History and recent form weren’t exactly on our side… the Swans had lost all of the previous 7 league meetings at Villa Park – the last one in September 1982 – and hadn’t scored in any of those games. And we all didn’t need reminding of our Premier League travel sickness problems.
That said the old cliché of football being a funny old game is indeed spot on and does forever give this old Swans fan hope – no matter the situation or opposition.
Given the Swans sterling efforts (and comeback) against top 4 chasing Spurs on New Years Eve, confidence was very high amongst the majority of fans – if a little tempered due to Villa’s surprising 3-1 spanking of Chelski at the bridge.
With Conker Jack at the helm for this road trip, we left at the rather decent (as in not crack of dawn) time of 09:30 – what a refreshing change as a certain beer advert accurately proclaims.
Our little quintet of the travelling Jack army consisted of two new members, in the shape of NFL Jack and NFL Jack Junior. Suitably named due to their love of rugby US style – american football.
In fact the early part of our journey was spent discussing the unfairness of teams with superior playing records having to play away to teams with poor playing records – due to the geographical make up of the wildcards/play-offs. Oh and we touched on the Green Bay Packers business model or rather ownership – i.e. the fans, all 112,000 of them!
With the NFL debate finished we arrived at Cardiff Gate services to pick up Director Jack – whom in fairness looked like he’d been set upon by Cardiff’s notorious hooligan firm the ‘Starbucks Crew‘. Thankfully this wasn’t the case and he was merely suffering from too many Jägerbombs.
The remainder of our journey was consumed by a toilet stop in Michael Wood services (whomever he may be) and a Swans football quiz – consisting of such gems as…
Q: Name the Swans player whom starred in the movie ‘Escape to Victory’?
Q: Name four former Swans players whom have managed a Premier League team?
Please leave a comment if you think you know the answer(s) 🙂
A couple of wrong turnings later and we eventually arrived ‘The Ruskin Hall Club’ (no it’s not THAT sort of club), which is just off the A38 and only a mile walk to Villa Park at around 12:30.
The match day parking was £5 and it cost a quid to get into the club. For those who like high cholesterol food, the burger van situated outside would suit your needs comfortably.
The club had a real working mens club feel to it with lots of televisions (featuring sky sports) and friendly chatter between fans of both clubs. We did find the single file queueing system for the bar rather bizarre even if it did appear to work! No matter though, it’s still an ideal stop off for anyone heading for Villa Park.
The 10 minute walk to Villa Park takes you through the stunning Aston Park, which is ideal for a picnic for those of you with the family/Mrs in tow but not the lads perhaps!! During the walk you’ll also come across ‘Aston Hall’ rumoured to be owned by Stan Collymore, probably due to its idyllic rural location given his love for the outdoors and all that stuff.
I was looking forward to my visit to Villa Park and had often dreamt as a kid of walking up the steps to the Holte End to watch the Swans in an FA Cup semi-final – in the days when those games were played there of course.
This desire was no doubt due in part to some of the stories my late Dad had told me of the day he went to see the Swans v Preston FA Cup semi-final there in 1964 – a game which some of you will remember no doubt.
As is customary nowadays for all the Premier League grounds we visit, I take a stroll around to get a feel for the place and take as many pictures as I can. Partly to ‘seize the moment’ but also as part of my quest of visiting all 92 grounds watching the Swans. I’ve still got 39 to go!!
Despite Villa Park being one of the older Premier League grounds, it was still an impressive sight outside and inside – which was in stark contrast to some of the other northern based clubs we’d visited whilst watching the Swans recently!
With kick-off fast approaching we took up our seats (well standing area would be more accurate) in the lower part of the Doug Ellis stand and were surprised at how close we were to the pitch and how good the views were considering the tickets were only £29 – cheap compared to some other premier league stadiums believe me!
Whilst awaiting the kick-off, I couldn’t help but think back to the reverse fixture and the tragic events of that day. I also remember how physical (dirty?) a side Villa were that day and wondered what team selection Brendan would make – given the 6 changes he made on New Years Eve for the Spurs game.
The news of Andrea Orlandi making his first full premier league start did little to impress those around me and I must confess to thinking myself that he was a little too ‘lightweight’ as a midfield option for a feisty, physical Villa side.
So onto the game and my take on proceedings, as seen after only 1 bottle of Magners as opposed to my usual none….
- The early touches of Orlandi reminded me a lot of this year’s Dobbie – someone who was off the Premier League pace due to lack of game time not through lack of skill or ability;
- Regardless of the sublime pass by Stephen Warnock for Dyer’s goal, Dizzy took his chance superbly – something which I’m not sure the Dyer of old would have done. But that’s confidence for you and for that Nathan I salute you sir 🙂
- In fact such was Dyer’s dominance of Warnock many pundits after the game were asking was Dyer worthy of an England call up. A Talksport poll posing the question as to whether fans would want Theo Walcott or Nathan Dyer in their team, showed Dyer receiving a whopping 72% of the vote. Enough said;
- Villa’s rather boring tactic of lumping the ball into the box and looking for a knock-down for either Bent or Agbonlahor to convert proved fruitless with both Ashley Williams and Caulker dealing with everything that came their way;
- As the game progressed Orlandi played with increasing influence and could on the evidence of this game still have a first team role to play at the club – despite what a lot of fans think;
- In fact Agustien, Britton and Orlandi did a fine job in midfield and gave their so-called more illustrious opponents – Stephen Ireland, Charles N’Zogbia and Stiliyan Petrov – the run around for most of the time;
- The ever improving Wayne Routledge capped another fine performance with a well taken and historic goal – his first premier league goal in over 100 starts. I really do think he’ll score more goals BUT he’ll have to show far more conviction on the pitch and in particular the final 3rd if that is to happen;
- Such was our creativity we could and probably should have scored more than the 2 goals – with Danny Graham going close on a couple of occasions. What he lacks in goals though, he surely makes up for in work rate and he really does typify the Swans current never-say-die mentality;
- There was no requirement for Michel Vorm heroics this time around and the only time he was beaten – in inury time – N’Zogbia’s chance bounced back off the post;
- It’s hard to criticise any individual or the team after an all round terrific performance but I will! The one negative observation I’d make is that is that we have a tendency to overplay at the back sometimes, which sometimes creates unnecessary pressure, which often results in us giving the ball away in a dangerous part of the field. Rangel is often the culprit – he did it twice today – which is a shame as he is (in my opinion) a vital cog in the team;
- Villa did take us to the cleaners on one thing though…. corners but we dealt with them admirably. So much for our achilles heel being set-pieces eh;
- The travelling support was once again excellent and very vocal. It was also good to hear a wide variety of Swans related songs and only one anti-Cardiff chant which I can recall – do us Jacks really give a toss about them anyway?! The retort of “We love our manager” to the Villa fans chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” was a particular favourite;
- I thought referee Anthony Taylor had an excellent game – as did Phil Dowd for the Swans v Spurs game I hasten to add – and allowed the game to flow with the minimum of fuss or intervention. Perhaps Lee Probert could learn a thing or two from these gentlemen?
- Never before have I been warned by a steward that taking pictures during a match isn’t allowed. Well not since Scunthorpe away back in 2001 anyway and at least the Villa steward didn’t threaten to chuck me out!
So who’d have thought it eh. Our very first Premier League game of 2012 and the Swans break their away day hoodoo with a comfortable 2 nil success at the home of former European champions Aston Villa.
Happy as the proverbial pig in poo, we marched off back to the car still drooling over the afternoon’s proceedings – if a little bemused by the local lady we passed whom was ‘hoovering’ the pavement with a toy Dyson. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that “nothing sucks like an electrolux”.
Anyway we were soon on our way home and eagerly tuned into Talksport to see what Stan the Man would make of the Swans stuffing his beloved Villans. In fairness he ate an extraordinary amount of humble pie and keen to get in on the act Director Jack phoned up to take part in the phone-in.
Now this had to potential to be rather amusing, as the eloquently spoken Director had been tasked with getting the word “Dogging” into his conversation with Stan. For example, “The Swans were doggingly determined to win today” would have sufficed. Unfortunately, he got cut off twice during the programme (signal issues) and the only thing he managed to successfully do was run up a whopping mobile phone bill!
I was back home by 19:45 and full of excitement to see what messrs Hansen and Shearer would make of the Swans first away win. Being home so early made me realise how lucky (in football travel terms!) teams from the midlands are when it comes to going to watch away games. You can leave for the game and sensible o’clock and still be home for supper.
I guess that’ll explain why Villa fans were creaming themselves that they took a mammoth 994 fans to Chelsea on New Years Eve….
Anyway, as a Swans fan what a fab way to start 2012 and who knows what the next 5 months will have in store. The only thing I’m sure of is that whatever happens there’s never a dull moment when it comes to watching the Swans that’s for sure.
I’ll finish off with a song for all us Jacks that were at Villa Park to witness history being made. Sung to the tune of “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes”….
“When Wayne Routledge scored his goal I was there, when Wayne Routledge scored his goal I was there…”