Fed up with clickbait and the inane articles of most media covering the Villa? Well, MOMS has got the perfect remedy – a whole series of Villa Fans telling their own unique stories.
This one by Owen Arthur, who gave his son the middle name of ‘Mellberg’ after a certain Swedish centre-back, takes us back to the start of this century. When, Owen was at university in Birmingham, on course to complete a 100% season of watching Villa home and away, until he faced a big moral dilemma…
First of all, an introduction to Owen and his place in the Villa-verse…
I have always hated the phrase, “we did not choose, we were chosen” that is sometimes used in association with supporting AVFC. I’ve often thought it doesn’t make any sense. “Who chooses you, don’t you choose your team?” Is what I always think when I see that quote. It’s also terribly trite and cheesy.
However, when thinking about asking the question, “why Villa?”, looking back to my childhood in the Villa stronghold of Lichfield (odd Albion and Walsall fan apart), without parents who were interested in football, maybe I was chosen?
Before I was even interested in football clubs, because as an eight-year-old you just want to play the game, not bother with anything else, I knew about Aston Villa on a peripheral level. My cub scouts team kit was the 87/88 home kit, the white away kit was used by the keeper.
My best mate’s Subbuteo collection was basically just Villa teams and he gave me one to borrow, which I never gave back.
My cousin even had Villa posters on her wall next to Bros – Steve Lillis and Tony Daley. That striped claret and blue Hummel shirt still burns into my childhood consciousness even at 38.
Eventually, half way through the 1989/90 season, I was listening to the scores coming through every Saturday and stayed up late to watch Chris Price score the winner at Highbury. I was eventually gutted when Villa fell away to second place.
Somehow, over the two year period of 1988-1990, supplemented by the reflected pride in David Platt’s performances in Italia 90, I had been absorbed into the Villa family. Chosen even…
First Villa Match
My first match was the 3-1 win over Banik Ostrava, in the first match for an English team back in Europe after the Heysel ban. I remember the cigarette smoke in the night air. And really enjoying the smell. I remember stamping my feet instead of clapping to songs in the wooden construction that was the great old Trinity Road stand. It created a great racket.
I remember thinking that every time Ian Ormondroyd chested the ball down, he was handling it due to how long his arms were. I thought he was holding the ball between them. I remember the name “Hyravy”. The first goal I ever saw live at Villa Park was scored by a Czechoslovakian on the opposition team. I was gutted. My dad looked anxious, he didn’t care about the result but didn’t want a stroppy kid to deal with on the drive home.
My dad needn’t have worried. The “Plattman” intervened on his and everyone’s behalf. Cowans sent him clean through and he smashed in my first ever Villa goal in front of the North Stand, as I watched close by in that end of the Trinity.
Villa strolled to a 3-1 win in the second half and as the goals were up the other end in front of the Holte End they were quite hard to see. Olney with a header, Price and Mountfield combined for the other. I often lost the players, because of the mass of people in the Holte End, mixed in with the players, the floodlights and the Evening Mail scoreboard. So many distractions for a young lad.
In the end though, my overriding memory was that this was a place that I would never be able to live without.
First Villa Hero
David Platt burst into the scene with Villa and then England just as I was getting into football. He scored the first Villa goal I ever saw live. He scored the winner against Belgium in Italia 90, the first time I’d ever seen England win live.
In the 1990/91 season, when Villa nearly went down, he always scored. In my head, whenever I went to Villa Park when he was there, he would score. When he left for Bari and I was absolutely devastated, but felt a sense of pride in the price. £5 million in 1991 was a ridiculous amount of cash and paved the way for Ron Atkinson to build his great team. Thanks Plattman!
Ultimate Villa Legend
My son’s middle name is Mellberg after the great Olof but even he has been usurped for me by what Jack Grealish has done for us in the last two seasons. Before December 2017, I thought Jack was a waste of time. Apart from the Cup run of 2015, he’d done nothing. And was often injured.
A couple of seasons ago in his comeback match, a 0-2 defeat at Derby, he ran the show. Then, Jack almost slalomed the Villa single-handedly to the Premier League in a team full of wise old men like Jedinak, Snoddy, Terry and Hutton.
Last summer he stayed with us when Spurs came calling. After an awful start under Bruce, he played ok until he got injured. Villa then looked like they’d lose him as they festered in the Championship. Then Jack came back again. He wanted to play in the Prem but wanted to do it with the Villa. He got the best out of John McGinn, who struggled at times without him.
The game against Blues, where he took on the opposition players, a pitch invader, and then the abusive crowd. “One punch and he knocked him out” the Blues crowd sang. Then they went silent as he hit the winner, celebrating wildly with the away fans and dancing around at the final whistle.
Any player who does well against Blues can do no wrong for me. What Jack did that day was next level and then dragged the club through the play-offs to the glory of the promised land.
What a man, what a captain. He’ll play for England, keep us up and if we can match his ambitions, stay forever and be our number one player of all time. He’ll get a statue like Alan Shearer.
Favourite Villa Memory
I will always have Virginia Bottomley MP, to thank for not missing the start of the League Cup final in 1996. She was special guest and had an in-depth chat with every single player who lined up for Villa and Leeds that day before the national anthem. The match started a good ten minutes late on a murky Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1996. This was handy as my dad and I were 10 minutes late.
I remember her getting right into the faces of the players. God knows what she was asking them. Ian Taylor had a good old natter to her, Mark Draper not so much. As I’ve got older I’ve learned to get less stressed before matches, but in 1996, aged 15, I got very nervous at games, very quickly. As massive favourites, I was nervous Villa would blow the final.
My favourite ever Villa memory was after 20 minutes of this final, when Villa broke forward and Townsend slipped the ball to Milosevic, who from 25 yards out, smashed the ball home into the top corner of the net. At the old Wembley, you stood on your little stool like seats. People went everywhere when that goal went in. “Limbs all over the shop” is not a new phenomenon, if anything its a lot less dangerous these days.
Unbelievable memories but still not the main one, I’m thinking about. The memory which is still vivid to me now is that for the first time ever in a game, that was still in the first half, I had no nerves. Even anxious,15-year-old me.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so confident in a match before or since.
We were so good, so dominant. Taylor and Yorke scored in front of me. Townsend lifted the cup, but we’d already started cheering when he got his hands on the cup. On the lap of honour, a man hugged Townsend and ruffled his hair in front of me. And Ugo Ehiogu walked past and smiled at me.
And thanks to Virginia Bottomley, I didn’t miss any of it
Your Villa Story
Birmingham is the greatest city in the world. It’s got everything, football, cricket, athletics, nightlife, culture… everything. I don’t care what anyone says.
I did very well in my A- Levels at College and had offers to go to Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham, all great, grand old universities. I even got put forward for the Oxbridge entrance exam, thankfully I failed this with flying colours.
The University of Birmingham was where I was always going. “Pick the uni with the best course they said”, well I picked the course closest to the best football club. AVFC.
It meant three of the greatest years of my life, mainly because I had a student loan to blow on the Villa, booze and er… books on Ancient History.
Going to university also gave me a chance to achieve my dream. No, not getting a degree, to put me on the path of the career of my choice. Rather, it was to complete a 100% home and away season with the Villa.
I’d never done it before. Well now that I was armed with tax payers’ money, there was no excuse.
2000/01 saw the Villa finish 8th, with a typically good start, bad middle and decent finish under John Gregory.
I introduced people in my halls of residence from Ormskirk, Bolton, Cheltenham, Doncaster, Newcastle and West Bromwich to the delights of Villa Park that season. That is when we weren’t recovering from the never ending Vodka and Red Bull themed student nights. There was also a wonderful drunken night watching England hammer Spain at Villa Park. I booed Ugo during that game to my shame and was too drunk to realise Nigel Martyn saved a Spain penalty, cheering the replay as though it was happening in real time.
Villa beat Newcastle in the FA Cup, which was fantastic as my room mate was a Geordie. But as Villa’s charge towards the European places came unstuck, disaster struck. I was heading towards my dream of a 100% season and then the end of year exam timetable came out.
The “historiography of Alexander the Great” was set for a Saturday. A Saturday! The last Saturday of the season. Newcastle away! I couldn’t believe it. I was so close. I couldn’t miss an exam. I had ten to revise for. This was my future. What I’d worked for at college. I was in turmoil, as what to do.
“Shall I miss it and say I got my times mixed up?”, I thought.
My parents would have killed me. So irresponsible. I went and told my lecturer I was at a family wedding that day. Desperate. He advised against it.
So, I needed to send the ticket back and get a refund. When I turned up at the ticket office they told me I’d missed the deadline. I could sell it on. it was a sign I thought.
Two days before, on a night out, my Geordie pal explained a concept called “resits”. In your first year, you get a second chance, he told me. “Come in, during the summer and resit it.”
I sounded like a plan…
So I did it. I binned off the exam and achieved my life’s dream at just 19 – 100% home and away with the Villa. In fact, I missed just ten games in the next decade. I re-sat the exam in the summer and got through to the second year of the course just fine.
Villa lost that game 3-0, three down after eight minutes, including a Mark Delaney own goal. Was it worth it? Of course it was. But I accepted then that I had a massive Villa-related addiction that I’ve never kicked. And I’m not sure I want to.
I graduated and became a teacher, which was what I always wanted to do. And all the while following the Villa. My son was born in Birmingham. The city and the greatest club in it, have both led me to achieve everything I ever wanted.