A To Z Of 2009
Bullring to Bullring
It wasn't just Martin O'Neill's squad who captured the imagination of the public during the summer jaunt to sunny Spain. Our media colleagues Paul Brown and Jack Woodward were handed the task of delivering the new home kit from Birmingham to Malaga - Villa's base for the Peace Cup. Those of us who stayed back home were able to enjoy all the thrills, spills, bellyaches and sing-alongs via their excellent video updates and live blogs on www.avfc.co.uk.
There is simply no substitute for winning trophies - it doesn't matter at what level. When it's a team packed full of home-grown players, it is even better. Villa's all-conquering second string flourished in their big showpiece final at Villa Park, seeing off Sunderland to be crowned national reserve champions.
Transfer deadline day is potentially frantic for any football club and Villa were involved in possibly the most dramatic deal of the summer window. All seemed to be going smoothly when James Collins rolled up to face our cameras, having put pen to paper on a move from West Ham. But we had to be patient when it came to Richard Dunne's transfer from Manchester City. As the clock ticked nearer to the 5pm deadline, things were getting a little tense at Bodymoor Heath, but the Irishman finally emerged as a Villa player - or so we thought. The i's had been dotted and the t's crossed, but the club still had to wait until the next morning for ratification from the Premier League. Villa eventually got their man and Dunne has since proved he was well worth waiting for.
The final game of 2008-09 saw Villa Park bid an emotional farewell to our Great Dane, Martin Laursen, who was forced into retirement after a long battle with injuries. Laursen gave a heartfelt speech before the game against Newcastle United, which had supporters, club staff and journalists on their feet. He'll never been forgotten - and neither will the scenes from the day Villa Park showed its appreciation for a modern great.
Fabio Is Watching
Checking the England squad announcement has become as commonplace as waiting for Martin O'Neill's starting eleven on a Saturday. Such is the wealth of English talent at the club, Fabio Capello has become something of a regular at Villa Park. An unprecedented six Villa players - Gareth Barry, Gabby Agbonlahor, Emile Heskey, Ashley Young, James Milner and Luke Young - were called up in February. Stephen Warnock was named in a recent squad, while Stewart Downing got the nod from Capello earlier this year, although he was still at Middlesbrough at the time.
G'wan, G'wan, G'wan
The Villa media team have the pleasure of meeting some interesting characters - particularly celebrity fans. Father Ted and Shameless actress Pauline McLynn falls into that category. She was both amusing and charming when giving an interview to AVTV at our home game against Chelsea. "I'm not the gaffer yet!", she said when joking about discussing tactics with Martin O'Neill.
One of the finest goals scored at Villa Park in 2009 came in a match few people will actually remember. The strike in question came from Jonathan Hogg - a thumping 25-yard volley in a 6-1 Reserve League South victory over Portsmouth back in March. Ok, it was a second-string contest, but Hogg's thunderbolt was worthy of a place in any goal compilation.
The OS, www.avfc.co.uk, has gone even more interactive on matchdays with the introduction of our new live console. It has enhanced the enjoyment of Villa games for myself and Paul Brown, as well as the thousands of fans who log on to participate in lively chat as the action unfolds.
"We're all travelling on a Randy Lerner bus," the claret and blue army sang at Sunderland, showing their gratitude following the club's decision to offer free coach travel for the Carling Cup clash. They repaid the gesture by raising the roof at the Stadium of Light as Villa advanced on penalties.
What a phenomenon Carlos Cuellar has become - not just on the pitch, but off it too. He's grown in stature as a defender - operating impressively at centre-back and right-back - as well as emerging as a real character off the field.
It's certainly been a good year for debuts. Emile Heskey opened his account with a cracker at Portsmouth, while Stewart Downing marked his first start with a goal at the same venue. Richard Dunne, James Collins and Stephen Warnock relished the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the Second City derby in their first outings, while Ciaran Clark made his Premier League bow with an accomplished performance against Fulham.
Any victory over Manchester United is special, but winning in their back yard for the first time since 1983 really is something to cherish. Gabby Agbonlahor sent the travelling support into raptures with a first-half strike. There were a few heart-stopping moments for the remainder of the contest - not least when the fourth official's board went up to signal injury time. But there would be no more late Old Trafford heartbreak as Villa recorded a history-making win.
No Goal For You!
The emergence of Brad Guzan as king of the penalty save has been one of the success stories of the year. He foiled Italian giants Juventus in the summer, before an extraordinary performance to deny no less than four Sunderland players in the Carling Cup fourth round. The American's growing reputation as a spot-kick star has seen the catchphrase "No Goal For You!" attributed to him by adoring Villa fans.
Opening The Doors
The doors to Villa Park were thrown open once again for an Open Training Day - which attracted an incredible 12,000 supporters. Those in attendance got a glimpse of their heroes training, before a group of lucky competition winners got to take penalties against Brad Guzan. Martin O'Neill addressed the crowd and cheekily warned them: "Be careful because we don't always score!"
Villa gave peace a chance and came home with a trophy. Sure, it was a pre-season tournament, but the Peace Cup triumph in Spain was still impressive - not least because of the quality of the teams involved. Martin O'Neill's men recovered from an opening defeat to co-hosts Malaga, to conquer Mexican outfit Atlante, and former European Cup winners FC Porto and Juventus.
Not only is Martin O'Neill one of the finest football managers in the business, he is renowned for his quick wit and sense of humour. From offering marriage advice to a recently-hitched journalist to putting one broadcaster in his place over Villa's supposed lack of goals ("If you take away the five we scored against Bolton the other week then I suppose you make a good point"), the gaffer rarely fails to keep us entertained when in his company.
Passing time leading up to kick-off can be a drag for football lovers. But as a sucker for a good sports trivia question, it's always great bumping into former Villa boss Ron Atkinson in media lounges up and down the country. He loves a good footballing teaser and when you're greeted with the words "here's one for you," you know there is a quiz question coming your way!
Something Kinda Ooooh
Of all the questions put to Villa's stars during the last round of AVTV's Q&A sessions, one in particular stirred much debate. Our claret and blue heroes were asked to pick their favourite member of girl band Girls Aloud. John Carew didn't have to think twice before deciding on Kimberly Walsh. At that point of the interview, the striker's phone rang, to which he quipped: "She's just calling me now, actually!"
Martin O'Neill has made some superb signings during his Villa reign, but his dealings in summer 2009 must rank among his finest. Questions were asked as to how Villa would replace two massively influential players in Gareth Barry and Martin Laursen. The manager's answer was to make a trio of shrewd defensive buys - Richard Dunne, James Collins and Stephen Warnock. Stewart Downing has added an extra dimension to Villa's attacking play, even though it was a few months before we saw him in action and O'Neill also captured much-coveted youngster Fabian Delph from Leeds United.
While it has been a largely successful 12 months for the first team, reserves and academy sides, it is with deep regret that the club's non-football staff couldn't reach the same standards on the field. The first-ever staging of the Baggville Cup ended in a victory for our counterparts at West Bromwich Albion. Nevertheless, it was an honour for those of us who pulled on the famous claret and blue strip that day, to represent such a great club and play at a venue as impressive as Bodymoor Heath. Needless to say, we'll do our utmost to make sure there is no repeat of the result next time!
In a year where stadium naming rights has become a sore subject in the footballing world, one celebrity Villan got in a pickle when discussing his beloved team. Hollywood star Tom Hanks reiterated his love for Villa on a BBC chat show. He wasn't so sure about the identity of our famous ground, christening it "the Villa Dome".
We already knew how good James Milner and Ashley Young were - but 2009 saw us gain two more wing wonders in Stewart Downing and Marc Albrighton. Ex-Middlesbrough man Downing has brought great fluidity to the team, while Albrighton stepped up to first team level, showing great promise during several cameos from the subs bench.
Martin O'Neill kicks every ball from the touchline, but he got a little more involved than he'd have hoped during the win over Chelsea in October. Typically, the manager took his tumble at the hands of Nicolas Anelka in good spirits, joking that the Frenchman should have been carded after inadvertently knocking him off his feet.
Young Player Of The Year
His manager had hailed him a genius and among the finest players in Europe, but Ashley Young also earned the respect of his peers. That's because the flying winger walked away with the PFA's coveted Young Player of the Year award, which he received at London's Grosvenor Hotel.
Benjamin Siegrist had the world in his hands after playing a pivotal part in Switzerland's glory at the FIFA World Under-17 Cup in Nigeria. Not only did his side lift the trophy, Siegrist won the Golden Gloves award for the tournament's best goalkeeper. It was the finest achievement in the history of Swiss Football Association and the squad arrived home to an emotional reception at Zurich's Kloten airport.