Like any other kid, my favourite time of the entire week was the weekend. Not because there was no school, nor was it because it was a chance to sleep later than usual. It was because the weekend came with Football. Growing up in third-world Malaysia the only football we used to get on satellite TV (a relatively new phenomenon 10 years go) besides the World Cup was English Premier League Football.
I remember wiling away innumerable hours sat on my couch, glued to the television, watching Bergkamp, Shearer, Scholes and Stevie G play every week. I loved the thrill and the drama that accompanied every game and the voices of Andy Gray and Martin Tyler were like gospel. In the first few years my preferences for a particular team always varied. One day I would be enthralled by the magic of the great Arsenal team and in particular of the legendary Dennis Bergkamp, the next day it was the supreme confidence and ability of the Manchester United teams under Sir Alex Ferguson that I fell in love with. I finally settled on Liverpool FC simply because I saw my idol Steven Gerrard single-handedly win a match by sheer force of will.
As it was the norm then, you were expected to support a team and back them against all opposition. You were supposed to say your team was the best and that there really was not any other team quite like yours. Sure, Liverpool did not win much, but I would counter by saying “yea but we have the best fans”.
As I grew older however, I started to understand and appreciate the game a lot more. I came to realize that Liverpool was not the best team and did not play the most interesting football all the time. I became aware of other leagues, other teams and other ways of playing football. Yet, the majority of football I watched was still from the English Premier League. There is nothing quite like the league in terms of drama, competitiveness and the pace of the game. Rarely will you find a game that you were bored with with. Top quality entertainment was what you could expect from most, if not all matches.
Thus when I came here to England to pursue my Masters, it was with the hope that I would be able to watch a premier league game. It did not matter who was playing, I only wanted to experience the atmosphere.
On the 8th of November, I finally got to live that dream. I went to the premier league match between Aston-Villa and Manchester City. Last place against First. Exciting stuff.
Aston Villa is located in the suburbs of Birmingham – the second largest city in the UK and the largest in the midlands region. Despite its lowly position and the poor quality of football on show, the fans remain loyal and Villa Park is regularly close to being full.
Villa Park is one of the oldest stadiums in England and it really is quaint, with a maximum capacity of 42,788. Furthermore, the field of play itself is not very big and the fans are very close to players. On all four sides the stands lean slightly downwards and towards the field. All this adds to a great experience for the fans and can make opposition players intimidated.
We were fortunate in that our tickets (bought at a very reasonable price by the way) were at the Holte End, the area of the stadium where the ultra’s or hardcore fans support their team from. I was expecting an amazing atmosphere and I was not disappointed. The fans were in great voice. Remi Garde had just been installed the new manager and there was renewed optimism amongst the fans. Every mistake from a Villa player was countered with encouragement and screams of support from their fans, every decent bit of play was met with warm applause and every attack was supported by raucous screaming and cheering.
There was booing, but only for Fabian Delph, the former captain returning to his former home. The level of abuse he received was incredible and definitely not unjustified. He was regularly subject to chants of: “Fabian Delph is a W**ker is a W**ker” as well as regular hissing by the Holte End, done to signify that he was a snake. I even witnessed a number of plastic snakes being thrown around. Poor fellow.
The quality of the game itself was not very great. Villa were defending for their lives (literally!) and there was not much creativity and thrust from a Manchester City side shorn of Sergio Aguero and David Silva.
Before I end, I just want to say that a football match is best enjoyed with the company one has and I was fortunate to travel with a bunch of amazing people and good friends. We were all international students and huge football fans and we all wanted to experience the atmosphere of an English stadium and a Premier League match. While the outcome was not great, the experience was special and I am sure we are not going to forget it in a hurry.
Till next time!