The Runner Sports

Saying Goodbye To Aston Villa

Aston Villa isn’t statistically banished to the Championship yet.  With that said, Villa would need to win all five of their remaining matches (they have only won 3 out of their first 33) and overturn a 19-goal deficit in the goal differential department to even have a chance to stay in the Premier League.  That is why, I believe it is safe to officially say, Villa are going down.

Why is this significant might be your first question and for those newly to soccer and the Premier League in general, that is a very good question.  For the last few decades, Villa has been a model of consistently mid-table finishes and mostly early cup exits.  To the FIFA video game crowd, this is an unglamorous club that few would want to play with.

Recently, Villa has been home to a motley crew of cast-offs, unrealized talent (when the talent was realized it was quickly sold off), zany managers and American goalkeepers Brad Guzan and Brad Friedel.  In short, no one outside of Birmingham had any reason to support Aston Villa.

To leave the eulogy of Aston Villa at just that is a disservice to what had been a great and proud club.  Unless you are a fan over 40 or enjoy watching English soccer history documentaries, you wouldn’t know that Aston Villa was one of the country’s biggest clubs until relatively recently.  So I want to spend our last few weeks with Villa in the top division remembering what they once were, instead of what they have become.

We’ll start from the very beginning and that is the founding of The Football League in England.  Aston Villa’s secretary William McGregor sent out a letter to four clubs that set in motion the organization of The Football League in 1888.  Later in 1888, Villa would be one 12 founding members of the league and experience a good deal of success in the first two decades.

Like the Original Six in the NHL, the 12 member league was composed of clubs primarily from two regions of England.  The northwest and midlands were the original hotbeds for English soccer, and in some respects still is (Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Leicester, Stoke-on-Trent).  The clubs that originated from this founding take a special place in the heart of any fan of soccer history.  Stoke City, West Brom, Everton, and in 1890 Sunderland are just a few of the historic clubs to emerge from the founding of The Football League.

In those early years, Aston Villa was to English soccer as Barcelona is to the La Liga now.  From 1886 through the end of the decade, Villa won five first division titles and three F.A. Cups (F.A. Cups were considered much bigger prizes than it is today).  Along with the titles of old, huge names in the English game have been lost to time as Villa legends Billy Walker and Harry Hampton each scored over 200 goals during their Aston Villa careers.

If the early success at Aston Villa was all the club had to experience, history could write them off as insignificant, due to the small size and exclusive nature of the original league.  Look at Preston North End as an example of a club dominating early with the first two titles, only to fade away into obscurity.  That early success was not all Villa was to experience, however, as the club would form into a massive power as the English game matured into the post world war era.

Their post-war success was much more sporadic than before, yet Aston Villa was still able to compile an impressive collection of trophies.  An F.A. Cup victory in the 50s, a league title in the 80s, combined with five League Cup trophies round out Villa’s domestic trophy case.  Aston Villa was no longer a top-tier club (Liverpool and Manchester United composed that list), but they still solidly remained in the second tier of top-level clubs, capable of winning an occasional trophy.  In these years, Aston Villa also had a number of impressive players in their squad as Danny Blanchflower, Trevor Ford, and Paul McGrath were all named to the Football League 100 Legends.  The success didn’t stop there as Aston Villa became just the fourth English club and fifth overall to win what is now called the Champions League in 1982.

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact date that the beginning of Aston Villa’s decline began, but many frustrated fans point toward Randy Lerner purchasing the club in 2006.  Lerner, more famous among American sports fans as the Cleveland Browns owner until 2012, bought the Birmingham-based club and initially went about investing in a number of different areas.

These investments helped stabilize an Aston Villa club that was struggling under the new financial reality of Russian tycoons and middle east billionaires that were taking over clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City.  This new crop of ownership was forcing a polarity among the top-tier and middle class in English soccer that saw only five champions in the Premier League era (although a sixth will be added this year).

This new spend or die attitude ultimately meant Lerner had to spend vast amounts of his own money for Villa to remain relevant.  The issue finally came to head in the 2010-11 season, when Villa reported a 53 million pound deficit that included 25 million pounds of Lerner’s own money.  Soon after this, Villa became a selling club, largely to cover increasing losses.

In the past few years, Aston Villa has sold big names Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke, amongst others.  That hemorrhaging of talent brings us to this year’s squad that regardless of manager, they would have been hard pressed to stay up.

This season has been a horror for a proud Villa fanbase as the club has cycled through two managers and is now on their second interim manager.  Outside of the first match, Villa has only tasted victory in two league matches and the winter break saw management unwilling to spend the money necessary to even conceive of challenging to remain in the league.

With Aston Villa going down a division, hopefully, soccer fans can see the club find a way toward new ownership.  Much like Newcastle, who might be facing a similar fate in a few weeks, Aston Villa is a historic club that is going down.  The Premier League doesn’t need this once great club, but it just won’t feel right without it.  Imagine an NBA season without the 76ers or the NFL without the Oakland Raiders.

So, I guess this is goodbye, for now, Aston Villa.  We hope to see you again one day.

John Harbeck

Ohio sports and all things soccer.If you like my writing follow me @JHarbeck5 on twitter

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