We went to Chelsea to improve on a 7-2 drubbing and beat them 3-0. Aston Villa had fared even worse last time at the Bridge – 7-1 – and Sunday’s six-goal draw will have done wonders for morale. Isn’t that downright typical, just before they play us? Dominic Wren*, a Villa fan teaching PE in the United States (that’s him with a middle school pupil) regrets the crisis created by Martin O’Neill’s departure but reminds the squad that their job involves being paid for something 40,000 fans would gladly do for nothing …
See also: Pauline McLynn, Villa-supporting actress from Father Ted and Shameless
Salut! Sunderland: Things may change before we meet you but it has been looking a little ominous at Villa Park with some pundits even mentioning the dreaded R word. Surely not!
Dominic (speaking before the Chelsea game): On paper, no chance, but we all know the game is not played on paper. The effort, passion, pride, intensity, what I refer to as the intangibles, the only things the individual player can control are definitely not present at the moment. Which as any fan will tell you, is the least they expect when they pull on the beloved jersey.
What did you make of Martin O’Neill’s departure and the appointment of Gerard Houllier?
MON, for whatever reason, left us deep in the mire. Nobody knows the reason, but just the natural ripple effect of him leaving us left us behind before we’d even started….. five days before the season is unforgivable, and I thought MON was a good fit for the Villa, but I can’t forgive that. GH’s appointment at the time seemed the natural progression, and many Villa fans were pleasantly surprised, but as we are finding out now, hes made some serious errors of judgement (the Liverpool fiasco, publicly criticising players, and reputed numerous bust ups with players). I think Randy Lerner will give him time, and thinking with your head, he’d need at least January and summer to mould his own team. But we look a shambles of an outfit right now, and he needs to improve dramatically to get the fans back onside.
And what will it take to get you back to where you were only a few months ago: a club considered top four/five material?
Simply two things, a GREAT manager and money wisely spent. We have a tremendous nucleus of young talent at the Villa (Bannan, Delfouneso, Lichaj, Clark, Albrighton, Herd, Hogg are all academy graduates) but need to get rid of the ageing squad members on big money and couple these pearls of youth with some hungry mid 20s quality. Easier said than done I know!
Can it really be true that some of the present squad have been playing without their hearts properly in it?
It has to be true, the performances are woeful at the moment, those intangibles I mentioned earlier are not present. I’m old school, I don’t care what beef you got with the gaffer, if you hate him, fine. But you’re playing for 40,000 fans that would play in the famous Claret and Blue for free. But I suppose that;s one of the traits of modern football. Sigh.
You’re in the USA. How hard does that make it to follow Villa and how active is the Villa support there?
Our TV coverage is second to none here, I’ve got 3 channels dedicated to football, so I watch a lot of the games live. I’m from a small town in South Carolina, so there is not a huge support here, but the support in the bigger urban areas is large and strong, esp the NYC Villa lads.
Who are the finest players you have seen in Villa colours, who do you regret not having see and who should have been allowed nowhere near Villa Park?
I’m 32, so growing up for me it was Paul “god” McGrath. He was, and I know this is a bold statement, the best defender ever to play the game. At his prime he was unbeatable, and he did it all pissed up as well! I wasn’t old enough to remember the ’82 European cup winning team, but that would have been heaven to be in amongst the Villa lads in Rotterdam. Worst player I have ever seen, blimey there was a few, but for sheer waste of money then Bosko Balaban has to take the biscuit.
Do you have thought on or knowledge of Sunderland – the club, the city, the region, the fans?
I have never been to Sunderland, so can’t comment on the area. I’ve met a few fans, and the banter is always good, and that’s important, good banter, but not crossing the line. I like the club, in the fact that you’ve backed your manager and let him get on with it (similar to Villa, though dare I say potato head is a better gaffer than GH!).
Does detachment from Birmingham make you more mellow about the rivalry with Bluenoses or is it far too serious for that?
LOL! The old knuckledragging inbred Small heathans, No I love them really honestly! People with no connection to the city have no idea the hatred that it brings, Now I’ve got to say I was born in Weymouth, but ALL of my family is from Brum, so even I don’t know how bad it REALLY is, but from what I know, it’s evil. People talk about other derbies, but small heath alliance Vs the Villa is an absolute mental game.
Name this season’s top four and bottom three. And if Villa and SAFC appear in neither list, where will we end up come May?
Villa – Id like to say we could finish upper half, but realistically with what I have seen, 12-14th
Sunderland -a form is key, but I’d say 8-10th
Were you as gutted that America lost out on the World Cup vote for 2022 as you were about England, or does the tournament leave you cold (unless visiting Qatar in June)?
Gutted! The infrastructure here is unreal, they already have everything in place, they have a history of running first class events. It was brilliant in 94 from what I hear, so it would have been a great place to come for 2022, alas Harry Redknappitis caught on at FIFA. England was just a straight up slap down, they wanted to embarrass us, but karma’s a bitch Sepp.
Talk of the World Cup reminds me. Is it time to abandon high-minded ideas about cheating – diving, feigning injury, trying to get opponents booked or sent off – and accept it as part of the modern game? Or if must we keep on trying to stamp it out, how on earth do we do it?
I HATE IT! Our own Ashley Young does it all the time, and the Villa faithful groan every time. My brother-in-law snapped his leg in two playing in college here in the states, and said quite rightly if you’re hurt, you’re not rolling around on the floor like a dog with fleas. How to solve it I don’t know. Maybe something like what happened to Pointing in the cricket, fine them a percentage of their weekly wage
Is all the money rattling around in football making you any less passionate about the game and what single thing could clubs or footballing authorities do to improve the game for ordinary people?
It does make you a bit sick when you see guys earning in a week, what you may earn in two years, and they just don’t give a shit. Football is (was) a working class game, full of working class values, but the modern game is killing some of the bond between the fans, but what can you do? If I had to choose between football and the wife … don’t let the door hit you on the way out sweetheart.
I think clubs are cottoning on, the Villa (and Blackburn from memory) do tremendous things in the community, from open training days in half term, to great deals for fans. In this economy they must I suppose, but keep making a connection to the club for the fans. Players could probably do with being more accesible, but I dont know what they do behind the scenes to be fair (hospital visits, charity work etc …)
How will you keep tabs on the game and what will be the score?
Unfortunately I will back at work (PE Teacher), so will be trying to stop little buggers from killing each other in class. Then off to High School soccer coaching (five hours behind you) so I will be on the BBC text on the Blackberry having a cheeky refresh every five mins (like every 30 seconds really, you’d all do the same!) Score: Head( 1-1) Heart (2-1) … We’re rubbish right now lads, and you guys should be confident to the max.
* Dominic Wren – pictured with John Carew – on Dominic Wren: I’m a middle school PE teacher, club and High School soccer coach, been in the States 12 years after playing college soccer. Try and get back every year to the UK, and always try and see the mighty Villa when I get back (caught Stoke and Liverpool last xmas). Mum and Dad left Brum many moons ago for the sunny Riviera of Weymouth, but never lost the Villa roots. Avid reader of the best Villa website: VILLATALK.COM
Interview: Colin Randall