A little backstory: Like many Americans who embraced football later in life, I had been searching for a football team in England to support but I didn’t want to root for a team like Arsenal, Manchester United, or Chelsea because I thought that was too easy. I didn’t want to jump on the obvious choices that Americans would know about without trying too hard.
On September 2, 2007 destiny intervened.
I was on holiday in Las Vegas. The football bug had bitten me and rather than go hang at the pool, I decided I’d rather watch the Premier League game that was on TV that day: Chelsea vs Aston Villa. I knew who Chelsea was but I hadn’t ever heard of Villa.
Villa’s colors stood out. The only other time I had seen that combination of colors was at the high school I attended. And there’s another funny similarity: my HS was founded in 1847 while Villa was founded in 1874. Not the exact same years, but the same four digits. To me, they were the signs that I may have found my club.
But I digress...that match in early September was an amazing performance by Villa. I loved seeing (what was to me at the time) a ‘smaller club’ take it straight to Chelsea and rip them apart that day on the counter. I loved the pace and just overall dynamic play that Villa showed on that day. A 20 yr old Gabby sealed the match in the 88th minute for a 2-0 victory over Chelsea in Villa Park. I was ecstatic.
When I got back home, I soon realized that Villa was no small club, after doing some research. They’d been the Kings of Europe in the 80s and had a pedigree that rivalled any team in England. What I learned, reaffirmed my hunch about this team. I had found the team that I would root for.
Fast forward through the next 11 plus years, being a Villa fan has sure had its ups and downs but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Gabby (until the end of last season) was the one constant player in my experience and he epitomized what I loved about the players (or annoyed me) depending on the season. Like I said though, I have enjoyed the ride.
With the announcement of his retirement, I just want to say thanks to him. Thank you for playing a role in helping me discover Aston Villa. He played a massive role in me becoming a fan and I’ll be forever indebted to him.
Cheers and best of luck Gabby.