Whatever happened to us?
Scream, scream, and scream again!
Faced with yet another protest from Villa’s revolting fans, this weekend, I am sure that when Randy Lerner woke up this morning and opened his newspaper and read that Edvard Munch’s famous painting, The Scream, had sold for $120m (£74m), a wry smile crossed his face, as he concluded that had he bought the painting instead of Aston Villa FC, he would have achieved exactly the same result, but for a lot less money and without the travelling costs.
Villa are one win away from securing their elite status but flying four-thousand miles to be told you are a twat, by the natives, hardly seems very inviting.
Its been a terrible season for Villa and Randolph’s attempt to sort Villa’s finances out for his own piece of mind and in compliance with UEFA’s financial fair-play rules, has been an almost perfect demonstration of Murphy’s law – that law which states that if anything can go wrong it will go wrong, and at the most inopportune moment. Its why the toast always lands butter-side down on the kitchen carpet when you are late for work.
Randy turned 50 back in February and so far, it hardly seems a year worth celebrating. Its not been great for a few years now but Villa’s owner seems set on solving his problems with a strong dose of tough love. He handed his son Max over to the Jesuits at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland and he handed the Villa fans over to the accountants and Alex McLeish.
The old Jesuit saying of – give me the child and I’ll show you the man, seems to match perfectly with Villa’s present situation of – give me the crisis and I will show you the fan. Add in Randy’s Jewish heritage and his family’s philanthropy, and it seems likely that he is the sort of guy who thinks suffering and struggle are to be embraced not avoided.
So, if Randy is the man I think he is, he will not be daunted by a few protests.
As for the players, the crushing negativity which has engulfed Villa Park these days seems to have reduced them to a bunch of inhibited and tentative under-achievers. Its hard to remember seeing such a miserable-looking bunch of players, than the Villa team which started against the Baggies. Every attempt on goal looked like the player was trying to make too sure and too certain to get it on target, and inevitably the chance had gone before they had even struck the ball.
But what may be true about Randy is definitely true about the Villa fans, and there is little doubt that a Jesuitical streak runs through every Villa supporter. There’s never a one who does not yearn to see the players have a public encounter with an excoriating ferula, for their sins. And of course, this sadomasochistic streak extends to themselves as well, as they invite the pain and humiliation of relegation by insisting on protesting, even though their opinion is already known and results are absolutely crucial.
You don’t have to be a masochist to be a Villa supporter, but it helps.
For those who bought Villa shares and their first season-ticket back in the old Third Division days, inspired by the rather romantic notion that their club needed saving, the current fans’ enthusiasm for relegation, is hard to comprehend.
Its exactly forty years since Villa got themselves promoted after two seasons in the Third Division and they began their slow ascent back to the top, but the scars left by five years of humiliation never went away. I can remember every sneer and put-down, and every one of the many times I was patronised by supporters of clubs which hadn’t taken gardening-leave from the top flight. And most of those humiliating moments during that five years, were supplied by Bluenoses, usually waiting in ambush at work on a Monday morning.
Never to be forgotten by that generation and never experienced by this.
Its twenty-four years since Villa recovered from their last bout of humiliating relegation and no fan, not already in their early thirties, can be expected to remember what it was like, or how long it takes for a club to recover its reputation. But it is still a perfect mystery to me, as to why a fan would make even the smallest contribution to creating the sort of atmosphere around the club, which prevents a player from performing to whatever their best may be.
But being as Jesuitical as the next Villa fan, I wonder whether, perhaps, this generation are in need of such a lesson and that maybe twenty-four years in the top division has made them soft and they take too much for granted. Perhaps if Villa were to be relegated, while Blues were promoted through the play-offs, they would learn something of real value, as they learned to meet the sardonic smiles of their local Bluenoses and see how much consolation there is to be had, from knowing they ousted a manager they didn’t like.
However, there are some benefits to be gained from relegation. If your club does well, it provides the fans with the illusion of progress, and travelling supporters get to visit the seaside more often. So its not all bad.
But it’s not something I would choose.
In the meantime, Villa must wait to see if their luck has got worse or better, as they contemplate the consequences of the FA choosing to make Roy Hodgson England manager, rather than Harry Redknapp. The news that they are to keep their manager after all, seems to have lifted everyone at Spurs, and they returned to the form which had gone missing since the rumours about Redknapp’s England prospects started, and soundly beat Bolton, much to Villa’s relief. But now Bolton must play West Brom and Villa must wait and see if the loss of their manager will distract the Baggies, to Bolton’s advantage.
Villa’s dissidents don’t expect their team to beat Spurs, not because the Lilywhites can field a team worth £170m, as compared with Villa’s £40m, but because Villa’s manager won’t play with the attacking intent of Blackpool. So this leaves the Villa malcontents free to chant their obscene critique at manager McLeish, in the full knowledge that if their club gets relegated, they at least played their part.
But should either Bolton or QPR lose on Sunday, Villa’s vastly superior goal-difference, will mean they are safe, which will make Villa the first club in Premiership history who were booed for avoiding relegation.
Whatever happened to us?
Keep the faith!