Dave Woodhall on Villa in the press and getting old.
The media perception of what football supporters think is often detached from reality. Towards the end of last season I was asked by a radio station researcher whether I agreed that Liverpool were the nation’s choice to win the Premier League because they were underdogs.
Pausing only to ponder on how different a world where Liverpool are seen as underdogs is to the one I grew up in, I pointed out that the difference between myth and reality is never larger than when the lovable Liverpudlians are involved. In fact, one of my many theories on football is that most post-Euro ’96 media luvvies who got into football because it was social death not to, chose Liverpool because they wanted a club with enough glory to hunt and Manchester United were too obvious.
I mention this because much of my attention this week has been taken up with the FA Cup. Villa have been drawn against Blackburn or Liverpool, which has increased the focus on Stevie bloody Gee’s birthday. The nation, apparently, would love to see the whole of Wembley singing Happy Birthday to You as he departs for Los Angeles with the FA Cup tucked under his arm. The reality, of course, is that the large part of the nation who don’t take their footballing cue from the tabloids and Five Live will be supporting first Blackburn, then Villa.
And on the topic of cups and media bias, it was interesting to see how the coverage of last week’s pitch invasion evolved. The tabloids continued to call it hell on earth for a couple of days but were gradually outnumbered by those who saw it for what it was, an expression of joy and celebration that showed how much the FA Cup still means to supporters. In fact, the only dissenting voices by the middle of the week were to be found in the local media, whose agenda is strangely open to debate where their biggest and most successful club is concerned.
Then by Saturday there was a match to focus on once more. This is the time of the season where one club starts to fall apart, matters usually coming to a head during a home battering by a team not much better than they are themselves, to the accompaniment of angry-looking young men racing out of the stand to remonstrate with the dug-out and season tickets being thrown away. It’s funny when it happens to someone else and even funnier when your club is the cause.
Villa blew Sunderland away in a first half that was the best performance since, well, probably since Sunderland at home in 2013. Tim Sherwood put out an attacking line-up and it worked almost from the off. Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor scored the goals but credit also to Leandro Bacuna at right-back (shades of Matt Lowton in that 6-1) and the much-maligned Charles N’Zogbia. Another two or three performances like this one and Villa will be safe in plenty of time to buy Stevie Gee a birthday card.
An almost perfect week with just one grey cloud to mar the silver lining. 16 year old Rushian Hepburn-Murphy came on as a late sub at the Stadium of Light and in doing so became Villa’s second-youngest player of all time. I am now legally old enough to be the grandfather of a Villa first teamer. This is not a good thing.