The morning of the Carabao Cup Final, I had a real mix of emotions. I felt excitement at the prospect of the game, but also a lot of nervousness. Not all of this was match-related. Not that much in fact. Most of my nerves were at the prospect of the day in general. Making the lone trip to London, having made no real plans for when I got there, was way out of my comfort zone. The thought of it made me feel physically sick.
After about two and a half hours travelling by train and tube, I arrived at Wembley Park. As I got off the train I ended up in conversation with a fellow Villan who, like me, was heading to Boxpark. I was already beginning to feel more relaxed
As I stepped into Boxpark, it was pretty overwhelming. I’ve never been in a venue like that so packed with Villa fans. The whole place was rocking, and everyone was in a joyous mood. I didn’t know it yet, but for the next three hours, I would have one of the most surreal experiences of my life.
I couldn’t look around for more than a minute without seeing a familiar face. The strangest thing of all though, is that most of these faces were familiar through Twitter, and not “real life”. At first I wasn’t sure what to do. Do I introduce myself to people? Do I just stick to finding people I’ve already met? Luckily, I decided on the former!
Everyone I introduced myself to seemed genuinely pleased to see me, which really settled any doubts I had about how my day might pan out. Everyone I met was as nice, if not even nicer, than the impression I’d had from social media. I also had plenty of people ask me about my mental health, and how I was coping. For me, this was huge, as I could see people genuinely cared, and even just a quick check-in is more than I ever experience in day-to-day life. Small things like that are so massively underrated, and the fact it was so genuine only increased the impact it had.
As well as approaching people I spotted, I had plenty of people approach me too. it was a really surreal feeling having people come up to me, ask how I’m doing, talk about the blog, and seem so genuinely pleased to have bumped into me.
As cringeworthy as it sounds, I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I fit in as much as I did/do with the villa family.
The sense of belonging I feel is mad, and every time I meet more people, it just increases. It may sound stupid to say this, but it’s easy to feel like you really know people who you talk to on Twitter, and meeting so many of them in real life, makes the whole Villa Family seem so much more tangible. It’s quite strange meeting people for the “first time” who you talk to most, if not every day online, but within seconds it feels like you’ve known them for ages, which I suppose is true! I was meeting people who know more about me, my struggles, my ups and my downs, than people who I call my friends. These are people whose support I’ve been able to rely on, and that’s massive.
While the result wasn’t what we wanted, I still went home absolutely buzzing. The online community which I’d opened up to over a year ago, and who have supported me through some really tough times, is becoming more and more “real” with every person I meet. Rather than just names, words and profile pictures, I now can really see it as a group of people, with shared values and interests, and most of all, kind hearts!
To finish, I’d like to say a few words to everyone I met on Sunday. In the madness of the day, I don’t think I expressed this enough:
I’d like to say a huge thank you. I’d like to say thank you to Dan, Rolo and Tom for the huge difference they and the Villa View have made in the last year, and the level of support they’ve given me. Without them, I wouldn’t be in the place I am now. When Dan and Tom discussed my decision to start a blog, and me opening up, I was feeling as low as I have ever felt. I was sat in my car at the time listening to the podcast, and I remember it clear as day, because from then onwards, I’ve been in almost constant shock at the support I’ve had from the villa faithful. I’d like to also thank Aaron, and Kieron and Ben for their kind hospitality, as well as every single other person I met on Sunday, especially Lynda, without whom I’d never have been able to go to Wembley in the first place! I don’t think I’ll ever be able to truly find the words to describe what the whole experience was like for me, and I hope I’ve done it justice.
I’d also like to thank the rest of the villa faithful who have helped me, been there for me, and who I call my mates. There’s just too many of you to name! I really am genuinely grateful to every single one of you. Even you annoying lot who love to wind me up! Many of you who I didn’t meet on Sunday have also had massive impacts on my life!
Football fans get a bad rep, but the vast majority of them are fantastic people. Without Villa, and the Villa community, I have no idea where I’d be. It’d be far worse than now that’s for sure. I can’t wait to meet so many more of you!