Are Aston Villa The Most Mediocre Team In England?

Aston Villa were once a great club. Aston Villa once won the European Cup in the days when winning your domestic league was a prerequisite for gaining entry into Europe’s premier cup competition. Aston Villa also used to be joint record holders for the most FA Cup triumphs in the days when the competition wasn’t a routine carve-up between clubs that would rather be doing something else with their Saturday afternoon/evening. Aston Villa used to boast players of the calibre of Paul McGrath, Tony Daley and Dwight Yorke on their playing rosta. I used to really like Aston Villa.

I don’t really recall when exactly the club slipped into a coma of mediocrity but it must have happened at some point between Graham Taylor’s second stint in the manager’s dugout and David O’ Leary’s less than memorable tenure. Ask most people these days who they think the most unexceptional and dullest team in England are and, local rivalry aside, Aston Villa would, rightly or not, generally feature high on the list.

It doesn’t help that it’s become a running joke amongst football fans that Villa’s matches tend to be broadcast towards the back-end of Match of the Day and by that point many of us have opted to retire to a cosy and inviting bed, having left the electric blanket on to properly warm up during the more appetising fare on the show’s glossy menu. And if that’s not insulting enough to Villa fans, the FA in their craven scrabbling to settle the repayments for the re-building of Wembley, have robbed Villa Park of being the neutral’s venue of choice when it comes to hosting cup semi-finals. No more opportunities for non-Villa fans to populate the seats at the famously imposing Holte End. Not when we have the chance to see all those lovely empty corporate seats beamed into our living room direct from the Home of Football.

When I now think of the modern day incarnation of Aston Villa anonymously making it through thirty-eight matches, the lyrics of Blur’s lament for the desperate ordinariness of modern life spring to mind in the guise of a caricature straight out of Ray Davies’ songbook:

Ernold Same awoke from the same dream

In the same bed at the same time

Looked in the same mirror

Made the same frown

And felt the same way he did every day,

Then Ernold Same caught the same train

At the same station, sat in the same seat

With the same nasty stain

Next to same old what’s his name

On his way to the same place to do the same thing

Again and again, poor old Ernold Same.

I appreciate that that’s a highly subjective view to take and I am already bracing myself for a deluge of wailing and gnashing from some of Villa’s hardcore support. Nevertheless, I can also safely say that supporting Spurs as I do, is never dull. It’s exhilarating in its turgidness and frustrating in its insanity but it is categorically never boring. But again, Spurs are my team and I have a particular viewpoint towards them that others, especially those not from London, might not necessarily share. So I understand the potential facetiousness of my rationale.

However, even the most staunchly loyal of Villa fans might be inclined to question the ambition of the club when its manager, however honest he may have been, suggested that playing in the FA Cup is more of a hindrance than a welcome respite from the pressures of Premier League survival. Paul Lambert wasn’t wrong to say what he did. It’s not as if we’ve been deluding ourselves into thinking that this hasn’t been the case for a good few years amongst most middle to low-ranking Premier League teams. But how much fun can it be for a Villa fan shelling out year after year for season tickets and all the other accompanying expenses for yet another unthrilling surge towards somewhere between ninth and fifteenth place? Has money become so pervasive that even decent football men like Lambert are happy to relinquish a shot at the history books in favour of balancing them? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. I think we all know the answer.

Of course, football isn’t just about trophies and enjoyment and a never-ending parade of feelgood highlights packages. It’s about comraderie, misery, venting spleen and being part of something bigger than you and I’m certain Aston Villa, like every club, have those qualities in abundance amongst their support. I just don’t see where football’s scope for escapism enters the mix.

Perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps I’ve inadvertently stumbled upon Aston Villa’s true metaphysical function in football’s grand scheme. The likes of Barcelona, Chelsea and Bayern Munich inhabit a high-flying world of riches and fame. A world many of us will never ultimately inhabit. We peer through the windows of this menagerie of the super rich, our grubby noses pressed up, waiting to be inevitably moved along by security when our snot begins to leave trails on the shiny shatterproof glass. But conversely many of us aren’t like the eternal paupers of the football-world either, scrabbling around with blissful ignorance in the lower leagues with no hint of promotion or relegation in sight, struggling to make ends meet, happy for a jolly day out, if we’re lucky, whenever the first week of January comes round again.

In that respect then, Aston Villa are the embodiment of football’s petite bourgeoisie, mixing vicariously with those of higher means, a once great name having to now work harder and harder to maintain its place amongst the elite. It’s surprising then that David Cameron professes to supporting the club being as they are socially inferior to his privileged upbringing. And like Ernold Same and like the vast majority of us sat in boxy offices and cramped commuter trains, Aston Villa go on doing the same thing, over and over again, gradually becoming more invisible as the years turn into decades. They’re like a Two Ronnies sketch gone wrong with a horrible twist in the neck.

Aston Villa are the most mediocre team in England because of the fact that they once tasted success. Now it seems they’re just content to stay where they are. Whilst relegation might have been traumatic in the short term for clubs like Leeds and Nottingham Forest, those experiences nevertheless allowed them to regroup and re-connect with their own identities. Should the same fate occur to Villa, it might just prove the best thing that’s happened to the club in years.

Because in the end, what does anybody want to take away from all those hours they’ve invested into watching football, or life for that matter? A stoppage time winner by your goalkeeper on the final day to avoid the drop? A madcap sprint towards the play-off final that ultimately ends in defeat but with a great amount of pride instilled? Or yet another goalless draw with Sunderland that will no doubt have Gary Lineker struggling to muster up the appropriate levels of chutzpah for us to carry on watching past half-eleven?

Aston Villa were once a great club. They might be once again. I just hope some of us are still watching.

Further reading: The Football Blind Spot: How The Game Obstructs Our Vision 

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @Sofalife

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25 Responses to Are Aston Villa The Most Mediocre Team In England?

  1. Chris b January 6, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    Is that the most mediocre article ever written about football?

    • Greg January 6, 2014 at 9:07 am #

      No. But your comment probably is. See the comment below from a Villa fan who offers a decent counter-argument. That’s called discourse.

      • Mark January 6, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

        Buuuurrrnnn! Chris, that comment is weak.

        We are mediocre, an infestation started years ago, we haven’t been able to find the cure. Oneill covered the symptoms with an overpaid average team, we are now having to pay that back to balance the books. My only hope is once the likes of Ireland, Given and Bent are off the books, we will have the wage capacity to start looking at better players than the youth strategy we currently have.

      • Chris b January 6, 2014 at 10:52 pm #

        Oh please get off your high horse. We know we are crap at the moment , we don’t need a jumped up spud writing a thesis with cheesy blur lyrics thrown in….
        Maybe you should write about spurs fans unloading coins on Walcott or your continual use of term yid despite the fact that the Jewish community find it offensive.

        • Greg January 6, 2014 at 11:16 pm #

          It’s always easy to resort to personal jibes, isn’t it? You’d have thought I’d insulted your family or something by your reaction. Oh, I forgot. You’re only allowed an opinion about a club if you actually support them. Well, by that rationale your finger-wagging towards my club is rendered irrelevant too. Thanks for stopping by.

    • chris May 12, 2014 at 11:26 am #

      :-)

  2. daveyb January 6, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    its a subjective question and hard to answer,, along the same lines
    on who is or was the best player etc,

    there is no doubt we are in a transitional period,,, and we are a few decent players short, especialy when some key players are injured
    out on loan or lacking so much form it beggars belief

    villa at the mo are not mediocre,,,, we are a long way short of that

    in fact we are dreadfull,, but one day things will change,,

    football is about the highs and lows,,, and things are as low as
    a dachunts balls at the mo

    but one day we will rise again,,, you only have to look how
    money has transformed mediocre clubs like Chelsea and man city

    or being well run like Southampton or everton and Swansea can lead to success

    our problem has been managers buying poor players for big money
    and now the owner has lost interest
    which means our present manager has a really tough job,,

    and one that at times is beyond his abilities

  3. Toffeeman January 6, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    At least have the decency to spell Everton with a CAPITAL E, you slovenly Villan!!!!!

  4. danceoftheshamen January 6, 2014 at 9:46 am #

    I agree with loads of what you say as a Villa supporter of thirty five long years. I was there when this club won the League and European cup. I was in Rotterdam to watch Dennis Mortimer proudly lift the games ultimate prize aloft and tears of joy ran down mine and most other Villa fans cheeks.

    Then i saw Mr H.D.Ellis buy the Champions of Europe and gradually whittle them down to relegation fodder twice through under investment and a corner shop mentality.

    Despite this, due to the strength of the club and after a rough period including a couple of relegations, they came straight back up both times and managed to still challenge on occasion even having the chance to reclaim the title once or twice by finishing second when just a player or two would have maybe even enabled them to win it again, once under Graham Taylor MK1 and once under Ron Atkinson in the 90′s.. But the chairman lacked ambition and the opportunities were ignored.

    This was the start of the demise of this once great club. The penny pinching continued for 25 long and frustrating years, bar the odd League cup win of course. Players saw this and started to see Villa not as an ambitious club but as a stepping stone to the big clubs. They left in their droves stating a “lack of ambition” as the reason. And so the demise continued. Now the challenges for cups and second place finishes were replaced by drudgery and mid table obscurity with the relegation battles starting to feature when Mr Ellis finally sold up… but the damage was done!… A Billionaire was unable to resurrect the club higher than 6th place under Mr O’Neill but at least the club were heading in the right direction once more… Until Randy Lerner suddenly became Doug Ellis MK2 and i have just experienced the most soul destroying three years i can ever remember as a Villa fan.. I just hope and prey that it is all worth it as the club finally attempts to find its own style and Ethos to begin the long road to recovery. Yes the whole squad was sold off and the high earners ousted. The football has been torrid and yet somehow the club is still in the Premier League.. How many clubs could have undergone such massive surgery and survived i ask?.. So this is where i see Aston Villa FC now from my side of the fence and whilst i can fully understand your viewpoint as a Spurs fan looking in, it may just be the surgery needed to finally see this club start to climb mountains again.

    I liken Aston Villa to finding a dead plant which you realise still has a spark of life in it so you cut it all back and remove all the dead bits to find small healthy bit remains hidden inside, so you carefully nurture it and protect it against the frost and eventually it grows back into a beautiful plant once more!

    UTV

    • Greg January 6, 2014 at 10:30 am #

      Thanks for that response. Like I said in the piece, I’ve always really liked Villa and it must be heart-breaking for supporters to see the lack of ambition consistently demonstrated by the club. Probably similar in varying degrees to most clubs but it doesn’t make it any the sadder. Hope you find that ‘spark’ soon.

  5. olliescrim January 6, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    I just posted all of this on Twitter but thought it would be easier for you to read as a whole rather than in 140 character chunks:

    Sadly, bitterly, I accept a lot of what you say. I’ve become pretty fatigued as a Villa fan recently, excitement very rare. Survival seems fairly assured, such is the quality of the teams below us but then ambition is so low, it’s almost painful. I’m not really sure when the turning point for Villa was but there was a resurgence under MON, which quickly evaporated.

    Money is one underlying issue with our incapacity to compete higher up but then we could have followed Everton’s trajectory. Football very much goes in peaks and troughs so I’m hoping a period leading to the former is on its way soon. Interesting piece. Your suggestion that going the way of Leeds etc. might even be better is one I’ve toyed with but can’t agree on financial grounds. We’ll be back. Just hope we don’t have to spend the money Spurs have to play the uninspiring football you do this season ;)

  6. Frank Heaven January 6, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    Spurs and Villa fans are kindred spirits – both convinced they have a divine right to be major powers in the game despite winning just three league titles between them in 100 years of trying.

  7. Barry'sboots January 6, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

    As a Villa fan I do find your article to be offensive but I can see where you are coming from. Villa have been horribly mismanaged by RL and his crew – first allowing MON to spend and accumulate players on big wages that he would not use and then appointing a succession of managers that play opposing styles of football and who had to constantly start again with the squad rather than tweak it as, say, Laudrup at Swansea, Martinez at Everton or Pochettino at Southampton have done. Lambert is suffering from this now and has had to exit the high earners and completely re-build the squad. However, he has still made some fundamental errors IMO: 1. entering a PL season with 3 of your 4 CBs 23 yo or under; 2. lacking a number 10; 3. consistently buying untried LBs that cannot defend; and 4. having no apparent strategy with his no. 9 where he has built up a collection in Tekkers, Helenius, Kozak and Bowery (and arguably Gabby and possibly Weiman) whilst neglecting the no. 10 hole. And whilst we have no no. 10 he has consistently chosen a CM with no progression/structure playing KEA and Westy who, for my money, are the same players and thus make each other look worse as neither can play their true game!

    As stated above, at least we haven’t spent £100m in the last window to still look mediocre though.

  8. Adam January 6, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    Oh well, least we haven’t spent £100mil and look mediocre i.e Spurs, can’t blame the players being better away from home though, the dogs abuse they get at Villa Park for going a goal down is pathetic, Villa’s home fans are incredibly stupid and unrealistic, shut your mouths and get behind your team.

  9. Steve H January 6, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    13 comments on an Aston Villa blog! That must be some kind of record ;-)

  10. Jamie January 6, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

    Greg,

    the article you have written is very precise and sums up most fans feelings. Do i find it offensive? Yes. But only because its another teams fans opinion on our club. If only my own teams management came out and said “yes, we know we are poor, but our plan is this….”. Then i would hope they would tell us Fans about this bright future they sold to us a few years back because as far as i can tell this has been swept under the carpet. The players we have been linked to so far this season (hoolahan, Defour, holtby, lescott, cole, wells etc) have hardly set the imagination flowing, albeit 1 or 2 would be welcome. Our issue is we have let too many CB’s go and we’ve replaced them with players of a far lesser quality. We need yo address this first and foremost. Forget that number 10, Lambert at Norwich had the”you score 2 and we’ll score 3″ attitude, but we don’t have the experience necessary for this philosophy. Some people say Okore was our biggest loss. Yes it didn’t help, but did we really expect a 21 year old to have all the answers? We haven’t had a solid base since Larsen, Mellberg and Davis (on his day he was superb – Torres said when he was at Liverpool we were the hardest defenders he’d played against). We should be starting from the back and adding in the summer, in my opinion.

  11. craig January 6, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    Great piece and all very true, I can’t watch my beloved Villans anymore as it depresses me! Looking forward to a relegation fight and not trying in cup competitions isn’t what I want from my football club. Aston Sterile is what we have become.

  12. Richard Smith January 6, 2014 at 9:07 pm #

    Firstly Greg, I can’t help but agree with your comments.

    More worryingly, as a Villa fan the final verse of the Blur song Ernold Same is unknowingly telling regarding our current plight..

    Oh, Ernold same
    His world stays the same
    Today will always be tomorrow
    Poor old Ernold same
    He’s getting that feeling once again
    Nothin’ nothin’ will change tomorrow

    Of course, things will change at some point, it’s just that the majority of fans don’t see that happening anytime soon. Our home form is atrocious, this while the majority of fans have remained supportive of the team and the manager. It has only been in the last couple of weeks that the dissatisfaction has become noticeable and more audible.

    Villa fans have realised and accepted that things had to change post Martin O’Neill. The players annual salaries were not far off turnover and the club was haemorrhaging money. This couldn’t last and after three successive 6th place finishes, Lerner wasn’t prepared (understandably in my opinion) to keep financing a Champions League push at the risk of putting the club under even greater financial pressure.

    Moreover, financially, we can accept that we can’t compete with Chelsea, Manchester City et al. We never could compete financially with Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, not in this decade or any other.

    I have always thought of Villa, Spurs and Everton of being clubs of a similar level, both traditionally with regard to honours won and fan base. All three have traditionally performed better post war than Chelsea or Manchester City. Money speaks volumes, it always has and unfortunately, gate receipts often make up less than 50% of a clubs annual turnover. This makes Premier League football all the more important given the TV money on offer.

    I am a traditionalist and won’t ever agree that the FA, League or UEFA Cups should be disregarded or disrespected in favour of a greater chance of maintaining Premier League survival. It is however, a reality. Paul Lambert’s words were honest, albeit naïve, particularly as the fans need a bit of welcome respite, and a cup run can afford you that, not to mention some momentum.

    The dissatisfaction felt at present is the brand of football on offer. Lambert decided from the off that youth was his preferred approach and can be commended in some degree for this stance. However, to disregard entirely existing experienced players at the club and not to consider bringing one or two seasoned players in with reasonable wage expectations, he has made his bed.

    Villa have some promising players and only time will tell if some develop and fulfil their potential. There is however, a growing feeling that one or two simply aren’t good enough and that Lambert displays a stubborn streak bordering on, if not narcissism, blind ignorance.

    The heavy beatings handed out last season has further encouraged a more conservative style of play, reliant on primarily defensive organisation, and high energy to close down and counter when the opportunities arise. Whilst this has generally resulted in fewer goals being conceded, we lack creativity and the ability to keep possession, with only Fabien Delph showing improvement from last season.

    Is it time for a rethink? On tactics? Personnel? Management? Owner? Only time will tell. It is hard for us fans to see the brand of football played by clubs like Swansea and Southampton, who by the way have still spent less than us over the last few seasons, whilst witnessing dour, negative displays one week after another.

    Will we rise again? I hope and believe so. As I said, I am a traditionalist. I believe the league benefits with Aston Villa in it.

    That said, it doesn’t mean we are too big to slide further or heaven forbid, be relegated, but we will come again, something will change tomorrow, whenever tomorrow may be.

  13. Dave H January 7, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    Who are we kidding it goes lot farther back than Oneill although it did not help,I can remember when Mr Ellis took over the club and the club was going bankrupt he begged the Villa fans to buy shares in the club which they did also donating there labour to do repairs and painting to make Villa look half decent has it was falling into disrepair,what did we did do for it was to save our great club So it annoys me when i see the club how it been run today .People will say we have thriving corperate buisness also a first class academy but his this helping the foootball side of the club it appears not .Mistakes have been made in past but unfortnuately the custodians who run our famous club do not learn by their mistakes that includes Mr Ellis.I say this to Mr Lerner admit your mistakes write the debt off and start again thats if you are still interested in ASTON VILLA because this not like NFL you cannot buy franchises to stop in the league its all about winning football matches to remain premier league. I beg of you Mr LEARNER to have the same vision as the those supporters many years ago who pledged their money and services to keep us among elite of English game
    ps need football people to run the football side

  14. El Magnificö™ January 17, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    It’s simple. When you know the problem, the solution isn’t really that far off. I live in Nigeria and have just started watching EPL regularly in ’03 (been a staunch supporter tho since I was a kid) so I’m not really a mediocre team expert or an english football “traditionalist”. But this I know. The solution to Villa’s problem is simple: MONEY. Suddenly you have tottenham spending, Southampton trying to keep up too by spending, Everton too albeit with a more humble budget, Cardiff too (imagine!). And don’t get me started on Chelsea and Man City. I remember Sunderland signing like 13players, none of them were free (I guess?) altho that didn’t turn out well for them. The ones that didn’t spend much are the ones that are battling. Tottenham set their standards too high but I wouldn’t say they are struggling.
    When Villa beat us at the beginning of the season, arsenal were really mediocre. We spend £42mil and suddenly we are top. Rumors are flying we’re gonna sign Draxler worth £37mil. That is what money buys, very good players. Villa deserve their position on the table (no offense meant). That team is below average for me. MONEY IS THE ANSWER SIMPLY!!!. I hope I made sense.

  15. Leonard January 23, 2014 at 7:59 pm #

    Surely this title should go to Stoke City.

  16. chris carr May 12, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    Great piece and sometimes as the cliche goes ‘close to the truth! Supported AVFC all my life and back again. But something happened last night that brought all the meaning of football to a fore. My son was having a leisurely drink around Brum, when he phoned me and said dad talk t this guy! (I live in the isle of man) MR Gary Shaw and we chewed the fat off football. Summorize ;too much is made of the money side. football like life is so fragile appreciate the brilliant days & tell the world, because the dark days just hang right in there!

  17. chris May 12, 2014 at 11:36 am #

    in premiership history there are a few teams who could qualify for the mediocrity award, including spurs. – who just as easily wear the ‘petite bourgeoisie’ ribbon you pin on villa.

    yes the last 3 years have been dire but we live in hope of once again struggling for 6th or dare to dream, even 5th spot 1 day.

  18. Musicman May 12, 2014 at 5:24 pm #

    What you say hurts. But it is largely true. Your comparison with Spurs and Everton is a valid one for different reasons, and it is particularly galling for Villa fans to have spent four years in a row battling relegation (finishing a ridiculously flattering 9th in 2010-11, before dire showings of 16th, 15th and 15th).

    The difference between Villa and Spurs is one of financial shrewdness …. Spurs’ resources may be somewhat greater but Levy’s wiliness means that the club have amassed a squad that really should have pushed harder for the Champions’ League than it did this season. Everton have had excellent management under both Moyes and Martinez for many years, who have made them punch above the weight of a limited budget. In contrast we have an owner that has lost interest, a succession of mediocre managers following on from the resignation of O’Neill, who blew stacks of Lerner’s cash on huge wages for journeyman players, poor commercial management after respected Club Secretary Steve Stride left and an academy which consistently produces promising youngsters who aren’t given time to thrive in the way that, say, Southampton have excelled at.

    I hope that today’s announcement is the start of a revolution at the club but even if Lerner, Lambert and Faulkner go, much work needs to be done to put Villa back where the club belongs.

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