Date: 17th March 2006 at 8:39pm
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A shaggy-dog story of two losses – some things are important others are not.

By Steve Wade

Its been quite a week for news. What with Kath and Kim being put in charge of planning the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, who obviously blew the budget on fireworks, by the look of it. And, then an Australian sheepdog won Crufts, which seemed a bit of a coincidence. The proud owner said that it was a breed that tends to follow you around, with a wink even Les Patterson would have thought unsubtle, and you just knew that it was not the sheep the dog was bred to keep an eye on. Lonely place is a sheep station, if you know what I mean.

But cute dogs trained by the Jesuits or not, the real money-shot was the little kid in the wheelchair crying his eyes out because he’d won the Friends For Life award, for the life most improved by being pals with a pooch. It was just brilliant right up until some idiot in a bad suit, started warbling some horrendous ear-shredding schmaltz, which managed to trample a beautiful moment with a blitzkrieg of high camp. That Ben Fogle is a lovely lad – give him a football job Auntie.

Then there was that tragic story of an experiment that had gone horribly wrong and a bunch of guys had ended up in intensive care. The truth is, I didn’t even know that there were as many as six guys in the whole world who were daft enough to believe that Villa could beat Manchester City on Tuesday night, let alone be convinced enough, that they might be hospitalised through post-traumatic stress, at the final whistle. Hope is one hell of a powerful drug, with some very unpleasant side-effects and it should carry a health-warning. I don’t have cause to have much bother with it myself, you understand. But what is it with blokes? If they can’t get the government to send them to Iraq with no bullets to get slaughtered, then there’s always room for volunteers at the local hospital; leaving the women to weep for the cameras and to spend the compensation.

So I never actually went as far as to hope, I kind of took a ‘surprise me you bastards’ stance with the Villa, which they of course did not. If there was one consolation it was that Darius Vassell scored because he gave the distinct impression during the Villa Park match that he would have preferred not to, and he was dropped the next game, which had got me thinking that Psycho Pearce was on to him. It really was not quite professional, to refuse to score against your boyhood club and his reputation was on the line. So well done Darius, and I hope you don’t lose too badly in the next round, or have to endure the anti-climax of a loser’s medal at Cardiff, where City are bound to meet a better team than Villa – if not before, even. I still like Darius. He’s a local lad who wore the shirt – nuff said.

It seems at least someone inside Villa Park thought that there was some slight risk of Villa getting a result and seeing the possibility of paying a win-bonus, reduced the number of subs on the bench, as an economy measure. Or, its even possible, that Villa’s cutting-edge cough and drop medical facilities, failed to detect Berger’s wooden leg and their resident Doctor Liniment thought the parrot and the eye-patch was something he’d bought off a sailor when he was at Portsmouth. But not quite having enough players to make up the numbers, certainly added a cheering element of farce to the proceedings, should the joke be lost on anyone other than O’Leary’s afore mentioned six volunteers.

It was definitely a fridge too far, for me to manage the quantum-leap from believing they were lucky not to be relegated one minute, to thinking that they could win the cup the next. I mean, the last time they managed to get to the final, they were a lot better than this lot and still they weren’t good enough. So how come? Gregory’s team not only had two world-class players in Merson and Carbone (two football brains in a team imagine that – imagine ONE) but they also had the passion of Ian Taylor and the crunch and of Middlesbrough’s Mr Boateng. I challenge anyone to find equivalents in the present team. If there is a Villa fan in a coma, he’ll be in 1980 (Is There Life On Mars?) and he’ll be begging not to be woken up. No doubt, some kindly relative is playing Villa commentaries in his room to try and bring him round and he’d rather carry on watching Dennis and the boys stuff Liverpool. ‘Nurse, I just asked him to come back to watch O’Leary’s team and his two fingers just moved – is it a sign?’.

The other loss this week, besides the demise of Villa’s cup delusions, was the passing of Jimmy Johnstone. Once seen, Jimmy was never forgotten and he was one of those players, who just brought a smile to your face when you saw him play. Even the blue half of Glasgow liked him (so the papers said). King Kenny was probably a better player but little Jinky was the sort of player, the fans are always going to love rather than just like or admire. He must have been the role-model of choice in the backstreets of Glasgow and well beyond, for countless scruffy kids with a gansey and a tennis ball. And you could see a whole generation of wiry little wingers ‘jinking’ up and down the touchlines of untold numbers of parks pitches, who had been obviously inspired by Celtic’s spirited little trickster. I can say all this and yet I only saw him play a few times (and then the diluted telly experience) but he left an indelible impression, for a kid with his very own gansey and tennis ball.

They said I was thin but I was wiry.

A shaggy-dog story of two losses – some things are important others are not.