If Aston Villa were a person, that person would be Jack Grealish. Proud, passionate, and unrelentingly determined, Grealish is a club captain who epitomises the very essence of what it means to be a Villain. Few moments capture Grealish’s character better than the Second City derby against The Blues in 2019.
St. Andrew’s played host to what can only be described as the most fiercely contested Birmingham-Villa clash in years. Both sides were in touching distance of the play-offs and knew these three points could prove the difference come the season’s end.
For Villa, the aim was simple: beat Birmingham on their own patch for the first time in a decade and continue marching towards Wembley. Step forward Grealish.
His revered status among Villa fans, combined with an outspoken attitude, cast Grealish as both chief protagonist and pantomime villain
Silencing St. Andrew’s
From kick-off, the full force of vitriol from the home crowd was directed towards Grealish. This wasn’t anything new – Grealish has always been a divisive figure in an eternally divided city.
His revered status among Villa fans, combined with an outspoken attitude, cast Grealish as both chief protagonist and pantomime villain. By the day’s end, he would have fulfilled both roles admirably.
With emotions already high, Maikel Kieftenbeld added fuel to the fire early on by clattering Grealish, earning himself a yellow card in the process. The animosity spilled over five minutes later when a Birmingham fan hopped over the advertising hoardings, sidestepped a line of stewards, and launched an attack on the Villa skipper.
Grealish, who was sprinting towards the Birmingham goal at the time, was punched around the side of the head.
Whether through karma, fate, or just pure footballing ability, Grealish responded in emphatic fashion
Firing Villa to Glory
For many players, the incident would have marked the end of their game. Despite being cleared by the medical staff, there were clear concerns over Grealish’s safety. No one would’ve blamed him for asking to be substituted. But that’s just not in Grealish’s nature.
With the game still deadlocked after half time, Villa needed a hero. The away fans, having turned their voices up a few decibels after the break, roared Villa on as they surged forward.
Whether through karma, fate, or just pure footballing ability, Grealish responded in emphatic fashion. His swooping, left-footed effort barrelled past Lee Camp in the Birmingham net and nestled perfectly into the bottom corner. A yellow card for jumping into the away end followed. Not that he cared. It was a small price to pay.
Villa beat The Blues 1-0 that day, a result that acted as a catalyst for the club in their promotion push. They would go on to win their next eight games in a row before storming to Wembley and overcoming Derby. Villa had entered the promised land once again.
In many ways, Grealish’s derby day strike can be pinpointed as the defining moment in Villa’s season. A crucial goal, in the most dramatic of circumstances. Grealish later described it as ‘the best day of his life’. Many Villains would be inclined to agree.