Villa Remembered – Pandora's Box

By Didsbury Dave, Mon 10 October 2011 09:18

Villa Remembered – Pandora's Box

Next up, Aston Villa. Although due to holidays I was unable to write a blog prior to the Blackburn Rovers game, I was struck with just how many memorable matches we’ve had with the famous old Lancashire club. Practically every game over the last thirty years has been exciting, with goals and drama galore. But for some reason the Aston Villa fixture has not produced anything like as many fireworks. There was an early nineties hammering at Villa Park where David White tore them to pieces, and a televised game a year or two before where Peter Reid handed us our first away win for years and almost handed Man United the title. But the game I’ve decided to focus on for this blog is the game at Villa Park in the heart-breaking run-in of the 1995-96 season. It represents another journey to the dark heart of Typical City and from a personal point of view it was one of the strangest days I ever had watching my beloved Blues.

Mid twenties, in my prime and free as a bird, I was living in Windsor but travelling to every City game, and I was desperate to attend this game as this traumatic season reached it’s nadir. Three clubs were flirting with the last relegation place (Bolton and QPR were down) but at City, mainly due to the ineptitude of the manager, we had had our sky blue knickers round our ankles and been waving our booty at the premier league’s Grim Reaper for virtually the entire season. It was tight as a gnat’s chuff down amongst the dead men and with two games left to save ourselves this visit to Villa Park was do-or-die. Tickets were rarer than hen’s teeth so an invitation from a friend to join him in his company’s box was too good to turn down.

Back in those days I was known to partake in the dubious delights of the nightclub life, and a particularly heavy all-nighter the night before sent me off to Birmingham by train in a mentally frazzled state. When I met my friend he warned me that he was also entertaining valued customers at the game and we should retain as low a profile as possible. Upon entering the box I was faced with six suited and middle aged strangers, with no club allegiances and a passing interest in the game, very little in common and an alarmingly poor ability to eradicate embarrassing silences. Not quite what I needed after a sleepless night and with pupils still dilated like a rabid cat, but no matter. We were here, the bar was open and this awkward gaggle of men seemed quite relieved that two passionate City fans had arrived to break the ice, which at this point appeared thicker than a Boundary Park Boxing Day. Niceties over, we started on the free booze. The corporate box was the old style glass fronted unit where the sound of the crowd is piped in via some tiny speaker, controlled by a volume knob. By the end of the day, my friend’s group of uncomfortable customers must have longed to have something similar for the two of us.

The match was unbelievably tense as City searched for an unlikely winner against a far superior Villa side who had just won the League cup the week before. I became totally absorbed in the game and the adrenaline, flowing alcohol and post-club mental state turned me into something of a maniac. For those who have not attended a match in a glass box you most understand that you are basically sitting in an enclosed space, in total silence. My friend, in an attempt to keep his job, was attempting to keep a lid on his agitated state but couldn’t help but be swept along by my enthusiasm and the excitement of the game. Within minutes we’d abandoned all small talk and were standing at the glass, shouting City on, abusing the referee and generally behaving like we were standing on the Kippax. Imagine walking into a vicar’s tea party and swearing repeatedly at the top of your voice and you get an impression of the situation in that box that day.

The last quarter of the game, still 0-0 and the anxiety levels in the middle of box nine were reaching critical. Depending on other results, all of which were in the balance, City could either be relegated within a few minutes or be totally safe. Rosler, Summerbee and co were pouring forward in numbers, attacking desperately and Villa seemed to be wobbling. And then, a miracle. Steve Lomas stabbed a corner into the roof of the net and there was mayhem in the away end, mirrored in box nine. Six middle class businessmen looked on, shocked and bemused, as the two of us went wild, totally ballistic, roaring like bulls, hugging like long lost brothers and banging on the glass. I vividly remember looking to my right and seeing, through the glass, dozens of other City fans down the line of boxes doing the same. We’d done it, we were safe. It was Old Trafford and not Blundell Park for City next year. With hearts going like piston engines and sweat pouring, we clockwatched the last few minutes away with one eye on the television for the other scores to see we were safe. But something strange was going on. Southampton and Coventry were all suddenly winning – away from home. This incredible series of late goals suddenly put a whole new complexion on this result. Suddenly we were right back in the mire again.

My friend and I sat back as the whistle went, totally drained and totally stunned. Quick calculations meant that an inprobable win against Liverpool the following week was required to see City safe. Ball’s team had pulled off a gutsy and unlikely win against all odds and it hadn’t been enough. My friend had lost several customers and we’d made total arses of ourselves for nothing.