Date: 6th May 2019 at 9:01am
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I was one of the lucky few thousand to get a ticket for the final game of the 2018/19 Sky Bet Championship season at Villa Park.

My mate LeeBoz has just got a new car this week, so he offered to drive which was excellent as both me and Mrs T have had a long, tiring week at our respective workplaces. The travelling party would be made up of me, Mrs T and our son and LeeBoz and his son.

We left Norwich at just after 8 am, stopping at Barton Mills for McDonald’s coffee and breakfast for the boys before winding our way along the roadwork strewn A14 towards the Midlands.

About halfway there, we found ourselves side by side with Stuart Webber and his wife, Zoe, which confirmed we were on the right track before we made another pitstop at the M6 Corley Services for refreshments.

LeeBoz had already booked a driveway on the JustPark app, which made things a heck of a lot easier and less stressful and, having used it before, I can highly recommend it if you need a safe reserved parking space somewhere.

Basically, you can rent space on someone’s driveway for the day at a cost of around £8.00. In this case, we had a driveway about half a mile from Villa Park and just off the motorway – easy.

A short walk through the streets of Aston brought us to a park that Google Maps said we needed to walk across, alright in the daytime but I don’t think I’d fancy it after dark!

We were walking among the Villa fans with very few yellow and green colours around us and we got chatting to a small group of Villa fans as we walked.

They complimented us on having had such a good season and we chatted amiably about the lottery of the playoffs and about their losing experience last season. We all agreed that if you could guarantee to win, then winning at Wembley is certainly the way to go.

They had a young lad with them, who was about 10 years old and he was actively involved in the conversation, laughing at the fact that Patrick Bamford had got himself a two-match ban for play acting against Villa in last week’s 1-1 draw.

He and the adults with him all agreed that they fancied their chances against Leeds if they both got to the final. As we got close to the ground, I asked them which way we needed to go to get to the visitor’s entrance.

The lad’s father directed us to the left and said “Go through the North Stand there. It’s all open and you’ll be on the other side.”

I thanked him and his lad shouted: “Try not to get battered!”

“Thanks mate, you too!” replied LeeBoz.

Little scamp.

We walked as described, through huge swathes of Villa fans with nobody saying anything other than complimentary things about the Canaries’ collective season and wishing us luck in the Premier League.

We got round to the Doug Ellis Stand and immediately relaxed, here was the yellow army and we were among them. Time had run away from us a little and it was only 20 minutes till kick-off, so we got into the queue to the turnstile joining in the singing around us.

Inside, the atmosphere in the concourse was typical mad away stuff with plenty of songs and jumping around, as you can see below.

Out in the stadium, the sheer size of the place reminds you of where you are. The Holte End is enormous and I’m old enough to remember when it was standing only like it was the first time I went there.

The Canary atmosphere was good, loud and we were in a party mood with beach balls and balloons bouncing around in the away end. A man behind me had a horse head mask that he started off wearing and all around me, loud, proud voices sang to the occasional applause of out heroes warming up in front of us.

When the time came to start the game, City started at a pace, with Onel Hernandez having the freedom of the left flank. Alan Hutton was supposed to be there but, to be honest, I don’t know where he was.

After a couple of scares for the home side, Teemu Pukki scored his 29th goal of the season with a simple close-range finish.

It was surely going to be our day and the Villa fans to our right were silenced almost immediately. There was plenty of banter going back and forth but not much singing from Villa, which was a theme throughout.

They perked up a bit after Villa equalised and the news that Stoke was giving Sheffield United a game was also good news.

It all got a bit nervy towards the end as the clock ran down with my lad checking his Sky Sports app and mine refusing to load as everyone around me was doing the same thing.

Eventually, Mario Vrancic settled it with another cool, calm, measured finish and the lads all celebrated in front of us. Stewards ran to string a line of orange jackets out in front of us to separate the players from the fans. I saw a steward shove Max Aarons, who shoved him back, twice!

The scenes at the end were spectacular as the City players all ran over and celebrated in front of us.  It was an outpouring of emotion from both sides and a feeling of joy and celebration that I feel very lucky to have had the chance to have been part of.

As Villa conducted their end of season lap of recognition, Zoe Ward brought Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones around the edge of the pitch to see us. The Villa fans applauded them and so did we. Whatever you think of them, the bottom line is that they made the decisions that led to the appointment of Stuart Webber, although if you go back to before that, then you also need to consider that they appointed David McNally and he brought Zoe Ward to the club, Webber’s wife and no doubt, that helped a lot in their family’s decision making.

An award presentation stage was quickly assembled and after Villa had finished, their players provided a guard of honour and applauded our players out. Plenty of Villa fans stayed behind to watch and they also applauded the Champions – decent, I thought.

You’ll have seen the celebrations and the photos of that and it was incredible to be there.  LeeBoz managed to grab a bottle of celebratory “Champions” champagne from a steward, who picked it up and didn’t know what to do with it and he also got a hug from Timm Klose (he work’s with Timm’s wife).

Every player had a song sung for them and the young lads, like Aarons, Godfrey, Lewis and Cantwell particularly seemed to love that.

My lad managed to get a picture with Starman, Max Aarons and he was over the moon with that. His phone battery died moments later.

By the time the players left the pitch and it was time for us to go home, the Villa fans had virtually all gone from inside. As we walked out of the ground, through the North Stand and back across the park though, we chatted with numerous Villa fans who were still hanging about outside.

They were nothing but complimentary, congratulatory and decent about the way we had played throughout the season. I honestly couldn’t fault the way they behaved all day. I dare say it might’ve been different if we were away at Bramall Lane on the last day though, eh?!

The journey home was long but eased by the reliving of the day on our phones, apart from LeeBoz, who was still driving.

We’re at the Wes v Russ game this afternoon to continue the celebrations but giving the bus parade a miss this morning. I can’t see that us getting any closer than we were yesterday and we’ve already seen the trophy presented.

So, I’ve decided to have a lay in instead. After yesterday, I think I deserve it!


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