Long ago – long even before this photo* was taken in 1995 – I had a colleague who suddenly ended his lifelong support for Villa. They’d given him quite enough grief, ruined far too many Saturdays. No more. He’d even stopped looking too hard for the scores, and felt tons happier. Somehow can’t see that happening to Gary
Gleeson**, the last in our procession of Villa fans. He lives minutes from the Stadium of Light and was until recently chairman of the Villa supporters’ club branch in the North East. Read on to see why we should hope he gets to Villa Park tomorrow night …
You’re having the sort of season we’d love: one final already, another maybe to come and still pressing for top four. I bet you’ll tell me you’re not satisfied!
I’m very very satisfied. It’s difficult to argue that a cup final, the possibility of another cup final and being in the mix for the 4th place Holy Grail is not a very successful season so far. If I have to make a prediction, I think we’ll lose to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi final and finish 6th in the league behind Spurs and Liverpool. The immediate aftermath to that will be a huge feeling of anti-climax amongst the majority of the Villa faithful. “Faithful” is probably a poor term though. I’ve noticed grumblings in recent weeks that intimate to me a feeling of entitlement amongst some Villa fans. I’m more pragmatic, although living 200 miles from Villa Park probably allows me to see a bit more of the “woods for the trees”.
Hand on heart, where will you end up this season and how does that compare with your expectations in August?
Compared to what I expected in August, I think 6th is about what I expected (not what I hoped for) but the achievement in the cups is more than consolation.
Birmingham have been a bit cocky of late. Is that good for the city, a mere blip or something that makes you feel a little sick? How would you characterise the Vilas/Bluenose rivalry compared with Sunderland/Newcastle for example?
Again, living so far from Birmingham allows me to see this with a bit more serenity. Small Heath Alliance are an irrelevance to me. I don’t consider them “rivals” in the same way that Newcastle and Sunderland see each other. Villa and SHA have competed on dramatically different levels for almost their entire existence and I don’t see that changing in the short term. I look at SHA in probably the same way that Sunderland look at Hartlepool or Darlington. Clearly, beating us is a huge thing for them. Season-defining perhaps? For Villa, beating SHA is a nice distraction and allows us to have bragging rights until the next crunch Premier League match comes along. If we lose, we lose and it’s embarrassing but we have bigger fish to fry. We are the biggest fish that SHA can hope to fry.
Any thoughts on the players and staff who have served each of our clubs? Dwight Yorke, Stewart Downing (on loan to us in a promotion season) and, historically, Trevor Ford come to mind …
Dwight Yorke is one to split Villa fans down the middle. When he was with us, he lit up Villa Park with his smile, his goals and his dancing. When he left, he handled it very very poorly and undid a lot of his good work. Joining Small Heath and calling them “the biggest club in Birmingham” was probably ill-advised, but what else is he supposed to say? I’m sure Lee Clark said something similar and was equally castigated by those who once loved him. Stewart Downing will be a very important player for us next season. Currently, he goes through good and bad patches and I put that down to his lack of a pre-season. As for Trevor Ford, was legendary for us but seemed to lose his way at Roker but the less said about that the better I think.
Can you see Villa becoming a brand like Chelsea or Man Utd, or will it always be a proper club with proper fans?
In the hands of Randy Lerner, I fully expect to see Villa become a globally known football club. While I am sure he wants to exploit every market available to the club, I don’t think Randy will allow the club to become a “brand”, I think his record shows that he values the parochial nature of Villa very highly and long may it continue.
Martin O’Neill. We really wanted him, he reputedly supported us as a boy, he seems a good manager to most neutrals. Why are some Villa fans unconvinced?
I honestly don’t know why some Villans are unconvinced. Granted, this year we have a cracking opportunity to reach the Champions League and we seem determined to shoot ourselves in the foot again but I firmly believe that we are only in this position because of the values MON instils in his team. Hard work, team spirit, siege mentality. We are, again, falling foul of a lack of quality and depth in the squad but MON has a balancing act to do. By expanding the squad too much, he runs the risk of jeopardising those values and I’m more than happy to let him do things his way. Emile Heskey and Carlos Cuellar seem to be the source of Villa fans’ frustrations lately. Emile has a reputation for being a lazy lump who falls over easily. Its a deserved reputation to some extent, however I believe that he does more “donkey work” (for want of a better description) than he gets credit for. I grew up playing centre-back, and I would have hated to play against someone like Emile Ivanhoe. Playing Cuellar at right back irritates Villa fans no end, especially with Luke Young and Habib Beye warming the bench. Cuellar, however, reads the game incredibly well and cleans up behind Dunne and Collins an awful lot; work for which he doesn’t get a lot of credit. He also is a tower presence at the back when playing more “direct” teams. I can understand the clamour for Young or Beye to play, especially when Carlos’ weaknesses with the ball at his feet become more pronounced. However, Luke Young missed preseason because his brother died tragically. It’s quite likely that he’s still rusty and MON thinks it the lesser of two evils to play Cuellar, with all his limitations. As for Beye, I just don’t think it’s worked out for him at Villa. He has the ability and the Geordies clearly loved him but, from when I’ve seen him, he drifts dangerously central too often for my liking and I’m sure MON has similar fears. Being the meanest defence in the Premier League convinces me that MON knows what he’s doing. Scoring goals has been our weakness, but with John Carew scoring goals again and Ashley Young remembering how to get a cross past the first defender, I think we’re addressing that at just the right time.
Greatest players you’ve ever seen – or wish you’d been born in time to see – in Villa colours?
Paul McGrath. There is not argument. I wish I’d been old enough to see more of Brian Little.
And the peaks and troughs of your Villa-supporting experience?
The peaks would be 94 and 96, winning the league cups. Particularly 94, dramatically beating Tranmere to set up a Wembley final with treble-chasing Man Utd and then giving them a footballing lesson on the day. Troughs, losing to Chelsea in the 2000 FA Cup final. Not so much the defeat, but the negative manner in which we let them beat us. Also, managing to save ourselves from relegation through a Marcus Allback goal is another low point.
Are you a modernist or a traditionalist in football? Could you stomach selling off the name of the stadium to produce the NEC Villa Park, or even just GKN Park?
Definitely a traditionalist. Thankfully, Randy Lerner feels the same and has ruled out selling the naming rights to Villa Park. Money has, unfortunately, become the ruling factor in football. Randy recognises that but refuses to worship at the altar of the mighty dollar too willingly. When he couldn’t get the right price from potential shirt sponsors, he refused to sell the space below what he considered to be the true value. Instead, he donated the space to the Acorn Childrens Hospice and sought to make up the shortfall elsewhere. What really impresses me about the man, however, is that he doesn’t talk to the press about how incredible he is. Compare and contrast with the likes of Gold, Sullivan, Whelan, Risdale, Gillette et al. In many ways, Ellis Short reminds me of Randy Lerner in terms of shunning publicity. Niall Quinn, however, more than makes up for that I suppose.
Name one thing Villa or the FA should do to make the lot of the fans a bit better.
Wage cap on players. Not a percentage of turnover or a cap on a single players salary. Every club should have the same budget for players’ salaries. It would have saved Portsmouth from collapse.
What will be this season’s top four, in order, and the bottom three, and where will Villa and Sunderland end up if not already mentioned.
1. Man Utd
Sunderland will finish between 10th and 12th. About right I think.
The World Cup: bothered a lot, or only a little, about England’s chances?
I’m Irish. I’m not bothered at all. But if England play France in the final, I might defy my ancestry and support Capello’s boys.
The Eduardo question: last second of the last game of the season and you’re champions/cup-winners if you win. But it’s 1-1. Young, Carew, Heskey, whoever .. goes down with theatrical aplomb in the box. Even Villa fans are sniggering. But the ref gives the penalty and you win. Take it gladly, take it guiltily or feel so ashamed you almost wish you hadn’t won?
After what happened to Ireland vs France in Paris, I have to say that I would feel completely ashamed. Cheating is cheating and should be stamped out without debate.
Will you be at the match, and what will be the score?
I’m still not sure if I’ll be at the match, I’ll decide at lunchtime tomorrow if I can make it or not. If I go, we’ll lose though. I’m sure of that much. Realistically though, I think it’ll be a humdinger of a game with a 3-2 victory for the Villans.
* Credit to Ben Sutherland’s Flickr pages for the photo from one of the dressing rooms at Villa Park
** Gary Gleeson on Gary Gleeson:
I was out of work for a long long time but have recently become a taxpayer again, I’m sales manager for a large security distributor. I’m an Irish Villa fan living in the North East, 10 minutes from the Stadium of Light. I used to run the North East Villa supporters’ club but Martin Clinton has taken up the reins on that, please see www.northeastvilla.co.uk for details.