When he's happy, I'm happy. (Image by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Nearly 10 months ago, I posted the first of my Vernal Villan columns. I had asked Kirsten and Aaron if they would mind me doing a regular column in the FanPosts, and they graciously obliged. I had no idea what this soccer thing was all about, really. I mean, I knew the basics and the rules. But what is it like to be a fan of an EPL team? Could I effectively follow Aston Villa from across an ocean? Would I actually be able to keep it up, or would I drop it like I had in the past?
Well, we're a season removed from that initial post. Aston Villa wasn't what we thought they would be. They disappointed, and then they went on a nice run that ended in what is very likely the best day of the season. But this isn't a time for a season-in-review. We'll be writing that in the coming days in all sorts of great stories we have planned for you. No, this is my chance to wrap up the Vernal Villan series, put the moniker to rest, and come to terms with the fact that after one year there is no turning back. I'm Villa till I die. I will, of course, still be writing here, but I feel like I'm not really a new fan anymore. So join me after the jump, won't you? Let's wrap this up.
First, I want to thank Kirsten and Aaron for the offer to write here on a more serious basis. There is probably no chance I drag myself out of bed for a lot of these matches if I don't feel some obligation to know what's happening with the team. And you know what? In retrospect, I even enjoyed the crappy matches. There was something nice about sitting and watching the claret and blue while clutching a cup of coffee and stressing during the final 5 minutes of either half.
I knew I was hooked on the team when my day's mood could be affected by the outcome of a match. There is no way I was fun to be around the day we lost to the Scum in the Carling Cup. But the wins put a pep in my step too. I still smile when I think of the amazing break-away goal against Manchester United at Villa Park. In fact, if there is any one image I'm going to take away from this season, it's that.
Another sign I was hooked was how badly I fell for my favorite player. Stewart Downing was fantastic this year, and I absolutely loved watching him play. When he struggled, it hurt me. When he did well, I cheered even louder than normal. I've been a sports fan my entire life, so it says something that the first professional jersey I ever got was that of Stewie. It's going to take a lot for some other player to usurp his spot in my personal pantheon.
But what I really loved about this season was the community. If it were just me, sitting on my couch, watching a poor team, I doubt I would have stuck through it. I've realized that the only reason sports are fun is because we get to talk about them. Even if it's with fans of other teams, it's fun to talk sports. "Hey did you see that goal?" "Holy cow, Friedel's save was incredible!" Or even something as (at the time) annoying as arguing about whether Gérard Houllier should stick around as manager. And here in DC, I don't really have anyone to talk about soccer with. My girlfriend flatly asks me "I don't care, so why are you telling me about it?"
But every morning, I knew I could wake up and come here to talk about Villa. Or hop to twitter. Or shoot off an email to Kirsten, Aaron, and Gareth. But this was the hub. You guys kept it fun in the comments. There were people to commiserate with in the winter, and people to share the joy with last Sunday. Gamethreads were a blast, and regular threads could become amazing.
So for everything Villa gave me this year, what I'm struck with most is that it gave me friends. People I can relate with, people I can talk to. And that's what being a fan is about, right? If Aston Villa were to win the Premiership, and I had no one to talk to about it, I promise you it wouldn't mean as much. So from the Vernal Villan: thank you. The whole reason this is fun is because of all of you. It only took me a year to figure it out, but it was worth it.