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Villa blog: Time for the 12th man to step forward

Sport | Published:

As Aston Villa take a week off from the manic scramble for points that is the Premier League, blogger Matt Turvey illustrates the need for reality as fans slide into despair.

Football, in real terms, is a simple concept. Put the ball in the opposition's goal whilst avoiding it going in yours. That's it - nothing more, nothing less.

However, because the game is played by humans - living, breathing, fallible humans - results are far from straightforward.

You see, football is nowhere near as predictable as something like physics because the human element makes for such variety, such excitement that things don't always go to plan. If they did, the game would be nowhere near as interesting, leaving betting on matches as pointless because every result would be predictable.

Some may be asking what this has to do with Aston Villa's current plight, but recent events have made certain fans disillusioned to the point where they are viewing games as simplistic A > B > C concepts with Villa, invariably, appearing as the supposedly weaker team.

Largely due to a series of poor recent results, the group psychology of some fans has become maudlin, predicting that every game is some harbinger of the apocalypse, as though somehow they Mayans were right indirectly, and that the end of the world comes every time the club kicks off a match.

Before the Swansea match, some had predicted that Michael Laudrup's team would cut through Villa like a knife through hot butter. Why? Recent results have been poor, and Swansea had been playing well, ergo the Swansea result would be poor - a simplistic analysis at best, and fundamentally flawed given that the club from B6 secured a draw.

Whilst nobody can argue that form plays a part in the complex set of variables that is a game of football, the game, just like any sport, or indeed any human influenced activity, is not predictable like that.

Football teams are constantly evolving, dynamic entities that don't fit simplistic A > B > C logic. If they did, Ipswich needn't turn up for their game at Villa Park this weekend, Bradford wouldn't be playing the club in a semi-final after beating Arsenal, and Villa would finish every season in the same place, with the same points, after the same results every year.

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Put simply, if the game was like that, it would be flat, boring, and otherwise pointless. The reason why we love football, indeed why we love anything involving people so much, is the prospect of risk, of uncertainty in the result of any situation that unfolds.

However, when things start to go wrong, a collective nihilism can lead fans to believe that things aren't going to go well, that their team - be it Villa or any other - is going to get beaten by the opposition because fans think they will.

Sometimes fans can get so insular as to forget that exactly the same psychological mentality is playing out at every other football club, as though Villa are the only fallible team, with everyone else being as efficient as German engineering, or as predictable as the number two following the number one.

This obviously isn't the case. Just as Villa have had mental issues that could well require the intervention of a sports psychologist, so other teams have their issues too.

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Paul Lambert's team, recently being criticised as too young, too inexperienced are, all things accounted for, placed three places above Queens Park Rangers - a team with far more age and experience which, in simple terms, explains just why there is no magic bullet, no quick solution, no definitive manner with which to turn things around. If there was such a solution, everyone would be enacting it which, ironically, would lead to no change as everyone would equally be better off, meaning nobody would be any better off.

Of course, uncertainty may mean that Villa lose at the weekend, though it obviously leaves the possibility that they may win as an option too. Sure, we would rather have a guaranteed win by virtue of being a bigger team than Ipswich but, as stated prior, things rarely work out that way.

What fans must do is attempt to remedy the situation as best as they can. Whilst the players themselves have the biggest influence on the outcome of the match, the role of support - or a lack thereof - has to be taken into account. It simply is not the case that Villa's fans have no influence over results at all.

Which is why, at times, I often find the banner hanging in the Holte End proclaiming its role as Villa's 12th man to be an ontological concept, as though the idea that the crowd can or can't influence the game depends mainly on what argument a particular fan is trying to win.

Of course fans have an influence on games. Look at any club in the past that has struggled with bad form, only to see their fans on the collective backs of the team, each goal conceded only serving to magnify the pressure, cultivated as it is by the shouting, screaming, and booing that emanates from the stands.

When things reach that tipping point, is it any wonder that the team fall apart as an entity? Is it any surprise that the worst performances generally come when the team doesn't believe it can win games?

Which is why, in short, psychology plays such a massive part in the game. Villa's young team, under pressure due to their lack of experience, as having to work very hard mentally to try to make things work. The main problem is that the stress of working hard makes the average person prone to mistakes, prone to rash calls, and an increased likelihood of total teamwork collapse under pressure - just look at recent performances and you will see all the hallmarks of stress and pressure in Villa's play.

In recent defeats, such mental collapses have turned potential small losses into hammerings, each one illustrating the need for some remedy, as well as a need for acceptance that, as the Holte End's banner proudly proclaims, the crowd is indeed the 12th man.

Nobody is saying that singing alone is going to turn around our season, and I wouldn't be so foolish as to suggest such a thing, but it will play its part - make Villa Park a cacophonous cauldron of fear for the opposition and the home team will do well, whilst directing the same atmosphere at our own side and we will do badly.

Players may well be paid highly, and they may have less money worries than you or I but they are far from infallible. Whilst some fans believe it is their entitlement to scream abuse if things go wrong because they are paying customers, the truth is that such a plan is damaging. Sure, it is your right, in abstract terms, to protest if the game is unfolding in a manner you deign unacceptable, but think about the consequence of those actions when realising that our team are just a bunch of fallible human beings the same as me and you - whether you believe players should be stressed or not, the fact is they are susceptible to stress as a factor in their play.

If fans can pull together in this time of need, there is hope for the future. Paul Lambert will do his best to secure the extra players to progress this season, now it is time for the fans to play their part and influence the second half of the season.

Things can get better, but only through unity. More change, more turmoil leads only to a faster plummet to the bottom - make yourself part of our revival, not another nail in the coffin, for the future is there to be written.

  • You can follow Matt Turvey’s regular opinions at his own site, Aston Villa Life at www.astonvillalife.com, via the site’s Twitter account @astonvillalife, or via his own Twitter account @MatthewSTurvey

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