Villa Fan Tales: No.12 – From Gary Shaw to Going it Alone to Villa Park

Fed up with clickbait and the inane articles of most media covering the Villa? Well, MOMS has got the perfect remedy – a whole series of Villa Fans telling their own unique stories. 

This one by Sara Lawrence, tells of how she became a Villa fan due to the allure of Gary Shaw and then decades later, how her decision when aged 50-years-old to go to Villa Park alone, reaped its rewards.

First of all, an introduction to Sara and her place in the Villa-verse…

Why Villa?

Coming from a Methodist family with links and ties going back to the original Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel in Aston would be a pretty spectacular reason as to why I support Aston Villa.  This is in fact why my family have always followed the Villa, but for me it was when I laid eyes on a certain No 8 with his blonde hair and short shorts – yes, Gary Shaw is the whole reason why I started to support the Villa! 

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First Villa Match?

My first Villa match was on 30th October 1982 against Spurs, who were a decent team and lined up with the likes of Gary Mabbutt, Garth Crooks and Ricki Villa.

At Villa Park, cigar smoke filled the air (we sat in the posh seats!) while we watched the match, which had everything you could ask for in a game – there was a penalty, Villa won 4-0, plus Gary Shaw scored. That was it I was hooked on Aston Villa (the other goals were scored by Tony Morley and Gordon Cowans, who got two).

I remember leaving the ground and being amazed at the sight of police on horses amongst the crowds of fans and everyone singing Villa songs as we walked under Aston Expressway.

First Villa Hero?

This is an easy one Gary Shaw, he was young, good looking, Birmingham born, talented, part of the winning Division One/European Cup teams and was voted PFA Young Player of the Year in 1981 and above all Villa fans knew that ‘when he gets the ball, he’s gonna score, Gary, Gary Shaw’.

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Completely by coincidence I once came across the whole Aston Villa squad who were attending (I think) Colin Gibson’s wedding on Kings Norton Green.  That day my young legs ran so fast back home to grab my favourite photo of Gary Shaw off my bedroom wall for him to sign, which he kindly did and he made my day.  I have met Gary several times over the years since and he has always been friendly, approachable and willing to talk about the Villa.

Ultimate Villa Legend?

Getting into football when I did in the early 80s with Aston Villa having one of their most successful periods it would be hard not to pick an ultimate Villa legend from this era and I guess it would be have to be Gary Shaw. 

Favourite Villa Memory?

The recent Championship play off final is a day that will always stay with me and guess will stay with all Villa fans that were at Wembley.  Blackburn second leg in the semi-final of the League Cup 2010 was an outrageous match. When we beat Man City 3-2 in the Premier League 2013 the roof (if we had one) would have been blown off Villa Park when Weimann’s goal went in as the noise was incredible.  

However my favourite memory is when we played West Brom in the quarter final of the FA Cup 2015 – the only major cup I have not seen Aston Villa win in my life time.  

Tensions were already running high as we had beaten West Brom in the league that week with a Benteke penalty in injury-time and now we were due to play them again days later in the cup – surely we couldn’t beat them twice in one week?

Of course we could and when that final whistle blew Villa fans invaded the pitch like barbarians – as described by some media outlets at the time.  I actually queued up at the bottom of the Holte End and was helped over the barriers by a steward.  

Once on the pitch the atmosphere was mixture of relief and elation with everyone just genuinely happy, singing and taking photos after all we had just beaten our local rivals (again) and we were going to Wembley – que sera sera!

My Villa Story

Going it Alone

With Doug Ellis passing away and Dean Smith taking over as manager, it felt like the beginning of a new era at Aston Villa and an era I wanted to be part of, so at the grand old age of 50, I decided to go to Villa Park by myself for the first time.  

Football is a male-dominated sport and having always previously gone to matches with someone else, I was slightly apprehensive about going alone. However, as I set off last season for the Swansea game by myself I didn’t realise then what an eventful day I would end up having!

Firstly the local train to Aston was packed and no one could get on but as soon as I mentioned I was going the match, the Villa fans shouted “make room, she’s going the Villa” and somehow managed to find space and squeeze me on.  I was then reassured with stories from everyone on the train that I’d be fine by myself and not to worry.

The match was a sell-out and started off with a tribute to Doug Ellis before Tammy scored the only goal to give Dean Smith a winning start.  During the match it didn’t feel like I was alone at all. I was soon singing along with my arms in the air as usual and talking to the fans sitting next to me. 

While queuing up for the train home, a smoke bomb was thrown from one of Swansea coaches into the train queue and landed right next to me.  Fans quickly checked if I was OK and after I reassured them I was fine the smoke cleared and rather bizarrely Ritchie Neville from the pop group 5ive appeared.  Somebody shouted out for us all to sing a 5ive song, but unfortunately no one could remember the lyrics to any of their songs.  

Always expect the unexpected at the Villa!

I would reassure any woman thinking about going to Villa Park by themselves to do so, as it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

If I hadn’t taken that first step, I would have missed out on the Scottish Cafu wonder goal against Blues, Gary Shaw sitting in front of me for the Bristol City match and the Play-offs including Wembley – and what a day that was!


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