Poor Holland Pintarch* had not only the hurricane battering her corner of Pennsylvania but, having risen heroically above it to be our Aston Villa candidate for “Who are You?” and answered all the questions in time, saw man-made problems wipe out the bulk of the interview. Apologies to those who followed the link and found only question one and half an answer. Here it is in full. Now Holland, being American, is the type of supporter who dismays a certain type of other supporter, as our exchanges explore. For all that Salut! Sunderland believes her outstanding responses – including interesting thoughts on Bent v Fletcher, Shay Given and the race for the White House – offer a vivid insight into the thinking of the overseas fan who becomes devoted to a British club …
Salut! Sunderland: OK, what is a graduate in American studies from North Lebanon, PA, doing supporting Aston Villa? We always expect people from abroad to latch onto successful clubs.
First, don’t think I looked over that little dig against Villa! When I realized how much I enjoyed watching Premier League games, I then faced the unavoidable question of: “Now which club will I support?” My thought process in deciding is a little chaotic, so I’ll spare you most of the details. I knew I didn’t want to support a club that everyone winds up supporting, choosing one solely because they’re at the top of the League. I’ve never been one to just jump on the bandwagon. However, I didn’t want to begin supporting one that might be immediately up for relegation at the end of that season… thereby granting me only a brief relationship with them in the Premier League.
To narrow my scope even smaller, I began to analyze the way the clubs played. Did they play dirty? Did they seem to have respect for both the other club’s players and the refs? Did they seem to play collectively as a well-tuned instrument, with a fair balance of ball time in their defense, midfield, and strikers? Lastly, and arguably most importantly, do they play with heart? … Can I believe in them?
From this, I began to find myself favoring a small handful, Aston Villa included. What honestly drew me most to Villa was the performance of keeper Shay Given. I was also excited by “Holte End: The Twelfth Man,” showing a strong and positive relationship between Villa and its fans.
Do you have Birmingham or more broadly British connections and, if not, how do you respond to those who cannot understand why you should otherwise follow Villa?
I have absolutely no ties to Birmingham or England. To those who may not quite understand why I would choose to support Villa over a more successful club, I would say I’m someone who respects and admires most all Premier clubs, but Villa simply caught my attention more than others, as well as my heart. Claret and Blue may not be the colors for everyone, but they’re my colors.
So how do you pursue the passion you have in terms of seeing them play, interacting with other supporters, following news and views about the club?
Unfortunately, as an American, it is a bit difficult to watch them play. I make sure to try and catch every match that airs on TV, but it’s not as often as I’d like. Twitter keeps me the most updated (@hollandpintarch). A majority of Twitter users that I am following, and vice-versa, are Villa fans. I am so thankful to have such a handy social media tool at my disposal to connect and chat with so many of Villa’s great supporters. The Twitter phrase of #VillaFamily is often used by us, and “family” in that context is not to be overlooked. We are able to share our opinions, update other supporters, provide live commentary to each other during a match and interact with users on a very relatable level.
Short of hopping the pond to catch a game (which I hope to do, one day), match attendance is pretty much out. However, I did get to see them play against the Philadelphia Union (in the MLS) when they did their US tour in the summer of 2012. That was an experience I am not likely to forget.
And what do you make of the current position – Villa are tipped by some for relegation – who is to blame and what is to be done about it?
It is most unfortunate. I would love to see them pull through and begin moving up in the rankings, but I think this may take some time. I do not foresee them in relegation status at the end of this season, but I understand that AVFC won’t be in the top of the League, either.
Who is to blame? I wouldn’t pin their current struggles to any one person. Manager Paul Lambert is doing a fine job so far, and it should be appreciated the way he is bringing fresh ideas to an otherwise arguably stagnant team. Villa defense needs to step up its game, but I think the performance of Guzan as keeper is often underrated. The squad in its entirety needs to push more for a strong offense, encouraging and supporting the strikers to make beneficial use of their scoring opportunities. Get possession, keep possession, and push harder to score. I, as well countless other Villa fans, become frustrated by the ball lingering midfield for such extended periods of time, then simply being passed back to the defenders. These frustrations should not be felt during every single match they play.
What have been the highlights of your time as a Villa supporter and which moments would you prefer forget?
I admit to not growing up as a Villa (or football, in general) supporter, so this frames the AVFC highlights pretty tightly. The biggest highlight for me as a Villa fan is hands down the opportunity to see them play against the Philadelphia Union in the States. I imagine this may not be terribly exciting to those who live nearby to their club’s stadium, but imagine my sheer joy at seeing my club play live for the first time.
A moment I’d rather forget is the first game this season when Shay Given was benched. My appreciation for Given hasn’t waned, even in the first games of the 2012-2013 season, and I was deeply saddened to see him “get the boot.” Of course, as previously stated, I think Guzan is a skilled keeper, and I hope his ability to guard against opposing strikers is good enough to act as a catalyst to help bring Villa out of these dark days. However, when I realized Given would probably be benched for the majority of this season, it did break my heart just a tad.
And what impression do you have of Sunderland – the club, its supporters, the North East of England?
Admittedly, and quite regrettably, I don’t have much interaction with Sunderland supporters. I imagine them to be just as fiercely loyal as Villa fans.
In regards to the Sunderland squad itself, I have a good amount of respect for their game. They play dedicated and hard, and from what I see, they’re one of the better clubs to come back refreshed and re-enthused after halftime. As one of Villa’s more direct competitors, I also appreciate their efforts to keep clean sheets.
This season seems to be shaping up nicely for them (Holland replied before the Boro debacle – ed)- losing against Man City is rough, but nearly expected for anyone in our position on the League table up against one of the powerhouse greats the past few seasons. Pulling a draw against Arsenal was quite impressive earlier this season, and it certainly set the stage well for Sunderland right out of the gate.
Were you encouraged by the 2010 World Cup to believe football – or soccer as called on your side of the pond – can become a force in the USA outside of junior high and the women’s game, both of which I believe are strong?
Unfortunately, I have a rather pessimistic outlook on soccer ever taking off much in the United States. Competing with American football and the “great American pastime” of baseball seems to relegate soccer to an almost nonexistent status. Also, MLS has to battle European leagues for American viewership and support, which I think might be like trying to compare bicycles to sports cars.
Who are the US players, in the Premier League or elsewhere, you most respect?
Again, I find myself a bit too unfamiliar with the topic to go on a long tangent, although I’m sure there are several Premier League players born in the States that deserve to be recognized. The US player I am most impressed with right now is Clint Dempsey, for the Spurs. He fits in well for Tottenham as a great attacking midfielder, and I think many are beginning to view him as a serious asset to the Spurs.
And what do you make of European footballing giants who turn up for late-career paydays in the US?
I view this move more of a positive than I’m sure many of my fellow European football fans would. I think this helps to invigorate enthusiasm for the sport in the US and sets an example for American players.
Darren Bent v Steven Fletcher. Who is the better striker?
Would you really expect me to choose Fletcher over my boy Bent? Darren Bent is a striker with a lot of heart and knows his way well around the field. He may sometimes have a sloppy shot on goal, but I value the way he pushes the offense to actually make a shot. He takes chances. Bent is also not one to settle at one side of the field and allow the ball to float aimlessly amid the midfield or defense; rather, he asserts himself into play strategically, without stepping on fellow Villans toes. AVFC will never be a one-man team because of Bent, but he is an asset that I hope Lambert begins to utilize in full once again.
Obama v Romney?
Obama. His democratic policy positions most closely align with my own, and I feel that Romney falls trap to partisanship and pushes conservative policies that will not be beneficial to the United States. The 2012 Republican ticket is not going to foster the type of economic and political reform this country desperately needs to continue moving forward; and while a decent portion of the criticism towards Obama for his performance in office the past four years may be legitimate, he is the candidate that I feel most empowers middle and lower class Americans, works best under the guise of bipartisanship and is better capable of leading the country to recovery the next four years.
What will be the Premier top four in order this season and who is going down?
Top four in order: Chelsea, Man Utd, Tottenham, Man City.
I am guessing that the three clubs to be relegated this season will be Southampton, Reading and QPR bringing up the rear.
Villa and Sunderland will both finish in the lower half of the middle in the League table, but I won’t dare jinx my Villa by nailing them to a definitive standing just yet.
Diving, feigning injury, trying to get opponents sent off or booked, shirt-pulling, time wasting – which form of cheating most annoys you and what would you do about it?
Feigning injury is by far the most upsetting form of dirty play. It is simply tasteless and should not be tolerated by a ref, a manager, opposing players or even fellow teammates. I think quite possibly the most effective way to prevent this sort of childish behavior is for the player’s manager to put their foot down. For a manager to pull someone, even an effective player, from a game because of feigning injury would send a clear message that respect and fair play is more important than winning.
How will you follow Sunderland v Aston Villa and what will be the score?
I hope to be able to find the game live on TV, but if not I will try to follow the action as much as possible through Twitter and other websites. I think this will be quite an exciting match, and I am very interested to see how both clubs perform. I predict the score to be 2-1 Villa. (Fingers crossed)
* Holland Pintarch on Holland Pintarch (check out her website at http://hollandocracy.wordpress.com/:
I am 22, live in central Pennsylvania, East Coast United States and am a graduate of a private liberal arts college, receiving my BA degree in a triple major of Political Science, Philosophy and American Studies. Currently, I’m beginning my career in my beloved field of Public Relations. Politics, writing and following soccer are my biggest passions and consume the majority of my work and free time.
I’m a Villa supporter bleeding claret and blue. I will never consider switching my allegiance to a more successful club and plan on being behind AVFC through their current struggles in the League regardless of relegation rumors. This will make their hard-earned, long-awaited rise to the top all the more satisfying. I’m excited to continue learning about the club’s history, watching them grow and supporting my Villa boys at every turn.
Interview: Colin Randall