Date: 25th November 2005 at 8:04pm
Written by:

Last week’s chilly trek to Sunderland provided the relief of three desperately needed points for Villa but despite the glaring difference in class, which Villa’s second-half display suggested, it was a result which
left no excuse for self-congratulation or self-delusion, as it merely proved that there is at least one team worse than Villa in the division, where most fans and perhaps even O’Leary himself, are hoping that there are
at the very least, three such.

Looking at the table it certainly looks like Villa have suffered a
relegation this season which has left them looking fondly at their former peers, as they bask in the comfort-zone, six points better off, and enjoying the odd flight of fancy about European qualification, or, at least for the foreseeable future, the comfortable knowledge that one off-day is not a disaster. Villa look like they will have to wait rather a long time to
enjoy that feeling again, if at all.

Oh, for the luxurious comfort of mediocrity.

The more aged amongst the Villa watchers, who might struggle to remember what happened yesterday, or, are in the habit of climbing the stairs and then forgetting what it was exactly they were going to do in the spare bedroom, will have no trouble at all seeing the parallels with the many
other instances of self-inflicted decline, Villa have suffered over the years. There’s the same delay between the folly and the actual outcome, the same forgetfulness amongst the fans, which means they blame the wrong person
(Turner and not McNeil et al); the same reversion to short-termism and the same lack of any visible long-term strategy. In short, everything the Brian Little era set out to put right – the reduction of the average age of the squad and a the formulation of a long-term building programme have been ditched.

The same cause – the same legacy.

Charlton Athletic, Villa’s guests this coming weekend, seem to have done the right thing exactly as Villa have seemed to do the wrong. Their manager is one of the longest serving in the game and they have stuck to a slow and patient building of the club, into one of high reputation on and off the pitch, no doubt inspired by all too clear memories of the consequences of financial caprice, which left them without a ground and hours from total extinction. In the time it has taken Villa to go from winning cups and playing in Europe under Big Ron, to their present predicament, Charlton have overtaken them and now actually enjoy the better of the two reputations. Sadly, despite Villa’s illustrious past, Charlton have
increasingly become the sort of club Villa are compared with and certainly this season, not too favourably.

So if Villa have any ambitions of making a break from the pack of strugglers, they find themselves rubbing shoulders with these days, and make
a convincing case that they are still better than Birmingham, then they need to beat the likes of Charlton. Even if Villa are only as good as Curbishly’s
men, which they should be on paper at least, then home advantage should be enough to see them through and remove some of the dread that is haunting Villa souls these days. Anything less and Villa’s recent fall from grace, which has been explained with any number of vaguely convincing excuses, will begin to look fatal.

The questions mount up, as to how Villa will perform. Can Ridgewell avoid giving away his third penalty in a row? Can the rest of the defence
concentrate for a whole game? Is McCann fit enough to reproduce the sort of form, which got him his England cap? Will O’Leary’s attempt to off-load Angel inspire a positive response, from Villa’s former talisman? And, more importantly, just how happy will the Villa fans be come Saturday night?

Oh yeah, when will Keane sign

*

Although there will be a lot of people who will be sick and tired of hearing and reading the tributes to George Best, that both anticipated his death and which will no doubt continue now he’s gone, his contribution to the modern game cannot really be doubted, even if our view of him and what he was, or what he meant to people, has everything to do with the media hype which became the distillation of his contribution, and which settled upon the collective imagination, just as the rest of the Sixties’ ejaculation of images did and which still continue to mesmerize.

Just as with Elvis or the Beatles, being first is essential; and Georgie was
the first football superstar of the television age. Blessed with an outrageous talent, outrageous good-looks and charisma by the bucket-load, he was natural fodder for the image-makers and an easy person to idolize for
that generation who were the first to be hypnotized by the goggle-box. Up to that point the genius of Mathews or Finney was largely witnessed second-hand and a football fan might only see their heroes on a handful occasions, over their careers.

Best was seen by millions on their TV screens in black and white and then
colour.

George became one of the gods of the small screen and certainly he was one of the shock-troops in the war against deference and the personification of the creed of self-expression and individualism, just as much as John Lennon or Jimmy Porter. Best played in a manner which seemed to defy all attempts to tame his talent or shackle it to a system and in so doing he seemed to personify the spirit of that age.

For me he was one of a few players who seemed to take the game to a new dimension and a game that could sometimes seem like a graceless industrial
pastime, for craggy men in heavy boots, was transformed into something svelte sexy and wonderful.

The manner of George’s death seems to prove that he was just an ordinary bloke touched by genius and just like millions of ordinary blokes, in millions of ordinary families, he chose to drink himself to an early death,
for no other reason than an inclination coincided with a weakness. There will be a lot of talk of pressure and such like but as many people prove, you don’t need to be in the media spotlight, to suffer a self-destructive
streak disguised as a thirst.

In the end, George had a marvellous life which would have probably finished
a lot earlier, had he not enjoyed the privileges of celebrity. For what he gave he was fabulously rewarded and he will no doubt enjoy an immortality not enjoyed by many and will live on as a truly worshipped member of the
pantheon.

But in the end, the persona the fans knew and adored, should not be confused with the person his friends knew. These things are entirely separate and to demand that his relatives should now speak in our terms, as related to football, is both intrusive and brutally cruel.

To us he was Georgie Best but to them he will always be dad or just George.

By Steve Wade