Fickle (adjective): changing frequently, especially regarding one’s loyalties, interests or affection. It’s a word that has often been connected to the Villa supporters and a tag that we’ve really struggled to shake off since David O’Leary’s time at the club.
It reared its ugly head again with the appointment of a certain Scotsman in the summer of 2011. It’s a situation that’s often compared in the media to the reaction that greeted the arrival of Rafael Benítez at Stamford Bridge, where the Spaniard has been subjected to abuse since his first game in charge at home to Manchester City. It’s a comparison that I find highly inaccurate on many levels and I’ll start off by pointing out that, despite protests before he joined, the crowd didn’t turn on McLeish until the penultimate home game of the season when we slumped to a defeat against a relegation bound Bolton. It was a result that left us precariously close to the bottom three and the collective patience snapped but, despite this, the fans gave the players 100% backing during the next home match with Spurs and saved any anti-McLeish stuff for after the full time whistle.
Chelsea fans, by comparison, have displayed banners, chanted things at the manager during games and generally given him a hard time during every single match since his arrival. In reality, any uproar about the appointment should be aimed at Abramovich. He’s the reason that Benítez is there and he’s the reason that Mourinho, Ancelotti and Di Matteo – all good managers who did well at the club – have moved on to pastures new.
I suppose the unique situation at Chelsea is that they wouldn’t be anything like the club they are without his money. By happily accepting his free spending, the big name players and the trophies that inevitably followed they’ve allowed themselves to become his plaything and he can do whatever he likes and I sincerely doubt he gives a toss what any Chelsea supporter has to say about it.
Living in the south, I’m surrounded by Chelsea supporters and I have to say that they, along with Spurs’ fans, seem to fail to grasp the reality of football and have unrealistic expectations with regards to what their clubs should be achieving. In contrast, I think the majority of Villa fans have been very understanding of where we currently sit as a club, the financial situation and the rebuilding job that Paul Lambert has on his hands. I dread to think how the fans of the aforementioned clubs would react if they ever had a season like we’re having.
Spurs are without a doubt the worst offenders as far as fickleness goes. I work a lot of weekends and often find myself listening to Stan Collymore’s phone in on a Saturday or Sunday evening and at the start of the season he was bombarded by Spurs’ fans who were beside themselves with anger at AVB’s appointment and the totally unacceptable draws at home to Norwich and West Brom. They were even booing the team off at half-time because they weren’t in the lead. Then they hit form, Gareth Bale scored goals for fun and they were right in the mix for Champions League football. All of a sudden AVB, who for what it’s worth I rate as a manager, is a football genius and the club is going from strength to strength. Lo and behold they hit a patch of bad form and the “AVB hasn’t got a clue” calls came flooding in again.
Can someone please tell me what the fans of Tottenham really expect? Their record since Sky invented football in 1992 has been very similar to our own, they’re never going to be in with a serious chance of winning the league no matter how much Sky tried to hype up their “title challenge” last season and a top four finish is the very best that they can realistically expect. The reality is that since the Premier League began only five clubs have won it and three of those have had heavy financial backing, leaving the rest of us lightyears behind and unable to compete.
Meanwhile our famous and proud club has been on its knees at times this season. We’ve suffered an embarrassing humbling at Chelsea, a morale-sapping defeat at home to Wigan, we’ve constantly dropped points from winning positions, we’re a team littered with individual errors, we suffered one of the most embarrassing defeats in the club’s history and were knocked out of the FA Cup by a mediocre Championship side. Despite all of this, the backing Lambert and the players have enjoyed has been nothing short of remarkable.
Yes, there was an outpour of anger as Wigan ran riot and as we lost to a team whose squad cost £7,500 to put together and had shipped four goals at home to Rochdale the week before but I think the reaction would be similar at any club. Paul Lambert’s name has been chanted with gusto all season and while there have been murmurings of discontent online, which you’d expect in a disastrous season, there has not been one show of mass protest in the stadium despite everything that’s gone on before. It seems to me that Villa fans have a very realistic view of where the club stands in the modern, money-orientated world of football and the size of the task that Lambert faced.
We’ve stuck with the manager and he’s shown faith in his young squad and recent results have begun to pay dividends. We’re not out of the woods yet, not by any stretch, but we’ve dug in, got important results and have given ourselves a real fighting chance of staying in this league. That’s not something that many people gave us a chance of at the end of January.
I think that whatever happens at the end of the season we, as supporters, can hold our heads up high and know that we did our bit by staying with the team and the manager throughout some of the toughest times the club has ever faced. While fans of other clubs are waiting for things to go wrong so that they can vent their spleen, we’ve spent the season waiting for everything to go right. And it will. Keep the faith.
Article submitted by Rob Holder