Turning the Titanic

Dave Woodhall talks Villa and pays tribute to a football visionary.

Villa didn’t win on Saturday, again. The team are now ten points from safety, which is probably another record to add to the many already broken this season. To go from (almost) the first week of August to Christmas Day without winning is quite impressive, as well. By every stretch of the imagination we’re doomed. And yet…

Anyone looking for the faintest glimmer of optimism would have found one at Newcastle. In horrendous weather conditions, and against a team who twice a year seem to do some sort of tribal war dance to work themselves into a ferment prior to playing us, Villa were a goal down at half-time after yet another defensive calamity that had Brad Guzan in a starring role. Yet the team didn’t collapse, they didn’t give up, they went out and put on a second half performance that was as good as anything else they’ve come up with this year (faint praise admittedly, but it’s a start).

Jordan Veretout was yet again a class apart from the rest of midfield, Joleon Lescott did more good than harm for a change and Jordan Ayew’s equaliser was top-drawer. That predictable jibe about “signed the wrong brother” hasn’t been heard for a few weeks.

Newcastle were poor, yet had the better chances and although Villa might have been lucky to get away with a point there was some criticism that Reme Garde settled for a point too easily. But on a horrible afternoon it was, maybe, better to accept what we had rather than gamble on getting what we needed. That’s two successive away games we’ve drawn and if we aren’t winning, at least we aren’t losing as easily.

If the seemingly-inevitable is going to happen then at least Villa are showing signs of going down fighting, and in the long term that could prove important. It’s been argued in some quarters that the appalling form we’ve seen so far is in part down to the way last season fizzled out so maybe a few wins and a bit of fighting spirit will bring about some fighting spirit for the battles that lie in the future. It might be the smallest consolation prize in history, but every penny would count in the Championship and if Villa could finish eighteenth instead of twentieth, the extra prize money might buy a couple of the type of players we’ll be looking for to get back up.

But that’s in the future. In the meantime Villa’s next game is against West Ham, on Boxing Day. No excuses, it’s a must-win although anyone looking for omens will notice that we’ve won just one Boxing Day fixture this century.

Going off the subject, and when Villa were on the way to their lowest ebb Jimmy Hill had rolled up at Coventry in the manner of a theatrical impresario. Until then, Coventry had spent most of their time in the third and fourth divisions but under Hill they won division two in 1967, staying in the top flight for 34 years. Hill was a true visionary; as a player he led the fight for the abolition of the maximum wage, as Coventry manager he was aware that football now had to fight for its audience in the wake of other attractions and worked in tandem with chairman Derrick Robbins to improve the club off the pitch as much as he did on it.

And in one other respect he wasn’t daft, either. Even though there were better teams in the area, playing in Europe while we were on our way to division three, Jimmy went on record as saying that the only other club in the region that he feared was a resurgent Aston Villa. He was certainly right there.

Jimmy died of Alzheimer’s on Saturday. He wasn’t the first ex-player to suffer in this way and he won’t be the last; for a start the number of brain-related causes of death to Villa’s 1957 FA Cup final squad is no coincidence. I don’t suppose many of the players who took part in the Premier League at the weekend have heard of Jimmy Hill, but they owe him a massive debt. I don’t suppose, either, that any of them will stop to think that if they donated their last week’s wages to Alzheimer’s research, none of them would miss the money but finding a cure for the disease would be a whole lot easier.

3 thoughts on “Turning the Titanic

  1. As PFA chair Jimmy Hill fought for the abolition of the MAXIMUM wage, not minimum. Until then players got UP TO £10 per week, the rest of the income (profit) going to the club. Of course its almost the other way round now, with the highest paid players getting that per second and clubs struggling to compete.

  2. maybe it is time to institute a salary cap so that reality is inflicted on int’l football..so lower down clubs can continue to exist and the Premier League isn’t dominated by the top six

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