Tony Garnett • Blog Posts

Villa Park

Like my Villa photo? Go on, even if you follow another club you like it, don’t you? Well, it’s a painting. Thereby hangs a tale…

I was to have dinner and a catch up with an old friend. She is interested in artists and very knowledgable, which is why we met at an art gallery in Pimlico where wine was offered, gossip exchanged and the wealthy pretended to be connoisseurs. Except that appreciating the paintings seemed the last thing they were there for.
No matter. What do I know of that world? The paintings were what they called “neorealist” or even, seemingly upping the ante, “hyper realist”. To my untrained eye they displayed amazing technique. But they also reminded me that even now, a hundred and fifty years after the event, so many of the arts struggle to overcome the invention of photography.
Standing there I heard a Brum accent, unusual in Pimlico. I located the source and started to talk to a young man who turned out to be one of those realists too. More important, he was an Aston Villa fan, still living in Brum. He had a season ticket. We spent the evening happily talking about the Villa, or rather, in Brum manner, shaking our heads about the current form and prospects.
I’m not sure why, but probably maybe because I was in an art gallery, surrounded by paintings, I wistfully said, “I’d love a painting of the Villa”.
The young man said, “I’d love to paint one”.
Now, I’m not in the habit of commissioning art works. Even thinking about it seemed too grand.
But his eyes had lit up and my heart was racing ahead of my judgement.
“Will you paint one for me?”
I was committed.
We shook hands and Simon Hennessey cleared his time to paint me a picture.
We decided it should be Villa Park. Not about the players, who come and go; or the owners, who buy and sell; but the supporters, who from grandparent, to parent, to child, go on forever. The fans are the soul of the club. The painting would be about them.
Simon was meticulous. He always is. But this was special: an act of homage as well as an act of love. He had to paint each fan in the Holte End.
It now hangs proud in my living room over the dining room table. Handsome it looks. He did a lovely job. It gives me pleasure each day, despite the Villa’s present sufferings.
But my particular sly joy is to seat those dinner guests who happen to be Arsenal or Chelsea or Spurs supporters opposite my painting.
They have to look at Villa Park all evening.

 The Day the Music Died is the memoir of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett. For the first time, Tony shares exclusive details from his childhood in working-class and war torn Birmingham. He takes readers behind the scenes of a selection of his more famous productions, offering secrets and anecdotes. Some moving and some amusing. Now available to buy on Amazon.
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