then negating a clear red card and penalty call against Joe Hart who took him down right in front of the goal. City fans were no doubt seeing this as payback for an earlier penalty non-call when Aguero felt contact and decided to take a brief rest on the grass.
When the ball popped up in the Villa box in the 89th minute, though, I knew right away it would end up in the back of the net, which it did, delivered by Fernandinho. Before we could start feeling sorry for ourselves, though, we were singing, “Four-Three, We’re Gonna Win Four-Three.” We didn’t believe it, but it definitely drowned out any songs the City fans weren’t singing.
It ended as it began, with a one-goal deficit. In the tangibles department, Brad Guzan must bear responsibility for at least two of the points lost or, depending on how you look at it, all three. Among the intangibles however, Villans can be proud that their injury-depleted team never stopped battling, and narrowly missed getting a result against last year’s champions. Victories by Hull and Leicester City, and draws by Sunderland and QPR, tightened the race at the bottom of the table, but despite the assertions of a Man City supporter that we will be relegated (and that is something they know about), and a commentator that we are in a desperate relegation scrap, we refuse to believe it. This team—Tim Sherwood’s team, it must be said—is better than that.
And the supporters? They’re the number-one supporters group at the Globe Pub. There may be more Arsenal supporters, and there may have been more City supporters jumping on the bandwagon in recent years, but when it comes to spirit, the Villans win hands down.
And we’re generous, too! If your club is struggling to find its voice, we’re always happy to sing a song for you.