The StirrerThe Stirrer

news that matters, campaigns that count

for Birmingham, the Black Country and beyond



Laurence Inman describes the perverse allure of supporting a football club which was briefly famous when Queen Victoria was on the throne.

I'm a Villa fan, for a number of obvious reasons.My dad first took me down to Villa Park (the home of world football) one gloomy autumn Saturday in the mid-fifties.

I think we lost to Man U.

I remember far more about the ride home on the old No 7 bus. It was packed with men smelling of light engineering suds and Woodbines. A couple of lads had the upper deck in stitches over….something or other.

This was before we had, as a society, un-learnt how to be happy. Before we had become bad-tempered, bloated cry-babies. Before we had embraced a vision of the world created by Oprah Disney McMurdoch Global Misery Inc…. I digress.

So there, apart from the fact that there's no feasible alternative, is the first reason for being a Villa fan: your dad takes you down there when you're a kid.

The second reason is the name. Aston Villa. Just say that to yourselves a few times. The sensuous V, the languorous L's, the hint of Edwardian suburban uprightness, the aftertaste of vanilla (cake or ice-cream; who really cares ?) Villa Park - the only football ground to be mentioned in the work of a great English poet. It's so distinctive, so flamboyant, so much more intellectually adventurous than just having the name of a place followed by….City, for instance.

Reason number three: the colours. Claret and Blue! Claret: a red wine drunk only by the discerning and knowledgeable. Blue: and hardly just any blue; a soft Cambridge blue. Certainly not the plain, standard blue adopted by….certain other clubs.

You see how carefully I have avoided the word common ? But it is a fact we all instinctively acknowledge that if there are two football clubs in one city, then one is more ‘aristocratic' than the other, and will inevitably attract a more refined class of supporter.

This is manifestly so down the Villa. Have you ever wondered why the stands appear to be only about half-full ? It's because at any one time, a decent proportion of the crowd are elsewhere in the ground, discussing events on the pitch, away from the troublesome noise and distraction of having to actually watch them.

This is because we are classically stoical fans (strictly speaking, in the school of Seneca.) We have been to the heights (European Cup, 1982) and looked over and seen that it is essentially worthless. We have been in the depths (Division 3, 1970-72) and were never happier.

Elsewhere, they have yet to learn this. They attend each match actually believing that a victory will be in some way important! They cheer and shout! Their naïvete is so touching. In a way, I honestly hope they never have to taste the wormwood of Reality.

Leave a comment or raise new issues on The Stirrer message board.

©2006 The Stirrer