All smiles at the Globe Pub
You only come to see the Villa!

That flutter in my chest—was it hope? Or merely a sign that I shouldn’t have ordered the egg-and-sausage omelet at kickoff?

I’m Not Crying

Forty degrees as I rode my bike toward the Globe at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning. The wind had my eyes watering and hoping that no one saw me before I could dry them. They might think I was crying in advance of the expected result in a battle of first against worst. (Testifying for the defense: Flight of the Conchords.)

En Garde

My prediction for this game had been an 0-3 Villa loss. Granted, that was in the misty days of yore, a full 23 days earlier, back when a man named Tim Sherwood was the manager of the team. Gather round, children, and I’ll tell you the tale of a man whose magical powers were contained in his gilet. Once vanity caused him to forswear the sacred garment, his days were surely numbered . . . .

The choice of Remi Garde as the new Villa manager was an intriguing one, but with a team mired in last place and enduring a seven-game league losing streak taking on the team at the top of the table, it didn’t seem reasonable to expect much. I think I speak for most Villans when I say we were hoping not to be embarrassed too badly. At best, we wanted to see signs of improvement. And even if Villa were to get hammered 6-0, no one would have blamed Garde.

But his team selection alone—particularly following the two incredibly uninspired sides fielded by Kevin MacDonald—caused a flutter in my chest. No Gabby, Richardson, or Lescott. Gana, Gil, and Amavi back in. Grealish and Gestede on the bench, as they should be for now. Grealish has potential to burn but he’s not ready to be a regular starter.

That flutter in my chest—was it hope? Or merely a sign that I shouldn’t have ordered the egg-and-sausage omelet at kickoff?

Spoiler Alert: It Was Hope

Villa played the best first half I’ve seen in ages. Gil was excellent; Richards was a rock. (Sorry, Sanchez, you were pretty good, too.) As a team, they passed the ball, moved into space, worked hard, and genuinely looked engaged. I’ve seen them play like this for five, ten, and even fifteen minutes at a stretch before, but never a full forty-five minutes. When the halftime whistle blew with the score nil-nil, I had a nagging feeling I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Something familiar was happening, but it had been so long since I’d seen it that I struggled to put it into words.

Finally, it all came back to me: I was enjoying the game.

Granted, we weren’t threatening the Man City goal much, but neither were we bunkered in, repelling wave after wave of attacks. We were playing the number-one team without fear, looking like we actually belonged on the same pitch as them. How long has it been since that happened?

Chairman Leach vs Snake
Chairman Leach enjoys a snake breakfast. “It tastes like chicken,” he reports.

Wan Mancunian cries for a penalty as Raheem Sterling lay down in the Villa penalty box reminded us that there were some blue-shirted fans in the front room. “We forgot that you were here,” we sang—because we genuinely had.

As the second half kicked off, though, I almost wished Man City had already scored, because then I would have been able to relax. The fact that they hadn’t put me on edge. And the longer they didn’t score, and the more Villa counterattacked, the more I wondered whether we would actually earn a result.

The hope of even a point had me in agony. And, as the game entered its final stages, and a tired Villa (tired because they actually outran the opposition for once) began to back off the ball a bit, the losing goal seemed even more inevitable. City hit the bar. They hit Guzan’s face. They rolled just wide of the post. And still we hung on.

The pots of coffee I’d been drinking had my heart pounding. Maybe it’s not the hope that kills you, it’s just the heart attack induced by six cups of coffee and the agony of not having lost yet.

How Shit Must You Be

We didn’t lose. We didn’t lose!

Ever classy, the City fans were moaning about how they deserved a 4-0 win. Meanwhile, we were delighted with our scoreless draw. The old cliche: a draw that felt like a win. It exceeded all expectations for Garde’s first match. Maybe Sherwood felt he didn’t have the tools to win games, but Garde demonstrated, with one week in charge, how far intelligent team selection and and a well-organized team can carry you.

There is, of course, a long way to go. Villa are still bottom of the table, and Newcastle’s win makes their position that little bit worse. But as we head into the international break, Garde has more time to work with the team, and the schedule will get just a little more forgiving when Premier League play resumes.

As we endure the worst start to a season in 141 years (if my math is right), and prepare for yet another brutal relegation battle, we have finally have a legitimate reason to hope that a recharged and renewed Villa can get a few positive results and climb out of the cellar. It won’t happen overnight, and it still may not happen, but it could. And if it does, it will be one of the great escapes in PL history. And we’ll be supporting them all the way.

As we posed for a picture in front of the flags, we reprised our second-half song to the Citizens:

We’re drawing at home
We’re drawing at home
How shit must you be
We’re drawing at home

And the smiles on our faces were all genuine.

There Goes My Career as a Soothsayer

How did I fare in my prediction contest with Lewis Rollins? Well, with 5 points for a correct scoreline, and 2 points for a correct result, I pipped him 9-7. But I don’t think either of us will be going into the fortune-telling business, much less applying for a bookmaking internship. Here’s the breakdown:

Chelsea 2 – Villa 0

Lewis 5 points (predicted 2-0); Keir 2 (predicted 2-1)

Villa 1 – Swans 2

Lewis 0 points (1-1); Keir 0 points (1-0)

Southampton 2 – Villa 1

Lewis 0 points (1-1 w/ Villa to win in extra time); Keir 5 points (2-1)

Spurs 3 – Villa 1

Lewis 2 points (2-1); Keir 2 points (2-0)

Villa 0 – Man City 0

Lewis 0 points (3-0); Keir 0 points (3-0)

TOTALS: Lewis 7, Keir 9

It goes without saying, of course, that we were happy to have been wrong on the last game, and would have loved to have been wrong a few more times besides.