Life as an Aston Villa fan over the last 9 years
Once a Villain, always a Villain
In life, many things are rare, such as honest politicians, non-strict teachers, a best friend and Christmas Day. But maybe what's even farther and few between are Aston Villa fans. Good news, or maybe bad news, you've found one of those unusual species. Me.
I have supported Aston Villa since the age of 7, when I was shown a Premier League table during the middle of the 2008/2009 season, and told that they were based in Birmingham.
I'm Irish, but have family who are from the city, and when I had visited there, I loved it. Hence, I was sold.
2007-2010: Oh what a time!
The hardest thing to believe at the time was that Villa were sitting pretty at 3rd in the standings, behind only Liverpool and Chelsea, and one place ABOVE Manchester United. United would win the league that season, while a terrible second-half to the season saw Villa finally finish 6th.
At the time, current Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill was the Claret and Blue gaffer. Although O'Neill's style could be hard to watch, he had a way of gaining fans' affection. His passion to what he does has always been very impressive.
I was devastated when O'Neill, who had guided Villa to three consecutive 6th place finishes, left Villa following a spat with owner Randy Lerner over Villa becoming a selling club (e.g., Gareth Barry and James Milner both departed for Manchester City in consecutive summer transfer windows).
This was 5 days before the first game of the 2010/2011 season against West Ham (a game my family and I went over to Villa Park for). Former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier was chosen to replace O'Neill in the Villa dugout.
This was the start of a downward spiral.
What went wrong?
That season, things did not go well on the pitch for Houllier, and Villa were in and out of the relegation zone a few times.
His assistant Gary McAllister did, however, lead us to a respectable 9th place finish that season when Houllier started suffering from health problems towards the end of that campaign and could not continue.
Both Houllier and McAllister left the club that summer, and although I was happy about that, Villa controversially appointed former Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish as the (un)successor.
I knew the club would not be in the Premier League for much longer at that point, especially with Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, our best players, leaving for Manchester United and Liverpool respectively (O'Neill's point being proven again).
McLeish's Villa finished a woeful 15th place, just managing to avoid the drop. 'Big Eck' was sacked once the season ended, and I thought that was a big relief. Paul Lambert, a former protege of O'Neill at Celtic, left Norwich City to become Villa's next manager heading into the 2012/2013 Premier League campaign.
This appointment excited the Villa faithful, but really, it was just false hope.
Our woes continued
Lambert was dealt a difficult job with owner Randy Lerner keeping his hands in his pockets due to club debts.
With a very young and cheap side, in his first two seasons, Villa finished 15th twice.
In the 2014/15 season, Lambert's reign came to an end when a terrible run of form saw us sitting in 18th place, seemingly with the side heading for relegation.
Tim Sherwood, a former Premier League winner as a player, took the hot seat at Villa, and miraculously lead us to safety and an F.A Cup Final (let's not talk about us losing it 4-0 to Arsenal).
Over that summer, Sherwood's momentum was cut from beneath him, when our top striker Christian Benteke went to Liverpool. To make matters worse, months after signing a new contract, midfielder Fabian Delph left for Manchester City too.
Moreover, the players brought in as replacements were not chosen by Sherwood. Instead, Chief Executive Tom Fox, who did a disastrous job at Arsenal in a similar role, scout Paddy Riley and Director of Football Hendrik Almstadt, all, who in my opinion, had no clue about football, started throwing their weight around in regards to transfers.
Sherwood would endure a terrible start to the season to no fault of his own and in October of 2015, which saw Villa in 19th place, he got the sack for his troubles. If that was not bad enough, his replacement was Remi Garde.
What a dreadful choice.
The Frenchman had never managed in the Premier League before, and, he was dealing with the same rubbish as Sherwood did from the board.
That was our titanic season.
The sinking point
Garde did not even last the rest of that season, as Villa were relegated to the Championship after finishing BOTTOM with only 3 wins the WHOLE 2015/16 campaign. Eric Black managed us for our final few games in the Premier League as caretaker.
However, relegation was the needed straw that broke the camel's back.
Hope of a new dawn
Lerner got rid of the club (or as I like to say, we got rid of him), selling it to Chinese multi-millionaire Tony Xia. The Doc, as Xia is known, got rid of the hated Fox, Riley and Almstadt.
Although the club was now in the Championship, we were seemingly getting back on track.
Despite these good moves, new manager Roberto Di Matteo did not meet expectations with a lacklustre beginning to the Championship. And he got fired.
Steve Bruce was then appointed Villa manager, and although he managed to pull together a few unbeaten runs together, the Claret and Blue boys got nowhere near promotion and only came 15th when the 2016/17 season was all said and done.
This 2017/18 season though, after a full pre-season and a number of good signings, such as John Terry, Robert Snodgrass (loan) and Sam Johnstone again (loan), Steve Bruce has pulled things around after a slow start to the season.
With key players John Terry. Albert Adomah and youngster Keinan Davies fit and at top form, Villa went the whole of September unbeaten, winning the last 4 games.
We have done reasonably well since then, but Jonathan Kodjia. Terry and Davies have all suffered injuries and fitness issues, and in December the team saw a dip in form.
However, the Claret and Blue outift seem to be getting back on track, winning their last two games against difficult opposition in Middlesbrough and Bristol City (who we ended up defeating 5-0).
I believe, as we sit 5th in the Championship table at the start of 2018 (in the play-off spots and only 5 points off of 2nd position (automatic promotion), we look like a force to be reckoned with, and if Villa keep up the good form, we could be back where we may or may not belong, in the Premier League next season.
In all seriousness though, being an Aston Villa fan is a laugh. Even though there have been a lot of downs at the club over the years, why would I want to be supporting anybody else?
The reaction I get whenever I tell someone that I support Villa is always priceless. It's a conversation starter. There are always the usual United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea supporters in most places, but Villa fans? Nope.
We are hard to come by. The underdog feeling whenever I watch them on telly is something I just feed off of. It's why I love football.
I've been to Villa Park multiple times, its facilities are fantastic. I've gotten more autographs than I've seen goals from Villa players there.
All these experiences are more important than any glory I could get from supporting the top clubs in the Premier League.
It does not matter whether it's promotion, relegation, or to remain permanently in the Championship. I am a Villain till I die, and there is not a lifelong sentence I could be prouder to have.