At their annual North American Aston Villa Supporters meet, a lot of fans from across the states met for the first time – and raised a substantial amount for charity.
Words by Mark Jirobe (@VillaMarkPGH)
The weekend of September 14th may not go down in Aston Villa history after a draw to Blackburn, but it will live in the hearts and minds of a fair amount of Villa supporters for a plethora of other reasons.
Villa supporters from far and wide assembled into New York City for the 6th Annual North American Aston Villa Supporters Meet-Up. The home-base for the weekend was a wonderful bar called Legends in the heart of Manhattan. While the majority of supporters were from the US, there were also supporters from areas of Canada, Ireland, Lichfield and even as far as Bahrain.
The event kicked off the day before the Blackburn tilt with a night of handshakes, hugs and of course a “few” adult beverages. There was an overall feeling of total camaraderie on display as some Villa supporters were attending their first North American meet-up. The internet is a magical place and few supporters were meeting other Aston Villa supporters they have talked with for years for the very first time. After a long night of conversation, singing all of the Villa songs and maybe even a broken glass or two… every one that stayed late into the night were pretty optimistic for the match against Blackburn the following afternoon.
Thank our lucky stars that kick-off wasn’t until 12:30PM local time.
Groggy minds and hopeful hearts of the Aston Villa faithful descended upon Legends once again the following afternoon to see what the Claret & Blue had in store for us against a Blackburn team that wasn’t going to roll over. It was quite a sight to see all of the Aston Villa flags from different parts of the world hanging around.
The entire time before the game just felt like one massive family gathering. Never in my years of being a Villa supporter have I ever witnessed so many supporters in one room and it was quite the sight to see. I don’t think Mike Tyson himself could have punched the smile off of my face and the faces of so many others. About a half hour before kickoff, Legends was absolutely packed wall to wall with Villa supporters and even a few supporters of other clubs that wanted to stick around and figure out what in the bloody hell was going on. The beers were flowing, the supporters were in full song and the buzz in the air was absolutely electric.
When the bone hits the marrow, Aston Villa did not give a noteworthy performance against Blackburn. But you couldn’t have even noticed it was a poor performance by the way the Villa supporters were singing and enjoying themselves. Even after Bradley Dack scored for Blackburn, the songs just seemed to get a little louder and a little more prevalent. At half-time there was much discussion of what Villa were doing wrong, but everyone agreed that one goal could change our fortunes on the day.
And that one goal was definitely a sight to see.
A foul on Jack Grealish five yards outside of the penalty area granted Villa a free-kick opportunity in stoppage time. If Villa were going to salvage a draw from this less-than-stellar performance, the time was now. Conor Hourihane was subbed onto the pitch earlier in the second half and looked as if he had a point to prove.
All I can personally remember is standing directly behind Steve Stevil, an admin of the ‘Villans Forever!’ Facebook group. I watched as Hourihane took five steps behind the free-kick spot, the referee blew the whistle to give the go-ahead to Hourihane and then…
The loudest and most beautiful thing I have ever heard in my life graced my ears. A thunderous eruption of emotion and pride swallowed Legends whole and echoed throughout all of Manhattan. Hourihane hit an undoubtedly magical ball that curled left of the wall and the far post before dipping into the back of the net. The Blackburn keeper had a better chance of getting his hand on the Empire State Building than he did Hourihane’s strike. The goal may have only salvaged a draw for Villa in a sub-par performance, but one may have thought the goal meant something much greater. One of my mates that made the trip was on the upper floor of Legends and told me afterwards that the sound produced by Hourihane scoring legitimately shook his beer on the bar top. While the result wasn’t what any Villa supporter was looking for on the day, it was quite a sight to see this many Villans gathered in the US have a remarkable and memorable moment to remember for a long time to come.
After the match ended, Lions Club chairman Simon Tissington gathered everyone together to begin the raffle of various Aston Villa merchandise. All of the proceeds from the raffle and then the eventual auction raised $8,000 for Acorns Children’s Hospice in Birmingham. The raffle included donated Villa merchandise from North American based Lions Clubs and there was even sightings of a Balti Bowl. The auction saw memorabilia such as signed Villa shirts, pictures signed by Ian Taylor, a beautiful Holte End entrance picture among other really nice pieces for the highest bidder. For some bidders, it was not about the price they were paying for the merchandise as much as it was about supporting Acorns in any way they could. It was a classy and wonderful gesture by all of the winning bidders and I can’t say enough how heartwarming it was to witness that.
Maryland Lions Club chairwoman Lindsey Williams eloquently described the experience:
“A Villa meet-up is like seeing your family at Thanksgiving or Christmas. You may not have seen or spoken to each other for a while, but when you finally do see each other, you can guarantee it’s going to be a wonderful time of fellowship, fun and camaraderie. The ability to unite with a common theme of love for the Villa and to celebrate or cry together (depending on the score.) You also get to meet new family members from different parts of the states or world. Cheer the Villa on together while raising a glass and a bucket load of cash for the wonderful Acorns charity.”
All in all, the North American Meet-Up was a great time and I urge anyone near or far to join in on the fun next year. If you’re looking to interact more with North American Villans, or just want to be in the loop for the meet-up next year, there’s a Villa Facebook group “Aston Villa America” that will keep you updated on date and location. Also I’d like to personally extend a massive thank you and well-wishes to all of the Aston Villa family I was honored to meet during this event. While it was a whirlwind weekend for me personally, it was an amazing experience and I cannot stress enough how much fun I had.
See you all next year!
Check out some of the images from the gathering below: