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11th Feb 2015

Opinion: Aston Villa fans aren’t spoilt, they’re just tired of being neglected. Paul Lambert must go

And Randy Lerner should, too

Conan Doherty

How did we get here? How the hell did we get here?

Villa fans aren’t a spoilt bunch. They’re not.

Fickle, sure. Demanding, perhaps. Spoilt? Absolutely not. No way.

The club might well have dominated – completely and utterly dominated – back in the 1800s. That 1982 European Cup might have raised a certain level of expectation around the place, too. And a prolonged stay challenging in the top flight, making noises in English football might well have seen the Villa Park faithful growing accustomed to a decent way of living but there’s never been any snobbery around Birmingham.

What’s that old saying? If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor. It doesn’t even apply here. How could it?

When your sense of wealth is carrying a cookie jar around under your arm, allowed to sniff it every so often, you’re not exactly living the high life, are you?

Villa have been carrying that jar with them everywhere. They know what glory looks like alright but they’ve rarely succumbed and suckled at the sweet teat of it.

Instead, they look on from the outside. Mouths watering, minds wandering, arms extending for anyone else who’s willing to dip in their hands and grab a bite rather than save it for a rainy day.

But Aston Villa can live with being poor, that’s not the issue. The most frustrating thing is that, every once in a while, they gather up a wad of €50 notes and just wipe their arses with them.

The club’s chief executive came out just two weeks ago and boldly stated: “Our focus has been on making sure we support Paul [Lambert] to make us as successful as possible, and I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

Bold? Ill-informed? Insulting.

Since when is 12 goals in 25 games, a snug place in the relegation zone, and 12 points from a possible 30 against the lowly likes of Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Hull, West Brom, QPR, Burnley and Leicester heading in the right direction?

Lambert’s boys have mustered just three wins in 10 games against the seven worst sides in the league – Villa withstanding, of course.

Since when has it ever been acceptable for a manager – in his third season in the post – to come out and say that he is going to keep a side – a side who has never been relegated from the Premier League – in the Premier League?

That comment alone is a sackable offence. Even when you take out the fact that this is now the boss’ third campaign, this is his team, and this – God help us – is the fruits of his labour. An ambition to keep Villa – Aston Villa – afloat does nothing but verify a crippling inhibition on the manager’s part.

The team no longer goes out to win games. It’s not set up that way. It’s set up to not lose them. And they’re making a right pig’s dinner of that and all.

Hull City v Aston Villa - Premier League

And, do you know what, up until January 10, I supported the manager. I defended him. I blamed Randy bloody Lerner and his callous ploy to recoup the money he had invested earlier in his Villa career. I blamed the absent owner for his distinct lack of interest – as long as the team were staying in the Premier League by hook or by crook, he was making profit. And I blamed the lousy team Lambert had to assemble on a shoestring budget as a result of the American who still has as big a role as any to play in accepting the responsibility of this pitiful demise.

But, on January 10, I watched a poor Leicester side not only beat Aston Villa but absolutely annihilate them. I watched the worst team in the Premier League pend Villa into a corner, drag them up by the scruff of their necks and throw them from pillar to post like a bloody rag doll whilst the once mighty lions just winced, covered their eyes and prayed for the end.

Since then, the team has done nothing but lose in the league. I suppose you don’t win many fights by curling up in a ball.

What’s more baffling is that obviously Lambert has something about him. He didn’t find Christian Benteke, Carles Gil, Jores Okore by chance. He didn’t guide Norwich to successive promotions and a comfortable Premier League stint playing quality football with nothing between his ears, or no vision to follow.

At Villa though, whether it’s the pressure of a bigger job, the expectation of a bigger job, he has refused to play ball. Literally. He won’t let it happen. And to say that his team have the shackles on is to vastly underestimate what is actually going on here because his men aren’t playing with shackles on. His men aren’t playing. His men are tied down, legs to feet, blind-folded and gagged, thrown in a darkened room.

I believe in Paul Lambert. I genuinely do. He just doesn’t believe in himself anymore. What’s worse is that he doesn’t believe in Aston Villa.

And, for that alone, he isn’t the man for this job any longer. He’s lost sight of what this job entails. It’s not a task of keeping our heads above water. This is supposed to be a task of swimming to shore. Instead, we’re doing neither. Instead, we’re drowning.

Things have gotten that bad that I’m considering introducing myself in a new way from now on: “My name’s Conán and I’m a Villa fan.”

The first step is admitting you have a problem and all that. Well, that and the fact that it means people will just approach with a touch more caution than normal. Maybe they’ll tone down their chirpiness, as well, out of respect.

Because, let me tell you, it isn’t an easy life. More so when you don’t even have the memories of a 1982 European Cup title to brag about. More so when you have Paul Lambert’s paralyzing insecurities dragging you down with him.

Now, the highlight of my football world is recalling March 27 1994 as one of the best and worst days of my life. The day Villa won the League Cup… but that God forsaken day I opted to pledge my allegiance to the West Midlands for good. Savo Milosevic and another title in ’96 had me briefly thinking I was onto a sure thing. Briefly. Very briefly.

You soon learn that you’ve made a mistake when you’re celebrating winning the Peace Cup 13 years later.

Right now, a win over Leicester and a place in the FA Cup quarter finals would be the most unimaginable of highs for one of England’s most successful clubs. Right now, a home win over Stoke in our next league game is the most unlikely, unrealistic, yet most crucial prospects of a generation for Aston Villa.

Villa fans are not spoilt. We’re just desperate.

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