Been looking forward to this one for ages. Perhaps a bit of an odd choice for a grudge match, but I have been developing, over the last year or two, an intense hatred of Villa. It has gone almost unnoticed for months, but after a recent glance at the fixture list it all suddenly burst out in a torrent of completely unreasonable incandescence.Admittedly they’re not l’Arse – ironically actually, a win for us tomorrow would do a favour for that ‘orrible lot – or Chelski or West Ham. Can’t even point to narcissistic, persecution-complexed fans, as with Newcastle or Liverpool.
However, once the idea popped into my head it gained momentum, sped out of control and now has a life of its own. I hate Villa. I absolutely loathe them.
The reason? They’ve stolen our thunder. They’ve usurped us. Challenging the top four? Pushing for a Champions League spot? Spine of young English players? Those are our trademarks. We did all the groundwork for this. Just a couple of years ago, pushing the top-four was our exclusive territory.
Yet now, no-one remembers us – they just bleat on about how good it is for the Premiership that Villa are muscling in on the top four. It’s like inventing the paper clip and then seeing someone else patent it and run off with the money. That’s exactly what it’s like. So you can easily imagine the level of ire I now feel.
I guess a modern-day Freud would diagnose this, as with most of my gripes about Spurs, as a failure to step out of the glorious bygone era of Martin Jol (blessed be his name). The all-action-no-plot goal-fests, the scintillating one-touch counter-attacks, the English-speaking changing-rooms – and the fact that it actually brought us results. It was a perfect platform for us, to expand the elite into a top five. It was supposed to be the end of our perennial underachievement. I still haven’t quite accepted that we failed to push on, that the whole empire crumbled in a blitz of inflated transfer fees and bumbling Darren Bents.
So now we find ourselves back where we’ve been most of my life – mid-table mediocrity, with the occasional Cup run and very firmly rooted within this sceptr’d isle, with no need for a passport to mainland Europe.
Instead, it’s Villa who’ve run off and sold our paper-clips. Villa, with their ridiculous colours and odious, smug little manager. Worse, since I’m in a minority of one on this point, I’ve just had to stew in a corner silently, for months on end, muttering sotto voce curses and glaring at the league table.
As we clearly aren’t going to overtake them this season, the only solution is to vent some rage and deal them a bloody nose this afternoon. It will carry the same satisfaction as beating up the lad who stole your girlfriend. Not big, not clever, won’t win back the girl – but nevertheless, in a pathetic way it will make me feel a little better about life.
On a more reasonable level, this game will also provide a pretty good gauge of where we are, given the current confusion of whether we’re still in a relegation scrap or actually pushing for seventh.
Friedel is one of the finest ‘keepers in the land, while in the last couple of years I’ve undergone a Pauline-like conversion to Heskeyism. He may not be able to score if he visited a brothel, kicked out every other punter and then signed the deeds for the place, but he has a majestic ability to treasure the ball, occupy defenders and involve his chums. In the various areas of grass between these two players I have to admit, between gritted teeth, that that darned English spine has a combo of guile in Barry, and oodles of pace in Young and Agbonlahor.
A good test for us without a doubt, and a pointer for next season (sigh – how depressing to waive this campaign, in mid-March, and already peer towards next season). We’ve honed the baffling skill of matching the top-four, yet we are frequently out-scrapped by the rubbish thud-and-blunder bunch around the drop-zone. The only true gauge of our standard therefore seems to be Villa and Everton.