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'The Villa Family'

So my first ever Villa article. At 44 years of age it’s been a long time coming. What to write about? A collective transfer wishlist, Deano’s classic ‘juggling balls’ comment, long lost cabbages or the most recent bullshit offside decision? The elation of the ‘94 cup win over a strong United team or the sheer ecstasy we all felt when that final whistle blew against Derby, confirming we were back where we belong and ushering in this new and exciting era. So many memories, emotions and talking points through the ages to explore but I’ve settled on, during these dark Covid times, the important theme of family, friends and strangers. In fact no we’re not strangers, we’re the Villa family.

This week we launched our new Lions Club in Basel. In fact it’s the first one in Switzerland and though, quite small at the moment, we’re proud of it…

Continents connected:

Our newest member is barely a year old, Teo, born in the Philippines in South East Asia to a Filipino/American mum Kara and American dad, Swanny. Teo doesn’t know it quite yet, but he’ll love Villa the way we all do. And his first kit is soon in the post! Jay, our club’s VP, born and raised in Birmingham like my wife Nat and I, are three more members and though my two daughters, Soph and Eva were also raised in the Philippines they’re die hard fans, just like their great grandmother Nora and cracking footballers too. Kelly (Canadian) and Caspar (from Basel) have fallen in love with everything that Villa stands for and never miss a game. They’re already dreaming of their first trip to Villa Park. They’ve seen the videos and heard the stories. Eric from the US has keenly adopted Villa as his football (soccer) club along with his son Grayson. They move to Prague in August though have already found a new Villa family there, the Prague Lions. Andy, our club treasurer and I met (ahem) in the gents of a bar here; he picked up on my still slight Birmingham accent (having not lived there now for 25+ years) and as often happens around the globe, two more Villa fans became united. Tony, born near Cov though raised in New Zealand is all in too, along with his two amazing lads Luca and Finn. Sanj our club secretary and I met on twitter and during pre covid times, we’d meet with the others at a local Irish bar downtown called Paddy Reilly’s. A fitting venue and one in which we always raise a pint of you know what to the only and only Ooh Aah Paul McGrath. 17 members, 4 continents and growing.

For some of our new fans above it was the stories of my first game with my gran, dad and sister when we beat Exeter in the Cup 8-1 back in ‘85 that did it. My dad and gran had clearly waited for such a first game opportunity, thinking perhaps there’d be goals in it.

The day I fell in love with players like Paul Birch, Mark Walters and Tony Daley;

For other new recruits, they fell in love with our history. Founded in 1874. One of the original 12. Our chairman, William McGregor starting the league. Our famous colours, our beautiful name and often too, it’s the mere mention of our Acorns partnership that does it. Finally, knowing our current manager is a die-hard fan and that Grealish has been at the club since he was 6!

My ‘pitch’ often starts something like this; “well if you’re looking for a new club to support, a proper football club, here’s a few reasons why Aston Villa is the club for you…” (it normally takes less than 5 minutes and they’re sold, they’re all in, on all of the above and more. Then the conversations and the questions and the memories begin into the early hours of the morning and to their first match and the next. And a new Villa family member is born)

I share all of this because this story, this new group of fans from around the globe, though special, our coming together is not unique. Football brings people from all around the world together in amazing ways. We’ve all scrolled through platforms like twitter and we catch something. Not a colour in isolation but a combination of two special colours, a claret AND blue. Letters, not in isolations, but an ‘A’ followed by a ‘V’. This catches our eye and we choose, often to connect. We look to expand our Villa family and we do it often. We have one another’s backs. We look to support one another at these tough times with so many examples to share, this being one of the latest.

We’ve all fallen briefly in love with the human being in front, behind or next to us, home and away, when for a fleeting, ecstatic moment, time has fallen away and in that magical moment when the ball has hit the back of the net, we are lost in a pure moment of joy, hugging and embracing our Villa family around us.

We all miss that right now. We miss that feeling, that possibility of an embrace. But stay connected and look for new ways to connect. New follows, new glances, a simple hello because the Villa family stretches far and wide and for some of them out there, they just don’t know it yet. People are out there right now, looking for that virtual embrace, that support, that connection, that family feeling. So reach out when you can and continue to connect to bring people of all ages and from all parts of the globe together, into our Villa family.

You don’t choose Aston Villa, it chooses you.

(And some snapshots of my girls)

Steve Ayling | Edited by The AVFC Faithful

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