It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, and no we’re not talking about the festival of gluttony, the endless flatulence, or the Queen’s fifteen minutes of meaningless platitudes. No, Christmas time means a festival of football, with games coming thick and fast and managers of mult-million pound squads trotting out their annual excuses for collapses in form. League titles can be won and lost over the busy festive period, while a poor run of form can be flipped on its head with the momentum of four games in ten days.
A defeat just before Christmas can also turn even the most ardent fan of Saint Nick into Ebeneezer Scrooge. Just ask this week’s guest, comedian Freddie Farrell. A season ticket holder at Villa Park, Birmingham-based stand-up Freddie has supported the Villains since his old next door neighbor Val took him to the Second City Derby as a boy. Now with two sons of his own, Freddie takes us back to last Christmas, when high-flying Leeds arrived to face an Aston Villa short on confidence.
Aston Villa 2-3 Leeds United
English Football Championship
23rd December 2018
I make no bones about it, I enjoyed watching Aston Villa in the Championship. Its an absolutely brilliant league, and while it was shit not being in the top flight, I don’t think there is another league in the world like the Championship where anyone can win it and anyone can get relegated, all bets are off. Also I hope Leeds stay there forever!
The game in question was two days before Christmas. I don’t go to the football alone, my two lads and I have season tickets. They’ve been going a fair few years now, and they love it. When they were really young I think they only enjoyed going because I bought them chips and pop but they are at the age now where they are so invested in the game, especially the eldest, it means everything to him. He lives and breathes it. It’s just dad and lads time, and it’s honestly the best bonding experience to have with your kids I think. I won’t be able to sit with my younger son when he’s a bit older though, he’s going to be one of the mad heads of the Holte End I can just tell, he stands on his chair and starts chants. My older son buys into the game and watches it closely, while his brother buys into the atmosphere of going to football.
On this particular night, the vibe was great. It was the last home game before Christmas, and I think a lot of people left their cars at home and were having some drinks which always adds to the atmosphere,
At the time the game was huge to both teams. I think we were 11th in the league with a glimmer of hope of getting into the playoff spots, while Leeds were 2nd. A win would take them top at Christmas which in the Championship is a big deal, I think every team that’s been top at Christmas for the last 10 years has always gone up.
Going in, I would’ve been over the moon with a draw. Honestly, Leeds were in red-hot form. The atmosphere at Villa Park was great. I mean, its Villa vs Leeds. It doesn’t matter what year or what division, that’s a classic English game. Singing from both sets of fans was off the chart. I remember feeling on edge the whole game, like nervy in a way. The whole ground had a real egdy atmosphere to it.
We went 2-0 up within the first twenty minutes, and I couldn’t believe it. Then again, I’ve also been watching Villa for so long I remember thinking ‘we might still just get a draw here’. My eldest said to me at half time “I can’t believe we are beating Leeds 2-0!” I told him to not get carried away.
Sure enough, they clawed their way back into the game in the second half. At 2-2 they were all over us, you could just see the 3rd coming. Then bang - 95th minute there it was. Gutted.
Worse was to come after the game. We were leaving the ground and a drunk Leeds fan screamed ‘”Fuck the Villa” into my youngest son’s face. This was a grown ass man. Before I could even react a police officer came over and dragged him away. I remember thinking walking back to the car I hope Leeds stack the league now, just for that one guy, knowing how sad it would make him, I genuinely hope they fuck this up. Months later my petty thought paid off and I remember thinking about that guy and hoping he was sad as fuck, because not only did Leeds stack the league, they got knocked out the playoffs and Villa were promoted!
Looking back, it goes to show you are never out of it. The whole of last season taught me that. Leeds were top at Christmas and steam rolling everyone, but they’re still playing Championship football because they lost their bottle. Villa were 13th in March, smashed everyone in the last two months and got promoted back to the Premier League. I have loved the 3 years in the Championship, it’s an absolutely brilliant league, but my kids have only ever known this, the eldest can’t really remember our last spell in the Premier, so to see their faces at Wembley at full time when we beat Derby in the Playoff final was something. You are never out of it. The dream was real.