Lest we forget

I want to take you back. It's February or March 2006, and Villa are at home to Portsmouth. It's grey and it's cold - very, very cold. I think we're lying around 15th in the Premiership table after a shocking run of form, characterised by dull, uninspired football and a manager who has nothing to say apart from criticism of his chairman.

We pull into the car park, but if we're honest none of us really wants to get out of the car. Alan Green is commentating entertainingly on a big four game, and we know it's worlds away. And the car is warm.

Still, braving it, we go through our normal pre-match "fun" game of guessing the score. My wife thinks Portsmouth will nick it one-nil with a penalty. I, ever the optimist, go for a two-nil win for Villa, with Baros getting both goals. My two boys, six and four years old, both go for nil-nil. Anybody who has young boys will know what that means.

Despite the meagre crowd, there are no Chicken Balti pies left, as I am raspingly told by the spotty, rude teenager behind the counter. Just pasties. And they're as lukewarm as the beer.


We take our seats. And we're cold. Very cold. And it looks as if Milan Baros is cold as well, or just dumb. He seems to alternate his time between falling over and getting caught offside. In fact, the liveliest thing on the pitch is the linesman's flag.

Portsmouth have come for a draw. And my young kids are right - they're going to get one. We know that because David O'Leary is standing on the touchline in a long trenchcoat. We can't quite tell if it's dark grey, dark blue or black. But it looks like he's attending a funeral, and in a way he is. His face is ashen - somewhere between pale and palid...that colour that only the desperately clueless can really achieve. He has no spark on the field, no spark on the bench and no spark in the dressing room. And he knows it.

Half an hour into the second half, and just after Baros's 14th offside flag, we decide that in the interests of our children we should leave. We've never done that before, so maybe it was our little protest. The youngsters thaw in the car, but we don't bother with Five Live: we know there's no point.

Fast forward

It's September 2007. The light is failing as we arrive for the evening game against Chelsea.

We leap out of the car, and we all predict a Villa win. The boys are ridiculously going for three and four-nil respectively, but my wife and I agree on a tight two-one victory.

Villa Park is rammed full and the Holte End smells blood. When the players run out, we know - instinctively - that they are going to respond. The atmosphere is tense. Though Freddie Bouma exchanges pleasantries with ex-PSV teammate Alex, we know that this is going to be a humdinger.

Martin O'Neill is a livewire on the touchline. God help his water bottle, which is repeatedly thrown to the floor in frustration, passion, anger.

Villa are stretching Chelsea to the limit. It seems they can scarcely cope with the pace of Gabby and Ashley, and Carew is annoying John Terry. Not only is he out-muscling the England captain in the air, but he's straying down the channels and putting himself about there as well.

We all knew it was coming, but years of frustration were vented in a massive explosion of Villa joy when new signing and lifelong Villa fan Zat Knight headed in Ashley Young's cross for one-nil. It was nothing more than Villa deserved, but I mark that moment down as a landmark in Villa's resurrection.

Of course, Chelsea then threw the kitchen sink at us. I still wonder what an O'Leary side would have done. But Laursen and Bouma were both inspired in defence, O'Neill went to fever pitch on the touchline and Villa held out.

Well, a bit more than that. Gabby's late goal not only settled our nerves but set Villa Park on fire. We were back. Villa were back. Yes!!! We've beaten Chelsea.

Back at the car, the kids didn't want to go to sleep. They wanted to listen to all the comments and all the interviews over and over again. Can Villa sustain it? Can Martin O'Neill turn Villa into a top six side?

It was intoxicating

Well, two years on, we are a top six side and we've improved every season under O'Neill. Spurs and Everton have been working for years and years to break the Big 4, but MON is already challenging after just a few seasons.

Within our ranks we have some of the best young players in the league, and more are coming. Our reserves and youth teams are top notch, and our Academy and training ground second to none.

Villa players are getting into the England reckoning over and over again.

So is it all that bad, really? And if you get a bit fed up over the lack of a few July signings, then just remember the sight of David O'Dreary in his funeral coat. That should cheer you up.