Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it without a sense of ironic futility. — Errol Morris
It’s never been exactly easy going as an Aston Villa fan. I took up the claret and blue banner in a good period, smack in the middle of the Martin O’Neill era. My first match was the last of the 2007-2008 season, a draw with Everton that ensured we finished sixth. The next two seasons were the (relatively light, in retrospect) heartbreak of flying high for most the season just to narrowly miss out on a Champions League spot. One-and-a-half unfortunate seasons later, my fandom during the Martin O’Neill years seems almost unbearably childish. I’ve written before on the difficulty of supporting a team like Villa who are financially barred from any opportunity to win a major trophy in the Premier League. After slogging through the drudgery of the last six months, I look back on that piece with a mixture of bemusement and pity, the same way I look at my amateurish attempts to write poetry in high school. The sense of entitlement I felt as a fan of the best of the also-rans has given into the bleak discontentment of supporting a barely mid-table outfit. I can honestly say that my motivation to pursue my favorite pastime of the last few years is at an all time low.
It’s difficult to describe the futility of supporting Aston Villa currently while staying on the right side of hyperbole and controversy. The bottom line is that I use to organize my weekend around trips to the Brewhouse in Atlanta. I loved the excitement and the energy. I’d be filled with the latent glow of positivity when I remembered on a Friday night that Villa played Chelsea Saturday morning. I’d happily wake up at 7:30a to watch a Carling Cup quarterfinal match against QPR. Now, I couldn’t even tell you who Villa plays next weekend. I look up scores Sunday night, just to see what team we drew or lost to this week. I look at the line-up knowing that it’s going to be the same McLeishian suet of a formation. I’m used to Zonal Marking or the Football Ramble not every paying attention to us. Why would they?
Villa are static at best. Static on the transfer market, static on the field. Our players get older every year, and the young ones coming up are either prevented from or not capable of flourishing in the same way that Gabby Agbonlahor or Gareth Barry did when they came through the youth team. We don’t have a Demba Ba or a Peter Odemwingie or Chris Samba to be excited about. All of our best players of the last five years have been bought and not replaced. I don’t blame Ashley Young, Stewart Downing, or James Milner for leaving, but I have an undeniable empty-nest parent kind of despondency. During the good times, I read about the 2005-2006 David O’Leary years with a removed high-mindedness. It didn’t seem fathomable during our high-flying 2009-2010 season that just two years later we’d be back in 16th place. Yet here we are.
I wonder if Villa are doomed to indefinitely repeat this cycle of rising almost to the top and then sinking almost as fast. As much as I detest Chelsea and Man City for their fortuitous rise to relevancy, sometimes I wish very hard that an oil magnate would buy out Randy Lerner. I play Football Manager with a religious fervor. I derive almost as much pleasure watching my squad of Bale-Kjaer-Otamendi-Walker-Defour-Vidal-Sneijder-Cassano-Young-Pandev as I do from catching a live match on ESPN. I rarely find a reason to wear either of my Aston Villa shirts anymore. I sit and wait for another summer of Villa success, hunkered down against the winter of measured apathy. I feel like I can now sympathize with the average Blackburn or West Brom supporter. All I can now hope for is McLeish doesn’t do for us what he did for our rivals last season. Should that happen, I’ll be forced to accept the conspiracy theory that he was sent as a double agent from St. Andrews with the express purpose of dragging us down into the muck with the Blues.