Why It’s Time We Put the Sleeping Giants Myth to Bed

By Chris Weir.

On Saturday, Aston Villa’s relegation to the Championship was confirmed. In his post-match interview, Joleon Lescott drew the ire of fans and commentators alike by suggesting that relegation was almost a “relief” for the players. I understand completely where he’s coming from.

Since Martin O’Neill left under a cloud in 2010,  Aston Villa’s trajectory has only been downward. Despite their fate being sealed after a 1-0 loss to Manchester United, fans are optimistic about returning to the Premier League next year. After all, this is a club that won the European Cup in 1982, who play to almost 50,000 ardent supporters every week in the UK’s second largest city. They are a ‘sleeping giant’.

Except that no, they’re not.

It’s this kind of fallacious logic that saw fellow ‘big club’ Newcastle go down in May 2009, and which again sees them flirting with the drop this year.

Newcastle and Aston Villa are not ‘big clubs’ in anything other than a sentimental sense, and even then only to their own fans.

I don’t want to seem unkind. I think both clubs are institutions in the British game, each with glittering histories and loyal supporters. Players like Alan Shearer and Dwight Yorke left indelible imprints on the footballing landscape.

Yet I’ve watched countless games, particularly involving Newcastle, where the fans set such high standards for their mediocre players that they’ll never be happy. I invite anybody to argue that starting Jack Colback in your midfield will bring European football back to Tyneside, for instance.

I get it. Newcastle’s situation is unique. They are the sole football club in the UK’s sixth largest city. They have the Toon Army, a fantastic fanbase as fervent and loyal as any throughout the country. Wherever you go in Newcastle city centre, St.James Park looms like a watchful gargoyle over its footballing cathedral.

Still, I can’t remember the last time fans won football matches. I can’t remember the last team decibels translated into points, or shirt sales into goals.

Football, like everything in life, is worth only as much as you are willing to put into it. In Randy Lerner and Mike Ashley, Villa and Newcastle have two of the Premier League’s most recalcitrant owners. In Ashley’s case, it took fan protests for force him to shell out on transfers in the summer – a strategy that has failed woefully, as several promising signings have failed to deliver on the pitch this year.

Giorginio Wijnaldum has withered apathetically after a promising start, while Aleksandr Mitrovic is gaining a reputation more for his aggression rather than his goals. The players already there have also flattered to deceive. Moussa Sissoko scored his first goal of the season at the weekend – hardly the kind of form that would see Didier Deschamps racing to call him up to the France squad for this summer’s Euros. The less said about Papiss Cissé, meanwhile, the better.

Villa’s problems are perhaps even larger. A focus on the French market, with the signings of Jordan Veretout and Jordan Ayew, has been combined with an emphasis on diligent but inferior youth products like Ciaran Clark and past-it mercenaries like Micah Richards.

No wonder, then, that Lerner has had the club up for sale for almost two years now without finding a buyer.

In the dugout,the appointments have been nothing short of disastrous. Alex McLeish, former manager of arch-rivals Birmingham City, was a non-starter both in PR and footballing terms, whilst Tim Sherwood will always be more successful as an internet meme than a serious sporting coach.

Villa’s relegation, and Newcastle’s similarly likely fate, is a product of poor club management and strategy. There can be no denying that the clubs are where they  should rightfully be, at the foot of the Premier League table.

Still, football has and always will be about the fans. These two groups of supporters deserved better from the clubs they give their money to. They expect better from the teams they grew up with, who are supposed to represent the areas where they’re from.

In this sense, it is not the clubs who are the sleeping giants – it’s the fans. Villa and Newcastle supporters should wake up and demand that their clubs be treated with more respect than mere distractions by uncaring owners.

Only then will change sweep through the boardrooms at St.James and Villa Park. Only then will they be able to call themselves big clubs, looking to the future rather than the past.

2 thoughts on “Why It’s Time We Put the Sleeping Giants Myth to Bed

  1. I think your lazy attempt to summarise the reality of Newcastle’s situation is patronising and serves to only perpetuate myths to stoke up a reaction from a clearly passionate fan base. For you to write an article that suggests fans need to “wake up and demand that their clubs be treated with more respect” is pathetic when you can trawl through a plethora of Google search results to detail the extent fans have gone to in that pursuit.

    I could pick apart your argument over Newcastle not being a “big club” or “sleeping giant” but instead feel it’s only necessary to outline the weakest attempt you’ve made to show insight into the club’s ambitions;

    You wrote –
    “I’ve watched countless games, particularly involving Newcastle, where the fans set such high standards for their mediocre players that they’ll never be happy. I invite anybody to argue that starting Jack Colback in your midfield will bring European football back to Tyneside, for instance.”

    Can you specify any game at all that would give evidence to your claim? What “high standards” do fans set for their players – being European qualification level? Considering we’ve finished high enough once, four years ago, and within a season afterwards were back to fighting survival and have done since whilst fans supported the team I’d suggest your assertion is absolute nonsense. The mention of Jack Colback as an example of how fans will “never be happy” at the standard (because he’s not a European football talent) is just a laughable reference, not only because within the last season Newcastle also signed 2 players that had finished 3rd in the World Cup, but because Colback epitomises exactly what Newcastle fans want! He’s a limited player in terms of ability but his attitude and effort has endeared him to the vast majority, even after he signed from our fiercest rivals!

    To conclude I think you’re one of those writers that spreads themselves so thinly over such diverse topics that you’ve not got the will nor the way to really engage yourself and your readers into any point of substance. I sincerely hope you can revise your views on our club and it’s fans at some point and give another go at revealing where it’s all going wrong and what sort of misconceptions have been pedalled about it. Good luck with that.

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  2. Quote simply the worst ill informed article I’ve ever read. You say the fans expect too much but then accept average players like Colback. Just rubbish to stoke a reaction, football is about money not fans, yes Leicester is a great story but a one off. I suggest you get your facts straight before insulting a region. Fans live in the past? Well any toon fan under the age of 47 wasn’t even alive last time they won anything. I truly hope you have another go at this, shameful. Sorry to be so negative, but blaming the fans for Mike Ashley? Really?

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