Some things matter more than football. Howard Hodgson, a man with of impeccable credentials* as a Villan, almost gave Aston Villa’s the midweek Premier game vs WBA a miss because his faithful friend, an Agbonlahorish hound named Bozzie after a certain ex-Villa goalie, was put down that day.
He went anyway but is sure he knows who Tim Sherwood must have had in mind when saying someone in heaven had looked down kindly on Villa that night. Bozzie was up there in the clouds, willing on his master’s team to win the game in the 92nd minute of stoppage time. Howard was back at Villa Park for the WBA cup game in time to duck the flying Albion seats and keep out of the way of pitch-invading idiots. He answered our questions, admirably, before that match so the relevant sections have been tweaked accordingly …
Salut! Sunderland: Our game has taken on massive importance to both sides. We’ve been so clueless you must fancy your chances
Howard Hodgson: If Lambert was still manager then this would be the perfect game for your boys to get going again as we always played teams back into form under him! Things are improving under Sherwood but you do realise we haven’t scored an away goal, let alone picked up a point away since Dec 2! It will be a much harder game for you now though as Sherwood is such a positive, bordering on arrogant guy. We do have a fairly good record in recent seasons at the Stadium of Light so I’ll say 1-2 away win. Could easily be a draw bearing in mind the importance of the game.
You’re also going to going to Wembley for the FA Cup semis at least. How does the cup run fit into such a fraught season?
It’s been a welcome distraction and in a season when we have scored only 15 league goals all season and won so few games, it’s given us some much needed relief and, being so close and at home it would have been a shame to miss out on a day at Wembley. However we don’t want to emulate Wigan or Birmingham by winning a cup but going down!
Guess the Score in SAFC vs AVFC – Villa fans welcome to have a go: https://safc.blog/2015/03/sunderland-vs-aston-villa-guess-the-score-the-crunchiest-of-crunch-matches/
Stan Collymore, who resisted the opportunity to do this Q&A, was buzzing om Twitter after the league win vs WBA. Tell us what it meant to you.
It was an extra special day for me personally. It started very badly as I had to have my dog put to sleep. “Bozzie”, named after Mark Bosnich had been my best pal for 14 years and 10 months so it hit me hard. He always reminded us of Agbonlahor as he was very quick and a bit of an air head at times! Wasn’t really up for going, especially as I live 180 miles away but decided to go … well it was well worth it.
Agbonlahor played his best game for two years and could have had a hat trick in first half. Problem was we were only 1-0 up and you know with Pulis sides, that would never be enough. Sure enough they equalised in the second half and the sinking feeling was returning for a team that had not won in 12, lost last seven and only won two in the previous 23! However then, when it looked like we’d have to settle for a draw, the team pressed on and thanks to Foster treating the ball like a bar of soap, we got a 94th min penalty. Up stepped Benteke and stroked it in like Cool Hand Luke! The place literally went wild and I had a little look up to the sky and thanked my little Bozzie for his divine intervention! The sort of result and game that change seasons. Tim Sherwood said after the game that he felt like someone was looking down on us. He was right. It was my dog!
And your early assessment a) Tim Sherwood and b) the decision to ditch Lambert c) Randy Lerner’s ownership
a) I like Sherwood a lot. Villa has become down trodden and apathetic in the last few years. Dour managers like Lambert and Mcleish have seen to that plus an owner that we rarely see and get inspired by. The club has been crying out for someone with his swagger, confidence and frankly cockiness. Is it all hot air? Too early to say but I don’t think so. The guy is a born winner who takes defeat very personally. He’s just what we need short and long term imo. b) Lambert should have gone a long time ago. His record here was awful. Short, medium and long term. It’s bizarre he lasted as long as he did. We had given up under him and no doubt in my mind we were down if he had remained. Frankly Lerner left it late but we are not adrift as we should be, largely down to the weakness of the bottom half of the Premiership in general. c) Randy Lerner is not a bad guy. He has invested heavily, mostly during the O’Neill and Houllier years with very little return. The sad thing is he has allowed so many managers to waste his cash. We haven’t even banked a decent cheque on a player sale since 2011 for Stewart Downing and Ashley Young. A lot of this is his fault. He never appointed the right board members to run his club in an effective and proper manner. Far too much autonomy was given to the managers who ran riot with his cheque book. So we have been suffering for years with an inadequate board appointing inadequate managers who buy inadequate players playing inadequate football! Not a good combination. However he now has a good CEO in Tom Fox (formerly of Arsenal), who is finally putting a decent structure in place. The key now is for the club to stay up and for then Randy to decide what he wants. To allow Fox to push on with Sherwood and the new structure or reduce his selling price and sell to a prosperous, ambitious new owner.
Can Villa get back to the level you reached – and beyond – under Martin O’Neill and if so, what will it take?
FFP [Uefa Financial Fair Play] means its hard to spend beyond your means nowadays so with Lerner or someone new, the only way we are going to return to the top six is being very savvy in the transfer market, build revenues off the pitch to increase spending power, nurture the academy and produce home grown top talent and coach the players to the highest level possible. That’s how Southampton have done it.
Benteke is an obvious threat but who else do SAFC need to fear and where are the main weaknesses?
Well our huge weakness all season has been goalscoring. This was down largely to Lambert and his ridiculous obsession with containment football. Players were never allowed to break position and make runs beyond the ball. We were static and rigid so very easy to defend against hence the lack of goals and points! Now with Sherwood it’s a far more positive Villa and we saw the first fruits of that against Albion on Tues. So players to watch are Benteke, who has been poor but will be buoyed by that late penalty, Agbonlahor if he plays like he does in derby matches, Delph and Carles Gill (if he plays as Sherwood doesn’t seem to like him as yet). We do seem to concede a soft goal a match!
Your highs and lows as a supporter?
Been a supporter since 1977 so first few years with Ron Saunders were a breeze! League cup winners, Champions of England, Champions of Europe and Super Cup Champions all by 1983! We had some great times under Taylor, Atkinson, Little, Gregory and O’Neill but never reached those dizzy heights again. Obvious huge low was the relegation season in 86/87 under Billy McNeill but we bounced straight back thanks to Taylor, so the pain was short lived.. These past four seasons have been awful. The club has hovered around the drop zone every year and slowly but surely the fans are beginning to drift away as apathy sweeps in. The appointment of Sherwood has revitalised the club but we are still in danger.
The best player you’ve seen in claret and blue, or ones you wish you’d been around to see?
Seen some great ones like Dean Saunders, Dwight Yorke, David Platt, Paul Merson, Martin Laursen, Olof Mellberg, Andy Gray, Peter Withe, Gordon Cowans, Dennis Mortimer, Tony Morley, Alex Cropley but the two best are Brian Little and Paul McGrath.. Both absolute geniuses.
Who ought to have been allowed nowhere near the colours
Plenty of those as well- Sasa Curcic, Bosko Balaban, Gary Penrice, Tony Cascarino, Alexander Tonev, Scott Carson, Paul Kerr, Nigel Callaghan, Joe Bennett, Habib Beye to name a few!
Any memories good, bad or amusing of past SAFC v AVFC encounters home or away?
Obviously the best recent one was winning 6-1 at Villa Park when you had Di Canio as manager. Both sides, like now, were in deep trouble. We hoped we would win, but no one imagined that sort of scoreline! I remember meeting Paul Collingwood at a game at Stadium of Light. He was a charming fella. He said Sunderland would win 1-0 and that’s exactly what bloody happened [it can only have been that David Bellion game – Ed]!
And your impressions of the club, city, fans, Poyet?
No doubt Sunderland is a big club with a lovely stadium and fantastic support. A bit like Villa, its underachieving badly. Ellis Short, like Lerner has invested and like Lerner allowed O’Neill to waste money! The city is friendly and the fans are very passionate but fair. A bit pessimistic like us Villans but years of underachievement does that to you. I like Poyet but must admit thought he’d be doing better than he is. He seems a bit too focused on setting you up not to lose, rather than going all out for wins as so managers seem to be these days.
Tell us about what your experience of SuperKev and Tommy Sorensen
You obviously had the best years of Phillips. He and Quinn were some double act. When he arrived at Villa Park he wasn’t quite the same player but he still scored some key goals and was popular with the fans. That is until he did a West Midlands roadshow with the rest of his career (Only joking Kev!). Sorensen overall was excellent for us. He came with another ex Sunderland player in Gavin McCann who was also a good servant. Replacing Sorensen with Scott Carson was an error by O’Neill IMO.
Alan Hutton is another link: superbly competitive or a dirty sod (my variation of a recent Guardian headline)?
Hutton was ignored by Lambert for two years.. He was in our notorious “bomb squad”. Then this season, Lambert decided to pick him again after a summer chat with Lerner and he has risen like Lazarus! Within weeks he was offered a new contract and in a season of near total despair, he has been a rare shining light. No doubt he is fully committed and makes full bloodied challenges. I guess when he is your player you love to see it and when is on the opposing side you think he’s a dirty bugger. 🙂
Hand on heart, what will be the bottom three? And, less important, the top four and the FA Cup final winners?
Bottom: Leicester, Burnley and Hull. Top: Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, Man Utd. FA Cup Winners- Aston Villa (First time since 1957 but please not at the expense of our place in the Premier League).
Best ref, worst ref in the Premier?
Are any of them good enough?
Diving: so prevalent we may as well give up and accept it or still trying worth stamp out?
Instant red card and six-match ban might stop it, don’t you think?
One step the football authorities or your club should take to improve the lot of the ordinary fan?
Do more fan forums with people in power at the club. Put an elected supporter on the board of the club. Supporters deserve a voice in the direction of their clubs.
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
Sadly I can’t make it but think we may sneak a 1-2 away win or quite possibly a 1-1 draw.
“Howard on himself: Howard James Paul Hodgson, 38 seasons attending Villa Park. Married to Lorraine, father to Charles (seven), Harriet (five). Five generation of my family have been Aston Villa supporters and my great grandfather, grandfather and father were all close to past Villa chairmen/board members.
I have known Doug Ellis, Steve Stride, Mark Ansell, Peter Ellis, David Owen for many years. More recently I was well known to former CEO Paul Faulkner and current CFO Robin Russell. In the last five months I have struck up a good relationship with new CEO Tom Fox who I like, respect and think will do a good job here given time. The club is already developing a structure that has always been missing since Randy Lerner bought the club in 2006.
I am managing director and proprietor of Forte Group. We own recruitment agencies, are involved in sports representation, corporate hospitality and luxury car hire/yacht charter. I have an ECB cricket agent official registration. I was also recently made a director of Aston Villa Supporters’ Trust. I do regular podcasts with Jonny Gould and more recently with Mat Kendrick [Birmingham Mail] as well.
Author of “The Hodgson Report” in Feb 2014 predicting the trouble that lay ahead if the club continued with Lambert. Author of several other blogs/articles on Aston Villa in the last year.
Interview, conducted by e-mail but written up in The Lord Wimborne, a Wetherspoon pub in Howard’s home town of Poole (there for dental treatment): Colin Randall