'The papers, they like to chat a load of shit really.' - Gabby Agbonlahor after Aston Villa's win against Norwich
If you're reading Gabby - I'll own up to it: I do too.
Adam Clark wrote a great piece this week following Saturday's win over Norwich City, and I'd like to take my opportunity with this column to reflect on just how important Gabby Agbonlahor really is to me and us all.
Growing up in Erdington is a world away from the poverty of third-world countries (and even some of the projects in the States) but it's still a rough deal for some kids. I, myself was fortunate to be blessed with homes in both Kingstanding and Sutton Coldfield due to the split of my parents, but my other friends were stuck in B23.
There wasn't a great deal to do, in Erdington except roam around the grey streets, walking from 'block to block' hoping something interesting might happen (on occasion it jumped on you unexpectedly as if you were walking through the long grass in a Pokèmon game). Sometimes, it might be watching a guy called 'Donut' get arrested, sometimes it might be a game of football in the streets but most of the time, it was watching someone's older brother get up to no good. One time, we just walked around for hours at 4am - because there was nothing else to do.
Not all of us had Xbox 360's and not all of us were welcome in each other's homes all the time. If we were more nefarious we may have partaken in drugs or alcohol. Instead, we just tied a boxing bag to a tree and swung around on it, forgetting how bored we really were. We saw Curtis Davies once though, one of our icons growing up and watching Martin O'Neill's Villa.
Gabriel Agbonlahor grew up in that same area of Birmingham. We kids would trade stories of when he played Sunday League against someone's cousin (Daniel Sturridge actually put nine past my own!), and sometimes, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Charisma Agbonlahor roaming around. Gabby was more than a footballer to us, it was almost as if you expected to see his name in the contacts section of your Sony Ericsson next to your pal's name. We didn't know him, but we couldn't be more familiar with him. I remember the one time in Computer Tech class that we found his profile on Bebo and clicked on the small 'add friend' button, hoping he would accept.
I was a goalkeeper, but that didn't stop me plastering 'Agbonlahor 11' on my away Villa strip and doing his famous 'thumbs pose' when I rarely scored. All I ever wanted to be was a footballer and I could run as fast as the horses of hell themselves - but I couldn't play football (remind you of someone?). Eventually, I think I realised I couldn't take it. After playing over sixty minutes a day for nearly ten years, I found it hard to get my legs working in the morning. Playing football does take it out of you, and I've seen much better players than myself end up on the same scrapheap and I'm glad my body told me to stop, because sometimes, I can feel my tendon's twitch and my bones ache as if owned by a being double my age. I don't care so much about my own failures to achieve, but it breaks my heart to have known the talented players I grew up with and realise that not one of them made it.
And I guess that's why when Gabby put away Norwich with a spirited performance on a miserable Saturday afternoon in Aston, I damn well gave him an ovation every-time he touched the ball. Gabby Agbonlahor isn't just 'Mr Villa', or 'Villa through and through'. Gabby Agbonlahor is the answer to 'what if'. What if someone I knew got to the big time? What if someone I knew could pull on a Villa kit and score in front of the Holte End?
In a way, I feel that's why myself and so many others have laid such heavy criticism on Agbonlahor. There's no reason we should expect so much of him, because Gabby is the very definition of average - though in the same sense that we have all taken it upon ourselves to familiarise with Gabby, we expect more because we try and relate to him. The same would certainly apply to Jack Grealish. Two local boys we expect the world of, because in a way - we know them.
I'd like to devote a small conclusion to the some of the others in Block K5 of the Holte End. Fuck you and your entitlement. Buying a ticket to a football match doesn't give you a divine right to snarl at Villa players because they didn't do exactly what you want. If you bunch were in charge of the Villa, we'd be in League 2. For those reading who aren't familiar with Villa Park, then the answer is YES - you do get armchair fans at games and I hope that they abandon Villa should our pending relegation arrive. Villa Park needs more people who applaud positive play, who clap, chant and cheer - not fuckwits with a utterly appalling sense of entitlement. Even the louder, right-wing section of our crowd don't scream 'Twat' as loud as they can at Carles Gil for dawdling on the football. You should be ashamed of yourselves, we are Aston Villa and our team reflects us - why even bother attending if you can't be arsed to stand up and cheer your team. In some sick way, it may be a reflection on their lives - looking for something else to be depressed about so they've yet another bullet cocked and ready in their mouths.
I wouldn't attack other 'supporters' without reason, but I've attended around eleven football matches at Villa Park this season and the heckling and negativity has been a constant. Nevertheless, Gabby found a way past that proving that, if they try, anyone can find redemption by looking in the right place.