Picture the scene. Alan Hutton has scored for Aston Villa in the Second City Derby to ensure that his Villans have sealed a victory over Birmingham City, once again.
The Scotsman slalomed through the Birmingham City forwards, midfield and defence like a Maradona clone born and raised in the prefabs of Penilee. Ignoring the faltering passing options on his flank, Hutton stuck his head down and dived into the heart of the Birmingham penalty area without so much as a challenge to stop his marauding run.
Who could blame them though? Who could blame Craig Gardner for offering little more than a pat to the charging Hutton’s shoulder? A claymore-wielding William Wallace leaping into enemy lines, damned be his health. Who could stop history? Who could stop art? It would be like taking a sharpie to the Michelangelo-designed ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Like drawing on the face of the Mona Lisa. Like putting your foot through a Jackson Pollock. Like re-mixing Bowie. Any interference in the movement is unwelcome and in offence to the art-form.
You can see that from the very second Hutton takes off, that nothing else is happening. He suspends reality in his wake. This is not happening, but it is.
Standing before a roaring Holte End, Hutton was all too happy to remove the focus from himself, and place it back upon the club, a club that in his words ‘means so much to him’.
It’s worth remembering a few things. Aston Villa once abandoned Alan Hutton. He was forced to play reserve and youth fixtures in rather humiliating and pointless fashion. When the club lacked senior full-backs, it still turned its back on Hutton. The club under manager Paul Lambert seemed to seek any other option than Hutton, forcing him out on loan to Nottingham Forest, Bolton and Real Mallorca. After he arrived in 2011, he found himself forced out - in moves that may have damaged his ability, confidence and potential. It’s no small wonder that Hutton eventually found his way back into the Villa first team, and it’s a larger surprise that Hutton has bounced back no less than three times to earn a place among Villa’s key players, of which he is now no doubt one of.
In Hutton, Aston Villa have their redemption story. Gabby Agbonlahor couldn’t do enough to buy back the cultural capital quickly earned and then quickly lost. Micah Richards succumbed to the injuries that will no longer give him the chance to redeem himself after relegation. Jack Grealish can hardly be blamed for Villa’s Premier League demise. In Hutton, Villa have a player who they have tried to push away. They have a player who failed to keep them in the Premier League. But they also have a player who has bounced back from footballing adversity time after time. They have a player who has done nothing but improve since Villa fell into the second tier. They have a player who seems to step up - time and time again after committing mistakes. His application, his attitude, his qualities. This is what Head Coach Dean Smith summed up when referencing Alan Hutton’s contribution to the side, and while James Chester remains the captain of AVFC, it is very much Alan Hutton who is leading by example. Somehow.
In any ‘legendary player’ conversation, Hutton will always be compared to Dennis Mortimer, Brian Little, Paul McGrath, Gordon Cowans and Peter Withe. People will look at his trophy haul, his ability and his failures and make the comparison, in some hefty bad faith, that Hutton deserves no place in the pantheon of Villa greats. He doesn’t just kiss the badge and thump his chest. He strives for greatness - a greatness that is beyond his ability. He does the best he can, almost always. In my eyes, and hopefully not my eyes alone, Alan Hutton is an all-time great. His commitment to the cause in the face of adversity is mind-boggling. He took a pay-cut to seal his career to a club that seemed to be heading for administration. He refused to cut ties after failing Villa in the Premier League. He didn’t run for the hills after being dumped. He returned with his head held-high after he was benched. He stepped up and delivered when Villa needed him. He’s scored an all-time great Villa goal.
The reality of the situation is that Villa will need to move on from Hutton at some point. However, the right-back is proving that with each game, our hearts will grow heavier when the time comes for him to leave Villa Park. His story will be complete when his redemption is sealed with promotion - but even if that doesn’t arise, there’ll be a place for Hutton in the hearts of Villans forevermore.