Tales From Balti Land

Aston Villa vs. Chelsea : 17 October 2009.

Well, that new away kit is turning out to be a bit of a jinx so far this season. Let’s wear the all-white one for the next colour clash. Hell – there wasn’t really a clash at Villa was there?

Like the match against Villa in February – Guus Hiddink’s first game in charge – this was a 12.45pm start and so this meant that there was no chance of a good pre-match in a local hostelry. I collected Parky at 9am and drove up to Birmingham, aware that a few mates from London were travelling up by train. Their pre-match would be in a central Brum pub – ours would be half a mile to the north of Villa Park in a down-at-heal pub called “The Crown And Cushion.” We used this pub before the 2002 F.A.Cup Semi Final and it used to be the main pub of the Villa firm in days of old.

We sank a couple of pints of Red Stripe and noted the barmaid “of a certain age” arriving for her shift. We both mentally dressed her and then set off for the stadium. I commented to Parky that, save for a very brief mention by me of Petr Cech being back in the team, there had been not one single comment about the match all day. This is often the norm.

I have been to Villa Park on umpteen occasions and it’s a rather grand place. However, all of the stands have been redeveloped apart from the North stand, which always used to house the away fans. These days, we occupy the north section ( upper and lower ) of the Doug Ellis Stand. Everywhere around Villa Park is red brick – the stonework of The Aston Hall pub on the corner, the houses nearby and the old tram sheds adjacent to the stadium. The old Trinity Road stand, so beloved by connoisseurs of stadia design was a red brick masterpiece, with steps and gables, until its sad demise in around 2000. Villa have tried to recapture its presence in the remodelled Holte End, but it just isn’t the same.

On the way in, I spotted Dave Johnstone and purchased the latest “CFCUK”” in which there were a few wonderful obituaries for dear Vic who so sadly died on the evening of the Stoke game. How ironic the last ever goal of Vic’s beautiful life would be that oh-so dramatic winner.

Gary and Alan joined me in the middle of the upper deck just before kick-off and it seemed ages since our last game.

I thought we began pretty slowly and Villa had the best of the early exchanges. It took me a while to get into the game too – maybe I need the regular fix once a week more than I thought. Didier’s goal came out of the blue and Friedel really ought to have done better. Apart from a great run-and-shot from Ash and a shot from Didier, we laboured for the rest of the half. Villa were no great shakes and we ought to have seized the opportunity to kill them off. Unfortunately, I had a great view of Frank’s unfortunate flick which set up Dunne to equalise. The home support had been truly docile all of the half and the goal woke them momentarily. Our support was buoyant in the first period. We stood the entire game.

I looked around the stadium and noted gaps in the upper corners of the Holte End and the new Trinity Road stand…the gate was 3,000 below capacity. During half-time, I had a chat with six Chelsea fans from Belgium. They had six season tickets between them…good stuff.

I spotted a flag on the Holte End balcony wall –

“Villa – Stella – Balti” and it made me chuckle. It reminded me of the infamous United banner “United – Kids – Wife – In That Order.”

I wondered what a similar three-word phrase could sum up Chelsea Football Club.

“Celery – Bouncy – Underachievement.”

As the second-half began, the sun became brighter, but the support died a bit. Gary was giving John Carew loads of abuse, likening him to Bernard Bresslaw, but nobody else cottoned on to this. Poor marking at a corner gave Villa an easy goal, but still Villa’s support seemed muted. Was it something they put in their Balti pies I wondered? We toiled in vain for the rest of the game and, despite enjoying 67% of possession, the equaliser never came. We looked tired and out-of-sorts. Very often the players seemed crowded. Drogba had no support when it mattered and our shooting was poor. However, Villa weren’t exactly on fire. It was a game we so easily could have won. Frank seemed quiet, but Malouda was non-existent. We couldn’t fathom why Joe was brought on so late. Only once or twice to Villa’s support roar.

As we exited the stairs, there was frustration amongst the away support and one fan was complaining of a lack of a desire to change things. Scolari was mentioned.

Groan.

I waited for Parky to show up and noted that the Villa fans must surely be the ugliest in the Premiership.

At least Liverpool lost.

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