‘Blues, Blues, always lose, ‘cuz they wear their ballet shoes’.
That was my first experience of the being annoyed by Villa fans.
‘But we don’t wear ballet shoes’ i’d snap back.
I was about 7 years old, and even then, in those old times, the Villa fans were irritating little weasels.
To be sure, this was Solihull, and it was a majority Blues school, as it was a majority Blues area, but there were just enough Villa fans to get under your skin – a glory-hunting, gobby, vociferous minority.
And they were glory-hunting, make no mistake.
People of my age, or my mini-generation [ages 24-34] remember going to school in the mid to late 90s, and enduring their shit.
Because even though there’s that old joke, that Villa have only won two trophies since Queen Victoria died, they still presented the glory option for the weak-minded local fan.
They were consistently finishing in the top 6. Sometimes at Christmas, they’d be top of the Prem, I think they were a fair few points clear the one year under John Gregory. They’d reach the latter stages of the FA cup, they were playing in the UEFA cup and they attracted big name signings.
Blues by total contrast were still recovering from the crash of the mid-80s, and were down in the footballing doldrums having snowball fights at Exeter, laughing their way through the Barry Fry years, getting into punch ups in the Anglo-Italian cup and winning the Leyland Daff / Auto Windscreen shield. Villa were the Hollywood option, Blues were the Hollywood, Birmingham option.
And so for a minority of those 7 year olds in the playgrounds at Ulverley School, while the loud smashing, bashing and thrashing of the machines of the Land Rover plant nearby echoed abound…supporting Villa was an obvious choice for some.
Not for me. I was always destined to be a Blues fan.
With my dad there was no other possibility.
The man despised Villa.
The man loathed Villa with a passion.
BANNED from our house. I think I tried my first one when I was 18.
If he saw a Villa fan in the street, he would fix them with a glare.
He tutted at children in Villa shirts. ‘Disgusting, disgusting‘, he’d lament and shake his head as he walked away.
I remember being in the car with him when he noticed another car had broken down. He slowed down to offer help. As we approached this ramshackle little vehicle with its hazard warning lights flashing, my old man had noticed something in the corner of its back window…a cartoon, a cartoon sticker of a man in a Villa shirt pissing on a Blues shirt.
That was it.
In a split second, my dad had spun the wheel to the right, put the car into 4th gear and sped off at a rocket velocity.
‘Villa twat‘, he muttered in disgust as he left the Astonian stranded at the side of the road.
He took pride that Solihull and most of South Birmingham was majority Blues. He would drive around with me and point out just how many car-stickers were Blues, compared to the few Villa alternatives we saw.
He would tell me that in the 70s, Villa were North Birmingham and the Black Country, Blues were South Birmingham and Solihull. Although the lines had blurred now, and people had moved about, this was generally still the case, and is still the case today.
Many of the Villa fans at my school in Solihull had Blues supporting parents. This was the most sacrilegious of sacrilegious behaviours for my dad, I won’t repeat the language he used about them. Suffice to say, we couldn’t take him to parents’ evenings.
He never quite grew out of his dislike of everything Villa. I’m sorry to say I’ve softened as I’ve grown older, I still dislike the club, but not to the point where i’d tut at children and judge a whole person’s worth on whether they don the pink and blue – in many respects my father was a better man than I.
But I was like him when I was a kid.
And going to school in the 90s was testing as a Blues fan, even being part of the majority.
Blues weren’t on the FIFA games. That puts you in a shit situation right off the bat. Villa were. They were on every FIFA game.
Blues weren’t on Match of the Day. Villa were.
Football stickers were a nightmare. At first I started collecting the Football League stickers, from about 1995. But it soon became apparent that it wasn’t that fun when you’re the only one doing so.
I had so many Per Frandsen, Tony Naylor and Eric Nixon swaps that I couldn’t pay people to take them off me.
I remember having hundreds in my hands and just giving up and chucking them in the air one day.
I quickly realised that with these things it’s best to follow the crowds, and so I started collecting Premier League stickers – but with the Villa page torn out.
Whenever I got a Villa sticker in a pack, it’d go in the bin. Villa were not officially recognised in my sticker book.
And so my childhood relationship with football went.
It was a struggle of tainted football computer games and half-destroyed sticker books, of seeing Villa on TV everywhere you looked, of seeing them linked with international stars, of seeing Blues suffer in comparison, losing in heart-breaking play off finals, suffering from the most chronic bad luck you’ll witness – multiple penalty shootout defeats at pivotal moments, massive injury crises, being stung by changes to the away goal rule at Preston in the play offs, and general kicks in the nuts every season.
While Villa seemed to bathe in the rays of never-ending good fortune.
One year, might have been around 1996 ish, I seem to recall they had a freak bad season and almost got relegated – but for some Ipswich player scoring an own goal in the 89th minute of the last day of the season and securing Villa’s survival.
Even in recent times, they’ve managed to somehow escape relegation over the past few years simply due to West Brom lying down and giving Villa 6 easy points, then playing like Brazil 70 whenever they faced Villa’s relegation rivals.
It prompted one of my gobby Villa supporting mates [whose parents are Blues fans by the way] to come out with the line ‘Villa are too big to get relegated. The name ‘Aston Villa’ alone ensures we’ll never go down.’
Of course Blues fans and Villa fans are totally different, despite sharing the same city and its outskirts.
There’s probably some psychological, scientific reason that some of the kids in that Solihull playground chose to support Villa, whereas the others chose to support Blues. Is it to do with brain chemistry?
If opting to support Villa in the 90s was the ‘easy’ option, the ‘me me me, now now now’ option, whereas opting for Division 2 Blues was the harder decision, perhaps it’s no surprise that the fans have grown up to display wildly different traits.
It might explain why Blues fans generally don’t tend to take themselves seriously. Why their internet sites are places of light banter, fun, joshing, and general amusement, whereas you look at places like VillaTalk and it’s full of the dullest, most serious, sterile, humourless boors you’re ever likely to come across. It might be why my Blues Blog in the Birmingham Mail was celebrated as a comedic poke at Villa, and yet the Villa representative in his retort seemed to totally misjudge the mood by responding in an almost autistic-like reeling off of Villa’s achievements over the past century [most while Queen Vic was scooting about].
It might be why traveling away with a bunch of Blues fans is like being on a 17th century pirate ship with loads of ugly, balding, idiots pissed out of their faces from the minute the sun rises, all singing ditties, having a great time but being the salt of the earth and willing to do anything for you. Whereas Villa fans come across as a bunch of sneering librarians.
When the cameras on a match day pan to the Villa crowd, everybody looks the same.
Everybody looks like chubby lobotomised versions of Lee Hendrie. Gormless, decked out in official club merchandise and utterly bored with life.
And so, as I write this, it is the eve of Villa finally getting relegated from the Premier League.
It feels weird.
For people my age, Villa have been perma-fixed in the Prem for pretty much our entire lives – but all that is changed tomorrow. The world is turned upside down.
It’s been unthinkable for decades. It’s been the natural order.
My dad would tell me of the ‘before time’, before 1986, specifically in the late 60s and the 70s when Blues were the top dogs. Blues had a swagger about them, in cool royal blue kits, playing electrifying football with a team of eccentrics, superstars and the cream of the crop. In those days Villa were languishing as low down as Division 3.
This was the natural order after all. This is where we should be. Since 1986, we’ve been stuck in a time vortex, where a small suburb of librarians have kept the people’s club, the royal blue of Birmingham subdued. Bland, boring tyranny has ruled.
But tomorrow, all that changes.
The time portal explodes. And Blues will have the chance from next season to fix the damage and restore the local football hierachy to how it should have been.
This is the beginning of a new football era.
When the referee blows his whistle at Old Trafford tomorrow and Villa will have been relegated the best part of three decades of hurt, of ridicule, of mockery, of injustice, of ruined sticker books, of half-played Nintendo games, of unwatched Match of the Day shows all get sucked into a black hole and disappear.
When the ref blows for full time at St Andrews and the announcement rings out that the vile club up the road have finally been defeated and are returning to their natural level, I will have tears in my eyes. Tears of joy and tears of nostalgia, and my footballing childhood spirit will ascend to the heavens.
And I know that somewhere, just somewhere, my Villa-hating dad will be looking down on me and smiling…….
…I mean he likes to beat the traffic so he usually goes and stands at the top of the Tilton corner for the last five minutes of the home games, but still.
Tomorrow is the day Blues fans have been waiting for.
Enjoy it. It’s been a long time coming.
– Chris Brown