Author Topic: Paul Merson interview on AVFC  (Read 8109 times)

martin@

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Paul Merson interview on AVFC
« on: August 03, 2013, 01:38:44 PM »
Paul Merson has lifted the lid on his love for Villa, revealing that he cried his eyes out when he left the club.

Merson joined Villa in a £6.75m move from Middlesbrough in 1998 and enjoyed a superb four seasons in claret and blue, bringing smiles to the faces of fans with his silky-smooth skills in the middle of the park.

Eventually though, the fairytale ended and he was deemed surplus to requirements by Graham Taylor, who had taken over from Merson-admirer John Gregory.

Merson admitted his decision to leave left him cold, primarily because he'd realised during his time in B6 what a massive club Villa were.

He said: "I absolutely loved it at Villa. It was the best part of my career, no doubt. I adored my football at Villa.

"When I left, I was devastated. It was the only time I ever cried when I left a football club.

"I was so, so gutted because I loved the club and loved playing for the club. It's a real good club.

"There was always something happening at Villa. It was lively. It was good.

"You try and tell people in London how big a club Villa is. It's truly massive.

"You talk about sleeping giants and Villa is up there. It's huge.

"I absolutely loved every bit of my time there. But in all honesty, I wasn't aware of the amazing history and tradition when I signed.

"Just before I put pen to paper, I was on Question of Sport and was asked: "How many times have Villa won the FA Cup?" I said: "Once?" I didn't know much beforehand. I wasn't too sure. But it's massive.

"They get packed houses every week at Villa Park. That's a barometer for how good it is there.

"Some seasons when I played we weren't great but the fans always stuck with us. We used to get 40,000 regularly. It's one of the biggest clubs about."

Merson

Merson's departure left deep sadness in the hearts of fans at the time because of the excitement that followed him around as a ball-playing central star.

But looking back now, there are many great goals to remember him by.

The silky-smooth midfield ace himself selects his goals against Coventry in 2001, Everton in 2000 and Sheffield Wednesday in 1999 as his best - for differing reasons.

He continued: "The goal against Coventry was one of my favourite goals. To come back from 2-0 down in a derby match was special. It was important.

"I had booked a stag weekend for me and my brother in America. We weren't playing the following week because it was the FA Cup. John had said it was okay.

"But at half-time against Coventry, he turned to me and said: "You're not going!" So I thought: "I better do something about this."

"People say that I sent Coventry down but I didn't! They had 37 other games.

"Anyway, John let me go and we came back the week after and got beaten. But the season was done by then.

"I enjoyed the one at Everton too.

"That match was one of the worst ever! Goodison Park is a tough place, though.

"Anytime you play there, you know you're in for a game.

"It was a big build-up with Gazza playing for them. He actually went off injured. But it was dire overall and then at the end, I just thought 'hit it.'

"I couldn't run anymore, it was the 90th minute. So I just smacked it.

"The most important goal I scored for Villa was against Sheffield Wednesday. We were 1-0 down to them at home and I scored. I then set up Tayls for the winner.

"If we had lost that game, I think John would have got the sack. I was a big fan of John so that was a vital goal.

"I liked the goals that had significance. The one at Everton came with the scores at 0-0. If you do that at 4-0, that's easy, anyone can do that. It's about scoring them when the game is on the line.

"I am always a great believer that the big goals are the ones when the pressure is on. That's the name of the game.

"The Sheffield Wednesday goal was important. I scored one against Southampton in 1998 when Stan rolled it through. That made it 4-1. They are a walk in the park! When they're 0-0, that's when they're difficult."

Of course, Merson fell in love with Villa during his time in claret and blue.

But sometimes it's not always the actual institution that accretes affection, it's the people that you spend time with.

That's true with Merson, who enjoyed a good relationship with John Gregory and his playing pals.

He continued: "John was different. I really liked him. But we didn't get on at first.

"I was travelling up a lot initially. He was making me travel all the way up and then I'd get in and I'd have a bath.

"I'd go mad! I'd think 'John, you're wasting my time.'

"But we got on well after that. I moved up to the Midlands. After that, I loved every minute of it and was devastated when I left.

"We had some great players, gifted players who could change a game in a millisecond.

Merson

"Dion was a great lad. I still see him now. He was a top, top centre-forward. If he hadn't had the injuries he had, he would have gone on and played for England a lot more. He had a leg-break at Man Utd and a neck-break at Villa. But he was a top player.

"Tayls was a top player - what an engine!

"I never realised how good Gareth Southgate was until I arrived at Villa. I thought he was just another steady centre-back. I genuinely couldn't believe how good he was. He was phenomenal - as a captain and as a person. He was as good as I have seen from anyone.

"There weren't too many better left-backs around than Alan Wright. He was Mr Dependable. He never let you down. If he was a bit taller, he'd have played for England regularly.

"We had good players. I can reel them off.

"Lee Hendrie was a good player. Gareth Barry? What can you say about him? He was different class. He was a big player at Villa. It's rare someone stays at a club as long as Gareth did with Villa. I was a big fan of Gareth."

Merson's proudest spell at Villa was the run to the 2000 FA Cup, which had plenty of drama and intrigue along the way.

It also, he admits, brings feelings of frustration with Villa too easily outgunned in the final showpiece against Chelsea.

He added: "When you look for the third round of the FA Cup, you think 'here we go.' Man Utd weren't in it that year either if you remember.

"To draw Darlington at home, it's a dream. It really is. It wasn't easy but drawing a lower division team at home, that's all you can ask for.

"Then we were drawn at home again - perfect - to Southampton. That was tight but after that we started thinking 'we've got a chance.'

"The next round against Leeds was one of the best games I have ever played in. I remember it was on a Sunday and Leeds were a top team, a good, good side.

"They went 1-0 up and then Benny scored to make it 1-1. They scored again and to be fair, they were the much better team. There was no comparison.

"We were lucky to be 2-1 down at that point - we'd had one shot on goal! Then Benny scored an absolute worldy out of nowhere.

"I thought he was going to roll it into me and then make a run off me. He shot and I thought 'what the hell do you think you're doing?' It flew in. He had that in his locker. He had exceptional skill.

Merson

"I then chipped the ball over two players and Mike Duberry came smashing into me. But thankfully from that move, Benny scored his hat-trick.

"I remember I had concussion. I will never forget the paper the next day. Frank Bruno had fought Mike Tyson the previous night. They had a massive picture of Frank and I. I was smothered in blood and Frank didn't have a spot on him. The headline said: "Guess who fought Mike Tyson?"

"Then we were in the quarter-finals. All you ask then is a good draw. To get drawn away to Everton was tough.

"It was a great win. I set up both goals but I didn't play well.

"We scored right on the stroke of half-time. When we got in the dressing room, John bought me off. He hadn't seen the goal. He thought it was 1-1 still.

"We had a huge argument. He said 'you're off'. I went into a right strop. He hadn't seen the goal but that happened a couple of times with John.

"He'd be doing the teamtalk and we'd be looking around at each other and thinking 'does he know the score here?' Seriously. He'd have left the stand early and not seen the goal. But we hung on.

"Then we got Bolton at Wembley for the semi-final. I'm not a great lover of the semi-final being at Wembley. But to get Bolton was a dream. I thought 'here we go.'

"We'd missed Chelsea, which was the name of the game.

"But Bolton battered us. There's no question about that. They were a much better team that day.

"Dean Holdsworth missed a great, great chance. He must still wake up every day and think about it. He must do.

"I shouldn't have played. I had sciatica in my back. I was coming towards the end of my career and you realise there won't be too many more chances to play in a semi-final.

"I played and I was poor. I was one of the worst players on the pitch. But we held on.

"Fair play to Dean. He took a penalty in the shoot-out after his miss in the game and scored.

"I was taking the final one. I had taken one in the 1998 World Cup in France so John put me at No.5 for the experience. I had put myself forward.

"We had good penalty-takers as you could see. They all wanted to take one, too. I didn't have to take on because of their phenomenal efforts and David James's heroics.

"I think we could have kept going and scored penalties all night. I had that much faith in us from the spot.

"What a moment for Dion too. It was phenomenal after what he'd been though with his broken neck. But that's the kind of guy he was - mentally strong.

"To get in the final was amazing. It was the ultimate. When you're a kid, you dream of playing in the FA Cup final. I was lucky because I'd played in one before. So I was more pleased for the younger lads.

"When I was a kid, I'd get up early with the family and be glued to the television all day. There would be the build-up - the cameras outside the hotels and in the coach on the way to the game - that sort of thing.

"But when you're in it, it's not like that at all. You're at the hotel, you turn up and play the game. It's only afterwards, perhaps the year after and you think 'wow, that was us.'

"We were really poor, too negative and we showed Chelsea too much respect. It was one of the worst cup finals ever. To call it an anti-climax is a compliment.

"I'd rather have got beat 10-0 and had a go. We didn't look like scoring in the month of Sundays. We should have gone for it. But that's history now."

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