Mick Dale profile: Being a tour guide at Villa is my dream job
Mick Dale remembers his first stadium tour of Villa Park with the legendary Jack Watts.
Mick was with his mum and dad and he recalls Jack's words of wisdom, delivered to the party of visitors: "You don't know how lucky you are to be born a Villa fan!"
Those words stuck with Mick as he stood spellbound, admiring Jack's knowledge, authority and passion for informing B6 guests all about the historic club.
Mick never imagined that years later, it was him preaching the claret and blue gospel to admiring fans in the hallowed corridors of our great stadium.
Mick, 53, has always been a big fan, taking in his first Villa match against Blackburn Rovers on home soil in 1968.
He recalls spotting the green, green grass of home as he made his way down the hill from Aston Hall with his father Godfrey.
From that moment he was hooked but he never dreamt he would one day be working for his boyhood love.
"My father brought me up in the Villa tradition. That view of Villa Park from Aston Hall really captured my imagination. A lot of fans remember that sight.
"We had tickets in the Trinity Road Stand generally but for the bigger games we'd go in the Holte for the atmosphere.
"My love of Villa grew in those days following the team in the Third Division. I watched Brian Little make his debut against Torquay. I remember the day we won the championship.
"I remember Andy Lochhead, Fred Turnbull, Colin Withers, Chico Hamilton and Pat McMahon.
"They were such charismatic players. My hero was Bruce Rioch. You just remember those days with affection.
"We went through the Third Division days and then obviously Ron Saunders took over and we won the League Championship and European Cup. That team was brilliant. Their progression was incredible.
"That was a big team and fantastic days. I enjoyed watching Dwight Yorke, Paul McGrath, Stan Collymore and Dean Saunders in later years too. I think we've been lucky in having some really big players here."
Mick says the kudos of the club as the first English megapower makes it a wonderful club to support - and an easy institution to promote in his stadium tours role.
He enjoys seeing fan faces as they look in absolute awe at dressing rooms, the pitch, the players' lounge as well as the assortment of elaborate pictures on the walls.
"This is a club with a wonderful history, big fanbase and fantastic atmospheric stadium. It's an amazing club to support and work for.
"I feel privileged that my dad brought me to watch Villa instead of any other team. I have been so, so lucky.
"To work here now is unbelievable. I remember that stadium tour I went on with my family alongside Jack. If they knew now what I was doing, they'd be so proud!
"I didn't think it was attainable to follow in Jack's footsteps. The vacancy came up four years ago, I went for it and got it. I was absolutely thrilled!
"It's a dream job. Every day I come in, I can't believe I work here. It's a passion.
"We get told most days that we have a fantastic job. I just nod and smile. They're spot on. I will never understate it. I will never have a job like this again.
"Jack did the job for years. The way he took the fans around and expressed his passion for the club was amazing. This is a man who did the scoreboards in his 60s! Now he works at the club with the same passion in his 90s!
"When he was a tour guide, he wanted everyone's attention. He was firm. If there were kids who weren't listening, he'd tell them to listen.
"My mum and dad were fascinated by him and his stories. He was immaculately turned out. He had discipline and character in the role.
"He's a big act to follow. You can only aspire to his level.
"But I think we have a good team working here. There are five of us - Diane Russell, Pete Haden, Keith Ansell and Arthur Daws are my colleagues.
"I have a great respect for all of them. It's a good mix. Everyone is different. We follow the same script but it's a different experience with each of us."
Fans who do amble around the halls of our great stadium are handed an unbelievable experience.
Tours generally last two hours on average and take in the players' lounge, press conference hall, dressing rooms, the William McGregor statue and the perfect pitch.
Guides follow a script which is adapted regularly with up-to-date information and quirky tales of years gone by.
Mick believes few other football clubs would offer a better adventure.
"We start with a brief introduction in the player's lounge. We follow through to the press conference lounge to chat about what Paul Lambert experiences in the media backdrop.
"Then it's on to the statue of William McGregor. Then we go through all the levels of Trinity Road Stand. I love the Sky Lounge - it's a breathtaking view. You can see Aston Hall from there. That really interests people and we can tell them about the Holte family.
"We then show them the home and away dressing rooms. Then it's on to the tunnel.
"Fans love the sign on the way out which reads 'Welcome to Villa Park.' Then they go out as a Premier League player - with the music blasting out like on a matchday. We make a real fuss of them.
"The highlight is walking out on Villa Park. It's had people go weak at the knees. For a fan there's no better feeling. That provides the 'wow' factor.
"They are not rushed around either! We pride ourselves on that. We want them to enjoy their day thoroughly.
"I love listening to the fans too. I don't want to talk at them. I want them to be fully immersed in the tour.
"We often get fans who say this is the best stadium tour they have been on. That gives you a real sense of pride."
It's fair to say Mick lives and breathes Villa 24/7 because his other job is that of 'fan squad member', which entails interacting with the community through the week and helping out on home matchdays at weekends.
That can be anything from showing someone the way to their seat, pulling the giant flag across the Holte or helping a chosen fan make his way across the pitch in a zorball for half-time entertainment.
"I love that element of my job too. It's a really interesting and diverse role. To be pitchside too - at that level - the player's angle - is a privilege."
Mick, dad to Chloe, 19 and Louis, 14, admits the only downside is when his wife Gill bemoans: "This house is obsessed with football."
In reality, Mick wouldn't want it any other way!
Our stadium tours take place on Wednesdays, Fridays and selected Sundays throughout the month.
During the week, prices are £12.95 [adults], £7.95 [child] and £37.50 [family].
On Sunday - which also includes lunch - prices are £25.95 [adults], £13.95 [child] and £71.50 [family].
Book a group of 20 or more on a stadium tour and receive a 10% discount on the whole party.
During the half-term holiday in February, kids can enjoy a tour for a quid. [They must be accompanied by a full paying adult and it's a maximum of three kids per adult. This deal excludes the treasure trail tour on February 22],
We also have a tour with a legend on March 30 with Gary Shaw.
For more information, contact 0800 612 0950.