Dave Woodhall on the changing aspects of club v country.
Forty years ago England needed to beat Poland to qualify for the World Cup finals. Such was the importance of the match that it was shown live on TV, which was unprecedented at the time. I remember going with my dad to watch it at my aunt’s house because she had colour and we only had black and white. England drew, didn’t qualify, and we could stop kidding ourselves that we were still one of the major footballing powers. Ironically, a few months after that game the Villa’s official centenary book The First 100 Years came out, featuring a comment by author Peter Morris about the club’s relegation in 1967 and how it showed that “the illusion that Aston Villa were still a first division force was over.” In 1973 Villa were on their way back while England would take another 17 years to do anything more than make up the numbers in any tournament they qualified for.
It’s a matter of record that England and the Villa have a lot in common. They were the dominant forces at club and national level in the game’s early years, which disguised the fact that both were then in serious decline for decades. There was a brief moment when they beat all-comers before again sinking back into a state that veers between mediocrity and being the best of the rest. The only major difference I can see between both sides is that Villa supporters thankfully lack the sense of entitlement that makes England followers expect to win every tournament, with the subsequent excessive criticism that follows inevitable failure.
I didn’t watch the match last night. I’m not that bothered about England anymore, for a number of reasons ranging from Steven Gerrard’s existence to the way proper football is cancelled every time the league programme gets into its stride, with that bloody band probably beating both of them in my league table of loathing. In fact, most people I know who are active matchgoers aren’t all that fussed about England while those who don’t care about football are invariably the ones who become fanatics every other summer. If you feel different, good luck to you and I hope you enjoy Brazil.
My main interest of the evening was seeing if Christian Benteke emerged unscathed from his unnecessary excursion to the Belgian national side’s game with Wales. As he was an unused sub there probably wasn’t too much danger but you can never be too careful. He‘s a Villa player and the way things have been going for us injury-wise he could have tripped over the bench.
But it seems as though he’s fine and should be fit to face Spurs on Sunday. This one will be a different proposition to the low-key defeat in the League Cup. It’s not exactly a must-win, more of a three-points-would-be-nice-but-we’d-settle-for-a-draw. It’s on the telly as well, our first Sunday game of the season and a chance to show the watching millions that the Villa of now are a different proposition to the easily beatable side of last year. Heeeyy, we’re unbeaten in three games, clean sheets in two of them and we’re looking more solid than for a long time. If that isn’t tempting fate I don’t know what is.