People love a good “so, why do you support X Club over Y Club,” story. Many people find their sports clubs located where they’re from, raised, or where their family is from. Well, for English football, it’s obviously easier to have that when you’re from England. Not when you’re born and raised over 2,500 miles away and calling it “soocer” and heading to MLS games as a young kid loving the sport.
I’d say I was about 8 or 9 when we got the package on my TV that allowed us to watch the some of the best games in the world and whatever other good games were on - I had no idea what it all really was at the time. This was about the time of the 05/06 Premier League season, Chelsea won it back to back. I knew that because of the FIFA games I would play on whatever device I had back then. Players like Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba ran the show, and I just loved taking it all in.
This is also the time where a big-named young player was making a breakthrough, the left-winger, the position I played, the guy I idolized. Cristiano Ronaldo. As a kid seeing him go out of his way to take on players and beat them, the goals he scored and the way he played - well, it made me a Manchester United fan.
So those were the early days, like I said, before I really knew what was going on. Once I hit that age where I stopped supporting random, unlinked teams over here in the US, and switching over to my hometown teams, I realised that Manchester United was not my favorite club. I had no real passion, no love for the club, I just simply liked the way they played, but who didn’t? When Ronaldo left United, I found a new passion.
Those that are Villa and have been for awhile know that 09/10 and 10/11 were the last seasons that really had Aston Villa on the map. After that, it was bottom half finishes and relegation battles, people all around me knew how seriously I felt about the club, and how into it I was, and they just had to ask, why?
As a teenager in school, there were the soccer players that watched games, and then a few kids here and there unattached to soccer that would watch games, and a lot that would just have random Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal jerseys. That wasn’t me. I had my DC United hometown team that I still support and go to games, but everyone who liked soccer had that Premier League club that they loved.
When I started looking, in a sense, for my club, I was about 13 and Ashley Young, James Milner, John Carew, Brad Friedel (the American goalie I knew at the time), and yes, even Gabby Agbonlahor were manning the ship for Villa, and boy was it fun. 6th place was an honorable finish, and as I was learning, and found out it was the third-straight year finishing 6th. Not too shabby. A semi-final appearance in the FA Cup and a trip to the final in the Carabao Cup are also admirable, so Villa definitely had my eye. Not only did they have my eye, I was on the damn hook.
I only know little about it still, and as I’m learning more and more, I’m falling more and more in love with the club.
I knew nothing about the behind the scenes during the Lerner days, but when I started to learn how bad things were, that’s when I got more and more invested with that whole aspect. It’s not just an athletic team, or a club, it’s a life to so many. I thought rock-bottom was getting relegated, but little did I know the whole effect it would have, some of it potentially even good for us to just sort of reset, in a way. But boy, oh boy, you won’t believe the banter I got from my American friends, who, like I said, mainly support the top 6 in the Premier League, so.
Now, in the Championship, I have to stay dedicated. First year, unless it was live on Sky that I could find a stream of, it would have to be from people in the stands going live on Periscope or Facebook. Otherwise, I’d not be able to watch the game. Then AVTV came out, so I could watch every game. Ironically this happened during my studies and just like most people, I was on an undergraduate budget. Fortunately, Villa is such a massive club that I was able to join 8 or so different Facebook groups (not exaggerating) and usually have one person who would stream the game on there, so that was decent enough, I guess? Waking up at 7:45am, regardless of who the PL game was for me, I just turn it on Saturday morning and watch soccer all day, having my laptop open to Facebook for Villa when they played.
I got to see the majority of the Villa success recently (what little there has been). I will never forget that Andi Weimann goal versus City (which is why I made that the main picture of this post), the FA Cup win versus Liverpool, the season where Benteke literally saved us again and again. Oh the memories. But these were only on TV for me. Fortunately, this past January, I got a chance to visit the UK and Villa Park as we beat Barnsley 3-1, a dream came true as I sat in the Holte End and Scotty Hogan scored two early goals and Hourihane netted the third and all goals were right in front of me, it was so sick.
During this past season’s run, I met two friends studying at my college for a year, from Leeds. Not Leeds fans, so that was helpful in our conversations, and seeing them notice Villa coming back around was a great sight to see. In March, it looked like we would either get that 2nd place spot automatic promotion, or if not, we’d win the playoffs. Beating Wolves? We were damn near at a peak point compared to recent years. Life was looking up for once.
As time wound down in the season, it was obvious we were headed for the playoffs, not auto-promotion. I knew we were better than all of the teams around us, except one. Fulham had been flying high, but if they could get that automatic promotion, we could definitely beat the likes of Cardiff, Boro, and Derby. But Fulham? Whole different beast, and I could see that.
Time got closer and Villa had their form, and seeing videos from Villa Park where the fans were so in love with the club and showing it, and the team showed it right back, it made me proud to support Aston Villa. Not proud to the point where I would wear a jersey or anything like that. Proud to the point where I’d be blaring Don’t Look Back in Anger in my car by myself, reposting videos on Snapchat somehow of Jack celebrating with the fans, it was amazing.
Enjoy...— Heart Of The Holte (@HeartOfTheHolte) March 10, 2018
GET IN VILLLAAAA pic.twitter.com/FEbw3NFeEx
Then, as it’s a rollercoaster ride like I said, it came back down. I graduated from undergrad on the 24th of May, and I go to the beach with friends to celebrate, and it’s Memorial Day over here, so we go to the beach for the long weekend. Of course, the 26th of May, I saw very little beach. Waking up at 7am to wait in line for two hours to be in the beach bar for another two hours, I went back to the hotel room , which I brought my laptop to of course, and streamed the final because, of course, the hotel didn’t have it on TV. Sitting there all alone, the striking blow came for Fulham, and it was gonna be one of those games. Turned what was supposed to be cloud nine, the best celebration, to me staying in the hotel the rest of the day and night. Relegation was rock-bottom? Nah, what came from this game and immediately following it felt way worse to me. I still look back to that day and post-match pictures and highlights, and that is also something I’ll never forget. That pain.
Seeing players like Snoddy and JT and knowing they wouldn’t be coming back (or maybe...), and they were such a big part in the first locker room at Villa I can remember that has had a positive attitude week in, week out. Like I said, there was a sense of pride. But we couldn’t keep that. And not only could we not keep them, we almost lost everything.
That was horrible. My first sense being in the “behind the scenes,” getting information slightly before the average person, and hearing and learning about a lot more things that I never knew, like I knew FFP, but I didn’t know the extent and all about it, and there is so much to it.
Now, here we are after the lowest low, we have a bright light and reasons to look forward. New owners, potentially keeping the bulk of the squad that got us one match from promotion, it’s a race in the championship for us again this season, even though things looked like they wouldn’t be like that again for awhile, just a few weeks ago.
For someone like me, I could’ve easily hopped off this ride at a low point, but that’s not me, and that’s not this club. Now, starting in October, I am doing post-grad in the UK for a year, so there will definitely be more of me at Villa Park in the Holte End on this long ride on the Aston Villa Rollercoaster. No matter how things go, I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m Villa till I die.