A few seasons ago – and I mean football seasons, I haven’t just started talking like a character in a bad fantasy novel – Coventry City were relegated from the Premiership after failing to pull off their customary Houdini act. (This parallel is perhaps unfair to Houdini, as teams who escape relegation always condemn another to the same fate, and Houdini tended not to escape from boxes by locking somebody else in and running away.) There were many teary eyes in the football world that a team which had managed to stay in the top-flight for decades was dropping out. I had a degree of sympathy, but ultimately I was quite glad.
This was because Coventry were Aston Villa’s bogey team, the side we were generally better than on paper but never seemed able to beat. I’m convinced that this hoodoo was programmed into the 1997/8 edition of Championship Manager, as my Villa side on that game could never beat Coventry either, and when I got sacked and ended up managing Coventry, Villa were practically the only team I could beat.
Why do I mention this, several years after it was relevant to anybody? I’ve just realised that, finally, Villa are somebody else’s bogey team. We are Newcastle United’s bogey team. This weekend’s 1-1 draw marked the sixth time in a row that Newcastle have failed to beat Villa, including a draw at St James’ in 2003 at a time when Villa were losing home games to the likes of Middlesborough. So, er, much like this season then. Having said this, Villa will probably get thumped 5-0 by Newcastle in the return game, but this is probably all the more reason to celebrate being a bigger club’s bogey team for once.
It helps, of course, that Newcastle are frequently better on paper than on the pitch these days, not just against Villa but against many teams. The analysis on Match of the Day was almost entirely devoted to Newcastle’s defensive shortcomings, whilst Villa merited just this exchange at the end of the discussion:
LINEKER: And Villa played well.
which I am happy to accept, given the terms in which some of our more abject performances this year have been described.