Short back and sides, Sir?
History repeats the old deceits, the glib replies, the same defeats..
One thing I really like is a coincidence. For instance, I love the fact that Elvis Presley and David Bowie share the same birthday (January 8th), and that Hitler and the philosopher Wittgenstein went to the same school. I love stories of people whose ultimate success relied upon something which looked like a disaster – something I call the Ace Rimmer scenario. Tony Iommi is a perfect example.
There is always something really appealing about such symmetry and irony.
But obviously when it comes to football, the significance of coincidence goes far beyond mere amusement and is actually an obsession, while historical symmetry is a well established feature of football lore.
It was a perfect week of football for enjoying the symmetries and ironies of football folklore, what with two of the world’s best players missing crucial penalties and a player who had been written-off, scoring the goal which took Chelsea through to the Champions League final. The irony hung heavy.
Immediately after Chelsea’s victory, the papers were full of stories about the parallels between a game between Leeds and Barcelona, back in 1975, when Leeds managed a draw, to reach the final of the European Cup. The parallels start to get spooky when the coincidences are totted up. Just like Chelsea, Leeds had just sacked an uppity young manager in Brian Clough. Leeds played in white and had their centre-half Gordon McQueen sent off, for violent conduct. Leeds got the draw they needed and went on to play Bayern Munich in the final.
Villa too, wrote themselves into the narrative by completely bottling a game, they should have won, which left McLeish’s judges reaching for their black caps.
Villa were actually no worse than they have been for most of the season, and their lamentable pass-completion rate of 56% in the game, which is barely better than random, is just average for the season and nothing worse. Villa are the third worst passers of the ball in the Premiership and in all areas of the pitch, so when it comes to passing the ball, the midfield players, attackers and defenders are all equally poor. Obviously, if they can’t keep the ball, they expend a good deal of their energy, chasing to try and win it back. Not the best use of a player’s energy, I would have thought.
Villa’s collapse against Bolton seemed to provide the biggest indication that history might be about to repeat itself. The fact that McLeish sounded almost exactly the same as countless other failing managers have done over the years, added to the sense of doom. Once managers start talking about hard-work and fighting spirit, you just know they have run out of ideas.
As Brian Clough once famously said, on a different subject entirely; if you go into a barbers often enough, one day you’ll end up having your hair cut. Villa have set themselves up as a club likely to get embroiled in a relegation battle and that is what has happened.
Short back and sides, Sir?
So faced with Villa’s predicament it comes as no surprise that the fans, and in particular myself, were busy rummaging our memories and searching the archives for events in the past which might provide a bookend to Villa’s, as yet unknown, fate.
Obviously, Villa getting relegated on the thirtieth anniversary of their finest hour, fulfils all criteria perfectly. Being relegated by West Brom has historical precedence but only a postponement could make it a possibility; though the Baggies will surely make their best contribution. There is the possibility of Villa being relegated, if not this season but next, the year after the country hosts a huge international sporting event. Villa were relegated in 1967, the year after England hosted the World Cup. Are Villa fated to delay their relegation until next year, twelve months after hosting the Olympics?
The most alluring and also the most likely, is Villa’s manager enjoying the unprecedented and dubious accolade of getting two clubs from the same city relegated in successive seasons. This might be a minor disaster for Villa but there are plenty of fans out there, who would accept that disaster, for the not inconsiderable consolation of being proven right, after their opinions were treated with contempt. It might not pass a Solomonic test of true love, but a smug told-you-so does bring a certain amount of consolation, when there is nothing else.
There is also the prospect of the present owner repeating Doug’s history, of getting the first two managers he hired badly wrong and getting it right third-time-lucky. So Doug hired Turner and McNeill who were disasters, and then got it right the third time, with Graham Taylor. So do the fates suggest that Lerner, who got it badly wrong with Houllier and McLeish, will get it right the next time with, A. N. Other, who will turn out to be so good he’ll end up with the England job, after England’s failure to qualify for the next World Cup?
Throughout the week, such superstitious speculation became fierce, as Villa fans held their breath and girded their loins, in anticipation of the future suffering and humiliation they might have to endure, in the next few weeks.
But obviously, if Villa were to scrape a win over the Baggies, the fans could give up their gallows humour, stop their fanciful speculation and return to being rational beings once more.
As things stand, all we can do is wait on History’s simple twist of fate.
Keep the faith!