I seem to have mastered the art of insanely fast paced travel. Having already covered Tokyo and Taipei in a single weekend each over the last month, time restrictions and transport options necessitated an even quicker tour of the UK.
It seemed like fate that Villa’s home UEFA cup game against Ajax – possibly my team’s biggest game since losing the 2000 FA Cup final to Chelsea – fell in the same week I happen to be back in the UK. I managed to use my ‘former season ticket holder’ status to wangle a couple of tickets high in the Trinity Road stand for Mark and I, and off to the Midlands we went.
I’ve really missed live football in England, and that’s something that my season ticket at ultra-defensive FC Seoul has done little to remedy (I noticed Seoul have gone top of the K-league since I left Korea – good work boys!). Though I’ve walked down that hill above the Holte End maybe 50 times before, nothing quite compares to the nervous intensity of a big European game. By the time we’d perused the club shop, grabbed one of the infamous Villa Park Balti Pies and necked a couple of nerve quenching pints in the Holte Suite, it was time for kick off.
Ajax – unfortunately in terms of the same, but less so in terms of the result – simply didn’t turn up. I completely expected the Dutchmen to me a mere shadow of the infamous Johan Cruyff side that used to destroy every team in Europe, but only lanky Dutch international Van Huntelaar showed any real class at all. The current Villa team, on the other hand, are twice the side I’ve ever seen run out in Claret and Blue before, and I’m thrilled by it. Agbonlahor and Young on the wings looked threatening every time they touched the ball, and the defence – despite the traditional Villa lapses of concentration – are a country mile better than the leaky version I remember last time I watched a live Villa game.
Despite their obvious decline, Ajax were never going to be an easy prospect, though for a while it did look like it. When Martin Laursen headed into an unguarded net after about 15 minutes, it triggered the kind of onslaught on the Ajax goal that could easily have seen Villa three or four goals up. Instead a similarly disastrous bit of defending from the home side saw Ajax pull it back to 1 all, and suddenly Villa looked more likely to go in behind. Fortunately, just before half time controversial midfielder Gareth Barry slotted in what turned out to be Villa’s winner, totally against the run of play.
An all out assault on the Ajax goal in the second half produced precisely nothing; in all honest I couldn’t care less. Not only had I witnessed the biggest European night in Birmingham for a good 15 years, it even ended with a Villa win. Ecstasy. Who knows how long it’ll be – barring a weird European draw against an Irish team (are there any left in the UEFA?) – before I next see Villa live.
After the Villa game it was onwards to Warwick to catch up with some uni friends. Visiting Varsity – our old Thursday night place to almost die of alcohol poisoning – made me feel really old. If I was working in a bar I wouldn’t have served a single one of the people in there, though apparently they’re all freshers. Clearly I’ve been out of the country too long. Ant and I hung around until closing putting back a few pints, while he re-introduced me to British music. Being a man of similar musical obsessions to me, it was great to get a brief overview of what’s new in the last 18 months, especially as listening to radio 1 on the way to the game revealed I currently know precisely nothing.
A few hours sleep in a comfortable student floor, and Ant and I drifted back onto campus for breakfast with my old Chemistry colleagues Matt and Leanne. They’re all still going down a road that I’m very happy to have long since abandoned, but seem to be doing well, so fair play. Very strange to be back!
Flying visit mk. 1 over, time for flying visit mk. 2!
Villa’s big win link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/europe/7672248