VILLA PARK: Convincing A Friend To Like Football

Heading into this top-of-the-table clash between Aston Villa and Cardiff, my mate told me: “If I don’t see a goal, I’m never going to a football game again.”

That could seem like a harsh reaction but bear in mind, his first match was the goalless draw between Stoke and Watford in January… You can decide if it’s still over the top based on that context.

Either way, there was a lot of hype on the game at Villa Park. If Cardiff won, they would go 10 points clear of Villa, consolidating their position in second place and the last automatic promotion spot. Meanwhile, if the home side came out victorious, they would drag the Bluebirds back into the play-off picture and leave Villa with an outside chance of finishing as runners-up themselves.

With both clubs chasing three points, it looked like goals were inevitable and I felt confident that Bal would see a top game.

The Highs

FIFA goal

Due to several chances being spurned and some outstanding saves being made, the goals didn’t fly in like I imagined. Both Villa and Cardiff missed one-on-one opportunities on goal but it was the visitors who had more reasons to feel aggrieved.

Sam Johnstone, in the Villa goal, was the best player on the pitch. He managed to save a header from his own defender just before half-time and quickly produced another stop off Callum Paterson’s follow-up.

Then in the second half, Kenneth Zohore had time to pick his spot when free in the box, only for Johnstone to deflect his bottom-corner-bound effort wide.

With so many chances being missed, Bal began thinking the worst. It might have only been the second live game he’d attended in his life but he’s not a novice to football. His days at university were well-used as he regularly played the PS3 and became a FIFA veteran. He joked about how much easier it is on the game whilst expressing his desire to see a ‘FIFA goal’ fly into the top corner.

The way the game was going, that would be the only way to break the deadlock. The two team’s respective centre-halves were having absolute stormers – particularly James Chester for Villa and Sol Bamba for Cardiff.

Having seen two games recently that ended in late 1-0 wins, I still had hope. However, I honestly thought Cardiff would take the spoils. Instead, Jack Grealish – who had a poor game full of loose passes – produced the FIFA goal that Bal craved.

It was a stunning volley. A real spectacle of a goal that cannoned in off the post. Villa Park erupted and with just five minutes left on the clock, the home side held on to deliver a big result in the Championship promotion battle.

Fan rivalry

The main reason I’d wanted to go to the game in the first place was to represent my uncle, who’s a Cardiff fan. He tried to get tickets for the away end a few weeks ago but found they were all sold out. Being with the Villa supporters didn’t interest him so I made the journey myself and found seats that were as close to the away fans as possible.

For some reason, I thought maybe a couple of rogue Bluebirds would be in there with us. This really wasn’t the case when we got to the ground. By contrast, we were surrounded by the hardcore Villa fans. But it did mean we could stand for the whole game. Plus the atmosphere was electric.

The Cardiff fans were in great voice and that lit up a heated exchange between themselves and the pocket of Villa fans we found ourselves in.

It reminded me of the Wolves-Swansea match I attended earlier in the year. I was with the home supporters then, as well, and they were definitely out-chanted by the away fans next to them – perhaps not in terms of ferocity but certainly in terms of originality.

Cardiff had both varied songs and superior decibel levels at Villa Park, at one point even turning to former Bluebird Danny Gabbidon in the Sky Sports booth and chanting his name. I think the only times the home fans were vocal on their own accord was when abusing former Villan Joe Bennett during a corner and when the goal went in.

However, I can’t knock them for their support, as they did back their team throughout the contest and provided a lively response to any poor play from the Cardiff players.

The Lows

Sore winners

Although I had much fun standing a line of stewards away from the Cardiff fans, it also brought some unwanted grievances in the latter stages. The fans on both sides had calmed down significantly as the game wore on until the late winner saw the home supporters crank up the hysteria once again.

Just seconds into celebrating the first goal Bal had seen live, we were both pushed to the floor by a mob of Villa fans whose only objective was to taunt the away fans. Bal hit his head on the way down and I ended up with a seat wedged into my leg as we waited to get up again under a melee of bodies.

Not one Villa fan offered to help us up or apologized for knocking us down. It’s like we weren’t even there. Or, if anything, we were in the way of their goading.

It was the worst goal aftermath I’d ever experienced. It left me feeling bitter about their victory even more than I would have been given my allegiances to Cardiff. Then it got worse at full-time.

Waves of Villa fans gathered by the line of stewards to mock the away fans. I actually watched one kid make a Snapchat video where he filmed his V-signed fingers pointing at the fans leaving, zooming in and out repeatedly. That’s pretty sore winning in my view.

I should point out that the majority of the group were kids. Things threatened to boil over outside from both sets of fans as well but most were mature enough to let things go.

Although I’ve since learnt that a police officer had a coin thrown in his eye and a 14-year-old girl was injured with a bottle outside the ground afterwards. A very unsavoury ending.

Bottle jobs(?)

Beyond feeling salty about the goading at the end, I felt despondent on a personal level. My uncle would have been watching the game and I was disappointed for him, particularly as Cardiff dropped down to third following Fulham’s win over Reading.

The Bluebirds’ defeat follows on from their loss to leaders Wolves where they missed two penalties in injury-time. They do have a game in hand still, so their fate is their own. But I just hope these results don’t mean they’ve bottled their season at the death. Which was actually a running theme for the night as Wrexham lost 3-0 to Ebbsfleet to add to my foul mood whilst Barcelona also crashed out of the Champions League against Roma despite holding a three goal lead. Football is crazy.

The Verdict

I first glimpsed Villa Park on the way to see Walsall a couple of weeks ago. I was so impressed at its scale, even from the train. And now that I’ve been inside, I’m even more impressed.

With a capacity around the 42,500 mark, it’s the 10th largest stadium in the country and has hosted numerous England games and FA Cup semi-finals in the past. I, for one, would love to see the FA Cup semi-final fixtures return to neutral venues away from Wembley. It would add more meaning to the final again and also help get more fans involved with football across the country.

The game matched the venue too. Even with the scoreline goalless, Bal commented on how much better the fixture was compared to Stoke-Watford. And despite the late ruckus we endured, I could only agree with his assessment.

It led me to think that he would have gone to another game regardless of Grealish’s late heroics. After that moment, one fan even turned to him and said he wants Bal there every week. It looks like the decision’s been made for him.

Aston Villa 1 – 0 Cardiff City
EFL Championship

Ground rating: 7.5/10

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