Into the Lions den

Dave Woodhall on Villa’s memorable win over Wolves.

I’d like to start off by paying tribute to an old colleague of mine in the Football Supporters Association, Sheila Spiers, who died last week. Sheila was a Liverpool supporter who as a teacher on Merseyside in the eighties fought Militant, as the FSA secretary for many years fought for the rights of football supporters and who fought cancer for much longer than anyone with less spirit would have managed.

She loved football even more than she loved her club; I’ll never forget returning home from the 2015 FA Cup semi-final to a message from Sheila congratulating the Villa and enthusing about our performance. During her years with the FSA she was part of a small but determined band who helped drag the image of football and football supporters back from its mid-eighties abyss and towards a time when sponsors and TV companies would repackage the game beyond our wildest dreams.

Such as the events on Saturday, when a 5.30 kick-off pitched Villa against a Wolves side who have been under fire for their reputedly underhand ways of recruiting some of the brightest talent from Spain and Portugal. Keith Wyness has been one of the more vociferous questioners of the Wolves approach and there was perhaps a thought that they would be out for revenge.

If that was the idea, it was outfought by a more traditional and potent series of events. Because Wolves might be able to sign some of the best young players in the world. They might even make good on their more outlandish promises such as building a new Maracana in Wolverhampton. But they will never be able to buy days like this.

Just occasionally there comes a time when the footballing gods give the world a reminder of what a great club’s all about. A crowd roaring their team on. Eleven claret and blue heroes giving their all. I’ve criticised their lack of effort often enough but not one of them could be accused of a lack of effort at any time from kick off until the final whistle. It doesn’t happen very often that crowd and team come together like this, but when we do, we’re unbeatable.

Even if you weren’t at the match you’ll have seen the four goals and the defensive cockup that gave Wolves a brief lifeline during the short period midway through the first half when they were on top. You’ll have seen a defence that gave nothing else away, Robert Snodgrass yet again playing in a manner that brings to mind Des Bremner or James Milner at their 110%, perpetual motion best. You’ll have seen Albert Adomah and Lewis Grabban getting their customary goals. And you won’t have been able to miss Jack Grealish head and shoulders above the opposition – again – in a game where he pulled the strings throughout.

But if you were leaving at the final whistle, or watching on TV and looked away, you might have missed the defining moment of the afternoon, as John Terry ran towards the Holte End, bouncing up and down with the sheer joy of another personal triumph. Five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, the Champions League and he still delights in every victory. That’s the mark of a champion.

Not only was this an afternoon to relish, it was also the sort of performance that makes the rest of the league take notice. They’ve always known that we have the players to beat them. They now know that we’re hitting form at the right time.

There’s still a lot to do. Villa remain a long way behind Wolves and it would take an almighty collapse for them not to win the title. Equally, we have to make sure that this result isn’t undone by a less than professional performance against QPR on Tuesday. But I look at the rest of the season’s fixtures, look back at how the runaway league leaders were totally dominated, and I can’t see any game we can’t win. It’s a lot to ask, but equally it’s been a long time since there was such confidence running through the club. More even than the three points, an afternoon like this was needed to show everyone at Villa Park that from now on, anything’s possible.