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

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Martin O’Neill

Aston Villa 0 – Liverpool 6: Valentine’s Day Massacre

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. Continue reading “Aston Villa 0 – Liverpool 6: Valentine’s Day Massacre”

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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.

Villans of the Summer: Cat, Robert, Tyler, and Bob

I posted the final Villan of the Week profile two weeks ago—but there are still so many Villans I wish I’d had time to include! The following four fine people answered my entreaties to be Villans of the Summer. Their stories make excellent reading material while we await the fate of our beloved club. Who will buy them? Who will we see on the field next season?

Cat Stewart

Cat Stewart and Brad Guzan
Cat Stewart and Brad Guzan

I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. I live in Chicago and help manage a call center for a cruise company. Simon Leach started me watching the Villa about three years ago when we first met. Seeing them play at Toyota Park sealed the deal and I’ve been a fan ever since. I’m not sure that it was so much the team that I fell in love with, but the fans. The fans are so enthusiastic and loyal that it is hard to ignore that energy. Even if we lose, I know I will always enjoy watching the Villa play as long as I am in the company of other Villans. My happiest moment as a fan was attending the players’ awards ceremony at the end of the 2012-13 season. The reception hall at Villa Park was beautifully decorated and everyone was dressed to impress. I have experienced many great moments of joy in regards to the Villa, but wearing a ball gown and taking photos with Brad Guzan takes the cake every time. I used to watch games solely at the Globe Pub but, now that all of the games are available online, I have been finding it hard to leave the comfort of my bed on Saturday mornings. When I do make it to the pub, you will find me drinking one of the many fine beers they have on tap.

Robert Lintott

Robert LintottI was born in Chehalis, a tiny town in southwestern Washington state, and have lived in Washington, D.C. since 2004. I’m a PhD candidate in musicology at the University of Maryland. I’ve been following Villa since the summer of 2010, when Kirsten Schlewitz and Aaron Campeau started the blog for which I now write, 7500 to Holte. They, like me, were Seattle Mariners fans, and we all sort of e-knew each other from a Mariners blog, Lookout Landing. I was looking for a Premier League team, and then these two writers I knew started one about Aston Villa, I thought, “Why not?” I really became a fan the summer that Martin O’Neill left, so there haven’t been many highlights since, but after this year’s win against Chelsea, I walked around with a dopey grin on my face for a couple of days. I usually watch games on my couch. I run the match-day Twitter for 7500, and that includes making gifs, so I’ve got to be at my computer. I also handle the post-match recaps, so it really doesn’t leave much of a chance to get to the pub. I drink coffee—a latte if I’m feeling decadent!

Tyler Damme

Kate and Tyler Damme
Kate and Tyler Damme

I was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska, but I’ve bounced around quite a bit since I graduated from high school in 2005. I spent six years in Nashville attending Belmont University, two in Washington, D.C., and now I live in Evanston. I’m working in a restaurant and planning to go to graduate school in a year and a half. The 2002 World Cup was what ultimately turned me into a soccer fan. Until then, I really didn’t watch the sport. When I was younger, I had a friend whose parents were from Birmingham, and I remembered that they were fans of Aston Villa, so that’s the club I decided to support. I haven’t thought twice about it. Traveling with my wife from D.C. to Philadelphia a couple of summers ago was my happiest moment as a fan—it was the first time I’d met other Villa fans. They were extremely welcoming to us, which made for a memorable night . . . and quite the headache the next morning. Second to that would probably be the month of April 2008. Beating Bolton 4-0, Derby 6-0, and SHA 5-1 made for an incredible end to the season; Petrov’s bomb against Derby still gives me goosebumps. I used to watch games at home, but since I finally managed to get myself to the Globe late this season, I don’t think there’s any way I’m going back to watching matches by myself. I’m a bit of a hop head, so IPAs are my beer of choice. I try not to get too repetitive with my beer selection, though.

Bob Hartman

Bob HartmanI was born in York, Pennsylvania. I now live in Chicago, where I work as a Wall Street cop who examines and inspects securities firms. I decided to follow Villa in 2007, just before I moved from Chicago to Birmingham for work. I used a calculated methodology: it couldn’t be a traditional top-four club (for obvious reasons), but it had to be a somewhat-competitive club with rich traditions, long history, and a blue-collar following. Guess who ticked all the boxes? My happiest moment as a supporter was definitely attending the FA Cup semifinal against Chelsea at Wembley in 2010. I usually watch games at the Globe Pub, and I’ll drink anything that says Three Floyds on the label or the tap handle.

Villan of the Week: Anthony Niblett

Anthony Niblett“I’ll take erudite sports fans for $1000.”

“This claret-and-blue Birmingham native is a professor at University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law.”

“Who is Anthony Niblett?”

Correct! Yes, you’ll find Villans everywhere, even in the groves of academe (where, rumor has it, Professor Niblett is quite popular with the students). A lifelong supporter of the Villa, Niblett found a big moment of fame on the small screen in late 2013, when he became a bona fide (note my use of the Latin) Jeopardy! champion! (Apologies, but to comply with trademark law we had to use that second exclamation point.) Read to the end for a tasty bit of trivia, and test your wits with a quiz question provided by our Villan of the Week himself.

The Starting Eleven

Where were you born, where do you live now, and what do you do for a living?

A gift from his students
A gift from his students

I was born in Birmingham, but now—after living in a few different countries—I’m in Toronto, Canada. I work as a law professor. It’s the best job in the world.

How and when did you choose Villa?

My family are Villa fans, my dad in particular. I started following Villa in the mid 1980s. My first season was when we were back in the old Second Division (1987–88). My first game on the Holte terraces was against Sheffield United. A dull 1-1 draw.

Anthony Niblett and Martin O'Neill in Columbus, Ohio (2007)
With Martin O’Neill in Columbus, Ohio (2007)

What was your happiest moment as a Villa supporter?

Lots to choose from. One of my earliest games was a 5-0 over Hull City on New Year’s Day 1988. The two League Cup final wins in the 1990s were great, especially the 1994 win against Man United. The 5-1 win against Birmingham in late 2007–08 was a cracker. But, probably the happiest moment was back in summer 2007 in Columbus, Ohio. Meeting Martin O’Neill and the squad at a reception in the Statehouse. The feeling around the club was fantastic at the time. Good times.

What was your most painful moment?

Hmm, probably more to choose from. Stern John’s 94th minute equalizer for Birmingham City back in 2004 was painful. We were the better team all day and we still managed to let it slip in the last minute. Not fun.

As the season is all but over, which team did you most enjoy beating this year—or which team do you most wish we had beaten?

The first game was pretty good. Beating Arsenal at the Emirates. Less said about the rest of the season, the better, I think.

Who is your favorite player on the current squad?

Martin Laursen, John Carey, Anthony Niblett, Olof Mellberg, and Thomas Sorensen in Columbus (2007)
Martin Laursen, John Carey, Niblett, Olof Mellberg, and Thomas Sorensen in Columbus

Benteke. He’s our only world-class player, our only genuine match winner. When he’s out, we look terrible. We need Vlaar at the back; without him, we are a mess. We need a few changes in personnel in 2014–15.

Who is your favorite player of all time?

Going to struggle to limit it to one. David Platt was great in his few seasons for Villa. His goals from midfield almost won us the league in 1989–90. Dean Saunders, Dalian Atkinson, Tony Daley, Paul McGrath, Gareth Southgate, Olof Mellberg, and Martin Laursen would be up there, too. I still miss Jimmy Milner.

What are your favorite sources for Villa news?

BBC football. The Guardian. I’m on a few Villa facebook groups. I tend to stay away from message boards; they leave me a little pessimistic about the future of mankind.

Rate yourself as a fan. What are your best and worst qualities?

Ian Taylor and Anthony Niblett in Chicago (2012)
With Ian Taylor in Chicago (2012)

I used to be a better fan. Villa websites used to be the first thing I read in the morning. I still watch all the games. And when we’re on the box, I go to the pub, usually wearing a retro Villa top, to watch with fellow Toronto Villans.

Where do you usually watch games?

The Toronto Villans watch at a pub called The Oxley in Yorkville. It’s a lovely pub with a pretty good breakfast. I just wish we could recruit a few more Toronto Villans to get out regularly.

Toronto Villans at the Oxley
Toronto Villans at the Oxley

What are you usually drinking?

Just a coffee at that time of the morning. For games that are on in the afternoon here, either a Junction Craft (a local beer) or a Guinness.

Extra Time

Rumor has it you did pretty well on a quiz show called Jeopardy! What is your favorite bit of Villa-related trivia? Got any stumpers for us?

‘Tis true. I love trivia, but I don’t really have a favorite bit of Villa trivia, I’m afraid. Here’s a couple though:

  • Villa Park has hosted the most FA Cup semifinals and, if New Wembley keeps hosting semis, Villa Park will remain top of that list until 2035.
  • Villa have scored the second most goals in the top division of English football with 6,550. Anyone know who’s first?

 

Villan of the Week: Blake McVey

Blake McVey with sons Wil (in the back) and Lochlan (in his first Villa shirt)
Blake McVey with sons Wil (in the back) and Lochlan (in his first Villa shirt)

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!

Celebrity supporters: Tom Hanks, Bob Stephenson, British Consul Priya Guha, Colin Hanks, and Geezer Butler with Matt Lowton (July 2012)
Celebrity supporters: Tom Hanks, Bob Stephenson, British Consul Priya Guha, Colin Hanks, and Geezer Butler with Matt Lowton (July 2012)

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?

Blake and middle son Lochlan
Blake and middle son Lochlan

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?

Fabian Delph

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?

Bosko Balaban - just kidding!
Bosko Balaban – just kidding!

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.

Guinness . . . is good for you!What are you usually drinking?

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.

Extra Time

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.

Villan of the Week: Tyler Fisher

Tyler Fisher with girlfriend Lesley
Tyler Fisher with girlfriend Lesley

As I approached the field before the North American Villans’ friendly against the Globe Pub last August—a game made infamous not by our intricate tika-taka passing or our ruthless finishing in front of goal but by the “Peever Roll” (and, no, that’s not a special maki you can order at the sushi bar)—Tyler Fisher was the first person I met. Our encounter was brief (he told me he wasn’t in charge) but, since then, I’ve gotten to know him as a regular at the Globe Pub, a guy who, despite a relatively short history supporting the team, is none the less passionate for it. Among Americans, Villa seems to draw a disproportionate number of Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Browns fans, which has its own kind of logic. Tyler falls into the latter camp, and surely that in itself is a lesson in patience, loyalty, and a pragmatic way of thinking. Reading Tyler’s responses, you might even call him an optimist!

The Starting Eleven

Where were you born, where do you live now, and what do you do for a living?

I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1988. By the time I was five, we had moved from Charlotte, to Dallas, back to Charlotte, up to Chicago, and finally ending up in my childhood playground of Cleveland, Ohio. That city gets a worse reputation than it deserves because of its economy—I grew up in a great community, playing hockey, football, baseball, and lacrosse. (I stopped playing soccer in kindergarten because there was too much running.) We were a short walk from Lake Erie, and a short drive from the city, where we could watch three professional sports teams, an awesome thing to have available growing up. So, while I was born in Charlotte, I consider myself a Clevelander.

I now live in Chicago’s north suburbs and, with my girlfriend, Lesley, regularly commute on Saturdays to watch Aston Villa with the Chicago Supporters’ Club. I am an account manager at CDW-G, managing relationships with K-12 School Districts in the Pacific Northwest. In plain English, I’m an inside sales rep at a technology solutions company.

How and when did you choose Villa?

I developed an interest in professional soccer in 2007 during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at Miami University (Ohio, not Florida; we were a university when Florida belonged to Spain). I worked in a warehouse and a few of the guys there were Arsenal fans who often discussed the sport and their team. My knowledge was limited to a few names: Ronaldo, Beckham, and Mia Hamm. I quickly learned about “the Big Four,” who at the time were Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal. As I became interested in the sport, I immediately eliminated those names as teams I’d be willing to support. Being from Cleveland, I wouldn’t know how to root for a front-runner.

Leaving the pitch after a hard-fought match wearing claret and blue
Leaving the pitch after a hard-fought match wearing claret and blue

I don’t really know how I chose Aston Villa. I knew they had some connection to Randy Lerner, then the owner of the Cleveland Browns, but, more importantly I think it was because they had legitimate history, had won the European Cup, and at the time a better-than-midtable side with a lot of upside. I decided to support the club, but I didn’t become a huge follower of the sport until a year later.

What honestly got me hooked on the sport was that year’s Champions League final between two English teams, Manchester United and Chelsea. I saw the brilliance of Ronaldo, the leadership of Lampard, and learned a hell of a lot about the sport through that match. I still remember being stunned when Chelsea’s Captain, John Terry, missed the penalty take which ultimately lost them the game. And that was the moment I became an active follower of the game.

What was your happiest moment as a Villa supporter?

Narrowly avoiding relegation last season! Actually, the happiest moment was, without a doubt, the opening match of this season. That entire weekend, the first North American Villans meet-up, was incredible, but watching Villa thump Arsenal with another 50 fans was unforgettable. Simon, the Chicago Supporters’ Club chairman, really outdid himself.

What was your most painful moment?

Sitting through the second half of the season with Alex McLeish in charge. While the football was awful, that wasn’t what really depressed me. Listening to and reading fans’ reactions to every game, struggling to find the match on the internet, all of the negativity, really got to me and made it hard to be enthusiastic. It almost seemed like an affirmation that O’Neill knew something we didn’t when he just vanished. Everything about that season was terrible, but, as the season closed, we had an awful wage bill, overpaid journeymen, little talent to be excited about, and no confidence that anything would change. Meanwhile, a team like Manchester City was on the rise because of money alone. That was the low point.

Which team would you most like to see Villa beat (or beat again) this year?

Andi WeimannThis year, it will need to be Manchester City. To beat the title favorites twice in one season would be absolutely magnificent. I want another great moment like watching Andi Weimann scoring the winning goal, standing in front of the Holte End, seeing nothing but claret and blue.

Who is your favorite player on the current squad?

Fabian DelphI can’t say I have a favorite player. I love a lot of the players on the squad, and really hope our core players develop as a unit and stay together. If I needed to pick, it would have to be Delph because of the way he has flourished this season. It is so great to see supporters of other clubs notice him, because that doesn’t seem to happen very often. I really like Bacuna though, and want to see him get a real shot in the midfield.

However, I love most of the squad: Guzan, Vlaar, Clark, Lowton, Westwood, El Ahmadi, Agbonlahor, Albrighton, Weimann, Delph, Bacuna, and Benteke. I can’t wait to see how players like Kozak, Sylla, and Okore develop, and I can’t wait to see the next undiscovered gems Lambert discovers. I think Lambert is building something great, despite what some supporters’ grumblings.

Who is your favorite player of all time?

Gabby AgbonlahorI haven’t been around long enough to give a great answer. I started following in the age of mercenaries, and once one of our players begins to show some true talent, he gets swiped out of our hands and goes to a team that can offer more money and better competition. I loved Downing and Young, but neither showed any class when they left Villa and it really soured my feelings about them. The only player who doesn’t fit this in my time supporting the club is Agbonlahor, and while he can’t finish any better than I can, he is probably my favorite of all-time just because of his ties to Aston Villa and his desire to never leave.

What are your favorite sources for Villa news?

7500 to Holte is probably the best blog I’ve seen for general Aston Villa news. My Old Man Said, is probably the best blog I’ve seen for general discussion, banter, and support. In general though, I use News Now, a UK news aggregator to keep track of everything that is going on. I highly recommend it to everyone.

I’ve had trouble committing to a few of the fan forums online for one reason or another. I don’t like the insular feeling of only having one supporter’s community partake in discussion. The only other source I can add, is Mat Kendrick, the Birmingham Mail‘s Aston Villa reporter. I think he does great stuff, and seems to truly enjoy what he is doing.

Rate yourself as a fan. What are your best and worst qualities?

Tyler and Lesley meeting Ian Taylor
Tyler and Lesley meeting Ian Taylor

I’ve never been to Villa Park. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. It will happen, but, until then, I’m not sure I can say I’m a true fan. However, I am a regular on Saturday mornings, watching at the Globe, participate in discussion online via Twitter when I can, and will never turn down an opportunity to discuss Aston Villa or soccer in general with anyone. Actually, I love supporters of other teams because I go immediately into discussing the weekend’s fixtures or results. Unfortunately, they’re mostly plastic and have no idea what I’m talking about. That seems to be the majority of the fans of the “larger” clubs in America. It is depressing and insulting.

Where do you usually watch games?

The Globe Pub. It is a truly incredible bar, with a never-ending selection of beers, and supporters from a dozen teams, which always creates an exciting atmosphere. I actually discovered the Globe Pub and the Chicago Supporters’ Club via Twitter on New Year’s Day, the first weekend I had moved to Chicago. I was with my girlfriend, Lesley, in a hotel room downtown, when I saw a Tweet about the game. I shot out of bed and forced her to get ready so we could check out and watch the game. I have rarely been more excited about anything, especially in a hungover state. That has become an extremely important moment in my support history, and has become a huge part of my identity in Chicago.

FranziskanerWhat are you usually drinking?

Depending on how my Friday went, it is either water, coffee, Franziskaner, Guinness, or a Magner’s cider.

Extra Time

Is there a game we lost this season that you felt we deserved to win? (And is there a game we won where luck played a role?)

The first match against Chelsea is the first match that comes to mind. We started the season off on a tear but didn’t get enough points. Chelsea, however, was absolute bullshit. (I avoided cursing for as long as I could, and I almost made it!) Ivanovic should have never been on the pitch to score the goal. It wasn’t right, but that’s football, and I’m not one to continue complaining about decisions because some go your way and some don’t.

And it goes without saying that, while we played well, we were lucky to come out with three points against Arsenal the first time, Manchester City the first time, and Chelsea the second time. However, after some intense analysis, I’ve determined that we are consistently great against the top clubs in the league, so it wasn’t luck. Ignore this paragraph!

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