Dave Woodhall on a new knight.
News of Doug Ellis’s knighthood for services to charity in the New Year’s honours list produced a mixed response. There were those who were spitting feathers at the man they see responsible for over 30 years mismanagement of Aston Villa being awarded such recognition. Others saw it as a reasonable reward for an even longer period in the public eye, together with philanthropic gestures such as his donation to the renovation of Woodcock Street baths, now re-named in classic Ellisian style the Doug Ellis Woodcock Sports Centre.
Subtlety has never been Doug’s style, and neither has modesty. The Doug Ellis stand at Villa Park was, reputedly, so named as a surprise 70th birthday present, and surely there must be someone in the country who believes that. The Doug Ellis executive boxes, however, were not such a revelation, neither was the oil painting which hangs in their foyer. Doug may not have presided over Villa Park in the same totalitarian way the Kim dynasty rules North Korea, but the cult of personality still thrived throughout Doug’s time as chairman, both at the club and wherever he could get his public profile raised.
That may have been why he’s had to wait until the week before his 88th birthday to receive this honour – he always seemed to try too hard to get it. Over the years Doug has never exactly done his charitable works discreetly; he was the epitome of the “Does a lot for charidee…doesn’t like to talk about it” mentality which is forever linked with the vision of middle-aged men in evening dress presenting an oversized cheque to a C-list celebrity while being photographed for the local papers.
Doug was awarded the OBE in 2005, and that, combined with his retirement after selling to Randy Lerner the following year, seemed to have brought about a change in his persona. Doug no longer made so much of a fuss about his charity work; I know of a couple of sizeable donations for which he sought no publicity, but was happy to quietly write a cheque and leave others to take the credit.
It’s difficult to feel any real bitterness towards a man who has finally achieved his lifetime’s ambition. As Peter Warillow, chair of the Aston Villa Supporter Trust and an outspoken critic of Doug in the past, said, “We had many run-ins during his tenure but Doug has been a strong supporter of the Trust’s aims in recent years and we congratulate him on this well-deserved honour.” Which is fair enough – typing three letters at the beginning of Doug’s name isn’t going to kill anyone and if it’s what he’s set his heart on, then good luck to him. There may be more deserving cases for recognition, but I can’t bring myself to begrudge this one.