In 2019 I released a book, Fear Conquers All, about my life, my struggles with brain aches and operations (14 so far!) and how to face setbacks full-on and fight back. It has gone down so well, you can see from the 28 five star reviews!
The strapline is Get up – Get out – Live.
I guess in these COVID times, it should be Get up – stay in unless you have permission – live!
Anyway, I thought I would serialise the Aston Villa parts of the book here on Vital Villa.
I will link to the other parts at the end of this article.
Here is a slightly more fun bit relating to myself and my love of football and Villa…
Chapter 18… Safari so goody!
So I wrote this in 2005. Little did I know at the time how important and joyous the bit in bold was to become.
‘Over the years, following a two-year break, I have been able to get back to going to see the mighty Aston Villa. Apart from having to take a walking stick more often than I would have liked to, it has been the one thing that, no matter how ill, I have always attended. During the 2005/6 season I have managed to achieve a full 19 games without taking the stick once and will look to repeat the feat once again in the 2006/7 season. This may sound like a very small thing to you, but it means the world to me.
Going to the Villa hasn’t been without its problems though. It took a fair while to get a front row seat which is just about the only seat in the ground with enough space to suit my leg issues. If I sat even one seat back it wouldn’t be suitable, my legs would seize up and I would struggle to get about.
As a season ticket holder, you get to know the people around you well and form great friendships. The laugh we have is almost as much a part of the day as the actual football and during the past few years has often exceeded the quality of the football, as we do tend to go through far too many managers, and have a chairman who has held us back for far too long.
I attended my last game just a few days before my brain op and apart from one great day that my Mom arranged (where I was put up in a corporate box and had the Coca Cola Cup brought up and shown to me), I didn’t see a game live for two seasons. That day was marvellous, a very famous Villa photographer – Terry Weir, who is sadly no longer with us – came and took a picture of me holding the Cup. Although I must admit, I held it with much trepidation as it was fairly heavy and I was still suffering from a lack of grip and the shakes. Imagine how embarrassing it would have been to have dropped the bloody thing and damaged it! I would have been chased out of Villa Park!!
I actually wouldn’t go back to Villa until I was fit enough to drive. My parents would have happily driven me and waited but that didn’t seem fair to me and also wasn’t the idea of getting back my independence and doing what I wanted to do.
One of the times I went in with my walking stick, I did get a strange and annoying reaction from one of the stewards mind you. I went in through the normal doors (as opposed to the disabled entrance that I rarely need to use these days) and had this berk eye me up and down, roll his eyes and tut. RIGHT, I thought. Then, instead of getting angry, I walked right up to him, eyed him up and down, winked and walked off. I don’t think he knew quite where to put himself and I am sure by the colour of his face it had the desired effect of truly embarrassing him! You really shouldn’t have to put up with these niggling little digs all the time though, people should be going out of their way to help you, not to make life more difficult.
There is something that I will always be grateful to Aston Villa for though, as indirectly my love of Villa has given me back my ‘place’ in the world and restored my self-belief and pride.’
My love affair with Aston Villa started when Dad took my brother Andrew and I to our first (well, second, the first time we got there and it was called off due to the icy pitch) game in 1977. August 27th to be exact. We lost 2-1 despite scoring first. I don’t think I’ve ever forgiven Everton for this heartbreak.
For those who share the love of Villa, the team that day:
Andy Gray (scored)
Brian Little (he walked on water)
Gordon ‘Sid’ Cowans (bench, on for Gray)
I remember sitting in the Trinity Upper, the beautiful old stand, when the fans started stamping their feet on the floor. I couldn’t believe the noise. I am not sure how many times I asked my Dad, “When are they going to do that again, Dad?”, but it probably ran into the hundreds (poor man!) Oh, and then the old man by me shouted so loud that his false teeth fell out. It was love. A love that’s never left me, even though sometimes, the love/hate line is very blurred! Hey, I have no more hair to rip out at least.
My record for seeing us win things isn’t exactly great. The early 1980’s Villa won the League and the European Cup. I was having my rib ops and missing all the fun. In 1994, they won the League Cup, I missed it with the tiny matter of a brain op. And in 1996, we won the League Cup again… yup, laid up after another op. Hey, what did I say at the start of this book? No one said life is meant to be easy.
But one great thing did come of my adventure in going to the Villa just a few days before the brain op. Years later, I got a call from Continental Tyres, asking if I would promote a competition they were doing on my football network. Football Network? What football network? I’ll tell you about that later. I asked what their advertising budget was and they said nothing, it was just something they thought our readers might like to see. It doesn’t work like that I explained, we have the audience but you have to pay to reach them. That was nearly the end of the conversation but something made me ask:
‘What exactly is it you are after?’
She replied, ‘We are looking for fans who have gone to extreme measures to get to a football match.’
Without even thinking I said, ‘Oh right,’ laughing. ‘Like when I went to see Aston Villa a few days before a life-saving brain op?’
She asked a few more details, then asked if they could use that in their promotion. Yeah, no problem, I told her. That apparently entered me into their competition with a lovely prize of a safari to South Africa.
The Birmingham Evening Mail
‘ASTON Villa supporter Jonathan Fear hopes it’s “safari, so good” in his attempt to win a dream holiday in South Africa by being crowned football’s biggest fan.’
I only went and blinking won!
It was great. I took my mate Dean. We’d got to know each other through my forum, then when he was going through troubled times (not my story to tell), we met in the ‘real’ world and have been stuck with each other since.
We spent the first week in a luxury apartment in Cape Town and the second on safari at a pretty exclusive place called Kariega Game Reserve.
In Cape Town, we went on a helicopter ride to see the city. I’d never been in one, so that was an experience. That helicopter ride ended up winning me a pair of trainers as well. I took a picture of my Adidas Gazelle trainers as a joke, saying on Facebook, ‘Look at the view.’
Years later, an online trainer company asked for great pictures of Adidas stuff and I sent that in along with a similar silly one I’d taken at the top of the Empire State Building in the US of A.
We also went to a few exclusive restaurants; one sold THE best steak I’ve ever had and another, which at the time was in the top ten best restaurants in the world (La Colombe, Constantia, Cape Town), was set on a fabulous wine estate. We were seated outside and enjoyed a ten-course taster meal, with wine ‘introduced’ to us between each course.
And talking about wine, we went on a private tour for the day, going to the wine-producing regions, seeing the grapes being grown and the wine being produced. It started off very sensibly and soberly, but it ended up not quite so soberly! Another amazing day thoroughly enjoyed by both of us. The funniest part was a wine waitress being snobby towards us, saying they had a special reserve there, “but you won’t be interested in that.” I’m not having that I thought.
‘I’ll have one of those thank you.’
That showed her not to be so judgmental.
It was a fantastic bottle of wine. Well, it was fantastic once we were able to open it. We’d taken it back to the apartment, but hadn’t realised that, being an older bottle, it had a big cork. We’d only got a standard bottle opener and the cork split. It must have taken us 20 minutes to get into the blinking thing. Worth the wait though.
We also had a private tour around parts of the coast. We stopped in an area that was populated by penguins. I love penguins, they are ace! We parked up and were told if we went through the gate, we’d see all the penguins and if you are quiet and respectful, you can go right up to them without them moving away. We opened this gate and out walked a penguin. It gave us a look as if to say, ‘Well you took your bloody time’ and off it waddled.
Then onto the safari; an experience that I will never forget.
It turns out I have a few skills in life, one being a good animal spotter. I noticed a few jackals, an eagle on a tree stump and several other small animals that the ranger hadn’t noticed. Of all the skills to have when you live in blinking Redditch, being an animal spotter is not really that useful.
Best of all though, one day the ranger was just pulling away from one spot where a few lions were drinking and I said I’d seen a rhino. He told me I couldn’t have. He’d said at the start of the day there is no way we’d see a black rhino. I assured him I had, so he relented and reversed up. Sure enough, a black rhino and the lions having quite a debate as to who should be given prime drinking spot. Even the ranger got caught up in this amazing spectacle, forgetting for a short time his role – i.e. to keep us a safe distance and also to alert other rangers of such spotting.
There was something amazingly primal about it all and we were very privileged to have caught the action. He told us in all the years he’d been a ranger, he’d never seen anything like that. Then on the way back to the cabins where we were staying, another black rhino (you know, the rhinos we had been warned we wouldn’t see) was walking towards us on the road we were on. The ranger stopped and said the rhino looked like it was set to charge. These animals don’t see a jeep full of people, they see something they believe to be another animal.
You could tell he was concerned as a rhino running towards us would have caused problems. All he could do to try and reverse away faster. However, the rhino moved off to the right and the ranger seemed pleased. He thought the rhino was moving away, but it turned out he was walking around to charge us from the side! With the road now clear though, the ranger didn’t hang about.
The whole safari was a magical experience. I even had an elephant walk up to me within touching distance. The ranger told me not to touch her; he didn’t, however, tell her not to touch me and her trunk had a brief explore, before the ranger told her to move off. They get to know rangers’ voices and do behave fairly well to the ones they like apparently. Imagine being that close though? Eye to eye with an elephant. It was amazing. Oh, and I’d no intention of touching her by the way!
All this from a love of football. As they say, it’s a funny old game.
Forum thread: Click Here….
(I’m making a tentative return to writing, something I’ve done for 20 years now, following yet more brain ache issues and my 14th operation. I was close to hanging up the keyboard, but I’ll see how it goes. Hopefully this article is error free! Right now, the lights are on but no one is home so to speak!)
The Villa part begins in Chapter 16, following numerous operations, a near loss of life, a total conspiracy to cover up the fact I had never been put on the hospital waiting list and all sorts of other fascinating occurrences. This is the part of the life story where I find myself devoid of things to do, devoid of health, and wondering what was next so……….