Aston Villa

Aston Villa, Home

The first game proper back in top flight. Villa had beaten Manchester City 4-2 the week before and came stocked with stars and England players, including Gareth Barry, whose protracted attempts to get away from the club and play for Liverpool provoked one contributor to the subsequent national radio phone-in to state that he regarded the player’s evident lack of interest in doing his job properly as ‘a personal affront.’ In the broadest Brummie accent, and after providing a testimonial regarding his own curriculum vitae (tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan) the caller eloquently put the case that so many followers of football feel: these individuals earn more a week than others do in six years of putting their life on the line for their country, or in tending the wards of our hospitals. As if that isn’t enough of ‘an affront,’ they agitate to move elsewhere, for even more money, without a backward glance, and actively sulk on duty when they should be spilling blood on behalf of their tribe. Where fans have a lifelong loyalty to their clubs, all too frequently it seems that players have a loyalty only to their bank balances. The week before the season started Chelsea flagged a ‘press exclusive’ on ‘Chelsea TV’ (in 1985, the last time Stoke played a top flight match, there were a total of four television stations) to announce the news that Frank Lampard had signed a new contract worth 150 grand a week. It is this scale of hubris, together with the obscene figures involved, that creates an atmosphere whereby football players are so easily and so quickly reviled. Gareth Barry was booed by his own fans during the pre-season frendlies, and by our supporters during this game because, for all the thousands he finds in his pay packet, he had still managed to put in a half-hearted performance for England in the midweek before this game.
Part of the conversation I had with the publishers in talking about a contract for this book involved a discussion that went along the lines that if it weren’t the case that I was already addicted to football, then I’d find the idea of it – of the Premiership, in particular – repulsive, peopled as it is by Frank Lampards, the Pokomons who are owned and traded by Russian oligarchs and shifty Thai politicians. A local hero, one of your own on the pitch, is a rareity now. The paradox, of course, is that once the match kicks off, all this is left behind, it’s simply redundant cerebral activity, useful only for occupying the long days while the team aren’t actually playing.

Less than one hour after the final whistle Old Stokie and I were kneeling on the dirt in the car park rocking to touch the ground with our palms like pilgrims to Mecca in the direction of the car radio where Pulis was giving his post-match interview.
Less than two hours after the final whistle I had arrived at the conclusion that it had been the best game I had ever seen at Stoke. The return to the top flight could only have been improved if we had beaten Manchester United, and even that would be a judgement call. I had never felt an atmosphere like it: this is what twenty-three years of being irritated and frustrated to fuck feels like, then, when it’s let go. The team could have played any way they liked; that we were not facing Crystal Palace or Rotherham or Swindon was enough in itself. As it turned out they performed like veterans of the division, and this only a week after Bolton. Ninety minutes earlier I would have thought this inconceivable.
We walked away on air, and Pulis walked on water.

Match report from Andy P here: What a day

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10 Responses to Aston Villa

  1. AndyP says:

    Thanks for the link, saved you a “shift” again have I? 😉

    I decided to relax and read some Sunday papers today for a change, I don’t normally get the chance. Flicking through some of the reports while I was browsing at the supermarket, I saw one mention that Stoke’s last top flight victory was in March 1985 against Arsenal. That has slipped my mind it was so long ago, and I was not a regular visitor to the Victoria Ground in those days. Appropriately to complete the historic sequence I was at that match and at the first victory following the return to the top flight some 23 years later. Somewhere in the BBC archives is MOTD footage showing two young lads in blue Parkas standing in the rain on the Boothen End at the Victoria Ground watching Stoke score a penalty against Arsenal while the rest of the crowd stands further back under the roof. Those lads were my mate Ian (Ianrb of Oatcake Messageboard infamy) and myself. I got a right telling off from my Mother when she saw that later on the telly and that we’d been daft enough to get wet rather than relinquish our decent view and stand with the rest of the heaving masses! 😮 Where has the time gone? It’s a long wait for your next top flight win eh?!

  2. chiffs says:

    ” . . .Pulis walked on water. . .”

    Someone please help me. It’s like The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers here.

  3. AndyP says:

    Chiffs – Quick put on the Stoke City Season Review DVD that contains the binary results sequence. Normal service will soon be resumed, and Pulis hating will return with gusto 😉

  4. chiffs says:

    Thank you! I have it lined up to replace MOTD2 – come to think of it, maybe he should just watch the man in ‘action’?

  5. AndyP says:

    Flicked between “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” on Five and Mr Ugly Football on MOTD2 on Beeb 2. He was horribly acceptable, on the verge of likeable, until he uttered the words “Push on”. I screamed in anguish, I despised hime once more, and normality returned. How was the experience chez Winger?

  6. OS. says:

    “Less than one hour after the final whistle Old Stokie and I were kneeling on the dirt in the car park rocking to touch the ground with our palms like pilgrims to Mecca in the direction of the car radio where Pulis was giving his post-match interview.”

    True…we really did! But, you forgot to add that tears [of laughter] were streaming from our eyes at the unspoken, shared recognition of our ultimate hypocritical moment. It was reminiscent of when I caught you cheating at billiards…a simple thing, but so meaningful that it will provide us with many years of inner chuckles when we think of these moments. It’s what bonds us: moments like these. 😉

    Gooaaarrrnnn Pulis! 🙂

    Gee-Goss. xXx

  7. johnny n says:

    god bless fickleness

    i was terribly upset he didn’t say ‘triffic’ last night on the telly

    and how upsetting for you winger that in searching out the ‘famous stoke fan’ for interview they went for nick bloody hancock 🙂

    you don’t get that treatment with delia i’m sure

  8. Stephen Foster says:

    That Nick Hancock is up the back cheeks of the board. There is no place on telly for insurrectionists like me. Yet.

    OS: I thought we really meant it : – )

  9. OS. says:

    Of course we meant it…didn’t we? 😉


  10. calvininjax says:

    I am surprised there are no reports of you and OS singing in his honour.

    Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
    Pilgrim through this barren land;
    I am weak, but thou art mighty;
    Hold me with thy powerful hand:
    Bread of heaven,
    Feed me now and evermore.

    All together now. 😉

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