In 2019 I released a book, Fear Conquers All, about my life, my struggles with brain aches and operations (14 so far!) and how to face setbacks full-on and fight back. It has gone down so well, you can see from the 28 five star reviews!
Anyway, I thought I would serialise the Aston Villa parts of the book here on Vital Villa.
I will link to the other parts at the end of this article.
I’m a video star!
It’s funny how sometimes things just come together perfectly. Aston Villa lined up Under Armor to be their new kit provider. They were talking about a launch campaign and due to the fact we’d just been relegated (and there were a good number of players that weren’t exactly popular with the fans at the time), the marketing team was considering doing something very different.
They were looking at key fans and social influencers and my name came up. I’m not being big-headed here, this is how it was explained to me – honest! People at Villa (including marketing manager Adam Lowe) knew I’d done the Men’s Health shoot and – perfect synchronicity really – I had Under Armor shorts on in magazine.
A guy called Kenny, who works for an outside agency, was also talking with the club, as he was in charge of the kit launch campaign. He knew me from his time at my company’s advertising agency, so add it all together and it was perfect.
I do genuinely love UA, so when I was asked to be involved, I jumped at the chance. I didn’t realise at the time quite how big a deal this was going to be; I thought I’d have a minor role to play. However, I ended up (along with a young Villa ladies’ player called Beth Merrick) being at the centre of the campaign.
The whole idea was about fighting back, something I’m known for doing these days it seems. There was to be a kit launch video that Beth, myself and a model were to be in. When I was shown the script for my part, there was one bit that did worry me slightly. I had to be shot swimming in the pool at Bodymoor Heath, the Aston Villa training ground. I mean a video shoot, not literally shot – I’d do pretty much anything for Aston Villa, but that would certainly be going beyond the call of duty! I wasn’t in top condition as I had been for the MH photo shoot because I’d had to rest due to injured elbows, but I was what I would consider ‘passable’.
The first part of the shoot was an early morning scene walking through Aston Manor Park, towards Villa Park. The production company had initially wanted me running around there, but I had to explain my limitations and they understood. Now, walking around wouldn’t have looked particularly dramatic, if not for the fact it was pouring with rain. This was shot at 6am. The half-light and the pounding rain all added to the drama and to be fair, it’s not as if I have to worry about getting my hair wet, is it?
Then we all moved on to Bodymoor Heath for the first of several shoots. First up was the scene with me in the pool. There I was, standing in nothing but my swim shorts surrounded by ten or so men. Only I could get myself into a situation like that really. I just thought, if you excuse my French, ‘Fuck it, have fun!’ I would have felt so self-conscious and awkward if this was being done before I’d been featured in Men’s Health with no top on, but that had really liberated me, in as much as I know I’ll never be perfect, but the scars and damaged ribs just show I’m a survivor, so why hide it? Oh, and yes, it was a cold morning, ladies!
Film crew, cameraman, producer, production assistant, some Aston Villa staff, a guy operating a smoke machine and little old me swimming. It worked out well – I was chuffed when they asked if I could swim a bit slower for the action shot, although I did worry if I went too slow I might sink and drown. That would have made quite a dramatic video, I suppose.
Then the film crew and a glad-to-be-slightly-more clothed Fear moved into the team gym to do what I’m far more comfortable doing, lifting weights. The nice thing about these scenes is they took my advice on what I’d look best doing, as opposed to a few of the exercises they had suggested.
I also had to do a scene of me turning off an alarm clock for the start of the video, which was basically showing me getting up at 5am to start a full of day training. I asked, as this was shot after the lifting and swimming as opposed to in sequence (non-film stars won’t understand all this industry talk!), if I could have ten minutes.
‘Yes, sure, no problem,’ the producer said. ‘Why, are you a little bit tired now?’ he enquired.
‘No,’ I said, ‘I’ve got to get my hand into character!’ They said at the end of the day they’d enjoyed the shoot and I think they appreciated the fact I took them and what they needed seriously, but not myself. Oh and what a great action shot the clock scene was!
That is method acting at its very best. Hollywood still hasn’t come knocking though. Baffling isn’t it?
My niece, Issy, thought all of this was hilarious because my nephew Bailey is an actor, and yet I was the first to make it to video. To be fair, he’s performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (and I haven’t) so maybe we are one-all?
The day went on, the shots continued; I even had to do a scene on an exercise bike with an oxygen mask on. Then when we were finished with Bodymoor Heath, it was back to Villa Park to do the final shots. This was to be me unveiling the new Villa shirt. This was just unbelievable – as a lifelong fan, sitting in the Holte End, being filmed unveiling the shirt that the players would be wearing throughout the coming season. Just imagine how surreal it all felt. I was very proud.
And that’s appropriate because the video was all about pride and passion.
After the shoot was done, I went home. I did realise what we were doing could really backfire, as it was such a different concept for a kit launch and not everyone likes ‘different’ do they?
If this wasn’t done right, it could bring ridicule on myself – I could handle that, I work online and am used to the less than polite amongst us, trolls and keyboard warriors sitting in their Y-fronts behind a computer screen, being rude – but also on the club and I’d really not have liked that. It’s always a risk doing anything online, because people really don’t hold back with their opinions.
Luckily, the video was awesome. It was such a relief.
I first saw the video at a kit launch night at Bodymoor Heath where the (then) new CEO Keith Wyness introduced the guys from Under Armor, whom I had only briefly met before the event. They all did their respective speeches, including a video presentation about their brand, ethos and how the company started in the garage of their founder and had grown to a $4billion concern
I knew I’d got a speech to do but that wasn’t until later and none of the press or the other Villa fans/website editors attending the launch knew that bit was coming. I guess it would have been just a bit too much excitement for them all? Ahem.
There was a pre-organised training session. We were all given kit, press included, and went into the main indoor training area. Some of the warm-up exercises were ok for me but then the Villa coaches got people doing sprints. I quietly stood to one side, not making a fuss. One of the coaches came up and asked if I was all right, or if I’d injured myself. I explained as briefly as possible, that I do what I can, but sprinting wasn’t one of the things that my brain aches would allow. He was very courteous and understood. But then the sledges were brought out. No, not snow sledges, these are the weighted gizmos that athletes in training either push or pull.
I think I impressed the coaches at that stage, as they could then see I wasn’t just a bottler making excuses or being a ‘poor me’ sort. I was straight to the front of the queue for this challenge. ‘I can’t run without the fear of falling over, but I’m doing this.’ I said. It’s crucial for me to be sensible when there is something I really can’t do, but to push myself to do challenging things that I feel I can.
I loved it, although it was knackering, I’d not been training for some while. When they put on more weights only a few of us wanted to continue. If not for a very poor turn (I turned the sledge too quickly and it tilted to fall), I would have won. But a dastardly local journalist half my age, Gregg Evans of the Birmingham Mail beat me. Bad times! Once all this was done, it was back upstairs to the media room where the UA guys showed the launch video and then introduced me. I was fecking shattered now – why couldn’t I have done the speech before the training?
It went well though, I was really pleased. I even ad-libbed without losing my way. The only reason I strayed at the start of what I’d scripted was because the speeches from the Under Armor guys contained a good few of the words I had in my talk. It might well have looked like I’d been primed, so I said that I’d not met or talked to the UA guys. So I was fascinated by the similarities and the number of times what I’d written matched what the UA guys had said. I also said that it was great to know we were on the same hymn sheet – it boded well for what they might do in partnership with Villa.
The nice thing was the really good comments I got from some of the lovely folk there that night after my speech. One of the fans said I had summed up how he was feeling as a Villa fan perfectly. Bullseye. It’s us fans I care the most about. The Under Armour guys were happy as well. So was I, they had given me a bag full of goodies before the event to make sure I was appropriately kitted out, including some very snazzy new red trainers. There was several hundred pounds worth of kit, bags, shirts and other such bits and indeed bobs. Very kind of them. That was on top of the kit we were all given for the training session. Bingo.
Forum thread: Click Here….
(I’m making a tentative return to writing, something I’ve done for 20 years now, following yet more brain ache issues and my 14th operation. I was close to hanging up the keyboard, but I’ll see how it goes. Hopefully this article is error free! Right now, the lights are on but no one is home so to speak!)
The Villa part begins in Chapter 16, following numerous operations, a near loss of life, a total conspiracy to cover up the fact I had never been put on the hospital waiting list and all sorts of other fascinating occurrences. This is the part of the life story where I find myself devoid of things to do, devoid of health, and wondering what was next so……….
Chapter 18 Part 2: A Moment, At Villa Park, That Brought Me To Tears