Aston Villa's tour of the United States is complete and it was a lot of fun for everyone except Gabby Agbonlahor probably. Seriously, I hope Gabby is ok. Before each match the local Villa supporters, supplemented by Villa legend and ambassador Ian Taylor, would take on the fans of the host club in a friendly. It was a huge thrill for a lot of fans. One Villa fan from Chicago was lucky enough to take part in the supporters match and even found himself having a moment he'll probably never forget. Here's a fun review of Matt Riemenschneider's (Twitter handle: mriemen) experience playing alongside Ian Taylor and other American Villa fans:
Villa came to town this past weekend to take on our hometown Chicago Fire. As a far-flung Villa fan i've only been able to interact with the club and it's fans online, primarily through Twitter. Having them here in chicago was really a dream come true. As part of the teams visit the local supporters group, in conjunction with the club, organized a great series of events to both interact and support the team during their stay.
As part of the teams visit the local supporters group, in conjunction with the club, organized a great series of events to both interact and support the team during their stay.
I was fortunate enough to be selected for one such event, a supporters match against the Chicago Fire supporters group called "Section 8". The Villa team consisted of several supporters that traveled from Birmingham for the match, some ex-pats that lived both in Chicago and elsewhere in the US and a handful of US born supporters like myself. Taylor came out and played the full 90 minutes. It was just as much fun for the Fire fans as it was for us. Although for the older Villa fans amongst us having their boyhood hero in the same squad moved some almost to tears (really). Our Villa squad went down 2-0 early in the first half and it looked like it might be a long day. However about 30 minutes in we scored our first after a nice ball from Taylor to a supporter from Dallas (he's the man being interviewed on AVTV in the black FxPro top in the open training highlight video from Chicago). That same supporter scored a second to tie it up just before the half. At that point it was about 90 degrees out and the turf field was about 10 degrees hotter. We could all feel the heat coming through the bottom of our cleats. Once the second half started, the Villa squad was on the back foot. If not for the efforts of a Birmingham based supporter in Center Half (@marchhare_redux) who was excellent and our Collegiate D1 Female goalkeeper (@darcyhargadon29) we would have gone down by a couple goals. However they kept us in it and our Dallas striker eventually scored his 3rd to complete his hat-trick in about the 60th minute.
After that we started to control possession and pass around the back. In the last minute of the game, two of our younger supporters (who still had energy and legs) brought the ball down the field and crossed into the box. The fire supporters scuffed it and I ran on to the ball just inside the 18. At that point I was thinking to quickly get a cross up to the far post for another Villian to run onto. As I looked up I saw the ball bending slightly right toward the far post upper 90. If the photographer had been on his game the best image would have been my face when it registered that the ball was going to go in. The keeper seemed to not believe it as well. In the end I had chipped the keeper for our teams 4th goal of the game.
At this point in my timeline of events it's important to interject some background:
- I have no place being on the same field as Ian Taylor
- For the 2 weeks leading up to the match I was terrified of not representing the colors, the badge and the club. I know it was just a silly supporters match but there was a feeling that we were actually playing for Villa and representing ALL the fans. I can't speak for everyone there, but I was terrified of not representing well
- Growing up in the Michigan in the 80's there was no soccer after 3rd grade. All of my experience with the game have come after college. When preparing for the match and speaking with my son I realized that the last formal practice I had was when I was 10 years old.
- I have no place being on the same field as Ian Taylor
Back to the match....
Once it registered with me that the ball was going into the net it was pure emotion after that. I remember looking over at the Villa sideline and was overcome with pride. I ripped off my jersey (remember it was almost 100 degrees so this isn't so unthinkable) and started running towards the sideline. That's the moment that the AVFC photographer caught. All of my anxiety over playing and representing the club well coming out in a couple seconds of pure joy. Best part of the photo's for me is seeing Taylor celebrating in the background.
No i'm not from Birmingham. No I haven't been to Villa Park. Yes, I love the club and its history and its tradition and yes I took pride in being on the pitch in their colors.
In all the visit by Villa was incredible. From open training to the final match on Saturday, everything about their visit was first class. Everyone associated with the club was approachable, professional, and sincerely nice. Ian Taylor especially. What a gentleman. Good with every kid he met. Signed every autographed asked of him. All in all it was a spectacular visit. I'm so grateful that they came. I was able to see the team I support and enjoy a weekend of great soccer.
It should be noted that the leader of the local supporters group (@avfc1000) did a super-human job of organizing events locally. In the end he was able to not only show great support for the club, but was also able to bring together supporters from around the US and the UK to celebrate together. Also, and to his enormous credit, he was able to raise a fair amount of money for Acorns Hospice. You can read a nice interview by Mat Kendrick from the Birmingham Mail
For UK fans, Section8 is a quality supporters association that begun (in various iterations) in 1997 when the Fire were added to MLS. The group is an independent supporters association that, apart from actively supporting the club both home and away, works with various social causes in the area as well. A very good example of the best of supporter culture.