WHEN the Revd Ken Baker, a retired referee and chaplain at Aston Villa Football Club, last spoke to the Church Times in May, the atmosphere around the Birmingham-based club was bleak at best.
The team had just been relegated from the top division for the first time in 29 years and were without a manager, having recently fired their second of the season.
But just seven months later, the turnaround had been astonishing, he said last week. “It’s a complete change really.”
After a false start with Roberto di Matteo, who was sacked in October with the team in 19th position having won just one of his 11 games in charge, the club turned to veteran manager Steve Bruce.
In May, Mr Baker, taking inspiration from the stunning success of their Midlands rivals Leicester City, said that with the right manager, Aston Villa could bounce back (News, 6 May 2016).
Now with Mr Bruce in charge, the club was back on track, and the city’s mood had lifted with the team’s results, now back in the middle of the table. “He is very good for the club — he’s first class,” Mr Baker said. “There’s no doubt whatsoever — the place has totally lifted. I’m at the training ground more often than the stadium, and you can feel there are good working relationships.”
The despondency of the previous season had been replaced with optimism at all levels — within the players, the management of the club, and the fans. “At the moment it is going extremely well.”
And while Mr Baker and his team’s woes had contrasted with the joy in Leicester last May when they won the Premier League title, the situations were much changed. This season, the champions of England have struggled to recapture their previous form, and currently find themselves dangerously close to the relegation zone, having won just three games all season.