For me, the last five minutes of the West Ham game completely summed up the emotions of supporting Aston Villa last season: Celebrating and getting our hopes up following a Jack Grealish goal before being let down only a minute later as we conceded yet again through personal errors, lack of concentration or simply just bad luck.
The rest of the games we either spend biting our nails or holding our breath. Whatever you prefer (it’s the latter for me, while I also tend to sit on my chair like the plane’s going to crash).
We’ve seen it all before. It’s the all too familiar rollercoaster ride that is loving and supporting Aston Villa Football Club – wherever you are in the world.
The glaring soundtrack of modern football
As an overseas fan, following Villa’s survival’s have been more or less business as usual for me. I have to watch most of the games on a screen anyway, although the lack of a crowd, accompanied by the plastic sound of non-existent fans, felt like the punchline of a joke we never wanted to hear.
It really was the glaring soundtrack of modern football and it’s an alarming one. For different reasons (the integrity of the game, for starters), I feel that the season really should’ve been voided.
That being said, under these unusual circumstances, looking forward to matchday really lifted my spirits this summer. Also, the Villa squad had obviously benefited from the break. For once we looked more solid at the back, which was encouraging. We also benefitted from some sheer luck when we needed it.
In general, I always felt that we had a fair chance of surviving, albeit a slim one, even when the odds were against us. The late draw against Everton (typical Villa) made me feel a bit deflated, but as Southampton famously beat Watford, the hope – oh, the hope! – was back on.
After all, wasn’t it always going to come down to the last day of the season anyway? As I said to all of my friends and colleagues asking me about Villa’s survival hopes: Out of the four worst teams, we need to be the least shitty one.
We actually saw it through!
We were six Norwegian Villa fans at a pub in Oslo on the last day of the season. We were also surrounded by mostly Manchester United supporters who celebrated their Champions League status as if they’d won 50 quid on a scratch card.
We, on the other hand, celebrated our inevitable survival as if the plane didn’t crash after all. A defensively improved and resilient Villa actually saw it through. I still almost can’t believe it. We didn’t slip up, as we’d previously done time and time again this season (and many other seasons as well, for that matter).
Finally, we’d broken a bad habit!
My hopes for next season
Villa’s survival of course brings me to a few of my many hopes for next season.
We need to break those bad habits, learn from our mistakes and plug some obvious holes in our squad.
I also hope that we sign Premier League ready players who can improve what we have and make a difference straight away. Every supporter will know what we’ve been lacking since promotion from The Championship in May 2019.
Additionally, we know what we need in terms of positions and attributes (pace and goals, please). I personally think we are crying out for a figure who can bulk up our midfield; a gritty warrior, perhaps with a nasty streak, who can protect the defence a bit more and break up play when it needs to be done.
Villa will need that type of player on a rainy day, and we’ll see a few of those in the Premier League next season for sure.
Looking to the future
Last but not least, I also hope we look to the future.
It would be good to finally see a few youngsters in and around the squad – contributing both shorter and longer cameos here and there, maybe even a few starts if they deserve it.
We need young players who are capable of competing for first team places, doing unexpected things, playing with fresh perspectives and without fear amongst their team-mates. Who knows, it could breathe confidence into all of them. Finally, we need to develop quality youngsters for the long-term sustainability of our football club.