Imagine the scene. I've invited my girlfriend, Jade, to a football match against Watford FC at Villa Park. The poor girl's involvement with sport has been minuscule during her time with me (and I'm a massive sports fan), so thankfully, it was on her request that she be dragged along to a Villa match.
Let me rewind. I purchased my season ticket at Aston Villa during a showing of Ant-Man (We're both into the Marvel Cinematic Universe despite the disappointment of Age of Ultron). I'd previously taken Jade to CitiField in New York City to watch the Mets. We both enjoyed it so much we went again. Watching Lucas Duda crack a home-run in a New York storm was an amazing feeling, and I guess she must have felt that rush of 'sporting excitement' when she was three margaritas down to even bother asking me to take her to an Aston Villa match. We both enjoyed the Mets, then we both enjoyed the WWE (It's a sport in our eyes), then we both enjoyed UFC and boxing. Jade also watched a bit of the World Cup where she was awed by Tim Howard's display against Belgium and the amazing speed of Ghana's Gyan. Clearly, I might have a new Aston Villa fan on my hands.
My trick of attempting to get her drunk enough to enjoy Aston Villa probably failed as even the Villan's comedic defending wasn't enough to bring a smile to her little face. A double-Vodka and coke at the Station in Sutton Coldfield, as well as two Carlsbergs at Villa Park was as earnest an attempt I could muster. As Villa were serenaded upon entry by the admittedly over-the-top symphony - 'Escape' by Craig Armstrong - Jade's words of 'It's a bit over-dramatic isn't it?' pretty much summed up the next two hours.
You've seen the score, you've heard or watched the breakdown. Aston Villa lost 3-2 in an unlucky defeat. It was a boring, grubby football match and in the fifteen odd years I've been following Aston Villa, I've seen lots better. It was a damn shame I'd chosen to drag Jade to this match as she's likely to not attend another now! I can certainly appreciate that someone has the willpower to not be sucked into supporting a football team; it can be a drain and a frustration as proved by a sapped atmosphere at Villa Park. I felt the frustration of the Holte End course through me and the way we applauded near misses in August has been exchanged for cries of anguish as each wasted chance brings us closer to the abyss.
Two possibilities face Aston Villa right now. At fourteen games played, they are five away from the halfway point of the 2015-16 Premier League season. If they can escape from the bottom three places by the time we hit that mark, I'll tip them to stay up, but if they find themselves sat on five points after five more games, I don't think there's a chance that Aston Villa stay in the Premier League. However, there was something more going on at Villa Park on Saturday the 28th of November than a 'mere football match'. With the match as a backdrop, we got to witness different levels of human fear. From the fear of an individual faced with a life on the streets to the fear of a collective faced with life permanently altered.
It wasn't long ago that I may have faced the very real possibility of being made homeless - I mean, I was definitely in the situation, but thanks to a great Mother and a loving family, a roof over my head was always a guarantee. That doesn't mean the situation stops others, who aren't as lucky as me, from sleeping rough on the streets of Birmingham and elsewhere.
Before Saturday's matchup with Watford, the people behind Operation Drawstring highlighted the issue of being alone and without a home in the winter months. Collecting drawstring bags full of essentials (shower gel, gloves, socks, sanitary items, toothpaste etc), Operation Drawstring aims to distribute filled bags to those in need of such items. It wasn't as much of a success at the match as we could have hoped for, but there is still plenty of time to help the cause. One of the big problems was the fact that the drop-off point for drawstring bags wasn't able to be advertised for security reasons.
Following the devastating attacks on Paris earlier in November, it was a surprise to no-one that security was heightened on Saturday. It certainly weighed on my mind, and I'm without doubt that the bombings and shootings of that night outside the Stade de France and the Bataclan must have been running through the heads of both sets of supporters. Those responsible attack not Western values, but Western culture, with Western people as the collateral damage. Thanks to them, there now exists the concept that you may never be safe at a sporting or cultural event ever again. Did I feel nervous at Villa Park? Yes. Did that go away when Micah Richards thumped a storming header into the corner of the goal? Yes.
Living your life is the greatest weapon you can wield against those that aim to plunge the knives of fear into your heart. After 9/11, 7/7, Paris, Lebanon, Syria, Istanbul and the countless more events that build a legacy of violence, going out to concerts, dinners and football matches shows the world that you are not afraid and if the fate should decide that you lose it all in a attack at an event you are attending, your own legend is built - stronger and taller than those who dared carry out an attack. Even after the countless terrorist attacks that have claimed lives, you went out and enjoyed yourself: paying no attention nor fear to those who are trying to take everything away from you. That, in it's own way is greater than any bomb dropped or any bullet fired.
For a split-second during the Watford match, I experienced a feeling I'd never want to experience again. Before the match, there were metal detector searches (in my instance, a pat down) and bag searches. Fans were told to arrive thirty minutes early because of the delay that these searches would inevitably cause to anyone attempting to get into Villa Park. So you can pretty much imagine my shock when a metal device was chucked onto the pitch from the Watford end.
I'm not sure how so much could run through my mind in the three seconds that device took to detonate into plumes of blue smoke, but it all centered around one thing - why would someone bring something that could be deemed to be 'threatening' not even a month after the Paris attacks? Why, when there has been so much warning of heightened security could someone even attempt to conceal a device like that? Normally, I'd be down for flares, smoke grenades, and the like. But it's poor form to bring anything metal and scary to a football stadium right now. You can't be doing it, you simply cannot, as a human being, bring anything that could confuse or scare not a month after Paris. It takes one total idiot to bring a device to a game in England right now and cause panic and unfortunately that was exactly what happened.
In a way, I'm glad it didn't get discovered during the 'security' checks. Imagine the feelings that a security guard who felt the device in a jacket would have gone through? I'd have certainly imagined my life flicking through my eyes (not normally mind you, but the world is hardly in a 'normal' state right now). There's no reason to make anyone feel uncomfortable and especially not right now. So when this metal, bomb-looking object is chucked onto a pitch, I think i'm pretty much entitled to shit myself. I thought I would be witnessing a tragedy, for a few seconds at the very least. I feel like a bit of an idiot now, but I was so willing to accept the fact that the smoke bomb could be something much more nefarious. I guess we are all entitled to caution these days.
And we're all entitled to escape. Regardless of relegation or staying up - Aston Villa will always be Aston Villa. I come to watch football and hope that good football is played, on occasion it is and on occasion it is not. Aston Villa may go down, Aston Villa may stay up and that's ok. The world just became a bit of a smaller place and I'm so glad that I have something claret and blue I can cling to, watch with my dad and take my girlfriend to - I just hope that she enjoys it a bit more next time!