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I don’t know the exact moment I started supporting Aston Villa - but I remember the moment that they became embedded in my consciousness. Villa were always something that my family spoke of - and something that my Dad wouldn’t stop going on about. It wasn’t until I reached my little grubby hands into a packet of crisps and pulled out a greasy Premier League 2001 Panini sticker of Juan Pablo Angel in that weird purple Diadora Aston Villa shirt, that Villa became something that I recognised.
However, my earliest football memories are not of Villa - but of Chelsea and Manchester United. I remember one of the first times that I ever played football - in a P.E lesson and I had to borrow a Chelsea shirt. I remember the lion and Gianfranco Zola. Manchester United? The first televised match that comes to mind is Manchester United’s crown jewel of their treble back in 1999 when they won the Champions League.
But it was a Juan Pablo Angel sticker that got me interested. I followed Villa throughout that summer and beyond. I was taken to sporadic games, my first being against Southampton at Villa Park and how you could hear the Saints fans sing so loudly as they put a penalty past Stefan Postma. I remember my first second city derby watching live on TV in the Bell Pub near Calshot School in Great Barr and how Enckelman let that ball roll past him into the goal. I remember an explosion of fury, smashed glass and fights. My dad had to help me over the fence as we left over the back door.
I remember trying to write a match report for a magazine - when Villa played Manchester United in the FA Cup and Kiraly was in goal. I threw my notes out the window when Villa lost and my Mom found them when she was mowing the grass later in the year. I also recall crying when Villa didn’t make the UEFA Cup under O’Leary.
I remember gorging myself on Villa news year after year and asking my Dad to take me to Villa Village to grab the new kit. From Diadora to Hummel and the weird sponsor that looked like ‘COWS’. I remember getting my first season ticket in the Doug Ellis Stand and being so close to the players that you could touch them. I remember how Randy Lerner tried and tried to purchase Aston Villa, before succeeding - I remember the fist pump I did. I recall seeing pictures of Martin O’Neill becoming swamped by Villa fans upon his hiring as though he was the second coming. I can still see Ashley Young and James Milner darting about. I remember John Carew and Gabby Agbonlahor playing football as though it was just a bit of fun. In my mind’s eye, Olof Mellberg is still pumping his fist after helping Villa beat Birmingham by five goals to one.
Then it gets serious, doesn’t it? You don’t get upset, you get annoyed. You get disenfranchised. You grow up and the relationship shakes. When Villa hired Alex McLeish, I used my money to go to Download Festival two years in a row instead of heading to Villa Park. I saved up for buses and trains to Kerrang! Radio, where I worked as a volunteer to carve out a career. I went to University and bought equipment. Villa - it became a background character. Honestly, at some points - I could have cared less.
In that period, there were still bright spots. Me and my Dad screamed when Matthew Lowton hit that volley against Stoke. We went to a Boxing Day game every year. I wanted back in - but not enough to stump up every single penny I had. Things were changing though. During my first big break up - Aston Villa were there as I spiralled into a funk of depression.
It all changed when I started writing for this blog. I had graduated University. I was one of the only graduates who didn’t really secure a role. I had nothing to do and I had spent months in limbo. I took a chance and shot an email to Aaron Campeau and Kirsten Schlewitz who were looking for an English writer to work during GMT.
When I joined this site, I had a serious chip on my shoulder. I was so pissed off at the world, off being on jobseeker’s allowance. I just wanted to write, and learn how to get better and every single person on this site before I joined - be it Aaron, Kirsten, Andrew or Robert - especially Robert, Jack, Alex and Matt helped me write better. Either by editing my work, bouncing ideas off of me, giving me tasks and giving me ideas. Then, those who joined after me - people like Adam, Elis, Phil and Herbert helped me as well. I felt connected to this site - and connected to Aston Villa. Especially as they strived to avoid relegation under Paul Lambert and Tim Sherwood.
That was it - me and my Dad got season tickets in the Holte End. In typical Aston Villa fashion, they rewarded us with one of the worst footballing seasons in history as they got themselves relegated to the Championship.
And here we are.
I grew up in Perry Barr, Handsworth, Erdington and Great Barr. Always centered around Villa Park. Aston Villa with their stupidly regal name have for some reason become, or have always been the centre of my universe. For better or for worse, I am tied on a spiritual level to Aston Villa or the idea of Aston Villa. I wouldn’t want it any other way, though.
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