Mickey Blue Eyes
I wasn't at all surprised to hear the latest rumours of Martin O'Neill's possible departure from Aston Villa, mostly because I am unsurprised at any football rumours. Nine hundred and ninety-nine of them are of course the most appalling poison, nonsense and lies. The thousandth is likely to be wrong, and, even if correct, so what? Most of them are sourced and spread by journalists to increase their circulation or audience figures. Very often the sources are business agents seeking to achieve some profit or other. Still others are invented by melancholic fans in search of five minutes cheap notoriety or bent on stupid mischief. All in all the usual perpetrators are a motley crew you wouldn't want within five kilometres of decent human beings. 'Twas ever thus.
The O'Neill mini-saga (or not saga, depending on which press release you disbelieve least) is of mild interest to me because apparently, if some reports are to be believed, Villa fans have been present in even larger numbers in websites and phone-ins, all the time a-whingeing and a-whining about standards of play, team formations, transfer policy and "investment," while it seems they booed their team V Wolves as they did during their opening match of the season. So nothing new there, then, because a small but noisy claque of Villa fans have been notorious for many years with this kind of behaviour - a particularly venomous pub gang whose collective poison has seeped through to too many Villa supporters. Their ugly pantomime has made a chore out of attending a Villa match these days. It just isn't worth it. Like all of their type it is the only way they can justify what must surely be an agonised or isolated life. It makes you shudder to try to imagine for a few seconds what passes through their head. It must be a real viper's nest in there. If the rumours are true - and I really couldn't care less whether they are or not - O'Neill has had enough of the garbage and wants to move on. And who could blame him?
At root there are only two reasons why any sane human would want to tolerate such a tidal wave of bilge. In no order, they are the wish to construct something worthwhile........or the "security" of a healthy bank balance. Only O'Neill could say which of the two it is, or which dilution of them. Nobody could blame him in either case because that is the kind of social existence we have created and tolerated for everybody. Like everyone else O'Neill simply tries to get through it as best he can. There is no evidence he is less or more greedy or determined than anyone else, except for the fact that he is employed at a relatively high level in the trivia of professional football. He didn't create the system; he works in it to the best of his ability. If you can't or won't see that, then stop reading this now.
I have long thought Martin O'Neill a modestly accomplished football manager who has had some bright moments. I have never thought him a great manager, or capable of greatness. Some previous Villa managers in recent years have done much better. I find his interview manner to be as creepy as any other individual who doesn't look at the person to whom he speaks. The same applies to Tony Pulis, the Stoke City manager. But so far as I know this is not yet a punishable offence or a cause for booing or mass hysteria. It is merely a personal default found hugely irritating by this fan. Every living human has at least one such. So whose fault is the not-so-pretty pass that is today's Aston Villa? Who or what is responsible for the downright ugliness?
In my judgment there is no question the very first culprits are the guilty fans themselves, since every individual is responsible for his/her own actions. The second culprits are those who instigated and perpetuate the current model of football administration and finance, (which is now under inevitable serious challenge for the first time in twenty years). The third are those in the media industry who helped create and support that model. The fourth are those players whose only interest is in their own pockets. The aggregate result is the football culture we are faced with. The reaction against O'Neill is symptomatic, not causal. (I will deal with the main football causes in a later, separate opinion.)
In reality, Aston Villa had a European Cup winning year in 1982 after winning the League Championship the previous year. They have never recovered from expectations this raised, except for League Cup wins in 1994 and 1996. Villa fell back into the pack and never looked like they would re-emerge, anymore than we have at Everton since founding of the Premier League. It has been a long time. Disappointment became frustration, then amongst a few a kind of blind, poisonous revenge against fate. In the circumstances Doug Ellis, an unsympathetic figure of an owner, became an easy target. Of course Villa fans weren't the only ones to take this route. It happened to greater or lesser degree at various times with other established football clubs such as Tottenham and Everton. For a short time our own version became even more notorious than either Villa or Tottenham. Now the Villa claque is back in its tedious pole position. Doubtless it will all fluctuate again according to league position and condition of immediate prospect. Now it is the norm for almost every club to have a gang of loud-mouthed morons seeking their five minutes fame via personality hatred, as opposed to a well-informed articulate group with a reasonable set of manners and the best long-term intentions for the club they support. It goes without saying the game badly needs the latter but could easily consign the former to the dustbin of history currently filled with retired terrace and ale-house thugs.
A sometime excuse for thuggish behaviour is that it is "working class" and thereby instinctive and acceptable. That kind of miserable bolt hole is absolute garbage. All great working class advances have been because opposition was intelligent, well organised, patient, determined to see matters through for the long term, and above all moral in its aims. Hoggishness of any kind only happened when a situation got out of hand and ended up under the control of empty headed fools whose only strengths were their ignorant prejudices. In such circumstances good intentions were ruined for everybody by the actions of relatively few carrying a gross chip on their collective shoulder. This has never been truer than in football, which is also haunted by a small mob of organised, suited-up criminals looking for an opportunity to launder crooked money a la football italiano. We ignore these examples at the risk of total corruption of the game.
So, no, the O'Neill rumours don't surprise me. Nor will it be the last of this kind of pantomime absurdity. People will be people. For the moment, Aston Villa has the worst of it. Next time it could easily be Us. After all, we have enough of our own hate-filled morons to fill an ale-house anywhere in the country.