There’s been a regular Zoom call between Aston Villa supporters during lockdowns across the world – and our writer Mark has been a part of it.
Words: Mark Jirobe | @VillaMarkPGH
During this time of a global pandemic, there are incalculable amounts of people who are missing loved ones that are reserved to using technology as a substitute for normal human interaction. No matter if the folks you care about most live down the street or on the other side of the world, Zoom and Skype calls have become more and more normal in a world that is now anything but. Thankful of this technological advantage, Chicago Aston Villa Lions Club Chairman Simon Leach decided to start inviting Villans from North America and beyond to join him on a Happy Hour Zoom call.
The results so far have been the stuff of magic.
Once a week, Simon opens up the video call and folks from far and wide join in for Villa banter, how things are developing in their neck of the woods and basically any topic you can think of. In the latest meeting, conversation swayed from the future of Jack Grealish, to United States National Team selections, to rating the Villa summer signings, to what kind of craft beer is popping up locally. You can tell immediately that this isn’t just a few supporters from a club deciding to have chat. It obviously means a lot in these dark times to have a bit of familiarity and it cannot be ignored that chatting with your mates can do wonders for your mental health.
Chris Fetters, Seattle Aston Villa Lions Club Chairman agrees:
“I think any time you see friendly faces and hear familiar voices, it brings out a positive environment that is comforting in times where we can be isolated from those we care about. It’s a small reminder that you’re not alone.”
Make no mistake, these are not all strangers meeting each other for the first time. While some are meeting for the very first time on Zoom, a large majority of the attending Villa supporters have met multiple times and have known each other for years. When Villa traverses the Atlantic Ocean, Villa supporters in North America make it a point to meet up in numbers. Of course, it’s only for a preseason match or two. But, from the droves of supporters that show up, you would never know they were attending an exhibition match. Previously such cities as Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia and more recently Minnesota have all welcomed Aston Villa and their supporters with open arms. The annual North American Aston Villa meet-ups have also been very important for folks near and far to join with other Villans for a weekend of football, banter, fun and maybe an adult beverage or two.
While the majority of the attendees on Zoom are living in the United States, one Aideen Quinn who lives in Ireland has been a perpetual mainstay. Aideen loves the Villa, has travelled far and wide to support the club no matter where they may be. It is quite a sight to see the sun over Aideens’ shoulder rise through her window with the five hour time difference. While the North American based Villans are drinking their last beers around 2 am, Aideen is cracking open Guinness and speaking eloquently about Villa, Paul McGrath, her travels and inviting anyone to Ireland who wants to visit when the current state of the world is long gone. Aideen is not only one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet, but also one of the most knowledgeable Villa supporters as well.
Andy Chesney, a British expat and member of the Space City Lions based out of Houston, Texas usually brings Aston Villa and general football-related questions for a bit of a quiz for everyone. Through his overly enjoyable accent, Andy relishes the opportunity to make Villa supporters scratch their heads in wonderment of difficult questions. It truly keeps the call interesting when you’re trying to figure out players and their accolades from yesteryear.
The call itself can get a little cluttered from time to time, but the respect to let someone get their point across always becomes paramount. Even for the hot button issues that may surround Villa, it’s a practice in being polite to let someone finish speaking to say if you agree or disagree and the reasons of why. Is the system of a Zoom meeting as perfect as meeting face to face? Of course not, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by being a fly on the wall in any of these Zoom meetings that have been going on for weeks now.
There have been slight mumbles of the Zoom call continuing post-COVID on a month-to-month basis, to the delight of many Villans. It may be a bit strange, internet connections can be a little dodgy, opinions may flare up once or twice but there is nothing like seeing and speaking with fellow friends about Villa and life. The world is beginning to flourish back to life as we know it in small increments. Simon Leach and his vision to bring Villa supporters together must be applauded and he may well have inadvertently sold a number of people to join for the next North American Aston Villa Meet-up happening at the end of October in Toronto, Canada.