Date: 9th December 2005 at 9:40pm
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Yeah, a working-class hero is something to be!

By Steve Wade

What with the passing of George Best recently and it being twenty-five years since John Lennon was shot dead this week, there’s been plenty of opportunities to debate the subject of heroes, or, if not debate the
subject, at least mull the topic over. Certainly, in these days when A-levels come free with the cornflakes and the press hand out accolades like wafers in the Church of Instant Celebrity, it is very hard to tell who is a hero and who is not but happily the dictionary definition allows for a range of qualities, from Shackleton and VC winners, to anyone who happens to be
good at something.

(Although, I personally think there is a lot to be said for people who excel at being ordinary – Gazza take note.)

Faced with this you can’t help but think that it debases the currency somewhat, as simply being good at something usually brings substantial rewards on its own and it does not seem quite right for someone who is sitting on a few mill in his/her Surrey mansion, being spoken of in the same breath as the blokes from Telemark, or the guy who sang Rule Britannia while having his arm amputated (no, not even a couple of aspirin) at the battle of

I have never fancied the job myself and finding myself entirely unqualified, comes as quite a relief. I was therefore, totally delighted this week to see Ellen McArthur on Top Gear, proving that she can drive a car as well as she can sale a boat; which left me with that perfect excuse: ‘Its alright for her, she’s brilliant!’. She’s my kind of hero. The sort of heroes I can quite do without, are those characters who show us all up by succeeding, surviving, thriving and winning by sheer dint of tenacious effort and unstinting dedication. So I am very happy for them to make some flawed genius the focus of celebration and I am sure others might equally be overjoyed to be given such a nice note from their mom, which allows them to skip the heroics.

And, should we need another excuse; when it comes to handing out the accolades there are always political issues or self-interest at play – just ask Benjamin Zephaniah. The fuss his decision to decline an honour
engendered, including some bitter pique, instantly proved why he felt he couldn’t accept it. When people are made heroes, you are never far from political expediency and certainly when the BBC chose to show Besty’s funeral live, you couldn’t help but think that it was perhaps timely and that Football needed such an emotional fillip, in the fashion of Gazza’s tears.

Okay, I am a cynic but when a 59 year-old son of Ireland is buried to the strains of a Westlife song, you can’t help but think it is more show-biz than rite of passage, and with an eye on the younger audience. Your true
Irish balladeer sings sadder songs than that, on the way back from the pub.

But returning to the subject at hand and another excuse in the armoury of my fellow shirkers, is the fact that some people are destined never to get the accolades, no matter what they do and unless you can kid yourself, you might be the blue-eyed boy/girl, you might as well not bother. The Des Bremners of the world are always going to be overlooked when the encomiums are being handed out.

So I could quite understand why Lee Hendrie might have felt a bit short-changed come Monday morning, after his brilliant contribution to Villa’s equalizer against Newcastle last week went totally unacknowledged. Most reports mentioned Gareth Barry’s fancy footwork or McCann’s superb daisy-cutter into the back of the Magpie’s net but not Lee’s fantastic pass, which was not only perfectly placed, its perfect pace allowed McCann to take it in his stride, with minimum adjustment to his feet – wham!.

So come Tuesday, he was digesting the realisation that despite playing a crucial part in Villa’s one piece of quality play, he was going to be second choice to Milner, next time the team-sheet is pinned up and he was left pondering his options. He can’t really give of his best unless he is match-fit but he can’t be match-fit, if he’s not playing. His only option seems to be, to go on loan, and there’s the rub; if O’Leary prefers Milner,
then young Lee is well and truly stuffed.

The tragedy is, that no one wants to be a Villa hero more than Lee.

Someone feeling even less of a hero come last Saturday night was Gareth Barry, who looked as gutted as Paul Merson’s old bookie when the lad came out of therapy. Gareth has the sort chin that needs no encouragement to make his face look long but it was brushing his knee-caps when he did his post-match interview for the telly and by the sound of his voice, I am sure he could have done a decent rendition of an Aled Jones song, if a karaoke machine had been available. I had to admit it was a really s**t penalty-kick and with all his talk of being flattered by Newcastle’s interest in him, it
invited the worst of interpretations.

Feeling rather more heroic was David O’Leary, whose recent habitual facial rictus softened into an unfamiliar smile, when Villa equalized. I couldn’t
blame him, as it was an incredibly precious point and took Villa to within three points of the safe harbour of mid-table respectability but I concluded that the real reason he was smiling, was that he had seen something in
Villa’s second-half performance, which suggested they had turned a corner and at last he had a team on the pitch he liked the look of – Bakke looking fit and strong perhaps.

And if Villa needed a test of their strength and fitness, they could not ask for a better test than a trip to Bolton, where big Sam’s powerful team, fresh from beating Arsenal will be flexing their muscles, at the thought of Villa’s arrival. O’Leary needs another tidy performance from his team and another moment of quality, to at least bring home a point. He might think
he’s doing a great job but his heroic status with the Villa fans, has slipped to an all-time low and a bicycle seems like their favourite idea for a Christmas gift, right now.

Yeah, a working-class hero is something to be!


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