Dave Woodhall reminisces about Villa’s past and wonders about the future.
Yesterday was the anniversary of what was probably the greatest day in football history (the only other contender is 10th April 1897, and there’s nobody alive who remembers that). The European Cup is a huge trophy and some would say that it’s definitely the heaviest, as it’s been a millstone round the necks of a few clubs for decades. Villa, naturally, had to be different and were under instruction to ignore it for a couple of decades, but whatever calamities Randy Lerner was responsible for, at least he righted this particular wrong.
Since that time winning the trophy has taken its rightful place in the club’s heritage and there are plenty of reminders of the achievement around Villa Park. Whether it’s had that millstone effect I don’t know, although there has been a tendency on occasions to say that as former European champions we deserve/should be doing better. Personally I don’t agree with such thinking – at the end of the season you finish where you deserve and the division you’re playing in is your rightful place at that time.
That’s why right now the game that happened twelve months today was of arguably even more significance. If beating Derby County will never be as important in the long run as beating Bayern Munich, winning that play-off final is the reason why Villa are in the Premier League now, and while you could argue that we should never have been in such a position in the first place, it was a rare chance over the past decade to celebrate.
Not only that, but it was a unique occasion in club bonding. It’s become a cliche to say that players, managers and anyone else consider themselves supporters of which particular club is paying their wages at the time, but never through all my Villa-supporting life have I felt the gap between those celebrating on the pitch and the rest of us celebrating in the stands to be so narrow as it was that afternoon at Wembley. We were with them, and they were part of us. It was also, as I never tire of saying, one of the few times when we’ve stepped onto the big stage and behaved like headliners rather than the supporting act
Back then the future might have seemed uncertain, but you could have still got long odds on Villa having ten games to play on 27th May 2020. It’s been eleven weeks since the Premier League was halted and there’s still no real idea about when and how and if it will resume. Players have gone back to some form of training, increasingly fatuous regulations are being considered (no celebrating scoring a goal – really?) and we still don’t know when any future fixtures will be scheduled, where they’ll be played and whether players not in the current squad can be reinstated. It’s only football so it’s not important enough to be considered a tragedy, but it’s definitely a farce, and what I said earlier about finishing where you deserve is, for once, open to debate.
It’s blindingly obvious that the only reason why the Premier League is struggling on is the opportunity to keep their income streams going, and I do wonder how many formerly avid supporters of its clubs are now so sickened by the whole tawdry affair that when the competition does resume they’ll have found better things to do with their time.