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

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Villan of the Week: Chris Fetters

Chris Fetters with dapper Villa legend Peter Withe
Chris Fetters with dapper Villa legend Peter Withe

It’s Aston Villa coast to coast! Covering the Left, er, West Coast of North America, sports fanatic and Seattle Lions Club chairman Chris Fetters preaches the gospel of the claret and blue—when he isn’t making footy pilgrimages to the land of Brum.

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

I was born and raised in Seattle, went off to college and came back to Seattle, where I currently reside. I am the Editor-In-Chief of Dawgman.com, a website dedicated to covering University of Washington sports and recruiting. I also contribute to Sports Washington Magazine and am a host on a weekly radio show on Sports Radio KJR 950 AM, talking Washington football, men’s basketball, and recruiting. I am also a contributing recruiting analyst with Scout.com, part of FOX Sports.

How and when did you choose Villa?

The George and Dragon PubAround 2007, a cousin of mine from Wisconsin moved to Seattle, also for work, and we started hanging out quite a bit. Matt is a massive Everton fan and talked to me about joining him at a local pub called The George and Dragon to watch Premier League games, so I started watching soccer again. At first I was watching Everton games and really started enjoying the game again for the first time in a very long time. It was like riding a bike; you don’t ever seem to really forget what it’s like and it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it again. The George is about a ten-minute drive from my home in Ballard, a Seattle neighborhood, so I soon started going to games on my own. At that time I hit a couple of Aston Villa games. Martin O’Neill was managing and Martin Laursen had just retired. They had also just signed Brad Friedel, so that intrigued me as an American watching English football.

I also remember Emile Heskey joining the team around that time. If I remember correctly, it was a stretch of a few games where they played Sunderland and Portsmouth, maybe a couple of other teams. But in watching the games, Villa just stood out to me. It’s hard to explain now, but there was just something about how they played. I remember Cuellar and Luke Young in the back, Milner, Petrov, Barry, and Ashley Young in the midfield and Gabby and Big John Carew up front. They were fun to watch, and they were winning too! Once I realized I was getting hooked on the Premiership, I knew I wanted to follow a team. I knew I couldn’t support Everton, because that was my cousin’s team, and I certainly wasn’t going to be following the “Big Four”—that was too cliché and boring to me. So the more I followed Villa, the more I appreciated how they played the game. And then I started going to the message boards like Heroes & Villains and Villa Talk and delved into the history of the club. It was a massive club! And they also had Acorns as their shirt sponsor, and learning more about their association with Acorns simply solidified what I kind of knew in my mind for a while—Aston Villa was going to be my club. I picked them, but in some strange way I feel like they picked me too. And I’ve never looked back!

What was your happiest moment as a Villa supporter?

A couple stand out . . . first, playing in Wembley in the League Cup final in 2010. Even though it wasn’t the result we wanted, getting a chance to enjoy that whole cup run—including that wild 6-4 tie at Villa Park against Blackburn—showed me just how exhilarating English soccer could be, as well as the roller coaster it can take you on. The second was the run at the end of last year, with the wins versus Sunderland and at Norwich being the real highlights . . . that run of fixtures showed me that the players were buying in to Paul Lambert and his vision for the future, and we’ve obviously seen a lot of that carry over into this year.

What was your most painful moment?

Again, the League Cup loss stung, and especially how it went down early with the Vidic penalty that should have been a sending off (in my opinion). But I would have to say the most painful moments have been the other Manchester United games—like the one at Old Trafford where Macheda (what has he done since?) scored the winner and then the 3-2 loss at Villa Park when Chicarito scored a brace to steal the points. For some reason, those losses to the Red Devils have always stung most—as well as any time the Mighty Villa have lost to the Blues. Those are excruciating.

Which team would you most like to see Villa beat this year?

Liverpool's always hungry goalscorer
Liverpool’s always hungry goalscorer

Liverpool, just because of who they are, and, of course, because they have the guy everyone loves to hate: Suarez. And I also have a soft spot for Everton through my best friends and family and they are the second team I (quietly) root for when the Villa aren’t on. The year they won 3-1 at Anfield with the Ashley Young penalty at the end, there was a great picture of the scoreboard . . . I made that into a t-shirt!

Who is your favorite player on the current squad?

Ashley WestwoodAshley Westwood. I had the distinct privilege of being able to travel over to England this past spring and catch up with some of the Lions from Kidderminster that I met in Chicago the summer before, and with them I was able to experience the win at Stoke with that Lowton golazo! That was an experience I will never forget. But during that trip I also wanted to experience a lower league game, and since there’s seemingly always been a connection between the Villa and Crewe I decided to go see them play at the Alexandra. Well, when I was there I got to meet Ashley Westwood’s father Kevin, who works on the grounds, as well as Ashley’s grandparents. Finer people in this world you’re not likely to meet. Kevin let it be known that I was in town to see Ashley’s old club and that I’d come all the way from Seattle in America to see it, and their PR man gave me a signed picture of Ashley in the Wembley Stadium locker room the night they secured promotion to League One. Not that I needed to be persuaded of Westwood as a player—I’ve always thought he was a very solid addition from the start—but the personal touch from his family and his extended family at Crewe just put it over the top for me. I had the picture framed and it’s in my office.

Who is your favorite player of all time?

I have a soft spot for John Carew. I admit it fully and without reservation. I know he was a big lump and probably didn’t give his all at times defensively (not that he was necessarily being asked to be that guy), but, boy, he scored some cracking goals and he just had a nose for the net—as well as that head of his. And of course, there’s the song . . . .

What are your favorite sources for Villa news?

Heroes & Villains, Villa Talk, Aston Villa Review, the Villa Times, the AVFC Official Site (including AVTV), 606, TalkSport.

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

I don’t know how I rate (and I suppose ultimately that’s for others to decide), but I know I’m VTID. They’ve got me for better or worse, so I guess my loyalty would be my best quality. Worst qualities? Probably that I live half a world away from the Holte End, so I don’t get to support the Villa the way I’d like to—but I’m trying to get there at least once at year (and hopefully twice in 2014) to let them know there are boys nearly two oceans away that bleed claret and blue.

Where do you usually watch games?

If the game is on telly, it’s always at the George and Dragon in a hip little part of Seattle called Fremont. Almost every ex-pat that I’ve talked to—and we have a fair number, interestingly enough—have told me the pub is the closest they’ve come to an authentic English pub experience in the States. It’s owned by two ex-pats—one is a Hereford fan and the other an Arsenal supporter—and they are terrific. Love the George. It’s definitely the “official unofficial bar of the AVFC Seattle Lions.”

What are you usually drinking?

Anything from Rainier to Bass to Strongbow to a “Twlya” (named after a good friend of mine who is a United supporter), which is basically a coconut cuba libre. During the winter months I’ll go for a hot buttered rum or any number of concoctions the staff decide is in my best interests (not often the case, by the way—especially, say, after a half-dozen or so). My tastes vary, and I like to keep it somewhat interesting.

Extra Time

If you could sign any player from any other team for Villa, who would it be and why?

Michael BradleyIn this case, it’s a guy I’d like to sign back . . . Michael Bradley. He’s been killing it for Roma and he just didn’t get the time he deserved when with the Villa. He’s probably not the super creator we need at the moment, but he would work his socks off and really solidify our midfield. I think he’d also give us a little more going forward than what we currently have.

Norwich 0 – Aston Villa 1: Ugly Win, Beautiful Three Points

True, Paul Lambert’s team selection was a bit of a surprise. But does anyone else remember the days when Martin O’Neill’s squad sheet could have been chiseled in stone, so rarely did it change? When, late in the season, with the players running on fumes, he still acted as though he had no one he could trust to bring in off the bench? There may be such a thing as being too willing to flirt with new lineups, but then again, it seems to be working out well for Jurgen Klinsmann and the USMNT. So I, for one, am willing to trust our skipper.

For the first five minutes, Villa looked by far the better team. If I remember the sequence right, Weimann got off one decent shot and one great shot that, sadly, hit the post. I feel terrible for the guy: he runs like a greyhound and works like a . . . well, another kind of dog, and he just deserves more success. Later in the game, when he skied one over the bar, I could sense his growing desperation.

Libor Kozak finds the back of the net
Libor Kozak finds the back of the net

Anyway, in the sixth minute, when Ciaran Clark handled the ball to give away a penalty, I thought, right, here we go again. Dreamtime is over. Back to searching for an equalizer.

And then . . Brad Guzan showed us why he is The Man. I also feel sorry for him, to be on this kind of form in the Tim Howard era. Any other time in history and he’s the starting goalkeeper for the U.S.A.

So the penalty save brought fresh hope, and then Benteke came off injured. Mentally, some Villans are already running scenarios well into the future—well, if he’s out for two or three months, then he won’t leave in the January transfer window, which means we’ve at least still got him this spring, and if he’s out until spring, then do we have him next year?—when Libor Kozak comes on, shoots, is denied, and then is given a second chance by Gabby that he can’t miss.

Libor! Libor! I’m sorry, but it’s a bit too close to Latka, or Balki, or even Borat, though the fact that it has only two syllables does make it easier to chant (poor Ricky van Wolfswinkel).

Anyway, from anticipation to despair to elation to despair to guarded optimism—rapid-fire sequence of emotional zigzags that pretty much sums up what it’s like to follow Villa. And surely this Libor fellow is a fluke? I kept worrying about Benteke on the bench. How could he be smiling? Maybe the smile is a good sign, as is the fact that he clearly didn’t want to leave the field in the first place.

This was the first game since the win over Arsenal that I was able to watch as it happened. Imminent AYSO coaching duties meant that I didn’t have time to get down to the pub and back (and it’s probably not advisable to coach U8s and U10s with beer on my breath), but I wanted that feeling of watching the game with others. And so I opened up my laptop and logged in to Twitter and set Tweetdeck to #AVFC.

The experience was interesting—it’s fun to see the screen light up after saved penalties, injuries, goals, etc.—but distracting, too. I found myself watching the game itself with only half my attention. And, true to the curse of social media, instead of just marveling at whatever dramatic thing I’d just seen, I found myself struggling to say something witty and succinct. The Age of Social Media is the Age of Narcissism: could that yellow card have actually happened if I didn’t find something funny to say about it?

Anyway, I did enjoy seeing clever things from other Tweeps, and appreciated finding some facts and photos along the way. But back to the game. Villa continued to look good on the counter, and there were moments where I felt that old optimism, that old sense that we’re going to run off two or three quick goals and put the game out of reach. And surely we need to, because our defense looks shocking. We’re cursed on the back line, aren’t we? Okore looked as though he would become an important bulwark on a solidifying defense; now, with Vlaar and Clark in center, and a possibly out-of-position Bacuna at right, and Luna at left, we look as though we’re standing on sand that is crumbling away at our feet.

Luna in particular looked shockingly vaporous. Maybe the Arsenal game was a fluke, but I thought then that he looked like a great addition: a fast, athletic back, alert to offensive opportunities, willing to race tirelessly up and down the wing. But how can he play better against Arsenal, Liverpool, and Chelsea than against Norwich? I’m not writing him off yet, but he needs to show more consistency.

And, speaking of bad days at the office: Aleksandar Tonev. After his first long but errant shot, I thought: glad the boy’s got confidence. After the second: maybe a bit too much confidence, but hey, why not? After the half-dozenth long and off-target shot I wanted shake him silly. I’m sure he just wants to impress, and I know Lambert will have a word, but it’s not the debut I would expect from a professional player. Judging from the comments on Twitter, it’s either time to loan Tonev to a team in the second division or cut off both his feet before ceremonially burning him at the stake. He needs time but, of course, we don’t have a large margin for error.

I’ve already gone on too long, so I’ll close by saying this: on Saturday, I didn’t really recognize this team, and it’s not just because of the new faces. We looked haphazard and tentative where, only a few games ago, we looked organized and confident. (Speaking of organization, do you know who we could use in midfield? Michael Bradley. Too bad Villa never had the vision to bring him in for a try. Oh wait, they did? Pity. I guess he’s not good enough for a thirteenth-place team. He just barely managed to find a starting position at a first place team in some place called Italy, after all.)

Hopefully this win will offer some confidence to play our best game again. It was ugly but, for now, those three points are beautiful.

Reasons for Optimism

Tonev is no Benteke, but he might just do the job.

Gabby. No idea why Lambert took him off. He and Guzan were our two most valuable players.

We still look dangerous on the counter. If we can pinch an early lead against teams like Norwich, it will draw them forward, giving us an even better chance of that second goal. And we will need a second, or third, or fourth goal. This clean sheet will be an anomaly this season.

Bradley Edwin “Brad” Guzan

Reasons for Pessimism

Jores Okore is out for the year. Lambert has expressed his faith in Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker. He may be right. History will have fans wondering otherwise.

Christian Benteke. How soon will he be back?

Antonio Luna

Alexander Tonev

A midweek League Cup game at home against Tottenham, a team that is second in the table and second in form. Given that games at Villa Park hardly seem to give us an advantage. I think we’d be extremely lucky to get a good result. (On the other hand, Andre Villas-Boas has just announced that he’ll field a team of reserves, so . . . there goes that unfounded optimism again.)

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