Stop The Sanctimonious Bleating: Aston Villa Pitch Invasion Was A Celebration

Football needed something to make it choke on its prawn sandwiches.
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Football needed something to make it choke on its prawn sandwiches.

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How history would have been changed if Kenneth Wolstenholme had adopted a somewhat sniffier line in 1966? To paraphrase a rather less famous piece of grammar-mangling punditry, it was "...déjà vu all over again" at Villa Park on Saturday,  as the assembled masses, after years of sterile nothingness, were finally given something to smile about.

I have very nearly written a few comments this year about what I saw as a collective sense of acceptance of the inevitable around the grand old cathedral that is Villa Park. I likened this to a seeming lack of passion and pragmatic "knowing our place" that has, in my eyes, always prevented Birmingham, despite being Britain's second city, from being lauded alongside smaller, yet somehow higher profile cities like Liverpool and Newcastle.

This didn't mean I was happy to witness the initial exuberant celebrating on the pitch after the second  goal won the tie against our oldest local rivals, followed inevitably as it was, by a  mass invasion at the final whistle. No, I used the term "mindless idiots" from the comfort of watching in front of a large screen LG TV even before Tony Pulis did, and certainly prior to Mark Lawrenson launching the salvo of clichés with "...it's like going back to the 80s". I love that irony that Mark, someone whose fashion sense and demeanour  has never emerged from that decade, fired the first shot in the feast of sanctimonious bleating that, all too predictably, followed.

Yes, I was watching the game on TV, but I have paid enough dues over the years to earn the right to comment. I have been on the pitch myself, as a 14 year old, with my Dad at Hillsborough, when we finally clawed our way back to our rightful place in English football after the wilderness years that I had only  known until then. It was breathtakingly exciting for me then, so I can understand how the moment takes over. It did too in Rotterdam when, via Peter Withe's shin, we beat the mighty Bayern Munich to lift the European Cup. Moats and fences stopped us celebrating on the pitch on that heady night.

Those moats and fences were rightly torn down and filled in after the abomination that was another Hillsborough occasion. Ironically, by then, the weekly ritual of cowering under a storm of bricks and bottles that was the environmental  consequence of being a football supporter in the 70s and 80s, was starting to wane. Modern football, as SkyTV would like to have us know, began when it was dragged somehow "alive and kicking" into an Arcadia of all-seater stadia.

Prices rose and the sanitation of the working class game  moved on apace. The fans, all but priced out of the the swanky new stadia, were allowed continued attendance, at a vastly inflated price,  as they provided a quaint and atmospheric backdrop of noisy chanting, that helped sell English football to a worldwide TV audience.
What has this got to do with the aforementioned mindless ones though? First of all, the working classes, don't really need to go back to the 80s because, for many, they were never allowed to escape.

George and Dave, who himself likes to claim claret and blue allegiance when he jogs around Hyde Park, are making sure that the economic realities of the 80s are indeed "déjà vu all over again" for many, just in case they do not know their proper place. How dare these oiks enjoy themselves? Its funny, my alter-sporting ego remembers vividly Will Carling being chaired off the Twickenham pitch by ecstatic England rugby fans. That was ok though as it was at HQ and all jolly good fun wasn't it?

There is also an oft-used term in football punditry that "referees know the rules, but they don't understand the game". So it is with the corporates who run clubs, the FA. the TV companies and the police. This week was a prime example. Villa featured twice on live TV against West Brom. Sure, there is no particular recent history of overt enmity between the fans- not like the ritual violence that has accompanied the other Birmingham Derby ( which I pray we won't have to reprise next season).

However, I am old enough to know that is still there, with just a little prompting.  There was no problem when Villa won in the league the other night, but that was, in my opinion, due to a collective stunned sense of relief among the fans that we had finally won a game. Saturday was different;  all afternoon in the pub for some, followed by the rare chance to let your hair down (or lack of it judging by many of the superannuated pitch invaders) and spontaneously celebrate, proved too heady a concoction. The game should have kicked off at lunchtime. Obvious really.

As I write, I don't yet know the result of the suitably earnest FA investigation. We might be thrown out of the competition. Certainly, the hysterical media coverage is demanding that heads will roll.
For me, I abhor violence. I did not see too much of it though on Saturday. Seats being ripped out by the opposing fans was potentially going to make it turn nasty. Thankfully though it didn't. I will get abuse for this I am sure, but I am glad that Villa Park rediscovered its soul, and maybe, a part of my home city did too, as some of the "Holte Enders in the sky"  came down from their eerily lofty perch. The place has been  too quiet for too long, and it means way more to me than it should after all my other distractions. Furthermore, if Saturday's events made a few people choke on their prawn sandwiches, then I am happier still.