What. A. Feeling. Trippier launching a free kick into the back of the Croatian net to go 1-0 up in a World Cup semi final, Grealish gliding the ball past Lee Camp to win the Second City derby, Alan Hutton embarrassing the whole Birmingham team and jumping into the Holte…
Football is magical. I don’t “watch” football. For those 90 minutes I AM football, and football is me. Nothing else matters. The stresses and strains of daily life, worries and struggles; all gone. The game itself is an experience like no other. The emotions, the excitement, the dread… all for a game of football.
Before derby games I never eat. I can’t. No matter how confident I am in our chances, when it gets to the day I’m a wreck. The day goes at a snails pace, and I watch the clock tick on and on towards Midday. I don’t even know why I feel this way, I just do. It’s Aston Villa, and we just HAVE to beat those b*st*rds down the road!
I felt the same before the World Cup semi final, the FA cup final, and the Playoff final. Three huge games in the space of 3 years. Two of those within weeks of each other. All three left me absolutely reeling. Gutted. Disheartened. Empty.
After the playoff final, I went straight to bed. I wasn’t even upset, just empty. I laid there and laughed, a kind of ridiculous laughter, unable to believe what had happened. But I wasn’t happy at all, I was totally drained, I had nothing left to give.
Yet now, if I think back to the playoff semi finals against Boro, or England’s journey through the Group, Last 16 and the Quarter finals, “it’s coming home” slowly turning from an ironic mockery to a hopeful glimmer, ever getting closer. I think to the countless derby victories, the quarter final win against West Brom; beating Liverpool at Wembley… Those moments are why I put myself through this. The stress, the pain, the heartache; all for that feeling of hope, however bad the end result.
On top of that is the sense of community. A Villa fanbase all united, backing the 11 boys in claret and blue, Villa Till We Die; and a whole country, divided on so many levels, joining as one to sing, dance and cheer in the name of a national side that has brought nothing but disappointment in over 50 years. The value of this cannot be underestimated.
Gareth Southgate succeeded in making 2018 the best summer for Englishmen for over 20 years, and restored my love for our national team, who I had grown bored of.
In 2016, when England were knocked out of the Euros by Iceland, but far more crushingly, Villa were relegated from the Premier league for the first time, I really had little love for football. Fast forward less than 3 years, and we have an England side to be proud of. Most importantly we have a Villa side, captained by a Villan, managed by a Villan, playing expansive, exciting football, the likes of which we could only dream of in the past few years.
It may be a rollercoaster, but my God do I love this game. For all the pain, for all the torment… for all the ups, and the many downs.
Here’s to more ups (and less downs) in the future!!!