Villa Fan Tales: No.13 – Zlatan and Away Day Lessons on Promotion Road

By Ewan Goldie-King

Why Villa?

Weirdly enough, only one person in my family supports Villa, my Mum. My Dad is an armchair Forest fan who rolls his eyes whenever I speak of what happened when Forest last played Villa. My Grandad supported Preston, so I was bombarded with stories about Tom Finney. However, when I was younger, the only rule I had about supporting teams was that it had to be a team that I could see live. So whilst all my mates supported Liverpool or Man United, I chose Villa as it was closest out of the three teams that family members supported.

In short, my Mum forced me, although that was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me.

First Villa Park Match?

My first Villa Park Match was when Aston Villa beat Inter Milan 3-0 in a friendly in 2007. I was only four at the time, so don’t really remember much – apparently some bloke called Zlatan played.

According to my Mum, I had a constant childish smile on my face, which was no doubt much wider than the smile I would have had if I had supported Forest. I’m not sure if this is entirely true, as my Dad said that I had my hands over my ears when Villa scored as it was “too loud”. Either way it was the start of my love for Aston Villa.

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First Villa Hero?

I’m not too sure on this one but I’m going who I first had on the back of my shirt: Ashley Young. Who, linking him to the last question, is now at Inter Milan. He was the first player who I thought “if I could be one player it would be him”. I just loved that he would take ,players on and beat them with ease.

I will always remember watching him score that last minute goal against Everton to win the game 3-2 with, both my Mum and I, jumping around the house as if we had something very wrong with us.

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When he left Villa, especially to go to Manchester United, as a fickle football fan, I hated him. But looking back now, you can’t really blame him as he’s now a Premier League winner. 

Ultimate Villa Legend?

For me it has to be Jack Grealish. I wasn’t alive when Villa were deemed to be “a really good team”.

In the past couple of seasons or so, it just seems as if he is performing consistently head and shoulders above everyone. He goes past people with ease and his passing is unbelievable. I first saw him when he came on as a sub against Hull. He got kicked all over the pitch but in the 15 minutes he was on the pitch, he showed he had real quality. He probably didn’t help himself that each time he got kicked he got up with a smirk on his face.

I don’t think any Villa fan will forget his massive part in getting Villa promoted. He made every Villa player perform better when he came back from injury to inspire a 10-game winning run, which ultimately helped us get over the line at Wembley.

I had the honour of meeting him once. I was lucky enough to be a mascot for Villa vs Bournemouth in 2015.  After the game it was apparent that Villa were all but relegated. I waited outside the car park for all the players to come out. Every player but one drove out their cars, and although they stopped and took photos they stayed firmly in their cars and wanted it to be over as quick as possible. But not Jack.

He was the last player to come out. He walked out of the car park on his own and took photos with everyone who waited. It was clear he was gutted that Villa were relegated. I can’t really remember what he said to me as I was a star struck 13-year-old. I think he apologised and asked me how I was. However, it was that touch of class that made me realise how much he loved Villa.

Favourite Villa Memory

Winning the play-off final is definitely up there but I think if there was a moment I could relive it would be Alan Hutton’s wonder goal against Blues. Before the game, I said to my mate that the best result would be if we won and Alan Hutton scored.

The mayhem around me as the ball nestled in the bottom corner was something else. Being grabbed by strangers and flares going off in the rows around us was incredible. I think my first thoughts when The Scottish Cafu got the ball and started running were “go on, pass it!”.

I’m pretty sure it took the game a good five minutes to start again as he was doing a lap of honour.

Who could blame him?

My Villa Story

The Joys of Away Days

Last year, following Villa home and away could only be described as interesting. There were many ups and downs, as many Villa fans will testify to. But when there have been downs the actual day of going to new stadiums and speaking to new people makes it worthwhile. That said, the day transforms if Villa wins.

One day that sticks out to me is Millwall away. It was a cold and wet day. Bruce had just been sacked and I for one wasn’t filled with hope as I got the train down to London. My mate was convinced that Caretaker Manager Kevin MacDonald would pick a new team and it would be a good day.

It was the same team, but it started off very well with Tammy Abraham scoring within six minutes to make it 1-0. I thought to myself maybe braving the cold and the rain was worth it, if we win today. It could be kick-start a new chapter for Villa.

I was brought back down to Earth very quickly. Two Millwall goals sunk Villa and we lost 2-1. By the end, there were fans fighting amongst one another, which is probably the dumbest thing a football fan can do. Getting taunted by Millwall fans didn’t help the situation. The Villa end was a chorus of boos as we left the stadium.

I went home with the same grumbles and started thinking dark thoughts like, “We are never getting out of this league!”. However one thing I will never forgot is that as we were leaving the stadium a group of Millwall fans shouted to us “See you next year lads.”

Little did they know…

Fast forward to a happier away day – Rotherham away. It was half-term week, so my mate and I decided we would travel to Rotherham to go and watch Villa.

Admittedly, we didn’t really know where Rotherham was. All we knew was that it was somewhere up north. Had we known about the four-hour coach trip each way, would we have done it? Absolutely.

We arrived in Rotherham absolutely starving after spending the longest two and a half hours of our lives in a local pub with the men on the coach absolutely steaming. They told me before, that they don’t remember many of the games and now I understand why.

Whenever I have to wait for something now, I always think “at least it’s shorter than the wait at Rotherham. We got into the stadium chasing a plastic hot dog and just as we were at the front of the queue they refused to serve us, as the game was starting.

Penalty missed, Mings sent off and 1-0 down, could the day get any worse? Apparently, it could. They had sold out of hot food. We were both fuming at everything.

“We’ve travelled all this way for this…”

Yet, we left the stadium on top of the world. Kodjia was suddenly a hero. Grealish and McGinn were clearly on the same level as Iniesta and Xavi in their prime. The Premier League looked like a strong possibility. The four-hour coach journey meant nothing. All the anger was gone. We were so tired but we didn’t care. Villa had won seven games in a row and we didn’t have to wait long to the Saturday to watch them again.

Away days are weird. Win, lose or draw, they are memorable for one reason.

Why do we put ourselves through it? Because there’s always a chance that it could be one of the best days of your life.


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