In another new feature for the upcoming season, guest writer Dan Wiseman has spoken about his teams return to the promised land that is the Premier League.
As an Aston Villa fan, I have learned to savour and appreciate every opportunity that I get to feel pride in my club. They have been few and far between of late, to say the least. The slow, gruelling demise that lead to an inevitable and humilianting relegation from the Premier League in 2015/16, left behind a lingering air of negativity that engulfed the whole club.
The core of the squad that fell to that 17-point finish was rotten. Brad Guzan, Joleon Lescott, Micah Richards (who’s contract has only just expired) and the like, were a burden to the club, even after their respective departures. Their abhorrent attitudes meant that it took so much time, and so many different approaches, for Villa to finally eek such disruptive influences out of the dressing room.
The Championship was a particularly depressing period in the life of any Aston Villa fan. It took three different managers and their own respective squads, two new ownership groups and a rogue cabbage for Villa to finally find a formula that worked – but when they found it, boy, did it.
With Dean Smith at the helm, and Jack Grealish as captain, the club found a combination of boyhood Villa supporters that the fans instantly fell in love with. But it was only three months after Smith’s initial appoiment, once Grealish had returned from a long injury lay-off, that the club enjoyed the incredible 10-match winning streak that resulted in the illusive promotion everyone at Villa Park had craved for three seasons.
So when Jack lead a new, improved and very expensive Villa side out into the magnificent Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, alongside Harry Kane and his band of Champions League finalists last Saturday, I couldn’t help but crack a sizeable smile. It felt right. But above all else, it felt like we deserved it.
But what pleased me most, was the fact that every measurable drop of the pride and passion I felt for Villa in that moment, they repaid on the pitch. It was a superb performance. Dean Smith’s gameplan was executed to perfection – defend deep and in numbers, congest key areas of the pitch, and counter attack quickly and effectively. The defeat was unfortunate, but probably deserved in the end. We tired towards the end of the second half and were quick to squander possession – something you can’t do when playing a side of Spurs’ calibre. This league is a cruel mistress.
But I saw more enough in that match to tell me that Villa will be alright this season. And for a newly-promoted side, that’s all that matters, first and foremost. The performance then enabled me to relax, and enjoy all of the little things that make being in the Premier League the constantly thrilling experience that the fortunate ones amongst of us will know and love.
The simple matter of being on Match of the Day, for example, was something I dearly missed. Being in the Championship, you realise how the size and stature of the Premier League does mean that in the media, especially on television, it can be easily forgotten that there are 72 clubs that exist beneath our fabled first tier. To receive the media coverage and interest, especially when we’ve been spending so much money on transfers, made for a whirlwind transfer window. It seemed like every day there was a new £20M target we were linked with. And I loved every second of it.
Now however, matchday 1 of 38 is in the past. It’ll be a long season, full of ups and downs no doubt, but as a club, we’re more than used to that. We’ve endured the reign of Roberto Di Matteo, the Ross McCormack saga, Attacks from Birmingham fans and from cabbages, John Terry’s tears at Wembley to administration and the verge of financial collapse, amongst all else. We are a club with a storied history that gained one hell of a chapter whilst in the Championship.
But with all of the new signings, changes to the stadium thanks to our new ownership and their relatively new manager, this era in our history doesn’t feel like just another page – this is a completely different book altogether. Aston Villa are back where they belong.
And it feels fantastic.