- When I was a kid, the excitement associated to the anticipation of pre-season was almost unbearable. Every season, you’d look at your squad and think, “this could be our year”. As a Villa fan, that misguided belief would now be laughable. It must be a shame for all these Brummies growing up and never, ever thinking: “This could be our year”.
- Go to football. There’s a severe lack of kids. Why? Well, the lack of competition – producing a lack of anticipation – could be one thing. Expense is another; who can afford to travel round the country with their kids? Computers are also significant. Most kids would probably rather play Fifa then watch the Premier League. And if they do, they won’t pay for a ticket, or pay for a Sky subscription. They’ll watch if free on the interweb.
- In fact, there’s a severe lack of anyone. Newcastle got just over 40,000 for their match against the Villa last week. That was the Toon’s first match at home in the Premier League since they’d been promoted. Villa, for their part, have been associated to an (unproven) 40% drop in season ticket sales. Their lovely local rivals Small Heath attracted just 6,000 for their mid-week League Cup match against Rochdale. Meanwhile, attendance figures for games have been modified to include tickets sold rather than people actually in the ground. I wonder why…?
- The reason people don’t go to matches is because football is bloody expensive, and you’re basically paying for flash gits to drive round in stupid cars with naff paint schemes. These flash gits finally got their comeuppance at the World Cup, when the so-called Golden Generation exposed itself as an over-rated generation that, well, couldn’t give a toss.
- You know how everyone loved football after Italia ’90? Well, South Africa 2010 will be like 1990 – except in reverse. Everyone has finally woken up to the fact that the Premier League is uncompetitive, the ‘Chumpions League’ is a closed shop for rich swines and the players are nowt like us ordinary peasants. Bring back trips to Brum with my Dad as a kid, stopping at the sweet shop in Aston to buy a bag of chocolate éclairs and then watching the Villa lose 2-0 at home to Charlton in the pouring rain. At least I used to be able to think next year could be our year (expect it never was, of course).
So, that’s a big claim – but I kind of have the answer. Towards the start of last year’s Premier League season, I predicted the final standings. The prediction was based on a fairly simple premise; the table after 12 games is pretty much the table after 38 games. As I said then:
“I heard about the theory a couple of years ago and – give or take a bit of movement – the theory was sound. There’s normally a couple of big changes. And as I said before, you have to have an accepted error of one or two places around most teams.”
So, how did I do for the 2009/10 season? See for yourself below:
12 games / 38 games / movement
- Chelsea / Chelsea (spot on)
- Arsenal / Man Utd (+1)
- Man Utd / Arsenal (-1)
- Tottenham / Tottenham (spot on)
- Aston Villa / Man City (+1)
- Man City / Aston Villa (-1)
- Liverpool / Liverpool (spot on)
- Sunderland / Everton (+5)
- Stoke / Birmingham (+6)
- Blackburn / Blackburn (spot on)
- Burnley / Stoke (-2)
- Fulham / Fulham (spot on)
- Everton / Sunderland (-5)
- Wigan / Bolton (+2)
- Birmingham / Wolves (+4)
- Bolton / Wigan (-2)
- Hull / West Ham (+1)
- West Ham / Burnley (-7)
- Wolves / Hull (-2)
- Portsmouth / Portsmouth (spot on)
Pretty good, is my conclusion. Just five teams (Everton, Birmingham, Sunderland, Wolves and Burnley) finished more than two places away from their predicted finish. As many as six finished in the correct spot. The rest were within the expected error margin of two places.
If you’d bet on the champions, you’d have won. If you’d bet on the top four, you’d have won. You’d have lost on the bottom three bet, but only just. And that is a hard one to call, because there’s always one club that falls like a stone.
You can’t actually beat the bookie, obviously. But the 12 game system is probably as close as you’re going to get.
The last month or so has been a reality check. I went with my Dad to the League Cup Final, thinking the game might be our opportunity to take home a trophy. One disappointing performance – and a very poor refereeing decision later – and our dreams were dashed.
More than just a defeat, the game proved to be a bit of a watershed. The Villa are still in the FA Cup but my natural Brummie despondency leaves me to conclude we’ll lose. We’re still in the hunt for fourth spot in the Premier League, too. Sky Sports would have you believe fourth spot is the promised land; I would vehemently disagree. We don’t win things very often and I would swap fourth place for victory in either of the domestic cup competitions in a heartbeat.
More to the point, I think we’d make an arse of ourselves in the Chumps League. The Villa lost in the qualifying rounds in this season’s Europa Cup and I fear a similar fate should we qualify for the European Cup (that’s the trophy’s real name, in case you’ve forgotten). I think the ‘race for fourth’ (T.M. Sky Sports 2010) will finish as follows:
- (4th) Manchester City – Straightforward run-in; class in depth
- (5th) Aston Villa – Not a bad run-in; not a great squad
- (6th) Tottenham Hotspur – Bloody hard run-in
- (7th) Liverpool – They are going nowhere fast
Which still doesn’t explain why I am being such a miserable swine when it comes to the Villa. Well, because as my Dad said: “What’s the point?” We don’t win trophies, we’re doomed to always come 6th in the League and – even we did qualify for the Chumps League – we’d end up out of the trophy and in debt. So, I had to have a think about why I still love the Villa. And here’s why:
- We invented football – The Football League was invented by former Villa chairman William McGregor
- We have a beautiful name – It’s almost poetic; I mean, just look at it: Aston Villa
- We play in great colours – Not red, not blue, but claret, blue and gold
- We won the European Cup – And no one can ever take that away
- We are not Birmingham City – No more comment required
- We have a great ground – Villa Park is a proper British football ground with four big, separate stands
- We are not arrogant – Villa fans expect little and get little
- We have won stuff – Every so often, things turn out right; we never take winning for granted
- We are the Samuels family – Me, my Dad, my Grandad, my Great Grandad are/were all Villa fans
- We had Paul McGrath – And he is God
Ah, I feel better now. Bring on Chelsea! Bring on the Chumps League!
I love major sports events and major sporting venues. Actually, I love rubbish sports events and rubbish sporting venues, too.
I remember dragging my wife to watch Austrian non-league side FC Eurotours Kitzbuhel in a pre-season friendly. We were on holiday; it was her special treat. We’ve also watched old men bowling in Malta and she’s been spoilt with visits to a bunch of empty football grounds across Europe.
Sometimes major sporting venues are more than the sum of their parts. Snooker at The Crucible in Sheffield really has to be experienced. It’s a pretty awful theatre that – somehow – comes alive during the snooker. I think it’s the quiet intensity of having to sit in silence, watching a couple of blokes in suits smacking balls round a table with polished sticks.
Cricket at your regular haunt – Edgbaston, in the case of my youth – is also great. Especially during mid-week county matches, when the only people there are you, your unemployed mate and pensioners. And watching football live is always wonderful, of course.
But Wimbledon is rubbish. Thanks to our overuse of aerosols and rack-mounted servers, it’s normally too hot – despite everyone saying it always rains. And it’s always too busy. Unless you queue for 17 days, you can’t get on the main courts – which means you spend hours trailing round the minor courts, watching amateur British players lose stinky mixed doubles matches.
Other venues have an aura and a sense of excitement. Wimbledon doesn’t; it’s just full of people in caps, who eat too many strawberries and drink too much Pimm’s. It’s like the Chelsea Flower Show, actually – boring, busy and over-rated.
Don’t bother going to Wimbledon. It’s one of those rare events that’s actually more enjoyable on television. Again, like the Chelsea Flower Show.
I have only ever been in one reading group. It was several years ago and the group only read books on one theme: football. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it was a select group – just me and a couple of mates. The premise was fairly standard; read a different book about football each month.
It wasn’t as difficult to find books as you might expect. It wasn’t as boring as some of you might expect, either. Beyond the ghostwritten autobiographies and first person accounts of hardcore hooliganism, there’s a surprisingly excellent range of football books.
Saying that, however, the first book we read was Steve Claridge’s autobiography – a tedious tale of gambling, crap cars and rubbish performances for rubbish clubs. I refused to read the chapter on Birmingham City, which other members of the group said was ridiculous. But I have my standards.
The group lasted for a year-or-so before we ran out of ideas. There are only so many socio-economic accounts about the history of German football worth reading. Well one, actually: ‘tor!’.
In fact, the group split for good when one member suggested branching into cricket. I was vehement that I hadn’t joined a football reading group to read books about cricket. And that was that. But maybe it’s time for a re-start?
What’s on my jukebox? Here’s my ‘January Sales’ tracklist – a lovely blend of post-rock, electronica and shoegaze:
- Cradle (Kyte Remix) – The Joy Formidable: Shouty indie pop turned all fuzzy and layered by nu-gazers Kyte.
- Michael A Grammar – Broadcast: Angular pop by Brummie chaps Broadcast. My feet are dancing so much.
- Everything With You – The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart: So infectious, the sound of C86 and shoegaze in a blender.
- My Own Strange Path – M83: French shoegazers go all electronic and produce a futuristic movie score.
- Fire Flies And Empty Skies – God Is An Astronaut: Post-rock on a poppy jaunt, via a Jonny Marr-like suspended fourth.
- I Know You So Well – Immanu El: Slow and lovely; belting post-rock from your new Scandinavian friends.
- Paint A Rainbow – My Bloody Valentine: Fast, choppy and poppy from the pre-’Isn’t Anything’ Valentines.
- Linus And Lucy – Vince Guaraldi: Charlie Brown and the jazzy sound of summer holidays with my little sister.
- A Year Without Summer – Epic45: The sad sound of autumn in the grey West Midlands.
- Flood Out – Televise: Ex-Slowdive stalwart takes shoegaze to its post-rock coda.
Sometimes you miss an article that you later find and think: “Hmmm, this looks tasty”. I’ve just had such an episode, discovering and then reading ‘A sonic postcard from the past’ from The Guardian in early June:
In quiet corners of the British Isles, a strange kind of nostalgic music is prospering. Some of it summons up disused railway tracks and endless childhood summers through guitar drones, samples and field recordings…
…begins the article. They had me at the ‘endless childhood summers through guitar drones’ bit. The article goes on to discuss how a bunch of like-minded artists are making music inspired by concrete precincts and old ordnance survey maps. In other words, the best bits of geography.
The piece refers to a bunch of artists who often hail from the West Midlands and who make music that recalls all the best bits of the last 30-odd years of UK music. Basically we’re talking about my musical bag: Brian Eno’s ambience, shoegazing and 80s indie pop.
I’ve been listening to two of the main protagonists for a while, namely Epic45 and July Skies – both of whom rely on the skills of Anthony Harding. I’ve seen both acts associated with shogazing and post rock, but not Psychogeography – which according to The Guardian: “is the study of the spooky effects of the geographical environment on individuals”.
But whatever the ‘tag’, I like the sentimental mix of geography, guitar drones and the West Midlands.