And I am only slightly afraid.
Anxiety to the power of ten.
I flatter myself that I know what Total Football is all about, having seen the great Dutch sides of the Seventies but I was never that familiar with Nutty Football, that is, until I saw Villa’s midweek Carling Cup semi-final against Blackburn.
On consideration I think I rather prefer the former to the latter but beggars can’t be choosers, when, all you really want to do, is progress to your first final in a decade and get the chance to belatedly bless the New Wembley turf with the runic impressions of Villa studs, beneath the iconic twenty-first century proscenium arch of Wembley’s sliding roof.
Its probably safe to say that the Villa pilgrims’ progress, was not exactly what you might call routine and it can only be left to the neutrals to decide whether it was what they might call entertainment but from where I was sitting, it was a rather traumatising drama, which not only swung from the ridiculous to the sublime and all the way back again, it made me as dizzy as a trout in a blender and as nauseous as a bulimic in a toilet queue.
By the time Blackburn were two-nil up, I was beginning to regret my too prescient warning that Nikola Kalinic, might have grown tired of hitting the Villa post and would start hitting the back of the net. It certainly looked all over for Villa, as their defenders looked like Bambi on ice and the goalkeeper was flapping like a flag in a wind-tunnel.
I actually missed Villa’s first goal but despite what anyone says, no way was I sulking. I might have looked a bit glum and tearful but no way can anyone describe someone banging their head against a wall, while shouting ‘You f*^*&%$ Idiots!’, as sulking. Expressing myself emotionally? Yes! But, sulking? Absolutely, not.
Once the majestic Milner had done the difficult and put away the penalty, things started to look better, even though my head still hurt quite a bit.
After Samba went off, no doubt dancing with frustration, things opened up for Villa, as Milner was given the free run of the midfield areas and Villa did something, which looked quite novel and even innovative – they started to pass the ball to feet.
It was soon time for the England goalkeeper Robinson to start flapping, as Cuellar’s height brought a dividend at the near-post and the ball ping-ponged into the Blackburn net, from Downing’s corner.
With Milner roaming the midfield unmolested, two more goals quickly followed but just as we were uttering our Goodnight Viennas, the cheeky buggers went up the Villa end and scored two more goals, leaving us to struggle with the maths and wonder if Villa’s defence could hold out for the final ten minutes. The time slipped by as slowly as a tectonic plate, until Ashley Young terminated affairs, with a solo
goal of astounding subtlety and beauty.
Unbounded joy ensued and the Villa fans were inspired to trample the holy of holies, the sacred turf; and the singing started in confident earnest.
We are indeed off to Wemberley.
As the Villa fans woke on Thursday morning, with their sore throats, and in the cheering knowledge that they had not just dreamt of their heroes’ victory, they only had one thing on their minds, apart from the likelihood of actually getting a ticket.
The big question was and still remains, is whether Brad Guzan should keep his place for the final, after the evidence that his game deteriorated under the pressure of nerves the night before. I am sure even he would have to admit that it was not his best excursion between the Villa sticks.
There is no knowing how the mind of a professional sportsman works but you have to wonder whether he would ever conclude that he stood a better chance of getting a medal, sat on the bench, while his more experienced compatriot Big Daddy Brad, was handed the precious shirt, than if he gets to wear it himself. Its a no brainer of course; he’d much prefer to have the honour of being handed the shirt and the gloves, rather than sit on the bench, with or without a winner’s medal.
That’s a decision only Martin O’Neill can make.
The other question being muttered by a few Villans, was whether Milner is now a better midfield player, than Gareth Barry, who had looked decidedly ordinary in the other semi-final of the Carling Cup. Its hard to make a direct comparison because although his passing wasn’t great against Man United, he defended very well.
One thing is for certain though. Milner’s emergence has proven once again, that when players move on, others come out of the old boy’s shadow to take their place.
A more pressing concern for the fans, is actually getting a ticket, as with only thirty-odd thousand tickets allocated, for Villa, it seems likely that some regulars will miss out.
As everyone will recall from previous Wembley outings, Villa fans will be emerging from the woodwork, to demand a ticket for themselves, their nieces, nephews, sons, daughters and their pet Jack Russell, as they fancy a nice day out and the hope of a bit of glory. Ex-pats will be hassling their Villa insiders, for a ticket or two.
Some long time Villa stalwarts, will miss out.
Those with a season-ticket will get to go, and those in the loop and the right contacts will go, but the rest will have to watch it down the pub and endure the spectacle of the glory hunters, bludgers and junketeers, attending in their place.
Ever was it so.
Who Villa meet in the final does not seem to matter, as both Manchester teams look capable of embarrassing Villa, if they happen not to turn up.
Painful memories of a disappointing FA Cup final in 2000, when David James dropped the ball, are too fresh for me to be totally sanguine about the likelihood of Villa’s success, but at least we are there, which is a start.
And I am only slightly afraid.
Keep the faith.