Football is a funny old game. Take you back seven years and Aston Villa were rubbing shoulders in the UEFA Cup with Ajax and Hamburg among the visiting fans to a sell-out Villa Park.
Midweek football under the lights always created a special atmosphere. The Holt End would be bouncing, European football was back.
However, Come next season, the likes of Rotherham United and Brentford could be their midweek visitors as the boys in claret and blue look to stem the toxic tide that passes through the club ,as their demise as one of England’s greatest clubs plummets like a stone.
Seven years on from those dizzy European heights and Villa are hurting as the realisation of relegation for the first time in their history materialises.
This season, Aston Villa have looked destined for relegation since November. Unable to replace their star players in Christian Benteke, Fabian Delph and Ron Vlaar, the writing was on the wall.
Villa bought in 13 players last summer for a combined cost of over £50 million. Rudy Gestede was the marquee signing, Scott Sinclair was given a second chance and Joleon Lescott was supposed to bring a wealth of experience and professionalism. All of whom categorically flattered to deceive, along with the rest of the Aston Villa squad who have only mustered up three Premier League wins all season.
Despite receiving a treasure chest of cash for their star players last summer, money was frollocked far too easily and Villa have inevitably paid the price in the worst way possible.
Villa soon became the Premier League circus act, the laughing stock of England. Jack Grealish, a player with so much talent and potential in September was thrown to the wayside amid his party lifestyle. This was a player once touted for international stardom, yet he finishes the season languishing in the club’s Under 21s.
Remi Garde was brought in as manager and despite being rooted to the foot of the Premier League in January, it had never been more apparent that Villa were in dire straights and in need of help. The Frenchman had taken over a sinking ship which lacked leadership from the boardroom down to the pitch.
Club captain, Joleon Lescott enraged fans when he tweeted a picture of his new car when his team had just been drubbed 6-0 to Liverpool in February. He then described the club’s relegation as a relief and a ‘weight off their shoulders’.
However, club owner Randy Lerner left Garde and the club out to dry. Lerner didn’t give any cash for new signings and relegation was staring Aston Villa in the face.
Surely this season of all seasons is one where survival was pivotal? With lucrative television deals imminent and the financial clout that comes with being a Premier League club isn’t enough pound signs to turn the head of any millionaire owner, then what is?
Villa were a club out of control. Their owner has lost complete interest and during the club’s demise, he has been nowhere to be seen around Villa Park, as the atmosphere turned sour.
Fan walkouts had become a weekly occurrence. Supporters had lost patience and took a stand by walking out of the stadium after 74 minutes this season, resembling the club’s founding date, 1874.
Villa are a proud club, but it was a surprise fans even waited until the 74th minute when thousands more had been leaving much earlier. If there had ever been a stark realisation, this was it.
They have a squad of players who appear to have zero interest in the club. Following relegation there is often the mass exodus of players who are looking for a quick way out. But who would want to buy them? These multi-millionaire footballers are on the Premier League clearance rail, old stock, damaged goods. Aston Villa will be just as pleased to get them off the wage bill and begin their rebuilding job, good riddance some may say.
Usually with relegation there comes a chink of optimism, fight and belief that one day you will be back. However, Villa fans appear to be a club void of any hope.
The gloomy atmosphere will continue to surround the Birmingham club. Cut-backs will see the top tier of the Main Stand closed next season and 500 staff axed as the club receive parachute payments instead of lucrative tv deals.
The Championship is a ruthless and notorious league - Just look at Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest, to name a few.
The demand on players is huge, midweek fixtures come in thick and fast in what proves to be a long, hard slog of a season which takes no prisoners.
For the sake of English football we hope that Aston Villa’s return to the Premier League is sooner rather than later.