A posthumous apology to Sir Doug Ellis

12th October 2018

(This post is not directly about Brexit, but you will see that it is.)

Sir Doug Ellis, the former chairman of the football team I follow, has died.

I used to think that all Aston Villa needed so as to be be great again was to be rid of him as chairman.

The thinking was this: he had been a chairman of and associated with the club in the 1970s, but when he was ousted the club then had its greatest successes, winning the league in 1981 and the European Cup in 1982.

And when Sir Doug returned in 1982 the club fell into (relative) mediocrity: runners-up here and a league cup or two there.  The books were balanced, certainly, but there was “no ambition”.

So the reasoning was simple: if Sir Doug could be replaced, Villa would spring back into its rightful place as champions at home and in Europe.


How wrong and idiotic I was in holding this view.

One day Sir Doug did leave the club to be replaced by an American businessman.

And the club’s recent decline began.

(I date the beginning of the decline to the then manager Martin O’Neill’s dreadful and eternally unforgivable decision to deliberately play an under-strength team in a UEFA cup match in Moscow in 2009.  Your mileage may differ, if you care at all.)

Of course, Sir Doug was not blameless: the sacking of Tony Barton in 1984 still rankles.

But after Sir Doug left, Villa become far, far worse.

And now we are in our third season in the wrong division, and in the bottom half as well.  Yet another manager has just been sacked, and there are further absent or distant millionaires in charge.  The club almost went bankrupt in the summer.

The truth appears to be that without Ellis, the club may well have sunk sooner and deeper.

Being a runner-up here and winning a league cup or two there now seems like a golden age.


Simple solutions are often false, especially when they are premised on memories of national and international greatness.

(You see, this post was about Brexit.)

And so I offer the ghost of Sir Doug Ellis an apology.

Sorry, Sir Doug,


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6 thoughts on “A posthumous apology to Sir Doug Ellis”

  1. Couldn’t agree more, as another long-suffering Villa fan who went to school on the other side of Aston Park. Sometimes, you just don’t appreciate when you’ve got things good. #UTV

  2. Anything can be about Brexit as Sir Ivan Rogers’s brilliant lecture in Cambridge demonstrates, referencing the French Revolution – 21 pages of gold and sacking Rogers resonates with your Doug Ellis tale.

  3. It was Billy Shankly who is credited with the reminiscence: ‘To you football is a matter of life or death!’ and I said ‘Listen, it’s more important than that”. Perhaps if the Brexit debate had been framed in more accessible “football terms” we wouldn’t find ourselves in the current pickle. Had we suggested to the throngs on “the terraces” that what was being proffered was the chance for the national team to withdraw from the World Cup and instead try to form a minor league with former colonies and small nations with no history in the “glorious game” the result would have been better for the long-term future of “the game” on these shores.

    I am not much of a football fan, but one can equate your love of Villa with my perennial asirations, as an Englishman, that the national team will finally leave a real mark on a major tournament (sans fluke) – they say hope dies last!
    As far as Brexit goes, I am hoping for extra time and a result from a People’s Vote to restore us to the major stage!

    1. Quite agree, we don’t need extra time though as the score was settled in full time! Want we do need is a ‘referee ‘ who has the bottle to blow the final whistle and accept the result.

  4. This is a brilliant thread. It demonstrates how a metaphor from sport is a key to understanding. Understanding, in this case, the mess of Brexit.
    It also shows that sports are a way to understand the world.


  5. It’s never too late to say sorry – oh, well, yes it is, he’s dead now. Anyway, that’s not my main point, You will recall Charlton Athletic and their amiable and oh so competent ”on a limited budget” manager Alan Curbishley who year after year after year kept them in and around the top ten of the Premier League – but, the fans grew restless, where was their European Football, where was the clubs ambition, you needed a manager with loftier ambitions than Curbishley – a nicer guy you couldn’t wish to meet – so they sacked him.

    They currently languish in 9th place in the old 3rd Division – yes I am showing my age. So what’s my point? I refer you to Confucian philosophy, be careful what you wish for because you might get it!

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