A week in the life of …. an Aston Villa fan


James Hendicott is a freelance music and travel writer who occasionally dabbles in sport, and a passionate Aston Villa fan’.


“Three points, I’ll take three points but no less,” says a regular guest on a Villa podcast on Monday morning, with games against Manchester City and Arsenal to come.

Not unreasonably, the two other speakers have a chuckle and proceed to roll out more modest targets: getting something, really. Anything.

My increasingly impressive football team are climbing the Premier League at a rapid trot.

It’s an unlikely turn of events connected to the appointment of a hugely impressive manager (Unai Emery) and some astute signings (if you don’t rate Pau Torres and Boubacar Kamara, you don’t watch enough of Aston Villa).

The issue, at least at that specific moment just over a week ago, was the imminent arrival of the reigning Premier League and European Champions Manchester City, and their main rivals for the title last season, Arsenal, at Villa Park all in the space of just under 72 hours.

You see, the truth is, Villa have been mediocre for a long time.

A few years ago the club was, reportedly, within a few days of going bankrupt, and had an extremely hard time turning down a laughable offer from Tottenham of £10 million plus Josh Onomah for our only significant asset at the time, Jack Grealish.

An offer so derisory, by the way, that it later found its way onto t-shirts.

And sure, before Man City rolled into town, Villa had notched a remarkable 13 consecutive home wins, mostly against relatively modest opposition, but including an absolutely euphoric victory over Brighton that secured a return to Europe after more than a decade away.

Villa fans had become unusually used to winning, playing a style of flamboyant, possession-based and attacking football that’s as beloved of Villa fans as it is despised by anyone who’s gone a goal down to us and needs to locate some time on the ball.

But, what wasn’t supposed to happen was what has happened this week.

I mean, obviously, speaking from a Villa perspective it is very much what we had hoped for, but remove some football bravado, and even optimistic Villa fans would likely have taken three points from a possible six from the visit of two of England’s biggest clubs.

Now, I should confess at this point that I’m no longer a regular at Villa Park.

A former season ticket holder of many years, I now live north of Dublin, so I’ve attended only two home games this year. So, as I settled down to watch Villa take on the mega-bucks goliath that is Manchester City, I did so on the couch.

And what a performance I sat – or rather stood -in front of the fire to enjoy.

You’ll have seen the stats by now: 22 shots to 2 in Villa’s favour; consistent control of the ball; a goal that was slightly fortunate but unquestionably coming.

It was the kind of result that until very recently, Villa simply didn’t get, and what a performance.

In three decades of watching my club, I can’t recall a more dominant display against a more foreboding team. I couldn’t sleep afterwards, so instead I sat in front of the TV with a whiskey and watched the entire thing through all over again.

“The day I believe Aston Villa can win the league will be the day we sit four points clear with a game to go.”

It wasn’t so much the result, as the nature of it: a step up, a statement win, In all but goals, this was an absolute demolition job on the Champions. And a jump to the nosebleed territory of third place.

So onto Arsenal, and 14 consecutive home wins to protect. A repeat was too much to ask, surely? In a sense, yes. This was less pretty, a fantastically crafted goal, and then a pitch battle we just about won.

Arguably we didn’t deserve to win, though I haven’t got much time for Arsenal complaints: the ‘penalty’ challenge was borderline, and disallowed goal was simply correct under the current rules, like them or not.

That said, Villa scraped it, with that bargain bin midfield coming up with the goal and then a bout of pure resilience.

That core five, McGinn, Ramsey, Kamara, Tielemans and Douglas Luiz, by the by, cost just over £20 million, comically almost identical to what Villa sold youngster Carney Chukwukemeka to Chelsea for in the summer – incredible recruitment.

So far this season, Villa are nothing if not pointedly resilient, which is a pleasant change from years of tending to crumble under pressure.

Another win, not as emphatic or ecstatic as the first, but a marker, and, in some senses, an announcement directed at the rest of the league, a statement that the club have arrived and the cue for dozens of ‘are Villa in the title race’ think pieces.

That said, in many ways I suspect a lot of Villa fans would have liked it we could somehow have had the points, but still slipped under the radar for a couple of months more, pressureless.

If you’re wondering what it’s all about at Villa, here’s a couple of pointers for next time you see them play.

i) Watch out for the way they keep the ball, it’s remarkable and incredibly effective at drawing the opposition forward. They often score off long sequences of passing at the back.

ii) The offside trap: contrary to various ill-informed punditry about the highline, it’s remarkably effective. Most teams can’t work it out. The opposition are often – very often – offside.

iii) The goalscorers: Ollie Watkins is tireless and of good quality, but the goals come from everywhere: give any of Watkins, Diaby, Bailey, McGinn, Ramsey, Luiz and Tielemans a decent sight of goal and they’re liable to do damage.

iv) Finally, take note of Pau Torres. The man is exceptional. He provides chances from his own defensive line. He’ll happily sit on the ball ten yards from goal and take players out of the game by exchanging passes with a certain Emi Martinez until the cows come home.

Villa are irritating to clubs, because of how hard they find it retrieve possession, and I can’t remember ever thinking that before. Right now, they play like a big, domineering club, and we can only dream that it lasts.

There’s something great fun about supporting a club that’s not, at least in modern times, traditionally a threat to the established order of the Premier League, but has suddenly, if perhaps only temporarily, become just that.

I can’t lie, there’s pleasure to be found in how much it annoys the online brigade of fans behind City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United, the “everyone who isn’t in the Champions League is shite” brigade of modern football, when things go the way of little old Villa.

Above all, though, this brings elation, an elation that I’ve rarely taken from football.

So now, as the dust, at least for a few days, settles, the media asks itself in a frantic circle of confused and slightly begrudging admiration, are Villa in a title race? It seems a question almost designed to leave something to discredit us: of course not, how could we be?

My take is that Villa are not in a title race, at least not for the long run, though, should my side somehow grab a not entirely unrealistic away win at Brentford and a home win at Sheffield United in our next two games, the fixtures are such that it’s not impossible we’ll be top at Christmas, and then silly season can really hit full pace.

That said, to lose one or both would feel almost comfortably nostalgic at this stage: an almost hug-like glance at what Villa have been for years.

The day I believe Aston Villa can win the league will be the day we sit four points clear with a game to go.

Until then, I’ll just remember that I never supported this club because they win. That’s an awful reason to support any football team anyway.

What I’ve always appreciated, above all else, is the stoic joy to be found in the place, the stadium that seeps history, the staunch modesty of Brummie fandom, and that like life, Villa offer highs and lows, and the lows, unlike with a certain selection of clubs, are actually genuine, and oddly life-affirming lows.

This week won’t last.

Of course it won’t. Any Premier League fan worth their salt knows now that ultimately, the same few clubs are it for what is now a global product, and the rest of us are almost intended to make up the numbers these days.

Villa… well, ‘it’ we are not.

ut in 30 years of following Villa, wins against the annointed clubs of the league have been an oddity, really. Then come weeks like this, weeks that make it feel like you can really dream. We’re having a moment, and it’ brought me such unbridled joy.

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