Heartbreak of an Aston Villa fan

Heartbreak of an Aston Villa fan
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney shoots to score his second goal from a penalty during their English Premier League football match against Aston Villa at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England March 29, 2014.

Today, as thousands of Liverpool fans in Singapore anxiously wait to find out if their team can lift their first English football league title since 1990, I'll be with them.

1990 was the year my life changed forever. Like all primary-school boys who come of age, it was time to randomly pick an English football team located 10,000km from home to support for the rest of my life.

Naturally I chose a top club. So I looked at the league table that year and picked… second-placed Aston Villa.

"That's what happens when you gei kiang", is what I'll tell any kid in the future who wants advice on picking teams. Gei kiang is Hokkien for act smart.

So when I say I'm with Liverpool, I mean I understand what it feels like to go 24 years (and more) without winning a league title.

What I won't understand is the feeling of actually thinking it's possible to win a title because I haven't felt that in a long, long time.

As such, although I knew I had to catch my first live Villa home game while I'm studying in England this year, I've been procrastinating. I wanted this game to be special, but with my team in the midst of another unremarkable season, no game was really significant.

Indeed, in the last 15 years, because of the way English football has evolved, teams like mine have become peripheral.

It's virtually impossible for us to dream of lifting any major title. To do that you have to be established as a brand with a global fan base or hope for some billionaire to pour a gazillion dollars into your squad.

When I first started watching English football, clubs such as Villa, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle, just to name a few, could challenge for honours. The final result may still favour the most famous teams, but upsets were possible.

More importantly, clubs could dream.

That death of the dream has been the hardest part for me to take. It's difficult to get excited when every season turns into another nine-month plod. The fluid league table of the 1990s has been replaced in the last decade by one where the top five spots are more or less decided even before a single ball is kicked.

These past few months, I've had to deal with pitying looks from my classmates - many of whom wouldn't remember English football before the 2000s - when they find out what team I support.

"We were a founder member of the English football league, you know. Historically, we're one of England's most successful clubs," I would say, when asked to explain my insanity. This is usually greeted by disbelieving, blank stares.

Who cares? I had a pilgrimage to go on and I finally did it on May 3 when Villa played Hull City.

As an unfortunate bonus, I got what I wished for - this game was important. After losing five of our previous six matches, we had turned into relegation candidates. With three games left and two of them being away games at Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, the Hull match became a must-win.

That prompted more sniggers from my classmates, but it gave my visit purpose. And that purpose was magnified when I arrived in Birmingham. Villa Park was packed. Oh my god, I thought as I eyed the crowd. I have never seen so many Villa fans in my life. In fact, I have never seen more than three Villa fans in one spot in my life.

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