A fan’s lot

I gave up my long-held Aston Villa season ticket at the end of the 2005/06 season when we made our permanent move to France. I did so believing that I would be back and forth to UK on a regular basis to watch my boys. But I haven’t watched them live since, just on the television. It’s no real substitute and I oft cite Premiership football and my team as the things I miss most about living in France.

My beloved’s and my first date was at a football match, which Villa won. At football matches, other spectators would often comment that it was nice the missus had come too to which my beloved always replied that he was accompanying me, not the other way around. He often jokes that when we married he vowed to “loved, honour, obey and support Aston Villa”. I’m fortunate that he had no clear football allegiances having occasionally watched Spurs with his Dad, who hailed originally from north London, and Swindon with his maternal grandfather.

On the other hand my blood runs claret and blue. My mother was born not far from the club and all her relatives were Villa fans and my father moved from the south coast to play for the youth team. It was a no brainer really. I first started going to matches in the company of my Dad’s best friend and his father. Thereafter, I would either go on my own or with friends. You just cannot beat the atmosphere of a live football match. There’s something quite primeval and tribal about the whole thing.

In some season’s past, I saw every match home and away. No mean feat for a woman with a demanding job. While, Villa Park is obviously my favourite ground there’s many others I’ve enjoyed visiting. Unfortunately, as an away fan, you tend to get put in the worst spots in the ground and spend the entire match on your feet, despite having parted for a small fortune for a seat. Some grounds have great atmospheres, such an Anfield, but IMHO the ground with the most electric atmosphere is St James’s Park. It’s right in the centre of Newcastle and everyone, and I do mean everyone, on match day wears that familiar black and white striped shirt. I’ve even seen grannies with shopping trollies proudly wearing them. Away supporters are relegated to the gods, so there’s just a Geordie wall of sound around the ground.

Initially, we had season tickets for OGCN but my beloved’s travel commitments meant he missed more games than he saw, plus there’s never any problem getting tickets, despite the small capacity. The one things I hate about French stadia, as it’s outside, you can smoke whereas I’d long sat in a no smoking area in Villa Park. I have written to OGCN asking if, in the new stadium, we can have a no smoking area. I’m still awaiting a response.

For me yesterday’s match against Spurs summed up Villa’s current plight. We were played off the pitch (30% v 70% possession) by a vastly superior side who’ve invested long and hard in their team, no doubt hoping to recapture their glory days and a constant diet of European football. Our alleged 4-4-2 formation was just a thinly veiled excuse for 11 men behind the ball. Former Villa keeper Brad Friedel was rarely troubled. All we managed was 1 shot on target and 2 off. Of course, that one shot might have levelled the score and changed the face of the game. But, sadly, I suspect not.

As a fan, it’s hard to accept, perhaps, a team’s glory days are behind them and 6th in the Premiership, achieved in three successive seasons under Martin O’Neill, is as good as it’s ever going to get for the forseeable future. Our role is as a developmental squad, where we either train young players or bring on more seasoned ones for the “better” clubs. In recent seasons we’ve lost an entire midfield: Ashley Young, Stuart Downing, Gareth Barry and James Milner. Yesterday evening, it showed.

So if indeed our best days are behind us, allow me to wallow in them. AVFC are the 5th most decorated club in English football (no prizes for guessing the others) with 19 major domestic honours, 7 League championships and one of only five English clubs to have won a European Cup (again no prizes for guessing the others). We even beat mighty Barcelona to win the 1982-83 European Super Cup. We’re the only club to have hosted international matches over three centuries and have provided more England international players than any other club.

I’ve been fortunate to watch my beloved team at Wembley, and see them win the League Cups in 1994 and 1996. My most favourite moment

Thanks for the memories

remains, not unnaturally, that evening in late May 1982 when, having won the First Division Championship in 1980-81, we took on the might of Bayern Munich at the De Kuip Stadium in Rotterdam, and won.

Happily back home again for a few days

Bereft of the internet and L’Equipe for a few days at my parents’, I feel seriously out of the loop. It’s as if the pillars of my daily existence have gone walk about, leaving me floundering. That, combined with the work involved pre-and- post Kivilev, means I’ve not had enough time to watch, let alone ponder or comment on, recent sporting events.

The third week of the Giro passed without me seeing too much of the action. It’s only now that I appreciate what a master coup Contador (and Riis) delivered atop Mount Etna, and on subsequent days, to bludgeon the competition into submission. At the start of the second week, there were enough riders still within sniffing distance of the pink jersey willing to chance their arms and those of their team mates, saving the arms and, more importantly, the legs of Alberto’s team mates. Having taken his maiden Giro stage, Alberto was happy to forge useful alliances by ceding wins to other Spanish speakers. It never pays to be too greedy. We’re now all waiting to see whether he will ride the Tour. Frankly, it won’t be the same without  him sublimely dancing away on the pedals.

The Premiership football season finished with my beloved boys in claret and blue in 9th place thanks to Mr Houllier who, due to ill health, will not be with us next season. Neither will Ashley Young who benefited greatly from Houllier’s guidance and is most probably going to be playing for Manchester United. OGCN diced with danger all season only avoiding the drop thanks to the misfortune of our closest neighbours, Monaco, who we’ll not be playing next season which is pity as I always enjoy a trip to their magnificent stadium. More importantly, funding has been secured for our new stadium, where we will be hosting games at Euro 2016. Additional funding has also been found to strengthen the squad.

In Paris, Li Na became the first Chinese tennis player to win a Grand Slam tournament ensuring her immortality in Chinese sporting history. In the men’s finals, Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer to take his Borg-equalling 6th title. He was no doubt grateful that Roger had beaten  Novak Djokavic in the semis. So who’s going to lift the Wimbledon crown? I suspect the same four players in the French semis will also be contesting the ones at Wimbledon. Although I’m sure the great British public will be hoping for a different outcome. Don’t bet on it.

Today I finally watched the highlights of last week end’s GP Aperol de Catalunya held at Europe’s most modern race track in Montmelo, 20km north of Barcelona. I’m determined to go and watch some live MotoGP action next year and this is the closest racetrack to us. Yes, it’s a mere 5 hours away by car. Second closest is Mugello in Tuscany but that’s held during The Tour, so it’s a no no.

The usual suspects featured in all three classes where there were plenty of spills but, more importantly, no injuries, except to their pride. In 125cc, Nico Terol took his 4th win in 5 races and 14th consecutive podium appearance. However, if Johann Zarco had not been adjudged to have illegally overtaken him in the home straight, and gotten a 20 second penalty, the result would have been oh, so different. Not unnaturally the French were up in arms, but it was the right decision. Le Mans winner Maverick Vinales, the Paris Hilton sponsored rider, led briefly only to finish 2nd with Jonas Folger completing the podium. Terol is romping away with the championship.

In Moto2, Stefan Bradl used his 5th consecutive pole to register his 3rd win of the season ahead of Le Mans winner Marc Marquez and, local boy, Aleix Espargaro, making his maiden podium appearance. Bradl leads the championship ahead of Simone Corsi and Andrea Iannone.

Despite his pole position, Marco Simoncelli finished back in 6th place while Casey Stoner cruised into first place on the first lap and stayed there. The two boys from Yamaha took 2nd (Jorge Lorenzo) and 3rd (Ben Spies). This was Spies’s first podium of the season and the Texan’s just extended his contract with Yamaha. The Air Asia British GP from Silverstone starts tomorrow but with our trip to Lugano, I might well have to settle for the highlights again.

The Criterium du Dauphine is one of my favourite races, more intimate and immediate than the Tour. In previous years, I’ve gone to watch the final week end’s stages but not this year. Sadly, I missed Alex seizing yellow though today I did see the highlights of him losing it to Bradley Wiggins. However, it’s the Germans who are the talking point at this year’s race with Tony Martin winning yesterday’s time-trial and John Degenkolb winning on Tuesday and again today.  Admittedly most of the sprinters, but not all, are going to ride the Tour de Suisse. The Tour favourites, with the exception of Basso, look to be in fine form ahead of the Tour and, not unnaturally, were unwilling to risk all in yesterday’s rain soaked stage when they’ve bigger fish to fry in July.  I’ll probably have to settle for watching the concluding highlights of this race.

My beloved is due back on this evening’s late, late flight from Frankfurt which is inevitably delayed. Happily, I don’t have to either collect him or wait up. He’s got his own wheels and his keys. I’m planning on profiting from the good weather with a ride tomorrow morning ahead of our departure for Lugano. However, the weather forecast there is not looking at all good while we’re forecast to have plenty of sunshine here. We may have to make yet another executive decision tomorrow morning. That way, I’ll at least get to watch all the action live on the television.

Lightweight

The weather’s been a bit of a curate’s egg this week as we slide inexorably towards winter.  Rain on the coast has translated into snow in the mountains where they may well be about to experience their third consecutive great winter. Many of the resorts are opening next week end. This has spurred me on to go cross-country skiing this winter – great cross-training for my cycling.

Despite the almost incessant rain, I have managed to fit in my training thanks largely to the sunshine on both Wednesday and Friday. I had feared for Sunday’s pointage, after torrential rain overnight, but it had stopped by the time we awoke. Indeed a stiff, chilly breeze rapidly dried the wet roads although the sky looked threatening all morning. As a consequence, only the die-hards turned up. Normally the roads are thronged with cyclists but it was play “spot the cyclist” this Sunday as large numbers chose to remain under the covers.

We returned home to a bowl of hearty vegetable soup and my beloved boys in claret and blue away at Ewood Park. Sadly, the roll-call of injuries is such that Houlier has had to decimate the ranks of the youth squad. While they proved to be a match for the Red Devils last week end, their efforts fell on stonier ground today.

Friedel, normally so reliable, had a poor game and was constantly under pressure from the set pieces which characterise all of Sam Allardyce’s well-organised squads. If my memory serves me correctly, didn’t Houlier sell Friedel to Blackburn when he was the Liverpool manager?

Man for man, my beloved boys in claret and blue, with few exceptions, were head and shoulders smaller (and hence lighter) than their Blackburn counterparts who effectively muzzled both Gabi Agbonlahor and Ashley Young, thereby snuffing out any potential Villa threat. Key to the result however, aside from Pedersen’s two goals, was Blackburn’s control of the midfield.

Robert Pires came on after the second goal to inject some much needed experience and Gallic flair but had no impact whatsoever on the game. It’s still early days, but I’m sure he’ll prove to be a valuable addition to the squad.

Villa are now 13th with 17 points, just one more than their blue-nosed neighbours who, incredibly, beat Chelsea at the week end. Equally amazing was Spurs win at the Emirates. However, the top of the table  is starting to look all too familiar. Chelsea lead with 28 points, the same number as Man U in 2nd place, while Arsenal are 3rd with 26. Man City, after beating Fulham today, are 4th with 25 points.

OGCN went down 0-1 at home to Montpelier. Once again, Ospina was our “man of the match”. Knowing that he’ll be lured away (sold for as much money as possible) at the end of the season, and with goalkeeper number 2 retiring, OGCN have already bought his replacement. The boys are lying in 15th place with 16 points, just one less than AVFC.