Who are you? We’re Aston Villa (3)


If Salut! Sunderland‘s generosity with its space is matched by Villa’s generosity to the opposition, our fears after a rotten run since the Arsenal win may be unfounded. I certainly didn’t expect so many Villa fans to come forward with previews ahead of tonight’s game but am happy to publish a third contribution – from Gary Gleeson* – because, like our Pompey previewer last week, he lives within Gary McAllister diving distance of the Stadium of Light. Gary, chairman of the Villa supporters’ North East Lions’ Club, reached us via the VillaTalk site …

Salut! Sunderland How come you’re a Villa fan in the North East? Even if you’re from Brum, SAFC should have rubbed off on you by now!

I’ve been in the North East for about six years now. Originally from Dublin, I’m a Villa fan because of the Irish contingent of Paul McGrath, Steve Staunton and Ray Houghton.

Villa seem to be doing the business this season. Has your time come again at last?

Last season I said that we’d never have a better chance to break into the Top 4 Elite. This season, I’m beginning to think I was wrong. Recently, our form has turned upwards again so I’m feeling more confident again. I think it helps us that we’re hovering just below fourth place without losing touch with Spurs. If we can maintain this position, we’ll be in a position to take advantage of anybody above us who slips up. I think our downfall last season, apart from the obvious loss of Laursen and the defensive collapse which followed, was the fact that we were always the team being chased rather than the one doing the chasing. The longer the media fail to notice us the better.

What is so special about Martin O’Neill? How good a manager and how does he rate when compared with greats of Villa’s past?

MON will never be a Ron Saunders or a Tony Barton but football is a very different game to what it was in the early 80s. That said, MON is still an excellent manager. He knows what his players are capable of and is prepared to stick by them even when they’re not producing their best form. Some call this stubborn, some call it idealist. I prefer to think that he’s a “players’ manager”. I’ve sat near the dug-outs a few times and I’m always struck by how much he encourages and compliments his players throughout the game, much more than he criticises them. I’m sure that, behind closed doors in training, he can be a much harder taskmaster but he seems to know that there’s a time and a place for criticism. Possibly his biggest strength is his relationship with John Robertson and Steve Walford, his two lieutenants in the coaching staff. They’ve been together almost throughout his managerial career and I’m not sure MON would be as effective without them.

Did you go to the Carling Cup game at the Stadium of Light? What do make of Sunderland this season, leaving aside any residual antipathy towards Steve Bruce and do you have any strong memories, good or bad, of previous games against us?

Yes, I was there. The North East Lions supporters club brought 20 to that game and it was nice that we had an extra “local” game after the relegation of the Mags and the Smoggies. To be honest, I think Sunderland should have put us to the sword inside 90 minutes that night. The chances that you had, and didn’t take, were almost criminal. Having said that, Brad Guzan was in immense form again that night as was proved by his heroics in saving so many penalties. I’m pretty ambivalent when it comes to Steve Bruce, regardless of his association with Birmingham City. I think he’ll be a good manager for Sunderland without being excellent.

As for previous games vs Sunderland, I’ll always remember the League Cup tie at Roker in the 93/94 season when Mark Bosnich seemed to have springs in his boots. The saves he produced that night were nothing short of awesome.

What do you really think of Birmingham City? Do you like having them back in the Premier because of the great rivalry or do you just want them to sink without trace?

To me, Birmingham City are a nice distraction from the rough and tumble of a Premier League season. I’m not from Birmingham, so I haven’t had to grow up or work with any Bluenoses. It’s nice to beat them, don’t get me wrong but historically West Brom is our biggest local rivalry. Blues clearly are jealous of our success; they’ve had to look wistfully across Birmingham as we won every trophy possible while they’ve had to make do with the Auto Windscreens trophy or something equally irrelevant. I don’t think I want them to “sink without trace”. It’s much more entertaining watching them yo-yo in and out of the Premier League while they consider beating the Villa to be more important than surviving relegation. The fact that a recent poll of Blues fans showed the Enkleman “goal” (it should have been awarded as a corner kick since the keeper never touched it) to be their greatest moment in the Premier League shows just how small time the boys from Small Heath really are.

Who do you most want to see in a Villa shirt and who wouldn’t you mind seeing the back of?

In the summer, the thought of someone like Wesley Sneijder in the Villa midfield had my juices flowing but recently it looks like James Milner could be the perfect midfield dynamo for us. A consistent 20 goals per season striker would be a great addition but that type of player is hard to attract without having Champions League football to offer. MON is not the type of manager to sign a mercenary on big wages at the risk of upsetting the team spirit that he has cultivated, so I’m prepared to back his judgement. As for who I would like to get rid of, I really think that each member of our squad brings something to the table so wouldn’t be in a hurry to push anyone out the door. However, if somebody wants to take Moustapha Salifou off our hands I’m not sure it would be a huge loss.

Name this season’s top four in order, and the bottom three

1. Chelsea
2. Man Utd
3. Liverpool
4. Arsenal

18. Hull
19. Bolton
20. Portsmouth

If Villa didn;t appear in the first list, why not. If we weren’t in either, where will we finish?

I don’t want to tempt fate by predicting Villa for a top four finish. As for Sunderland, I think a top 10 finish would be a respectable achievement, especially given the fact that outside of the top four I predicted will be Spurs, Villa, Man City, Fulham, Everton and Wigan.

Trying to think of obvious connections between the club. Dwight Yorke is an obvious recent one, and your manager was a boyhood Sunderland fan, but I’ve got a mental block about others. Any memories of such individuals good or bad?

Dwight Yorke divides opinion between Villa fans like no other ex-player I can think of. Memories of him in a Villa shirt scoring goals for fun and playing with that infectious smile always come to mind. On the flip side of that, his last game for us vs Everton when it was abundantly clear that he already considered himself a Man Utd player is a difficult memory to erase. It was a disgraceful performance, tantamount to working on a “go-slow” in order to force his transfer through. Add to that the celebration in front of the Holte End when he scored for Man Utd which was pretty classless given the years of support and affection that Holte-enders had given him. I don’t begrudge him the move to Man Utd; he won a unique treble with them and deserved his success. I just think he could have handled himself better. He made some silly comments when he joined Birmingham City about them being the biggest club in the second city, but I brushed them aside as he was clearly trying to secure the affection of the Noses rather than take a swipe at the Villa.
I would imagine that the greatest player to play for both clubs would be Welsh striker Trevor Ford who scored 60 goals for Villa in 1947-1950 and 67 goals for Sunderland between 1950 and 1953. It turns out that he received some dodgy payments while at Sunderland , however, and was banned from football for a while as a result.

Any thoughts on club vs country

Like I said above, I’m Irish so the World Cup is tainted for me this time around. I won’t be paying much attention to it.

The Eduardo question: you’ll finish second or even top if you win your last game. Young flies into the box in the last second and falls over dramatically. Everyone knows it’s a dive except the ref who gives the penalty, which you convert. You take it guiltily, you take it gladly or your’re so ashamed you almost wish you’d only drawn and missed out?

Having answered question 10 with such righteousness, it would be hypocritical of me to say that I would enjoy victory in such circumstances. In fact, Ashley Young frustrates me hugely because of his frequent diving antics. I felt the same way about Milan Baros and David Ginola when they were with us. I have a DVD of Villa vs Inter Milan from the 94 UEFA Cup when we won the 2nd leg 1-0 and ultimately won the tie on penalties. That remains one of the greatest matches I’ve ever seen. It was played at a fantastic pace, tackles were flying in and it was a very very honest match. I don’t remember any diving and both teams tried to win the game in the right way.

Given how much cheating goes on, should N’Gog and Thierry Henry and maybe others be added to that question?

Ah Monsieur Henry. The man who celebrated France’s goal like he had discovered a cure for cancer then told the referee at the final whistle that he had handled the ball. It takes a special kind of arrogance to behave like that.

What one thing would you change in the way football is run to improve the game or the lot of supporters?

I think a wage cap should be put in place. Not related to a club’s turnover or income, as that just perpetuates the uneven playing field. A blanket ruling enforcing the same wage cap on each club would mean that success would have to be earned, not bought. Supporters would enter a new season with a genuine belief that their team was in a fair fight, not just competing for the prize of being the tallest dwarf.

Will you be at our game?What will be the score?

I live five minutes from the Stadium of Light so I’ll definitely be there, along with a large contingent of the local Villa supporters club. I’m predicting a 1-1 draw.

* Gary Gleeson on Gary Gleeson:
I work in sales although I’m not working right now (gizza job??). I started supporting the Villa in 1993, the year that Villa came 2nd in the new Premier League and Paul McGrath won the PFA Player of the Year award.

Colin Randall

Gary Gleeson
Chairman – North East Lions

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