When I was a child, my dad used to take me to the Villa. Never Villa. Always the Villa. Even now in his current state he’ll notice if you ever get it wrong.
We went to every home game come rain or shine, and if my dad had to work he’d always arrange for one of his friends to take me. Then I’d have to sit in the back of the work van and get bounced up and down as we made our way through the streets of Birmingham listening to Echo and the Bunnymen, Aztec Camera, Deacon Blue, Harry Connick Jr, and more. I loved it.
When I was in my mid-teens, I started going to away games with a school friend, and from that grew my sense of independence. Travelling on the dizzying London underground to Chelsea (the police once threw me and my friend out before kick off because we were young and easy targets), QPR, Crystal Palace, or heading north to Liverpool (my friend and I watched a game in the Kop once as away supporters – naughty naughty!), Everton (I remember the glorious weather on the last day of the season, cheering for Graham Taylor to come out for his encore after Villa’s best-ever Premier League season finish), Oldham, Leeds (still makes me nervous now), Nottingham, Manchester. I even went to Norwich once.
That independence became the catalyst for the desire for international travel, and I started dreaming bigger. I started saving up for an Australian working holiday visa and decided I’d rather be there than anywhere else. Football tickets were no longer affordable.
Then life happened. I moved abroad for good, became an armchair supporter on the other side of the world, and never seemed to find the opportunity to return. But on this last trip back the timing was right and my sister got me a ticket. It had been roughly 30 years. The last time the Holte End was still all standing, and both the Trinity Road and Doug Ellis stands (Witton Lane) were completely different.
The local pub (The Vine), where my dad and his friend used to grab a quick pint (or three), was shuttered up, and the industrial estate that we used to park the car had a huge fence around it with CCTV everywhere. But the walk to the ground and that match day atmosphere hadn’t changed at all: street vendors, fish and chip, police (but no longer on horses), and lots of genuinely happy-looking people.
I sat way up in the Doug Ellis Stand with my niece (unthinkable back all those years ago), and they/we won 2-0 against Nottingham Forest. I took along my Leica M6 with two rolls of film in preference to my digital camera for the sake of nostalgia. My niece has no idea what film is.
The weather was perfect, Villa Park was rocking, and Aston Villa continued the awesome run that they/we are on.
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