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Author Topic: Never wear red  (Read 1842 times)

Offline dave.woodhall

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Never wear red
« on: January 08, 2021, 02:00:55 PM »
As a one time moderately successful runner I have a fair selection of medals and trophies but despite this I once asked a leading athletics coach if he could suggest ways to help me to have an even bigger collection.

Expecting to be offered words of wisdom along the lines of training methods and diet even to this day his response never ceases to amaze me.  All this sage could offer were just three words, NEVER WEAR RED.

You, like me at the time, are already yearning for an explanation of this astounding response.

Well, his thinking was that in any race the athlete in a red vest was the primary target for every other runner in the field  I subsequently kept my eyes out for any runner ahead in red and discovered that on numerous occasions the coach was quite right.
Forget the runners in front of you, aim for the person in red however far ahead. He will subconsciously drag you towards a faster time.  Never wear red yourself.

All this may explain the predominance of red-bedecked football teams in the league since the war. Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United. And the failure of Villa to beat any of them over several decades on more than the odd occasion.

Manager Herbert Chapman recognised the phenomena in the thirties when he changed the sleeves of the Arsenal shirts to white because it made the players appear bigger and stronger than they were, just as Liverpool wearing matching red shorts was so to speak a red rag to a bull for visitors to Anfield. And of course it isn’t just the team's red shirts which instil fear in the minds of their opponents and it seems Villa in particular. It is the fact that these days the game is invariably played against the background of so many fans in the stands sporting their club colours. The atmosphere can be very intimidating and it takes a special player to counteract it.

Going back to the beginning of time Newton Heath first appeared in our fixture list in 1892 when the league was extended from fourteen to sixteen clubs but they immediately only survived relegation by beating Small Heath in a ‘test match’. In the following season they lost out to second division winners Liverpool in another test match and a rivalry was born.

This in turn led to one of the most famous games ever played at Villa Park, when Liverpool came a-visiting in April 1899 in a winner takes all last game of the season. Villa completely overran Liverpool and led 5-0 at half time. Rumour has it that we rather over-indulged during the interval and struggled to see out the game. But such success against Liverpool has been rare ever since

Then Manchester United rose again and condemned us to a distant runners-up spot in 1908 and a not quite so distant second place three years later. The scene was being set for decades of disappointment.

By comparison we had the finger over white-shirted Preston throughout history but during my childhood we even struggled to halt the rise of white-shirted Tottenham Hotspur. And we also gained a very unusual distinction for frequently surrendering to visitors to Villa Park wearing royal blue.

But seeing red was a problem we have never really solved. Not least when January 1948 saw the greatest game ever played in the city and having seen most of them since that fatal day I am prepared to believe that that still remains the case. A Villa goal after barely fifteen seconds against the soon to be self proclaimed Red Devils only served to stir up a hornets nets and forty four minutes later we were 5-1 down. But we came out on the rampage and amidst scenes of wild excitement brought the score back to 4-5. But it was this very success which was our downfall. One moment of indecision and it was game over, 4-6,

Both United and Liverpool subsequently took part in memorable 4-4 results here and a 5-4 at Highbury showed that with a bit of extra effort we could overcome the red mist. But these are isolated incidents and it is clearly going to need the help of a competent sports psychologist or possibly a hypnotist if we are ever going to see us becoming anything but also-rans in the seasons ahead.

John Russell


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