Richard Nevin looks forward to the new season.
It’s a well-worn cliché that football fans all thrive on hope, and in most cases, it is true but every now and again another feeling develops, one that is far from a comfortable bedfellow with the default setting of 99% of people who follow a football club. It’s one that is as fleeting as the glimpse of a deer in woodland, a full rainbow in the sky, and a dry day this summer. Yes, it’s our long lost friend, optimism. And I’m feeling it.
It’s happened before. The back of the Evening Mail announced Graham Taylor’s appointment to our group of giddy sixteen year olds on the afternoon that we finally left school, all but guaranteeing promotion straight back to the first division. Big Ron’s Friday evening U-turn to join us was greeted with copious pints and cigars all round in the curry house that night, Brian Little’s path to Villa Park was just as fractious and bought comparable results and our first FA Cup final for a generation under John Gregory had us salivating.
In all but one of those scenarios the optimism was well-founded. However, if ever you want someone to dampen expectations and all but abandon hope then David O’Leary fits the bill, although his weary take on managing Aston Villa was soon swept away by the enthusiasm of Martin O’Neil and we were at it again. Unfortunately, O’Neill was just as enthusiastic to leg it when things weren’t going precisely the way he wanted and any positive thoughts for the future began to disappear into the distance, soundtracked by dour Scotsmen and the tolling bell of our time in the top flight coming to an end.
There’s only really hope to cling to when your team is managed by Steve Bruce, that and endless empty soundbites about sleeves and boots and the like, but with the appointment of a Lifelong Villa Fan and the emergence of a homegrown, once in a generation talent, who was also one of us, bought a smile back to our faces and hope for the future. But as night follows day, there is always something to spoil things and an ill thought-out appointment and equally ill thought out approach to management had us briefly back in the doldrums. Very briefly as an astonishing turnaround in fortunes reintroduced “what” and “if” back into the conversation.
Which brings us to the eve of this season. As I stride up the steps of the Holte and take my seat amongst my fellow happy clappers, has there ever been a more optimistic outlook? Of course, this will be the second game of the season so expectations may be tempered somewhat after our visit to the North east but Unai Emery has engendered a feeling the equal of those described above, and even more so given how difficult it is to compete compared with twenty and thirty years ago. The squad looks strong, pre-season was excellent and given there could be more additions, our first season back in Europe is an appetising prospect, not to mention the domestic possibilities.
Grumbles about prices and the strongarms tactics to flog the seemingly doomed Terrace View have cast a slight shadow but football is changing rapidly and how we keep up may become more and more unpalatable to us traditionalists, but these will fade as the season gets underway and matters on the pitch take precedence. We all have our wishes for the forthcoming campaign but what matters to me won’t transpire until the last, or hopefully second last, match of the season and then, and only then will my optimism be justified. It could be a special season.
God, I hope so.