Another night game, but one without victory for Aston Villa. A crowd roared them on a journey to glory - but they didn’t reach that destination, and not for the lack of trying either.
You certainly can’t doubt Villa’s effort on this night.
Let’s talk about effort. In this life, you’re always told to try, and I’m sick to death of hearing it. I head into this match on the back of job application number 39. I am trying. I’m trying damn hard, and it feels pointless. I know that in the end, it won’t be, but right now it’s a bit ‘can’t see the wood for trees’ - you know? Everyone can try harder, but it doesn’t mean that hearing it helps, because even your best efforts can be rendered null and void. Others are trying harder than me - and each day brings new challenges as even the act of crawling out of bed becomes a personal Everest to climb. The least we have come to accept though, is that initial effort. We all want to see something, and sometimes we don’t see that effort and we can snap to damning judgements really quickly.
Football fans want effort. A good portion of any songbook is about running and shooting and scoring and tackling harder and better than anyone else on the pitch. ‘Trying hard’ is the foundation of footballing folklore, and no advances in tactical theory or statistical analysis have dented that ‘truth’. If we don’t see that effort - a bit of running around that meets our personal baseline, then there will be hell to pay.
Trying really hard isn’t always obvious though. To us, coddled in scarves and coats in the cool fall breeze of Aston, we might be ignorant to the act of ‘trying’ itself. Wood and trees and all that.
Blood and thunder, man. You can feel it flare right up when things get going. A late tackle, a push, a shove. Football as the contact sport brings you to your feet, and it brings you angrily to your feet. On nights like this, you scream and rage and rant. Nothing happens, nobody is listening - and you can’t be heard in this cauldron of sound.
It’s suspended helplessness, and it’s cruel. As football fans, we feel that our shouting, ranting, waving, pointing, chanting and screaming can lead to something tangible. Oh god, it seems so long ago now but do you remember that night against Everton? It certainly felt like the atmosphere of the night created something special.
The atmosphere that is borne of frustration isn’t a pleasant environment, though. The agony when simple actions fail, the pressure and the stress of such a simple game. The sound of thousands of jaws clenching, and thousands of nails scratching. It’s punishing and it is torture on the soul. There’s no beneficial side effect though - there’s no cleansing of the soul. You just trudge home thinking of the hypotheticals and letting thoughts balance on your brain for just a fraction too long.
Regardless of the efforts, frustration will always arrive when a result doesn’t appear. So, do we really want effort when there’s no result? Or do we want the result? Is it ok to pay ourselves on the back and go again when there’s a good performance without a tangible reward? Is it then ok to steal that reward without a solid performance? Is there even a right answer here?
Football gives us so many moments of ecstasy, but it must then follow that there are moments of agony to provide balance. Villa brought the storm and the chaos but could not find the end product needed to finish an attacking move and score a goal. In the end, ask yourself: what is the end product of a storm if not the drenched disappointment that begets a new day, and certainly a new dawn? On this night, it wasn’t meant to be and maybe, just maybe, this brings the balance we need to move forward.
We need perspective. Walking back through Aston, I discussed this match and our hopes for it with my dad. My dad has had his tools stolen from his van about three times now, and each time it’s more difficult to take. I asked him if he was hoping that this match against West Ham would ease his weekend a little bit, and he shook his head. After all, this is Aston Villa we are speaking about.