I haven’t been blogging about Villa much lately. Part of it has been that I have been busy with three very different book projects (stay tuned for more on those). Part of it has been the usual stuff of my day job, my family, and the things I love to do, like coaching my kids’ teams. But I suspect the biggest reason is that, too often, I feel I’ve run out of new things to say.
I’ve written one or two posts about what it feels like to win. I’ve written a few posts about meaningless draws. I’ve written still more about losses big and small, and the grind of supporting a terrible team. And I’ve written a lot about how, often, the only thing that makes supporting Aston Villa worthwhile has been the Chicago Villans.
I’m about to write another one of those. What’s the point? you might reasonably ask. But you could also ask that about watching our team over the past four and a half seasons.
Aston Villa lost 0-6 yesterday to Liverpool. Given our recent, modest improvement in form, and given Liverpool’s sudden stagnation, we had a glimmer of hope that we might get something out of the game. Three points, one point, even the dignity of a competitive loss. Most clear-eyed supporters have recognized for some time that only a miracle will keep us up, but better results on our way down would at least give us more hope of coming back up.
There’s a lot of blame going around right now. Some players have become favorite whipping boys: Guzan and Richardson, to name only two. Each new manager since Paul Lambert (well, except Alex McLeish) has been hailed as a savior and then damned as a failure. Many are now turning on Remi Garde. If five managers fail in a row, the problem is something greater than their management.
(You might even make an argument that the manager who recently did the best for Villa, Martin O’Neill, is truly the one at fault. After all, it was his profligate spending that ultimately gave Lerner buyer’s remorse and tightened the purse strings for every subsequent manager.)
And, of course, we’re all seemingly united in our hatred of Randy Lerner. Many English fans find his American citizenship part of the problem. I would simply say that there are good and bad owners of every nationality. Yes, we need new ownership, but having a new owner, like a new manager, is no guarantee that things will improve. The club needs scouring from top to bottom, from the players on the pitch to the suits in the boardroom. And even then we can only hope.
Villa is entering uncharted territory. Yes, they have gone down before, and fallen as far as the third division before recovering to win both the league and European Cup. But the influence of billionaries and TV money has changed the game since then. There are many big teams still waiting their return to the top flight. Will Leeds ever make it back up?
Personally, I wish we had spent the January transfer window buying battle-hardened Championship players and trying to rebuild the team this spring for next year’s battles. Trying to woo players to keep us in the Premier League was doomed to failure. What reason would a rising talent come to a last-place team other than a paycheck? But I’m sure we could have attracted lower-league players dreaming of a promotion campaign next year. This is all painful to contemplate, but the sooner we adjust to our dismal new reality, the better we will be to rise above it.
But back to yesterday’s game. Seventeen Aston Villa supporters met up in the back room of the Globe Pub in Chicago. We watched Villa start the game brightly, as they sometimes do, then go behind at the first opportunity, as they often do, then surrender completely after the second goal went in.
The response of the team was pitiful, if somewhat understandable. How do you pretend you’ve got a chance of winning the game when you believe in your heart that you don’t?
But the response of the supporters at the Globe was magnificent. Faced with a room full of Liverpool supporters who barely managed a peep, led by Simon Leach, Brian Hanna, Bob Kemp, Greg Asad, and others, we unleashed a fusillade of song that lasted the entire game.
We sang just about every song I know and a couple I didn’t: “My Old Man,” “Oh Birmingham,” “Aston Villa FC,” “Holte Enders in the Sky,” “Paul McGrath,” “Villa Villa Villa,” “Come to See the Villa,” “Claret and Blue Army,” even “Nigel Spink.” We noted that the bin-dippers didn’t sing at 2-0, 3-0, or even 4-0. Was this a library? we inquired, offering to sings songs for them on request. We even had a disco.
At 2-0, we vowed to win 3-2. At 3-0, we were sure we’d win 4-3. We told them they’re nothing special because we lose every week. We noted that they’re shit for beating us only 6-0—after all, Chelsea once managed to put 8 on the board against us. Even at 6-0, we were predicting a 7-6 scoreline.
Behaving like a group of people who’d bought their shirts for the pretty design, the Liverpool supporters sang NOT A SINGLE SONG. They barely celebrated their own goals. We jeered their halfhearted attempts until, finally, we resorted to cheering their goals for them to show them how it’s done. We sang for Christian Benteke when he came on, even though we suspected he’d probably score against us. (The day’s one saving grace: he didn’t.) We sang at the Villa fans heading for the exits. We all stayed until the end. We ended with a SEVEN MINUTE rendition of “Everywhere We Go.”
After the game, several Liverpool fans showed some class and praised us for our support and our sense of humor.
Fans can’t change anything that happens on the pitch. Fans in the stadium can, perhaps, make an impact, but the vast majority of us watch from tens, hundreds, and thousands of miles away. The players can’t hear us.
The one battle we can win is against the other fans. And in that, our small group in Chicago has had an undefeated season.
This was one of the most painful defeats I’ve ever seen, and I’ve rarely felt more embarrassed by my team. But I’ve never felt prouder to be a Villan. We deserved better. We deserved to win 7-6.