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Aston Villa Game 2 2003

2nd Game Review Kick Off 3pm

Like most young boys, I used to dream of being a professional footballer. Earning thousands of pounds a week, and having worldwide fame never crossed my mind. All I wanted was simply to play at stadiums such as Highbury, Old Trafford, Anfield, Villa Park and Wembley. I wanted to be a skillful winger like Peter Barnes, Steve Coppell or Tony Morley. Like most young boys, I never did get the chance to play proffesionally. I'm 37 years old now and that dream is still as strong as when I was 10 years old. Thanks to Football aid, I have been able to eventually "live that dream".

Villa Park May 5th 2003

I arrived at Villa park after a 3 hour train journey from Kent, walking into the Stadium reception with my kit bag slung over my shoulder. I was met by a football aid rep, who welcomed me and introduced me to a few more players. I was playing up front in the Away team.

We were led through the players entrance and along a small corridor, around a corner and into the players tunnel. I had seen this on TV so many times, and now I was standing here.

We were asked to leave our kit bags in the dressing room area and escorted up to the players lounge. There had been another football aid match in the morning and the presentations were going on.

I looked round and saw Derek Dougan, Colin Gibson, Tony Daly and Mark Walters to name a few. I heard that the score was 14-1, and prayed that our match was a bit more competitive!

We were then led down to the dressing rooms and walked in to see our kits all laid out for us. It was a massive room, not exactly what i'm used to on Hackney Marshes !

Just when I thought it couldnt get any better, in walked our player manager - Tony Morley! He was brilliant, down to earth and very witty. The thing that struck me was that although he wanted us to enjoy the day, he was also so determined to win! He hated losing. This is a man who played for England and won the European Cup, and he couldnt bear the thought of losing in a football aid game! I thought it was brilliant!

We were told to get ready and warm up on the pitch. I stood on the centre circle and looked around the vast Villa Park stadium. Now I knew what it was like from the players view.

I looked around and thought of all the great games and goals that had happend right here on this pitch. The semi finals, Cup finals and replays, european nights, Ryan Giggs goal against Arsenal.

We had a team talk which was rather comical as no one knew anything about each other and we waited for the buzzer to line up in the tunnel. There was plenty of laughing, shouts of encouragement and handshakes all round as we all had one thing in common: To walk down this tunnel and live our dream!

We were led out into the bright sunlight and heard the roar of the crowd. Ok, so it wasn't a full house, there was a crowd of about 150, but I am sure many thousands were locked outside!

We kicked off and my first touch was to play the ball back to our defence - the game was on. I had a few decent touches and even got to tackle Mark Walters in the first few minutes. That was short lived though as he robbed the ball straight back and in one movement hit a 50 yard pass over our defence!

We played well and should have been one nil up as I pounced on a bad back pass and found myself with only the keeper to beat. I looked up and thought "be calm, do what Beckham would do"! So I did, and lobbed the ball over the keeper. The difference with Beckham, is that his lob would have gone in and not trickled past the post like mine !

The next thing I knew, we were 3-0 down, but should have been 4-3 up. I was working very well with my striking partner, Aiden Miners and our midfield were giving us plenty of the ball. I will never forget playing a one two with Tony Morley and then hitting a 25 yard shot, which as soon as it left my boot, I thought was bound for the top corner. Unfortunately, when I looked up, the ball was nestling in row 20 of the Holt End.

With 30 mins gone, I picked the ball up on the half way line and headed for goal, beating 5 defenders. I actually thought of Ryan Giggs' goal against Arsenal, as I looked up and found myself in the area with the keeper coming out at me. "This is going to be the best goal I've ever scored, and it's at Villa Park!".

Suddenly, there was a toe from nowhere sweeping the ball away, just as I was going to slide it past the keeper. Next thing, the ball was in the back of our net and we were 4-0 down! I was thinking of the 14-1 score line in the previous match. It was not going to plan!

There were still a few minutes to go until half time as I ran on to a through ball, looked up and saw I had a clear run on goal. I could hear the centre backs breathing down my neck as I saw the keeper coming out at me. The Holt End looked massive and the goal so small, but rather than going for another Beckham, I went for a Thierry Henry , with more success this time, as I slid the ball past the keeper and into the net. It was not the best goal in the world but the ball was in the Villa Park net and I had put it there! No one can take that away from me!

The Home team kicked off and we broke away on a counter attack, getting a fortunate penalty which was brilliantly converted by Aiden Miners.

We had confidence now in the dressing room at half-time. We knew we could actually win it from here. Tony Morley changed things around and encouraged everyone. He looked at me and gave me some proffesional advice. "You've managed to hit every seat in the Holt End, try putting the ball in the net this half!" Now why didn't I think of that?

The second half saw several substitutions and lots of very tired legs. Both teams had some good chances and once again I managed to miss an easy chance! We managed to score the two goals we needed, with Aiden completing a dream hat trick at Villa Park. In fact, Tony Henry scored a hat trick for the home team as well. The game ending in a "perfect" 4-4 draw.

The atmosphere in the changing rooms was fantastic. Every single player was on a high, their dreams had been lived, and it was even better than they had imagined.

By Tony Lawrence