In recent years, the advent of fly-on-the-wall sporting documentaries across various streaming platforms has been a source of much intrigue, insight and of course hilarity.
Whether it is Pep Guardiola’s iconic “Sit down, nobody talk,” dressing room dressing down of his players at half-time, Australian cricket coach Justin Langer kicking a bin following a failed run-out and proceeding to pick up the scattered debris like a naughty school boy in detention or Sunderland big-wig Charlie Methven’s excruciating obsession with making the Stadium of Light feel more like a nightclub in the Balearic Islands than a football stadium in the North East of England, such shows have provided many a moment that even the legendary Gervais-Merchant double pivot would struggle to capture authentically.
The capitulation, the devastation and more recently the redemption, which Aston Villa Football Club has experienced in the last decade, has left many Villans longing for the Amazon Prime or Netflix treatment.
Here are ten moments that would have made for excellent viewing:
10. Losing to our Reserves:
In February 2016 following a 6-0 pumping at the hands of Liverpool and without an FA Cup fixture after being dumped out in the previous round by an Iheanacho-inspired Man City, the class of 15/16 had a chance to get some valuable minutes and build some confidence in the hope of launching a late-season miracle. Gaffer Remi Garde arranged a behind closed doors friendly with the Under-21 side. Villa’s senior players would be defeated 3-0 in an event that gave off the vibes of a ‘Dads vs Lads’ match at a local Under 16’s club, if the dad's side were five pints and a chicken madras deep. The voice over, perhaps provided by actor Oliver Phelps, would cheekily comment how Villa fans wished more games in that season were played behind closed doors.
9. Gabby and Roy Don't See Eye to Eye:
This alleged incident, it was claimed across various news sites, was the wave that broke the dam in relation to months of apparent tension between two bullish characters. Shortly before Roy Keane quit as Paul Lambert’s assistant, it is suggested that he had a ferocious spat with long-serving forward Gabriel Agbonlahor. The details of such an incident, if it did happen at all, remain shrouded in mystery, but a documentary would have captured any drama of that ilk impeccably. For months after, Villa fans would respond online to poor results on the field with clips of Agbonlahor mouthing off, whilst screen shots of a furious Keane would be doing the rounds in the realms of ‘Football Twitter’.
8. Delph is Going, or Staying, or Going....
In 2018, Fabian Delph was the centre of much furore following his role in the Manchester City: All or Nothing series. The Bradford-born midfield general was involved in a half-time spat with Guardiola, where his input boiled down, more or less, to run more, tackle more and keep your heads up. Whilst such input may inspire your local Sunday League side to only conceding three times in the second half of a comprehensive defeat, in a Guardiola dressing room, such comments feel like a child who has just watched Art Attack telling Rembrandt that his technique was all wrong. In a Villa documentary, Delph would have taken centre stage for the then captain’s role in one of the greatest transfer sagas of the Premier League era. Much like a Richard Curtis film, Delph and Man City flirted for some time, and the ‘will they, won’t they?’ nature of the episode would make for gripping, yet heart-breaking viewing for Villa fans.
7. Bamford vs El Ghazi:
In the recent Leeds United doc ‘Take Us Home’, the now infamous Elland Road encounter in 2019 between two giants of the English game was covered extensively. Marcelo Bielsa seemed to come out of the fracas smelling of roses, whilst Bamford tried his best to justify his play acting with a mystifying comparison with murder and attempted murder. A Villa documentary would have given our troops, and in particular Most Gentle Man in Football 2021 Anwar El Ghazi (as awarded by myself five minutes ago, well done Anwar!) a right to reply and would give our cheeky narrator a chance to raise concern for Bamford after such a horrific brush of his fringe.
6. Ross McCormack’s Gate:
A tidal wave of hope flowed through the corridors and terraces of Villa Park in 2016 as Chinese businessman Tony Xia rolled up in his proverbial Ford Mondeo with Champions League winner Roberto Di Matteo sat in the passenger seat. The poster boy signing of the short-lived Di Matteo era was Championship cult hero Ross McCormack. Whilst the former Chelsea manager was dropped off at a destination just a few miles short of the Championship relegation zone, Scottish forward McCormack continued to be a deflating presence for some time after. In January 2017, then manager Steve Bruce is said to have driven furiously to the house of McCormack for a confrontation after the Glaswegian apparently used his malfunctioning electric gates as an acceptable reason to miss training. Such a dramatic drive and explosive exchange would be worth watching again and again. This is not the only time that ‘Brucey’ supposedly hounded after a player as Villa manager, as media reports suggested that Joe Bryan was chased down the M40 by a desperate Bruce who hoped to prise the energetic full-back away from Fulham late in the 2018 summer transfer window.
5. The Cabbage....
Future generations of Villa fans will be told and re-told the legend of how Glenn Whelan and a cabbage combined to change the course of Villa history. As will be discussed shortly, Steve Bruce led Villa to an agonizing play-off defeat to Fulham at Wembley and after a turbulent summer failed to start the season in an adequate manner. Our owners, NSWE, had seemed reluctant to part with the Geordie gaffer, but a stoppage time penalty miss from metronomic midfielder Whelan, which led to a disappointing draw at home to Preston proved to be the final act for ‘Brucey’ in his biggest gig in the Second City. On the same night, however, a green-fingered Villa fan had managed to sneak a cabbage into the ground and cast it towards the sturdy-figured head coach with displeasure. The events of 2nd October 2018 were the final straw after weeks of tension between the manager and the fan base (or the “mad few” as Bruce described them,) as things had well and truly gone sour. Just imagine such an episode in a documentary finishing with a slow zoom on a cabbage in an empty stadium post-game, before a fade to black and the announcement of Bruce’s sacking appearing. Quality television.
4. The Summer of ‘18:
Whilst Villa finished comfortably in mid-table in the top division this year, a crushing defeat in the 17/18 Play-Offs to Fulham triggered an uncertain summer and threatened the very future of our club. Rival fans, social media accounts and even sponsors reveled in Villa’s perilous financial situation, as news trickled through that the club had missed a tax payment and a fire sale of star players would ensue, including the jewel in the crown Jack Grealish. The circus surrounding the floppy-haired playmaker would itself have made for entertaining viewing with Tottenham offering a reported £3 million sum plus the services of midfielder Josh Onomah. A truly tempting offer! Just three years on and Grealish would almost certainly set any club back a nine-figure sum. Former Villa goal-grabber and current journalist Stan Collymore even tweeted that the financial situation at VP looked worse than that of ‘Portsmouth or Leeds,’ who both had plummeted down the footballing pyramid. What happened next, however, would require the creative genius of the Russo brothers to do justice in our documentary. When all hope seemed lost, and words such as ‘administration,’ ‘liquidation,’ and ‘points deduction,’ dominated the discourse, the club announced the arrival of Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris and his American business partner Wesley Edens when we needed them the most. From ‘there is no money left’ to our very own ‘magic money tree’ just like that. The rest, as they say, is history.
3. In the 'Jack of Time':
The most recent season petered out, but this is an anomaly for the B6 club in recent times. Whether it's gearing up for a play-off final, or facing the perils of a relegation battle head on, Villans have not been short of late season drama. The 19/20 season, when with just four games remaining Aston Villa sat seven points off safety, would have made for top quality entertainment in documentary form. The elation of Dean Smith’s Late Late Show as special guests including Trezeguet, Jack Grealish and Pepe Reina ensured another season of Premier League football for the boys in claret and blue. A documentary would map Villa’s lockdown tactic tweaks, the implosion of relegation rivals such as Watford and of course the dramatic victories over Arsenal, Palace and crucial draws with Everton and West Ham. The episode would of course culminate in the well deserved celebrations in the London Stadium upon the confirmation of Villa’s unlikely survival. La bamba!
2. Derby Delight:
In recent times the Villa have experienced a plethora of successes on derby day. Tim Sherwood downed the Baggies twice in a week, our worst side in a generation knocked the Blues out of the cup, Bjarnason put the icing on the cake in a 4-1 demolition of Nuno’s high-flying Wolves, the Scottish Cafu sauntered past Craig Gardner and co. in Smith’s first Second City derby and destiny was at Tammy Abraham’s feet at the Hawthorns in the Play-offs. Despite all that, though, one local grudge match stands alone as the greatest in recent history. A win over Birmingham City is always the sweetest of the lot, but in March 2019, after a pitch invader had struck Jack Grealish, Jack Grealish struck the winner. In an episode which centered around this victory, our filmmakers would perhaps interview local favorites such as Adil Ray, Chris Woakes, Carl Chinn, Benjamin Zepphaniah and of course, Dan Bardell, to build-up the importance of the rivalry and what derby day entails for them. Behind-the-scenes footage would capture the reaction of Dean Smith and the Villa bench to that ‘punch', the back and forth between supporters, as well as the post-match celebrations as Captain Jack celebrated the ‘best day’ of his life.
1. History Makers:
For all the heartbreak that our loyal band of supporters have to endure, as David Bradley once said “the lows just make the highs higher.” In the 18/19 season in particular, the team finally felt connected with the fans and whilst we went on an historic journey together, the return of Grealish, the ten game winning run and the play-off victories would be intoxicating in documentary form. The 1-0 win at St. Andrews has already been discussed, but the second half of that season had so many moments we all wish we could relive with exclusive behind-the-scenes access. Dean Smith’s inspiring team talk at Stoke, the comeback of the ten-man Lions in Rotherham as Super Jack skated past the Millers, the historic victory over Millwall, the lads dancing on the Hawthorns pitch (and physio tables), and of course the moments which followed the fallen giants rising back to their feet at Wembley, after those excruciating seven minutes, would all be captured in precise detail. Who wouldn’t want to relive one of the most exciting climaxes to a season in recent memory, with behind the scenes footage of every low and of course ultimately high?
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