Date: 24th December 2005 at 3:08pm
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This year Villa find themselves pitted against fellow under-achievers Everton, who seem to prove that sheer effort alone, cannot sustain a successful Premiership career.

By Steve Wade

As I write it is Christmas eve and as ever I find that once again, contrary to all expectations, hope triumphs over experience. As I assess the prospects of the morrow, there still seems hope enough that the smell of
cooking turkey will be stronger than that of burnt martyr, emerging from the yuletide kitchen. And if I offer a prayer to all Christmas Villans it is that they are able to sustain a family truce beneath the tinsel spruce and that female goodwill and male insensitivity can overcome the trials and temptations of the day.

Let all women emerge triumphant from this annual test of their feminine qualities of generosity and humanity and may all men be happy caring drunks. Let all children be grateful for what they get and not delude themselves
that money is the measure of anything. Let all teenagers not give in to the temptation to sulk or to drink or drug themselves into an emergency room.

And most of all, let all farts be benign.

I suggest that all Villans should take particular care to consume as much turkey, chocolate and Brazil nuts as possible, so that come Boxing day their personal levels of L-tryptophan, are so high, they can watch Villa’s battle with Everton with at least equanimity and perhaps a little joy. And remember, it promises to be a very chilly day and so there will be no excuse not to wear that hand-knitted set of jumper, scarf and hat, which someone is bound to get in their Crimble stocking. Isn’t it strange how a silly hat at Christmas is just a bit of fun but a silly jumper is an attack upon one’s dignity.

Boxing day matches always hold special associations for a lot of fans and whether it is just the simple excuse to escape the truce beneath the spruce, the pleasant atmosphere the smell of cigars never fails to evoke, or even the sheer joy of being able to fart freely without the risk of family censure, there is a lot to be said for the Boxing day game.

This year Villa find themselves pitted against fellow under-achievers Everton, who seem to prove that sheer effort alone, cannot sustain a successful Premiership career. Moyes and O’Leary are both struggling to
repeat the relative successes of previous seasons, as they live with the realities of limited resources. While Everton struggle under the weight of substantial debts and O’Leary struggles through his chairman’s tendency to
lose money down the back of the sofa, both sets of fans are suffering what looks like the beginning of a perpetual joyless struggle. The transformation of either side looks neither likely nor imminent.

The form book suggests that Villa should come out on top but what with Mellberg’s absence and Delaney adding to Villa’s defensive woes by handing in a transfer request, Everton must have reason to hope they can get
something out of the game. Villa might be grateful to start the game in the knowledge that Everton lack the quality which embarrassed O’Leary’s side in their last outing against Man United, and it seems that as long as Villa can match tactical discipline with a tooth and nail work-rate, then they surely must edge the game but should they have caught even a slight dose of their
manager’s sullen sense of resignation, they will lose a game they should be desperate to win.

Come Boxing Day, when the fans have stopped laughing at each other’s Christmas jumpers, there will be only one topic for discussion during the pre-match drink and that is whether Doug Ellis will complete the deal which is said to be on the table and sell the club which has been his personal fiefdom over the last twenty-odd years. Nothing else matters, not even relegation, because the fans are just gagging for a fresh start and an improved financial base, to work from.

Under the present arrangements even Doug’s most loyal fans, and there are a surprising number, can’t see much prospect of the club breaking out of their present downward-cycle and even if they ignore the stories of part-time ground staff and worn-out team buses; even if they swap Djemba-Djemba for the centre-back they are desperate for and in doing so, give O’Leary the best possible set of cards available, then he still does not seem to have a winning hand. Even the most ardent Doug worshippers or enthusiastic apologists for Villa’s aging meddlesome titan (geddit?) must see that sticking to the present course is not an option.

It even seems likely that Doug Ellis’s decision to sell, is prompted by the realisation that the club’s trajectory is inevitably downwards under the present financial arrangements. His speculation, using Villa’s money, in the acquisition of large areas of land around Villa Park, is a gamble which he lost, as Tesco chose another site. The Chancellor’s recent change in land
taxation, based on planning permission, means that any subsequent increase in the land’s value will certainly be subject to a substantial amount of tax. Without a Dwight Yorke or David Platt to sell, Villa’s current business plan is a busted flush.

Reading various reports in the papers this morning, it looks like neither party is saying a thing and that lacking any hard news whatsoever, journalists are left to browse the Villa chat rooms for their quotes and
either choose to invent a negative spin or a positive spin, depending on their preference and the only certain thing is that nothing is being said. It has been long established that there is a sadistic streak running through sports journalism and so the tendency will always be to rub salt in any wound they are aware of. So be aware ye Villans of the hackish doom-sayers.

In the meantime, the only tune Doug is singing is – Do nothing until you hear from me!

Whatever the outcome, I am certain that Villa will enjoy something better next year and that whether it is as a top club in the Championship, or a slightly more ambitious club in the Premiership, there is plenty to look forward to. I just hope that when I am singing Auld Lang Syne come the turning of the new year, I am thinking of Doug amongst the auld acquaintances never to be forgot.