I was locked outside the job centre.
It was January 2015, and January in England is biting. The floor is frozen and the wind has a snapping whiplash. Stinging tears warmed my face because a door was locked.
That door was the metal/plastic frame to the local job centre and I had a missed a meeting. The consequence of this is that you are sanctioned by the job centre. A sanction is a lock or revoking of payments - It was £50.66 a week - and to miss the meeting is to be locked out of that cash. I had missed the meeting because I was covering the transfer window for this blog. When I eventually had the meeting and was made to fill out an explanatory document, they seized on the fact that I said that I was writing for a website.
What they took that to mean was that I was getting paid a wage and didn’t require the £50.66 a week. Their eyes lit up at the very mention and it seemed like I was being taken to trial. They took me to task and made me reapply for the £50.66.
What was really happening was that I was voluntarily writing for a website to feel like I meant something to this world.
The year before, in 2014, I was a graduate on the dole who couldn’t find a job to save his life. After the dole, I had to tile. After the tiling, someone managed to get me a job in a call centre. I got a dumb reprieve by choosing to sell myself short and cut my salary in a radio studio before I flamed out of that and into copywriting, then I managed to get an admin job.
All the while, I’ve been here - writing about Aston Villa.
In September 2014 I emailed Aaron Campeau, one of the co-founders of this website, if I could be brought aboard as a news writer. They needed someone to write up the news, and I thought I could be that guy.
I thought I could be that guy for a lot of places. I emailed many fan blogs and websites asking for a spot, just to write, and I don’t think that any of them replied. Aaron and Kirsten Schlewitz brought me on board and made me feel useful at a time when I felt useless, and I can’t now underestimate how important that was to me in 2014.
I owe this place a lot. I owe it for guiding me through a time when sleep was rare and meaning was hard to find. I owe it for keeping me going when there were times when I really, truly, did not to want to wake up at all.
Now, every day is a new burst of brilliance, and I will be taking all that I have learned here to Reach PLC to become a Midlands Football Writer.
This post is a thanks. Without this place, and without you, that doesn’t happen.
Firstly, a thanks to Aaron and Kirsten who brought me on. Aaron showed me that you could be humorous in writing without sacrificing anything. Kirsten taught me that we must cut through our privileges and write honestly - without being blind to others.
Robert Lintott was the blog manager here for the majority of my time and he showed me that writing is an eternal process, and one without perfection, He taught me to challenge myself and that a solid work ethic emboldens you. He was also an example of kindness without sacrifice. Elis Sandford showed me that there is no I in team and that there can never be a shortage of leaders. Alex Carson’s critical thinking skills challenged me, and taught me that answers lie everywhere, if you’re willing to look for them. Phil Vogel taught me that not every piece of writing has to be dripping in politics - but that you must pick your moments and strike, hard. Matt Ferenchick demonstrated that weird humour works in posts as much as it does on Twitter. Jack Grimse showed me that you could always be yourself and succeed.
I also ended up leading writers - Sean Evans, Matt Booher, Robb Jones, Andy, Corbin, Jake, John, and Liam & Herbert (who are shining examples that youth is no barrier to quality) amongst so many others. They always gave so much time to this blog to truly make it a community, and their posts attracted a host of memorable commentators. Bennett Berry also crowned our writing with images.
Cole Pettem and Daniel Raza led our podcasting efforts, and have become true friends. Listener Trevor I also need to thank Ronson Brown, who helped the Holtecast get back on it’s feet - and only a timezone kept him away. Stevie Green became a good friend and a matchday companion. Jon Mackenzie stepped aboard more than once and kept us honest - especially when discussing his Leeds United, while Simeon Pickup was always an inspiration writing about his Reading. Dustin and Pete, Michele, Liz, Gabe and Evan, Kim - all showed an interest in what I was doing and helped me along. Jeremiah Oshan also pushed for the success of this blog, and backed me up on my more... controversial postings.
Because of the podcast, I was able to build a very real and incredibly fulfilling friendship with a listener - David Farris. In a leadership role, with very little accountability, Dave was a good sounding board for Villa topics. Most importantly, he followed in the vein of Robert, Elis, Kirsten and Aaron - because he was kind and being kind was important to him. Because of that, being kind has become central to me. For over the year, he’s been a massive inspiration and without this place, that doesn’t happen. Without him, I certainly don’t meet another listener - Tyler Damme - in Chicago - for it was Dave who gave me a place to stay.
Other friends - like The Villa View and Under A Gaslit Lamp, The Athletic and The Birmingham Mail - inspired me and kept me going, but for the most part you’ll notice the thread - it’s one that runs through North America, where a rabid passion for Aston Villa is clear as day. And it’s a passion for Aston Villa that seems to lack toxic elements.
During my time at 7500 to Holte, we challenged Aston Villa - and we challenged the fans of the club. We aimed to encourage kindness and critical thought. We stuck to our guns. We were hypocrites. We loved to change our minds. We also loved to get worked up. We were immature. We fought back childishly when called out. We quoted books we didn’t need to. We acted smart. We were dumb.
We were human.
And I have absolutely no doubt at all that that won’t change a bit - why? Because I learned from the writers and crew at this website. I’m just someone else passing through the door. I am certain that this blog will continue to be a great place - because it was one years and years before I even thought to write about Aston Villa.
There are others to thank, but their time will come - for now, this one is for you.
I owe you one. Happy Holidays.