Dean Smith in his new role as the Head Coach of Aston Villa, is anything but unassuming. He was quick to almost hint at a rougher edge when questions where asked of his support for the club. He who had sat through his initial conference with a casual almost-slouch, perked up with a bit - the faintest touch of bite - with Smith making it clear that he’s the man for the job, and not only that but that he deserves the role and has earned it.
You’d find few people arguing with that.
Hailing from Great Barr, Smith grew up in the suburbs. Where used to be massive, ranging orchards, lay huge swathes of road. The Scott Arms (not the pub, never the pub, oh god) is the heart of the place - with veins reaching into West Bromwich, Walsall and Handsworth. If you weren’t from Great Barr, you’d find it hard to differentiate it from anywhere else in Birmingham. Truth be told, to an outsider - it’s just a few big fast roads that lead onto a bigger, faster road. When your days are spent there, it becomes clear that there’s something about Great Barr that isn’t like the other suburbs. There’s a bit of greenery and open space nestled away. Trees line the streets. It’s not all empty and devoid and concrete like they want it to be. There’s space to run, jog, and play. Football could be found most places. Red House Park held football camps each week, and that was replicated in the park by Hamstead Hill and the park behind my house on Cardington Avenue which didn’t have a name that I can recall apart from ‘The Rec’ but every park in Great Barr without a name was called ‘The Rec’ so whenever somebody said that there was football on at ‘The Rec’ you’d have to make a guess. Nothing much of note happened in Great Barr apart from football. Somebody was once shot to death at the end of my road and the National Front rallied behind that death. Somebody was held prisoner for a while after being kidnapped by a killer during a faux viewing of a house on the road that connected to my road. Apart from that, it was just football. Two major events with football, football, football inbetween.
And nobody really wanted to become a footballer. Well, they probably did, deep down - but nobody said it out loud. It was just the done thing. You’d go and play football. Or go on your bike. Then people stopped going on their bikes.
It’s absolutely no surprise that Dean Smith has earned his role at Aston Villa. Turning out for Walsall in his playing days, before returning to Walsall to head up their youth program, it’s perfect. At any rate, if you wanted to be based in Great Barr and work in the larger area - you’d likely have to find something to do that involved football - if it wasn’t teaching, working in a pub or working in a shop. It seems impossibly natural - and perfect - for Dean Smith to become the Head Coach of Aston Villa. It feels very ‘Great Barr’ for someone to have worked their way up through the ranks of football to eventually become the leading man at the big club that is a 20-30 minute walk from their house.
Truth be told, Aston Villa (ignoring the work of the AV Foundation) have largely made a point of overlooking the local area in their efforts to look like a big club. Media operations have been outsourced to other hubs (UniLad was on the cards at one point, for heavens sake). It’s been noted that Thierry Henry was the main candidate for the role that Smith, a perfectly placed and experience candidate in his own right, now occupies. Villa have largely been placed as a sucking monolith, Villa Park breathes in and inhales the local area every matchday, before breathing out and pushing everyone back at about 5.30pm every other Saturday. It has been a lot of ‘take’. Now, there’s just the faintest bit of ‘give’ - a Villa man, from Great Barr in the role - and on their based on his own well earned credentials.
I would end on the clichèd note that ‘you can take the man out of Great Barr...’ but it seems that Dean probably won’t be based far from Great Barr anyway. Which in my eyes, makes him perfect. A little bit of us, a little bit of me, is leading Aston Villa. Come what may, that’s perfect.