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!
The strapline is Get up – Get out – Live.
I guess in these COVID times, it should be Get up – stay in unless you have permission – live!
Anyway, I thought I would serialise the Aston Villa parts of the book here on Vital Villa.
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……….
Yesterday’s article ended:
That was the end of the Lerner tenure, as we were then taken over by a Chinese businessman, called Doctor Tony Xia.
Not before I tried to buy Aston Villa though. Well, not before I tried to see if Randy was open to what would have been quite a historic plan.
And so we continue……….
I sent this email to him on 31/12/2015:
I trust you are in good health and ready for whatever 2016 brings!?
I think you have known me long enough to hopefully form the opinion that I’m not out for me, I’m not a bull sort etc. I trust this remains for now between just your good self and me, quite happy for the General to know but would really rather those at the club not to.
I have wracked my brain as to what I can do. Not being a funded person, quite often it has come down to ‘not a lot’ but having seen the latest table (not sure if you have seen it, if not I will send it along) where Villa are 94th out of 94 clubs for points for this year, I think it is time to at least try to offer a solution.
I’ve never seen morale so low at Villa amongst staff, or those who have been pushed aside/sacked after years of good service or such a lack of accountability or feel for what Aston Villa is by those in charge in your ‘absence’ (and that bit isn’t a criticism of you, you admitted things had changed and did something about it, shocking no one has come in seriously for the founders of the league but then, as you know, no one is buying any club at the moment)
I look back on the money you’ve spent and the utter gash decisions manager after manager (and scouts etc.) have made on players. Even now we have the youngster from Barcelona (only press talk re value but if anywhere near the £6m they say then wow, just wow that he’s not judged good enough to play when some of the feckless walk around on our pitch disgracing our name) and it’s heart-breaking… they come, they sit on the bench, they get sold off cheaply.
I also fear replacing an inexperienced manager (I agree with Tom Fox over that blowhard) with an inexperienced manager was always doomed to failure. I like the way he carries himself, however, as we know, it’s a results game and the losses to the likes of Watford and Norwich will be our downfall. I’m sure you’ve asked yourself how the likes of Southampton, Watford, Palace, blimey even Leicester can be above us when they’ve all had to assemble squads without over spending as well and yet we prop up the league. Something somewhere is wrong and the lack of fight and direction must alarm you.
Anyway… some are talking about protests etc. I’ve asked to what aim. My sole aim back in the day was to get Doug to signal his intent to listen to offers (and also calling for some corporate governance as a PLC) and as you may remember, as soon as he started talking to you I made sure what I was doing was disbanded. It wasn’t even about a deal being done. So with you having put us up for sale, I don’t see what else can be done. Certainly if we do go down, fans will be humiliated, angry, embarrassed and won’t be happy if the staff who have presided over this are still telling them everything is ok.
I thought I’d sound you out on this as opposed to any tentative approach to Merrill Lynch. This assumes you still want out. With seemingly no big money backed offers to tempt, how about we attempt something historic for this most historic of clubs and try some sort of fan led consortium buy out?
This is what me and mine were up to just before you came in. I was relieved at the time you took this on and we didn’t have to pursue the plan. Obviously the price was more achievable back then as well.
It depends what your ‘cut and run’ price is if indeed you have one. It might be if we go down you’ll want to remain and try to get us back up to re-store the potential price.
Genuinely sorry it’s come to this. Just trying to ponder a way out for you and to try to move the club back upward. I fully realise the pitfalls and problems that would lie ahead if this was attempted, hence I decided I’d come straight to you to sound you out before putting too much thought into it. I would imagine that a fan fund along with investors could with a lot of hard work but achievable. If it could be pulled off you’d leave with honour though and it would be historic for the British game.
And back to my one line as above, I’m not looking at this for myself. I’ve no desire to be the big I am or to be CEO etc. I can’t even push for a free pie now as I only eat nice protein for my training! (Not sure I told you I made it into Men’s Health… 11 ops and still fighting was their take on it).
Cheeky git, sitting unwell in my home office, trying to sort of buy the club! It didn’t come to anything. A new owner was found and onward we moved.
For the amount of money Randy spent, if only he’d appointed the right managers and perhaps even the right CEO. His final choice of CEO, (or the choice of a head-hunter more likely at that stage), was Tom Fox, a commercial manager from Arsenal. Unfortunately, as nice as he was to talk to, he was a disaster at the club and was the one that presided over our relegation.
I had several conversations and email exchanges with him. He was personable and gentlemanly, but he was not cut out to be our Chief Exec. The week before he left, I had a meeting with him and General Krulak in a restaurant at the Belfry Golf course. The General asked what the fans wanted and, awkward though it was, I said, ‘The removal of Tom.’ It’s not easy sitting down in front of someone saying that everyone wanted him fired! After the General had passed on his thanks from Randy and talked to me in very nice complimentary terms as to what he thought about me, he left to get a flight back to the US, so Tom and I talked for a while.
Now, I was angry at how badly Aston Villa were doing – it was obvious by then we were going to be relegated, but it was of no use shouting and bawling at him. I asked him personally how he was coping and I think he was surprised by that. He knew I wasn’t happy, but the main talk of Villa was done and this was just two people chatting now. I also explained that, no matter how much he might want it, once fans have turned the way they had, I’d never seen them turn back and if/when we got relegated, it would get ten times worse. I said he needed to make sure he thought about his health. The next week, he had left Villa Park by mutual consent.
I was always very careful to keep a professional, neutral tone in what I did and, with that in mind, I met the person that Randy had brought in to help facilitate the much-needed sale. A business advisor called Steve Hollis was appointed as Chairman, his brief to sort the club out and help get it sold.
I found him very engaging, having worried that Randy had once again brought in someone with no experience of football. Refreshingly, he didn’t try to hide that fact. It didn’t take him long to get the club into a position to sell, and sold it was.
Will all this work? Well, I can now answer that. No. We now have yet more new owners!
I met Xia. It was before the Huddersfield match in 2016. I had been in hospital the week before having an upper ab/lower rib operation. The plan I had (thinking it was a smaller operation than it turned out) was to be discharged on the Saturday, get a taxi straight to Villa to see the match and then go home and rest. That proved impossible and actually I discharged myself on the Friday. However, the next Tuesday, much against common sense, I got to the Villa because before the game was a fan consultation meeting and as I’d played a big part in shaping the agenda, I didn’t want to miss it. Dr.. Xia was there. I was embarrassed because I was late (there had been an accident in the tunnel in the centre of Birmingham, it caused chaos, so being late wasn’t my fault but… well, I beat myself up anyway) and I think I was still high on the morphine that had been pumped into me. He seemed a very nice, quietly spoken guy and spoke of big plans for his club. But from the people I was talking to behind the scenes and the way the deal was structured, I didn’t really buy into this owner.
I also met the CEO under the now-departed Xia, Keith Wyness (who is also now departed), numerous times and I think he got a measure of me. The biggest compliment he’s paid me was, when I was going into a meeting with the head of the Aston Villa Foundation, Keith said, ‘You’ll like this, it’s right up your street.’ I’m glad he’s figured out quite quickly that, although vocal, it’s not about what I can get, it’s about the pride in my club and to see it do well, and not just on the pitch.
I still hope to win enough money to buy the club myself, but I have to be totally honest, the attempts so far have proved pretty unfruitful. I’m not sure I’d make a great football club owner, but the press would have a field day with my surname:
‘Fear Grips Villa Park!’
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!)