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In Search of the Lions: Robert Snodgrass on MNF return, 'rooting for Villa', best memories and John McGinn

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In Search of the Lions: Robert Snodgrass on MNF return, 'rooting for Villa', best memories and John McGinn

'Some of us are born Villa. Some, just fall in love.' It's a phrase that can be seen adorning an iconic banner in and around Villa Park these days. And it really is true, you know.

Baring emphatic imagery of lifelong Villa supporter turned Head Coach Dean Smith on one side, with former captain and current Assistant Coach John Terry at the other, it's become a poignant addition to the matchday tapestry.

Because for every Smith or Jack Grealish at the club, there are people not from these parts who adopt everything it means to be Aston Villa. Often to the point it never quite leaves them.

One of those is Robert Snodgrass, the man who spent the 2017/18 season on loan at Villa Park, and who returns on Monday for the first time since – on this occasion in the claret of West Ham United. The Scot quickly became an icon of the squad that went so close to achieving promotion via the Championship Play-Off Final that term.

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Whether it be for his stunning last-gasp winner away at Sheffield United, his winning header at Middlesbrough that kick-started a seven-game winning streak or his side-splittingly hilarious spell as the Unclassic Commentary anchor – he isn't a player that will be forgotten in a hurry on our terraces.

Catching up on the eve of the Monday Night Football that will see him reunited with many familiar faces once again, it's fair to say he'll never never forget his stint here either.

"I've not been back to Villa Park since the Middlesbrough Play-Off semi-final. So I'm really looking forward to it," Snodgrass said.

"To come back and have a chance to see so many faces and the fans, who I had a great relationship with, will be great. I'm certainly happy to be coming back with Aston Villa now a Premier League club again, where it deserves to be. I'm delighted about that.

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"It was an amazing season for me at Villa. I loved every second of it. I've got friends for life at the club now. I always knew it was special place, even before I arrived. It was a sleeping giant that never should have been in the situation of being in the Championship. Sometimes these things happen, and hopefully it's better for it now. It was a building process. It's been a case of one step back and two forward in recent years.

"The only disappointment was the Play-Off Final defeat. Other than that, I really did love my time there. I'm still very happy to be able to say I played for Aston Villa."

So much is Snodgrass still engrained in the progress of Aston Villa that he followed our every move last season as the squad eventually went one better and secured that historic Wembley triumph.

Play-Off Final day 2019 still meant a great deal to the 32-year old, who gathered around the television set with all of his close family to will us over the line – even putting long-lasting friendships on hold for the afternoon.

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"I watched the game at Wembley," he recalled.

"I had a few mates also playing for Derby and I had to apologise to them in advance because I wanted Villa to win. For sure. I watched back home in Scotland with my family and there were 15 to 20 of us all rooting for Villa, with wild cheers when they scored. To see John McGinn score was special. And then to see all the lads I played with smiling a year after the disappointment was a good feeling. I watched it as a fan, which is the true marker of knowing you had a good time at a club."

Snodgrass remains tight with former team-mates and backroom staff here. In fact, he felt so much at home during his time around Bodymoor Heath, that he remembers it as longer than a nine-month loan spell.

While his career has now trodden a different path, there remains connections everywhere he looks. Just months after his return to London, his countryman and good friend John McGinn was drafted in and quickly took the mantle as our new Scottish midfield icon. He's a player Snoddy rates extremely highly – both on the pitch and in the commentary booth!

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"I still speak to a lot of the players and staff even now. I was only there nine months, but it felt like five or six years. We had to go our own ways after the Play-Off Final. That's football. It changes quickly. But as I said, I'm pleased it happened and I'm now enjoying my time at West Ham United.

"It's not often you get to pull on shirts of really big football clubs. That's what Villa is and always was when I was growing up. You only have look at some of the names – especially some of the Scottish ones – that played there down the years. I loved it.

"The club has its new Scotsman now in John [McGinn]. I've seen it, how popular he is. He's top level, to be fair to him. He's also got big potential in the commentary world! He's a great lad and deserves everything he's got so far. He's a brilliant footballer and I'm really glad Villa fans have got to see what he's about on and off the park. He's one that's definitely driven the team forward, and we're still yet to see the best of him."

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To Monday night, and Snodgrass is convinced it's shaping up for a corker of a game as Villa, keen for the points performances have deserved, take on the Hammers, who've taken seven points from their first four matches.

It's set to be an emotional, but highly competitive return of one of our most popular players in recent memory.

"Monday night will be a cracking one for the neutral because you'll have two teams desperate to go and try and win the game", he concluded.

"Villa have some great talent and have made a few signings, like West Ham have. I expect both sides to be going for it and I think there'll be goals in it.

"We're learning all the time here. I'm loving it. We've gone through rotational stages of late and we're building on our style from last season, with some new players having joined. We've started well – a lot better than last year. Seven points from 12 is decent. We've got the talent and the mindset to get ever better. We're in for a very tough game at Villa Park on Monday now."

Dan Connor
By @danconnor 15th September 2019