The Villa View’s Dan Bardell thinks Conor Hourihane’s “Can I not dream?” post epitomises the feeling of many an Aston Villa fan at the start of this Premier League adventure.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @danbardell

To say Saturday was a trip into the unknown would be a complete understatement. A new ground, new players donning Claret and Blue and for the first time in three seasons, an Aston Villa Premier League game. 

We were back.

I’m talking of three seasons away from the top tier, but realistically from 2010 to 2016 Aston Villa FC were simply existing in the Premier League. We were pointless, lurching from one disaster to the next. Manager and players reaching Villa Park, not as a final destination but as somewhere to be comfortable, somewhere to pick up a big pay packet without a real purpose.

We were lost, a big club in big trouble.

Dropping out wasn’t a one season surprise, it was years of mismanagement and bad decisions. Eventually it isn’t just on the cards, it had become our destiny.

I used to hear people say, “Going down will do us good, a chance to rebuild.”

I couldn’t see it.

I thought going down would be catastrophic, at that point the timing couldn’t have been worse. The Premier League was undergoing a period of big change. The revenue for just being in The Premier League was about to reach new levels.

Peak Villa.

I guess in some ways my feelings were right, we’ve lived life on the edge, even in the Sky Bet Championship. For two thirds of our time in the EFL lessons weren’t really learned, past mistakes repeated. We all know now that Aston Villa could have liquidated just over a year ago. 

Instead new custodians bailed us out, steadied us and consequently brought everything together to put us back in the League we all want Aston Villa to be in. 

As I approached the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday with my “The Villa View” colleague Chris Dolan, we did take a moment to stand there and take it all in. Looking at that magnificent new Stadium it was hard not to reflect on what has been a roller-coaster few years for Villa fans. 

It also signalled how much the Premier League has changed in our absence, it wasn’t that long ago we were up there competing with Spurs. It’s now fair to say they are probably a Super Club. Consecutive years of Champions League Football has elevated them to a level we – for now – are a world away from. 

It doesn’t mean we won’t get there.

I was lucky enough to attend “The Big Premier League Debate” last week in Manchester with Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, getting to talk to them about Aston Villa’s chances and Jack Grealish’s England ambitions.

Lovely, but it was Gary talking about Manchester United with their fan channel representative that I found most interesting. The United fan was adamant that they should have done more business and that he was really worried about the future of his club.

Neville was surprisingly relaxed about it all, talking of “cycles.” 

Stating that Manchester United had been on a “good cycle virtually his entire life” and that in 2019 they were undoubtedly in a “bad cycle” but that it was nothing to worry about. At some point over the next few years he believed United would find themselves again and enter another cycle of success.

Fair to say Aston Villa on a grander scale have had our bad cycle that Neville talks of.

We can see the light again now.

I watched my team play in that pristine new Stadium on Saturday, and you know what, I saw plenty to feel positive about. Years ago, us capitulating like that would have devastated me, but with realism present I came away proud of the lads. We lost 3-1, but we went toe to toe with a team that has been and is light-years ahead of us. We could have quite easily taken something.

I saw players who helped drag us out The Championship giving everything for the shirt, new players mixing it and looking like they’d been here far longer than they had. 

A manager and coaching staff with Villa history, Villa in their blood in one case watching on, proud to be there and determined to elevate Aston Villa again.

Don’t even get me started on the fan-base, they stun me. Honoured to be amongst them, honoured to be one of them. I didn’t hear one person get on the teams back, full unbridled support, never ending love. There’s something special about the people on away days, it all just felt so pure.

As Dean Smith stated post-match “we have zero points” but I came away energised, I came away thinking that maybe there is a new cycle incoming. Who is to say that we cant reach Tottenham’s current level in the coming years? Yes, we’ve got to do it a certain way, and it’ll take time, but I believe it can happen. 

If we didn’t have ambition there would be no point being back, people will scoff at me talking of Villa reaching the upper echelons of the Premier League, with the team that dispatched us Saturday, but why not?

As Conor Hourihane stated back in 2014 when someone tried to tell him he couldn’t achieve something: 

“Can I not dream?”

 Aston Villa aren’t in the Premier League to exist anymore, that I know for sure. 

We are still at the start of a journey.

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