There are three Christmas days for me in football. The first day is when Aston Villa announce a new kit. The second day is when Aston Villa buy their first player of the season. The final Christmas, for some reason, is when Aston Villa announce a new principal partner.
There's just something about a shiny new transfer on a kit. It signifies change. It connotes importance, and class. It means something.
It was recently announced that Aston Villa, for the third season in a row, will be sponsored by a gambling company - W88. For a large part of the decade, they have been sponsored by some kind of Gambling company be it W88 (now), Getting, Dafabet, Unibet or 32RED.
Aston Villa's record-breaking deal was announced just after news broke that a former sponsor is facing collapse.
Acorns Children's Hospice adorned the kits of Aston Villa for a few years, just under a decade or so back. Villa's brand demands Pride, Passion and Purpose, and I honestly think that I am not speaking out of turn, or just for myself, when I say that Villa's partnership with Acorns delivered that. I felt so, so proud of Aston Villa during that period of time. A sponsor with meaning, worn with charitable pride as capital encroached onto the Premier League elsewhere, as it had always promised.
Now, Acorns are proposing to close their Walsall hospice due to rising, unaffordable healthcare costs. While it is 'only' a single hospice that is closing, this news signifies that a tough future lies ahead for Acorns.
With the news of Villa's new sponsor dropping, I'd call it irony. An almost delicious example of terminal-stage capitalism. On one hand, a club has made a massive deal with a gambling company that nobody has heard of. On the other hand, a charity that cares for sick and dying children in the Midlands is undergoing almost catastrophic cost-cutting measures just to stay afloat.
Is it Villa's responsibility to bankroll a former sponsor, a local hospice? Or is it that of a Government who have lovingly adopted the title of 'cost-cutters' crusading against the public spend. If you don't want your terminally-ill child to go without end-of-life care, then get a damn job. You can almost hear it. We've been so open to the idea of work as worth until it stopped paying.
Please do not mistake this for a political post. This is life and death and it crosses party lines. We should all have a right to care with dignity, and Acorns help provide that for children. They don't face a bright future. That means that children in Walsall who need Acorns will be left without, and that hurts. It tears at me. I want to be able to do something. I can't. We don't have unlimited piles of money, because those piles of cash go to important people based in the City of London for all the empty properties they own. There are some people who have too much money, and there are some people who don't have enough. Now an end-of-life hospice for children is planted firmly in the latter camp.
Now, Villa still have a strong connection to Acorns, but it’s clearly not enough. Aston Villa as a private company, don’t have a place to start splashing the cash on public healthcare. They shouldn't be doing that - but as a massive member of the community, and a partner of Acorns, I'd hope that the club can stand in the way of its collapse and demand that action, somehow, is taken. The hope is that Villa and their excellent foundation will sort a new relationship out with Acorns. Fundraising pages have been set up, but there's still an issue here - mainly, how can this even happen in the first place?
I can already see some responses to this article. What do I expect Villa to do? They can't hand out cash? It's not their fault or problem? This is all correct. I do not argue with these questions. All I see before me is a nightmare situation and I don't know how to fix it. It is 2019 and we seem to be constantly revolving out of nightmares, dancing from trauma to trauma. It knocks on all of our doors eventually. This isn't just Acorns, but what about the other public services that don't have a community giant to stand for them?
While Acorns may be able to scrape together the cash to keep their Walsall hospice open, why is it now a situation where these hospices have to beg for cash?
All I know is that something has to happen here. If Acorns eventually collapses, children who have short and tough lives will see their lives be cut shorter and be made a hell of a lot tougher. That's the outcome.
Now, what's the answer?
(If you're interested in supporting Acorns, head here. While one hospice may be closed, they are still very much around)