Date: 23rd September 2006 at 9:34am
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But love him, loath him or grudgingly respect or resent him, Doug is an indelible part of Villa’s history.

By Steve Wade

A rather momentous week for Villa, as after what seemed like an eternity of uncertainty Randy at last got his shares and Doug Ellis pocketed his cheque, handed in his lamp and helmet at the pit-head baths, donned his bicycle-clips and tootled off over the cobbles to start his new life of tending his allotment, talking to his pigeons and walking his whippets along the canal bank, in the melancholy evening of his life.

No doubt as he ended his long association with the club and took his wistful journey home, he might have felt a slight lump in his throat and the salute of the security men, as he passed through the gate for the last time, might have tugged at a tear-duct, as any old soldier might feel, on leaving the colours behind. It is likely that his thoughts went back to the day he arrived and that the comparison of then and now must have been palpable, with every creaking turn of his bicycle-peddles and the ache of his stiff back. It must have been with a bitter sweet realisation, that the difference
of what he was and what he had become had been left at that place. Once home he would hang his leaving certificate on the parlour wall, put his retirement clock on the mantelpiece and sit there and listen to it tick away the twilight.

He might take a little cosy comfort in contemplating his little nest-egg, now safely in his Post Office account, and feel satisfied that it should, if he’s careful, see him out and still leave a few bob for his missus to
comfort her, when he’s gone. Perhaps he’ll splash out on a new suite for the lounge and finally get round to papering the spare bedroom, in something a bit ‘jazzy’. And every morning when he nips down the newsagents for his paper, he’ll get used to those early morning rib-ticklers: ‘Retired Doug? Its alright for some – ha ha!’.

But joking apart, even with a mansion with a Roller in the drive and more bank accounts than your average football manager, retirement still presents a challenge, and probably even more so to someone with the sort of restless spirit which never knew the meaning of enough (except where transfers were concerned). So, apart from turning up for every Villa game for the sheer joy of annoying his detractors (which means me), I expect he’ll continue making a nuisance of himself elsewhere too. As he well knows, having twenty million quid which you just might spend (I’d love to be there when he negotiates a
discount on his new Roller), certainly makes people a little more tolerant of ones foibles, than they otherwise might be, and doors will continue to open. He’s probably been a bit annoying all his life so he’s not going to stop now. As someone once famously said – I didn’t get where I am today without being ……(suggestions?)

He must also know that even Presidents can find stuff, which was named after them, can be changed to something else. Even if you are JFK (the most famous and romanticized of the 20th century), you can suddenly lose a Cape and be just left with an airport. So if Doug is really concerned about his legacy, he still has plenty of work that needs doing. Setting up an Ellis trust to provide football scholarships for under-privileged kids across the world, would be a fantastic legacy and would more than justify his Honour.

He might start by taking the FA’s half-built school of excellence off their hands, and using someone like Beckham as the high-profile brand name, he could combine the school of excellence concept with his charitable trust, which would mean spending other people’s money (always an agreeable pastime), with the ultimate goal being, to then charge the FA to use it for its original purpose, as well as for football scholarships. Surely as a charitable trust it would be more likely to get Lottery money, than the profligate and feckless FA.

Of course, better still would be if Villa bought it and built their state-of-the-art training facility, without the planning restrictions which have constantly dogged Bodymore Heath. With the present squad scattered across the country, the location of the training ground would seem less important – doesn’t McCann live in Preston?. The hotel would provide the sort of facilities, which would avoid a repeat of the Angel fiasco, where he was left looking for B&B in Perry Barr. I am sure, Doug can only dream of being put in charge of such a project, especially if he got to sell the thing back to Villa (just kidding).

My feelings about Doug’s Villa legacy are mixed and none too clear – there’s the history and then there’s the man. Just like other historical figures, you can’t help but speculate about, at what point, should he have retired, which would have left him with the greatest credit. My guess would be after the cup final in 2000 – the club was simultaneously at a football and financial peak (worth £120m in 1999)

I eventually became disillusioned with Doug but despite reaching the conclusion that he was holding back investment and that he was interfering with team affairs by deciding which players he would sanction money for and which he would not, ultimately it was freedom of contract and the increase in player-power, which proved the biggest source of disenchantment for me. Player-power which seemed to be endorsed by the Chairman, to the manager’s disadvantage.

I sometimes forget that for many Villa fans, perhaps even a majority, a Villa under Doug’s control, is all they have ever known. To them the joys of some great players, some good teams, some fine managers and some memorable finals; all came with Doug at the helm. For me, Big Ron will always represent a high water-mark for sheer quality of football, financed of course by the Taylor legacy, and Brian Little’s return, with its influx of youth and what looked like a proper long-term plan for the club, seemed to place Villa on the cusp of something great but when Little walked out, when the club looked to be on the verge of something so special, it revealed something was wrong at the very heart of the club. John Gregory’s hostility to Ginola, made it look very much like he wasn’t a player he had chosen. It was impossible to believe Villa had just been unlucky as they went into decline.

But love him, loath him or grudgingly respect or resent him, Doug is an indelible part of Villa’s history.

I think the fans have some happy memories and certainly they’ve laughed and cried, some might have had their fill and their share of losing and sometimes, it hasn’t exactly been amusing. To think that he did all that and not really in a shy way. But in the end he’s a man and what has he got? About twenty million quid actually. What is a man? If not himself, McGrath, McNaught? To speak of managers – Turners and McNeills. Did he ever say what he truly feels and not the words of someone who does deals? His record shows the Blues were foes and he took us sideways.

Now the day is over,
Night is drawing nigh.
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.