The Villans do not like to let the book write itself. Since the formation of the club in 1874, it has rarely been plain sailing for the fans of the biggest team in the midlands. Rarely has it been plain sailing for the many who have played in the great claret and blue of Aston Villa either. The club’s first ever game was against Aston Brook St Mary’s rugby team. As a condition of the match, the players had to agree to play the first half following rugby rules and the second half following football ones, which is hardly the most conventional start.
A new chapter has been written every year since 1874, making the book about Aston Villa a thriller, with plenty of action, the odd bit of romance and some comedy thrown in for good measure. The main romance has been with the FA Cup, a competition that Aston Villa Football Club first won in 1887, with captain Archie Hunter becoming one of the game’s first household names. Since then the Villans have gone on to win the FA Cup six more times. The last win came in 1957, meaning that the most famous cup in the world has not been lifted by anyone from the club that won it first for nearly sixty years. In that time, Manchester United have won the FA Cup eleven times and and Spurs have won it eight times.
World War Two brought massive change to the football club. Aston Villa, like many clubs, lost seven seasons but the team was rebuilt under the guidance of Alex Massie.
The Villans then struggled to win a trophy for thirty-seven years until a magical moment in the 1957 season, when they recorded their seventh FA Cup win, defeating the ‘Busby Babes’ of Manchester United in the final. The team struggled in the league, however, and the Villans were relegated two seasons later.
Under Joe Mercer, Aston Villa returned to the top-flight in 1960. The following season, Aston Villa became the first team to win the Football League Cup, another historic moment.
Something many can only dream of, European success, came in 1982, thanks in no small part to one Peter Withe goal that will never be matched. Arguably, the 1982 chapter is the best one of all.
Since then, life has been rocky for the famous Aston Villa and its fans for lengthy periods of time. The last chance of glory in the FA Cup came in 2000, when Chelsea pipped Villa in at the old Wembley. Then the Villa boys were robbed of the Carling Cup in 2010 by Phil Dowd and robbed in the FA Cup semi-final in the same year.
Since Martin O’Neill left, supporting Villa has been laborious. Houllier was never a long-term option. McLeish was understandably hated, producing the worst-ever record as Villa manager. Then along came Paul Lambert, the man many backed to change our club’s fortunes. Unfortunately, he did not come good. Relegation threatened every year. The football was boring. Cup competitions were an embarrassment, with the highlights including losing to Bradford City over two legs and being dumped out of the competition by Leyton Orient. Few will forget losing 8-0 in the Premier League either.
In the current season, a truly frightening chapter was being written. Relegation was on the cards. Nobody expected Lambert to be dismissed but, finally, he was.
Villa fans are witnessing the next chapter unfold now and it is one of total change, under the watchful eye of a manager who looks to be the golden man who loves Aston Villa. Tim Sherwood is the latest man tasked with changing fortunes at Villa Park. So far, he is succeeding. A fantastic FA Cup run, which the new manager can only take partial credit for, of course, has led us to the FA Cup final, in which we will face Arsenal. We witnessed a game of dreams against Liverpool, one nobody expected. The performances showed how much respect the players have for Sherwood, who has seemingly transformed a bunch of misfiring, ill-fated footballers into FA Cup finalists. His team is now comprised of players who do not look like relegation candidates, despite the points tally. Tim Sherwood would be a man McGregor would love, I am sure, as he is a football man, with the fans at heart. He is a man who just wants to succeed and illustrates the passion to go with it.
The new chapter that is being written is an exciting one, with Grealish, Benteke and Delph all becoming Villa stars. The frenetic pace of it shows no signs of slowing down, while fans sit of cloud nine. Another man who has featured in past chapters, Randy Lerner, once talked of our “bright future”. Maybe, just maybe, the Villans can start to believe in that once again.