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The thing that hurts so much: Our love and Villa’s apathy

I’ve backed the board, the squad, the managers in the past when it hasn’t been popular to do so. But right now I’m done — and feeling utterly hopeless about this club.

Michael Steele/Getty Images

As I write this, the clock has ticked past 2:30 in the morning. I’ve been awake for upwards of 17 hours at this point, just finished an eight-hour work shift and had four classes earlier in the day.

I should be going to bed.

But I can’t. I have too much on my mind to do anything other than sit down and write. About something I love so dearly: Aston Villa.

For those of us in the United States, our love of Villa takes a different path. Instead of getting up on matchday and headed to Villa Park or being part of the great support that follows our Claret and Blues clear across England, we take a different path. We make the decision between watching Villa on a shoddy feed or being 90 seconds behind on our regular stream. We deal with the fact that when we most want to be there, supporting our club — take the FA Cup Final — we’re simply not able to do so. And when we look at our phones at 3 a.m. on a Friday night and set the alarm for six hours later, foregoing the opportunity to "catch up" on lost sleep from a hectic work or school week, we wonder what drives us to do it.

And as many of you have known, my Villa fandom hasn’t necessarily fallen in line with popular opinion. Earlier this month, I defended the board standing still during the January transfer window, even if it meant not significantly improving Villa’s survival chances. After the fans at Wycombe sung that Rémi Garde "didn’t know what he was doing," I penned a columnin support of the Frenchman. A week earlier, I backed Villa CEO Tom Fox, claiming the criticism pointed at him was misguided, a few days after saying the club shouldn’t chase survival in January.

Then there was November, when I argued the club’s squad wasn’t that bad or August when I praised Tim Sherwood’s tactical sense (oh, what a mistake that was). Or when I argued Fabian Delph showed loyalty simply by signing on in January and guaranteeing a fee a month after positing that wishing Ron Vlaar away was a bad idea.

Needless to say, I’ve written a lot of stuff on this site that’s in defense of Villa’s whipping boys. Maybe it’s my general skeptical nature or distaste with the majority of the arguments used to slate Fox or Vlaar, Sherwood or Garde. And I’ll stand behind everything I wrote in each of those stories — nothing’s changed that.

But after Sunday’s result, I posted this in the 7500 to Holte Slack channel:

This club is a fucking disaster. Might be done defending the board at this point.

And if you know me and my writing style, the way I always defended those under attack, you’d know that’s a major departure.

Of course, our own James Rushton noticed it — and we got into a PM conversation. I said I’d still back the board for its summer transfer activity, specifically how it spent the Christian Benteke money on a quartet of solid players (Idrissa Gueye, Jordan Amavi, Jordan Ayew and Jordan Veretout have all been good additions) and that the fundamental issue with the club remains a lack of funding.

But as each week goes on, it’s becoming more and more clear Tom Fox is in over his head as the CEO of this club.

And that’s probably not something worth criticizing him over as much as it is criticizing Lerner over. At the same point, however, Fox has had ample opportunity to institute positive change at the Villa now that he’s in his second year — and it’s been more of the same. A disjointed club that never left being one of the most dysfunctional in England.

Remember the Roy Keane saga? Have Villa really moved past that type of behaviour? Joleon Lescott’s post-match tweet would indicate otherwise.

When Fox and the board have a chance to make well with the supporters, they appear apathetic. There was the whole "customer" thing, which I felt was a little overblown, but Fox has had ample opportunity to reach out to the supporters, to show his concern, to show that he cares about more than the club‘s bottom line.

And he hasn’t.

It’d be one thing if Fox was in a more appropriate role suited to his talents. But he’s the chief executive of the club. At this point, everyone sans the chairman reports to him. Which means he’s responsible for a hell of a lot more than what’s on the books.

That’s where the neglect has occurred.

Once again, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Aston Villa have been miserably mismanaged by a group of men with good intentions but miserable execution. From Randy Lerner’s pursuit of European football to the dream of rising up the table with a bunch of players in their early 20s under Paul Lambert, Villa have been doomed by good ideas that never pan out.

And while the summer recruitment wasn’t miserable, it also really wasn’t what the club needed. A good case could be made that Villa’s four best players this season have been that quartet of signings — seriously, who else would you nominate? — but there was a bit of naïveté to suggest that a manager noted as one of the "good old boys" in English football could create enough synergy

That’s the issue with the Premier League and the board’s strategy: No matter how noble it was, you simply can’t rebuild in this league. Not with how competitive it is and how expensive it is. To be fair, Paul Faulkner and Lambert should’ve been the ones to succumb to the drop three seasons ago with a squad so underprepared for the Premier League it wasn’t even funny. Had the Benteke signing not come off, Villa would’ve had their 25-point drop performance a trio of seasons ago and who knows where we’d be.

But that was the fundamental mistake the board made and somewhere, begrudgingly, where Tim Sherwood might’ve been right. Oh well.

So… yeah.

I want to say I’m done. So badly. I want to sit here and tell you that I’m not going to watch Villa again this year — I know there are better ways to spend my Saturday and Sunday mornings, the least of which is, you know, actually getting enough sleep — but I know that’s simply not going to happen. I’ve told myself I’m going to stop caring, stop watching, stop thinking about Villa loads of times before. And it hasn’t happened. Because I know there’s a love affair here, something that perpetually draws me back to this club.

It’s now past 3 a.m. I’m rambling now and a good bit of it is likely incoherent. That’s fine! But why am I doing this?

Because Villa are special. The Pride of the Midlands. One of the most storied clubs in football, a founding member of the Football League. Something meaningful.

And above all else, Villa’s family. From the guys I write with at 7500 to Holte to my long list of friends (or at least acquaintances) I’ve made through chatting with y’all about this great club on Twitter. There’s too much to ever walk away from.

But right now, it’s hard to imagine players like Lescott and Micah Richards, Fox, Lerner and the rest of the board care anywhere near as much about Villa as I do. Or any of you do.

That’s the thing that hurts so much.