Aston Villa have always been a major part of my life. I was born and brought up in the East Midlands, however, I have always been an avid loyal fan of the west midlands. It holds many ups and downs for me as an individual, but has also taught me many morals of what is and is not fair and impartial in life and football.
When I was born and taken home from hospital, my dad wrapped me up in a Villa shirt when I was just a few days old. We still have the picture to this day.
Going onto primary school in later life after being such a keen lover of the game alongside my dad and watching and celebrating the games on TV, I soon found out that many of the kids in the playground supported the local city team but many other different teams. The majority of them were Manchester United, Arsenal, and those we now refer to as the “big 6”. I was the odd one out.
Dwight Yorke was my first hero of Aston Villa. When he was on the box I always noticed one thing about his game that resonated with me as a football player in Sunday league, and that’s that he always played with a smile on his face. To me, this was the defining factor of me standing up in primary school assembly for ‘show n tell’ where I’d talk about my Villa heroes.
I was 7 when I joined my first football team. In the school playground, I was always the fastest player but used to get frustrated at not getting many touches of the ball due to the whole year swarming around the football and everybody wanting to get a kick. Sadly we were not the best team but our spirit never wavered, we returned week after week to defeat but we all loved the game.
Football really opened my eyes to dreaming of one day becoming a footballer. At the time, the boys in the group I was with said I looked like Darius Vassell. I didn’t know much about him but as soon as those words were mentioned and the nickname stuck, I began to take more of an interest in watching football live and falling in love with it. Seeing stars like Vassell scoring goals against other teams are my early memories at Villa Park. Game day was an outing, meeting up with my Dad’s friends and meeting with equally avid supporters of Villa from Birmingham gave me ultimate satisfaction.
My favourite Midlands clash from my childhood was away to Leicester City where Villa came out as 5-0 winners. A brace from Vassell and Peter Crouch was everything I dreamt about and more. The icing on the cake was the great number 9 Dion Dublin scoring the 5th goal.
As an 8-year-old from the East Midlands, I sat with some local friends of the family in the Leicester family end. Each goal that went in I stood up and celebrated as if I was in the Villa end, innocently not being able to contain my emotion as a young kid. I was the only one in the stand that stood on his feet and pumped the air in exuberating excitement.
The David O’Leary era was the next memory I have of villa’s initial potential success, where in the first season I saw villa finish in 6th place. This went on to bigger and better ventures with the potential of the clubs’ success rising. Martin O’Neil took charge of the Villa ranks, at the time Villa had one of the most exciting setups and teams in Europe. The inclusion of the new Bodymore Heath training ground meant it became a much more attractive spectacle for players to come and join us. Stillian Petrov, James Milner, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing amongst some of the exciting talents that Villa attracted in Martin O’Neil’s time in charge. This time in particular in my life was the most exciting.
As I got older and according to the lads I trained with, my new lookalike was now Ashley Young and to this day is still one of my favourite Villa players of my generation. Seeing Young link with the likes of Agbonlahor and John Carew really inspired my game as a footballer on a Sunday, and I watched him closer than I watched any Aston Villa player ever before.
Many things can captivate a child’s mind when they are growing up and for me, one thing that stood out with Villa that makes me a lifelong fan is the team’s spirit. No matter what group of players we have each season, when we score a goal, all the players celebrate in unison which makes for an immense atmosphere when we win or score.
Villa Park will always hold a special place in my heart. For me and my dad over the years it has been the haven for our father and son bond. Football for many families can bring them together and for me and my dad, it created a special partnership. Whether that be while I’m at work receiving texts about the line-up or calls before and after the games, Aston Villa will always instil me with complete joy and happiness.