Aston Villa vs. Brentford
July 30, 12 p.m.
FedEx Field, Landover, MD
“I’m incredibly excited. Oh my goodness….they’re going to be in Maryland!”
Lindsay William is very happy. The Villa are coming to town, her town. The last stop on Villa’s three-match US tour in July is going to bring back happy memories of growing up in Kingstanding, Birmingham. She’s almost as close to FedEx Field as she was to Villa Park.
“I drove there just to see where it is. It's 10 miles away. 10 miles!”
Lindsay is overjoyed at the prospect of seeing the players up close and, having gone through a difficult year personally, she says she would have done anything to see Villa play this summer. She is also very excited for local fans who may never get the chance to go to Villa Park or to see the Villa players anywhere else. This is Lindsay: loves the Villa but always has a thought for everyone else who will be part of sharing an experience like this with her.
It was an absolute pleasure to talk to Lindsay. It was more about listening, and being captivated by her enthusiasm for the Villa and the relationships she has built in her new home city: within the North American family, her local football community, and the family that took her in as one of their own when she moved to the USA by herself. It’s not the simple, chest-beating, up-the-Villa-above-anything-else kind of story.
While she grew up close enough to hear the roar of the Holte End, trips to Villa Park were not on the cards, not high on the list of what to spend limited finances on. But Villa ran through the family. She heard stories about matches and the magic of Villa Park from her grandfather and uncle, a season ticket holder. Her playground was the streets around her house, where she played football with the boys and stoked the rivalries with fans of West Brom and Birmingham. The 1994 Coca-Cola Cup triumph was celebrated on those streets like nowhere else, in Lindsay’s mind. That was Lindsay’s Wembley, her Villa Park for the day. It’s a memory she treasures.
Football dominated life in and outside the house. When “the match” was on, her mum had no hope of watching Coronation Street on TV. She did get a taste of Villa Park when she got a job in a concession stand at Villa Park as a teenager, and soon after she was off to London and later to Maryland, USA.
She felt cut off from Villa at this point. Previously an avid armchair fan because of circumstance, she now admits it was harder to maintain the strong interest. The distance, not being surrounded by Villa fans, and the lack of consistent coverage in the USA made it difficult.
But within a year of moving across the Atlantic, things changed. Lindsay says it was probably the heightened sense of nostalgia for home and the longing to be connected to something important to her. At the time, she also was welcomed into the local African community and their love of football rekindled her Kingstanding memories. She played football with her new family and she gained respect for being a Villa fan, whereas most of her new community were fans of the ‘Big 4’ Premier League clubs of the time.
Lindsay’s love for Villa was re-awoken, emboldened by the wonder and admiration of her new friends and family, as a supporter of a “smaller” team. In the summer of 2012, she set off on a drive by herself to watch Villa in Philadelphia. She didn’t know any of the fans in the stadium but it was the start of something. She discovered that there were a lot, a huge number, of Villa fans across North America. It was time to join the party.
A trip to Chicago followed where a meeting with Simon Leach, chairman of the very active Chicago Lions, opened up a whole new world. Simon gave her all the information she needed to start an official Lions group and the rest included a lot of work from Lindsay to get the Maryland Lions on the map.
Setting up the Maryland Lions was tricky. Lindsay searched on social media for Villa fans in the state but found most of the Villans she came across were closer to Washington, and thus more likely to join the Capital Lions. But spend a couple of minutes with Lindsay and you’ll know she doesn’t give up. She has created a little pocket of Villa in Maryland, hardly an expected stronghold of English football fans. Lindsay is proud of the “four strong women” in the group.
Nichelle is a lot more than just the first person who joined Lindsay on her American Villa journey. She has been Lindsay’s number one supporter on her quest to carry on her love for Villa, encouraging her to find a bar for regular meet-ups and watching games at home with her. She also made the trip with Lindsay to watch Villa in Minnesota in 2019. On top of all that, and maybe more importantly, Nichelle is Lindsay’s American mom, part of the family that made Lindsay feel so welcome when she moved to Maryland.
Then came Mel and Nicole. Mel is the wife of a lifelong Everton fan. She and her husband run a podcast (DU Football) on which Lindsay is also a regular participant. Mel loved the Villa colours and took a further interest when she found out that Prince William was also a fan. With that decision made, Lindsay crowned the moment with a Villa scarf. All, of course, much to the bewilderment of Mel’s husband. “After all these years, me trying to convince you to support Everton...”
That “crowning” ceremony was passed on to Nicole when she also declared her love for Villa on the same podcast. She decided she wanted to be a fan and did solid research, watching Premier League football for a season. Villa were the winners!
And then there is Regan, who hasn’t yet been able to meet with the rest of the group but who showed her commitment by customizing her outfit for her Irish dancing competitions.
Lindsay, Nichelle, Mel, and Nicole form the core of the MD Lions group; the latter two are also part of the football podcast community. While her fellow podcasters attribute a higher degree of football fan authenticity to her, being the only person able to bring real-life experiences from England, Lindsay doesn’t wear this as any sort of badge of superiority. She enjoys the camaraderie of the group, a community brought together by their excitement of watching football and talking about it. It’s a group united by their passion for football, not divided by rivalry. It is a common theme amongst many North American fan clubs where the banter is lively, yet friendly.
The first time I saw Lindsay was on TV when I was watching professional tennis player and Aston Villa fan, Dan Evans, play at the Citi Open in Washington. Her Villa shirt stood out prominently and often, as she was sitting right behind Dan’s chair at changeovers. Lindsay’s persistence got her a signed Villa shirt from a reluctant and grumpy Dan after a tough loss. When I asked Lindsay if she is hoping to see Dan again this summer, I could hear the excitement in her voice again.
The Citi Open starts on July 31 this year. Could Dan take time out of his practice schedule to watch Villa with the Villa fans at FedEx Field? The question will be asked.
What can fans coming to Maryland expect?
First of all, they should know they are going to spend most of their time in Washington. As Lindsay points out, and as any NFL fan who has visited FedEx Field will agree, there is “nothing there.” All the meet-ups and activities are planned for Washington, a 30-minute drive away, in collaboration with the Capital Lions. Plans are still being finalized so do follow social media for updates. It is yet another fine example of the work of the Villa family in North America and all the hard work done by the chairs of the Lions clubs that fans coming for the game will be made to feel very welcome.
One thing that struck Lindsay was the high demand for tickets from families. Therefore, she made it a point to ensure that kids would have seats towards the front. She’s doing this because that’s her nature, making sure others get to enjoy the experience. Is she also subtly planting the seeds for a greater MD Lions community?
Lindsay knows any visiting fans from the UK will be pleasantly surprised by the amount of support for Villa in the USA. She thinks back to her experience watching Villa in Minnesota in 2019.
“Being in the stands was like being back home. Everyone, no matter where they were from, was part of the passion, the incredible atmosphere.”
Lindsay admires this enthusiastic and deep support for Villa in North America and loves that she is a part of it. She looks forward to visiting fans from overseas being amazed by it, too.
And what happens after the match is over and the fans have gone home?
“New season, new fans” is what Lindsay hopes for, to keep this momentum going. So, for any fans in the area, please do look up the MD Lions on social media. There is a new spot in Annapolis, MD (The Dark Horse) ready to welcome Villa fans and you know that Lindsay and her crew will make you feel very welcome.
Facebook: Aston Villa Supporters Club, Maryland-USA
Facebook: Aston Villa North America
Twitter: Aston Villa Maryland @Villagirl3
The Dark Horse: https://www.darkhorseannapolis.com/