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VILLA THRILLER OR TRADITION KILLER

Dave Woodhall on his club's Lerner driver

24-08-2006

I'm a Villa supporter. The worst type of arrogant, “Hey, look at us. We got the best manager in the country and a billionaire about to take us over,” type of Villa supporter. You'd better get used to it, there's going to be a lot of us around over the next few years.

Yes, I'm afraid we're all 100% convinced that this century will be dominated by claret and blue. Reason has gone out of the window and I'm looking forward to explaining who I support then being asked what part of Wales I'm from, or where I was when they were shit.

And to make matters worse, it appears that Randy Lerner, the root cause of all this optimism, is not only incredibly rich, he's also that rarest of breeds, an American billionaire with the common touch. Fans of his Cleveland Browns team talk in reverential tones of Randy and the esteem in which he's held in the city. Over here, the man himself has managed to win over virtually every one of the most cynical sets of supporters in football already.

Lerner's charm offensive has been superb - ask a couple of supporters what they want, find out the easy, populist measures, and say that they're all in hand. Statues of famous players, hall of fame-type museums, a star on the badge to represent wining the European Cup. He's assured us that the club won't be moving to a new ground, won't become prostituted by commercialism, won't ever forget that supporters are the most important thing. None of it costs much, but it's what we want to hear. Good on Randy for listening to popular opinion.

In fact, good on Randy all over. He seems to have a refreshing attitude to the way in which to take a football club forward. I've long argued that what Villa need isn't so much an injection of funds as one of ideas. The club has become stale, sitting for far too long in a comfort zone where they're never going to get relegated (unless they do something really, really stupid like appointing David O'Leary as manager) but will never challenge for the Champions League qualification that seems to be the El Dorado for every similar-sized club in Europe. By bringing in such innovative thinkers as Robert Kain, president of IMG, the world's top sports management company, Lerner will be giving Villa an inestimable advantage in the growing commercial world of global football.

And there's the problem. Because for all the obvious advantages that the deal will bring to the Villa, I can't help but be sad at the passing of another piece of life as we know it.

All arrogant boasting aside (and anyone who knows me will appreciate that I'm not that bad, honest), Villa are synonymous with the city of Birmingham. They've been a source of local pride dating back to the Victorian age. The club has always been owned by local people, albeit sometimes ones who were born on the Wirral. Now, we're just another part of a global corporation.

Randy has said that he won't be pumping fortunes into the club, but every bit of success the Villa enjoy from now on will be met with the accusation that it's been bought by a rich man. Decisions affecting the club's future will be made 4,000 miles away, by businessmen who know nothing of what it's like to be an English football supporter.

I don't doubt that Randy Lerner is fully committed to the Villa's future well-being and is fully attuned to the wishes of supporters. But Aston Villa will never be Randy Lerner's club in the way that it's mine, and of the people who sit by me at the match and all those who I've travelled with around the country.

In reality, our opinions have never really counted for much. Anyone holding shares in the club could go to the AGM and harangue Doug Ellis, who would sit back in the smug satisfaction that the haranguers owned a handful of shares while he owned over three million. But while it didn't really matter, at least it was there. Now even that small consolation has gone. We're not Aston Villa any more, we're Aston Villa, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Randy Lerner, inc.

It's a long time since the Villa's future has looked as bright. But whatever success we might enjoy from now on, I'll always think that something ain't right.

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