First things first: my name is Dan Bardell and I am chuffed to be one of the new writers for avillafan.com; I hope I can do the site justice. I’m 27 years old and entering my 21st year in a row as a season ticket holder in the Holte End Upper with my dad. I live and work in London for Sky but I travel back to Birmingham for every home game, much to my fiancee’s dismay, as this often involves me taking holiday and rushing backwards and forwards after a 12 hour shift. Luckily, she is very understanding and she even comes with us occasionally!
I won’t bore you any more about myself but, like you all, Villa is my passion and I hope I make some sense and look forward to sharing my pieces with my fellow fans. I actually wrote the bulk of what’s below before the Arsenal and Chelsea games but I feel the points made are still current: if anything, the two games in London have only gone to strengthen my opinion on what Paul Lambert (I love him) is doing.
Villa fans have had it tougher than most over the last few years but something feels different this summer: I’m excited for the new season and I have belief. Finally, after a couple of seasons in the doldrums, I truly believe Aston Villa Football Club is heading in the right direction.
Admittedly last season was bumpy – our bid for safety was a little too close for comfort. However, one thing never changed for me: I fully believed that Aston Villa had the right man in charge, Paul Lambert. Yes, watching us ship 8 at Chelsea was one of my lowest points as a supporter and losing 3-0 at home to Wigan whilst not turning up was gut wrenching but from February onwards something transformed this young side: suddenly there was belief, vibrancy and spirit.
Gone was the team that looked scared to death at Valley Parade as our hopes of silverware were dashed. Suddenly that team of “kids” didn’t look such a pushover. In the ‘must win’ games they delivered, they battled and they won. Suddenly, Aston Villa started to have an identity, something the fans could relate to, something different and, most of all, something brave. From nowhere a team that had been berated in the press were making people stand up and take notice as Lambert’s vision was starting to formulate.
Fluent, exciting football was back at Villa Park. In Brad Guzan there was a goalkeeper that was on top of his game. Matthew Lowton, an unknown from Sheffield United, was bombing down the right flank and scoring the goal of the season. Ashley Westwood was orchestrating the midfield, showing all the trademarks of his role model Michael Carrick. Agbonlahor and Weimann on the flanks were potent, pivotal and, most importantly, scoring goals, flanking the beast of Belgium, Christian Benteke.
What a find: 23 goals in his first season and displays that really made the world stand up and notice; surely he would give us one more season? Wrong. When Benteke put in a transfer request all Lambert’s good work appeared to be in jeopardy but the Scottish manager proved his worth and not only persuaded him to stay but persuaded him to sign a new 4 year deal.
This brings me back to the current feeling, an unusual feeling, one that as a lifelong Villa fan doesn’t feel normal: I have hope, I have faith and I have pride. Paul Lambert has revitalised this club. We now have an identity, we now have players who want to be here, they don’t want to just collect their money, they don’t want to just do well, they want to do well for THIS club. Take the big boys out of the equation and to compete in this league you have to have a style – the club has to have a model and a way of playing. Swansea have done so well since they got promoted 2 years ago because they have these things. I really think we can be back in the higher echelons sooner rather than later and, like Swansea, land some silverware.
It’s still early days but in my opinion Paul Lambert has transformed this club. I can’t remember a time in recent history where Aston Villa has felt so united. Benteke staying is massive. He will go onto be one of the world’s best yet Paul Lambert is the star of this club. He’s the one who has created this vibe. Yes, in ways he has been ruthless, as Darren Bent can testify, but every move he makes is just another step to establishing his model at Aston Villa – and it’s one I and many others are thankful for and very much on board with. I’ve heard people mention the “Dortmund model” in relation to us, and I can see what they mean, but it wouldn’t surprise me if in a few years’ time we see another club follow the ”Villa model”, based on what Lambert is doing, and will do, for us.
The opening two games have only made a stronger case for Lambert’s vision. The displays aren’t a surprise to me or many other Villa fans but I really think people will take more notice of us in the future. There will be bad results and performances – the model isn’t flawless. However, it’s the right model for Aston Villa Football Club and its one that is taking us in the right direction.
Strap yourselves in: this is Aston Villa Football Club, you wont ever be comfortable but, for the first time in years, I really think you will enjoy the ride!